Saturday, August 20, 2016


I've got Sex Pistols in my head.



OK, I know the song's not about submitting to contests and publishers. But dang if it isn't in my head when I'm doing it!

This summer I dusted off a bunch of old pieces and started sending them out into the world again. I had stopped submitting for a long time. I got really tired of the rejection letters. The occasional acceptance was exciting, but I realized I was starting to place too much emphasis on what might get my piece accepted when I was writing, which sucked most of the joy out of writing.

I also didn't have a good idea of what it was all for. If I had 5 poems published in 5 journals, so what? I wasn't very good at maintaining relationships with editors or readers, or getting paid, or working toward some goal beyond submit/reject-or-accept/repeat.

Yeah, I was getting jaded. So I stopped.

Editing, revising, and considering the reader are all important, but writing for an imaginary editor--or worse, changing your writing to be more like what you see published--is a bad road to travel.

It took dealing with lots of submissions as an editor for me to wake up. When I'm reading subs for Literary Mama, I have to consider many factors: Does the poem move me, is it well-crafted, does it fit the journal's mission and style? And of course, where can I fit it, and do we have too many poems similar in theme/style/subject?

We receive lots of excellent poems, and it's a blessing and a challenge to have to choose among them. I try to add personal notes on those that I really considered, but when I get 50-100 in a month, and I respond to them all, there's only so many responses I can write. And sometimes the decision is so difficult that I worry I let something really good get by.

On the other hand, when I accept a poem, or work with an author to polish a piece to perfection and then help to share it with readers, it does feel like I'm part of something bigger than myself, sharing art and vision and voice with people who really care. Oh yeah, that's why we do this!

I started to realize that acquisition editors are just people--no, really--doing their best. Yes, they are gatekeepers, but each gate looks different. Even the gate I manage has other editors that must also approve the work, and they don't always agree with my taste--but we all work as a team to choose the best work that will embody our journal.

For my own writing, this opened up possibilities. Rejections still suck, but I don't feel quite as worried about it. My responsibility is to my work, and making it the best and the me-ist I can make it. Somewhere out there gates will open for it. And communities of readers will be excited to read my words, be moved by my ideas. Then we'll truly be sharing something magical, from one mind to another. I won't find them unless I submit. And neither will you!

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