We are all eager for the validation of seeing our work in print. Fortunately, there are a plethora of journals and reputable on-line literary sites to research in an attempt to identify homes for our words.
Notice that word RESEARCH. It is critical to be aware of the nature of a literary journal or web site. Who are the editors? When do they accept submissions? How are they supposed to be presented to meet the editors' expectations? All of these issues should be foremost in your decision as to whom you want to consider your work. You can get this info from many reliable sources, including the Writer's and/or Poet's Market, Poets & Writers Magazine (in print and on line), the web sites for each of the journals you are considering. Look to see what the editors already have published and how does that equal with your own artistic aesthetic.
Here are some frequent things people overlook in their haste to rush that envelope into the mail:
1) Did you include a professional cover letter with the proper name of the current managing editor? No more than 3-4 paragraphs, listing what you sent, a few publication credits, whether or not this work is being reviewed elsewhere (a whole other issue/debate), and a kind word about the fact that the editors on the other side are giving you a careful review.
2) Did you include a self-addressed, stamped envelope with proper and adequate postage to return your work?
3) Did you carefully proof your work for typos, grammatical errors, extra spaces between words, proper punctuation and capitalization when called for, etc. You would be surprised how many writers send truly sloppy submissions and then want to be considered for publication. Take pride in every word you commit to the page. It is your first impression and a sloppy submission is not a good one. Liken it to showing up on a blind date with your fly down, your hair greasy from not being shampooed, bad breath.
4) This is particularly for poets: do you know how to turn off the automatic capitalization function in your word processing program? Do you get frustrated and/or have you acquiesced to the capital letter at the beginning of each poetic line because you cannot override the function? It used to be the standard to print poems with the first word capitalized. We got away from that a long time ago. Some poets prefer to maintain the tradition but many do it simply because they do not know how to trick the computer into not doing it. Then the editor wonders which it is. Here is what is actually happening: in the autocorrect function (found in the Tools drop-down menu in WORD), the program is recognizing a new sentence every time you hit the hard return for the next line. Why? Because in prose, it will generally be a new paragraph when you hit return, and that is generally also an indication of a new sentence. To stop it, find the autocorrect entry for "Capitalize new sentence" and remove the check mark by clicking on the box so it is empty. It will no longer happen and you have artistic choices at your fingertips.
5) Do you set your margins so you can best use the page? Again, more an issue for poets. But many people do not know that WORD's margin default for left and right is 1.25 inches, 1 inch for top and bottom. Many poets submit a two page poem, second page for just three or four lines, simply because of this simple margin default. Add to it the fact that they may have left too many hard returns between their contact info and the title of the poem, forcing the second page. This simple overlook kills trees, disrupts the flow of the poem, and is easily fixed.
6) Do you have your contact info on every page? What if an editor is reading a pile of work with the window open? A breeze ruffles the pages and scatters them like leaves all over the floor. How will that editor be sure that the manuscripts are in proper order? Set up a template for yourself that you can use time and time again. Create a header with your name, address, phone, and email in the header at 0.5 inch margin. Then leave the margin at 1 inch or whatever for the actual work. This saves a lot of time, adds to consistency of your "look" when you submit, and helps those at the other end.
7) Prose/fiction writers: Did you activate the automatic page numbering in a footer or in your header so that pesky breeze does not get the best of your editor and render your story into a veritable thumb puzzle?
8) Poets: do you give editors an indication in your longer poems as to formatting? When you go to a second page (generally for poems more than approximately 32 lines, the standard that will fit on a single journal page), under your contact info, simply state: Poem title, page number, then indicate stanza break or no stanza break. Remember, you know how it is supposed to fall on the page but your editor may not have been formerly employed by Dionne Warwick's Psychic Hotline.
9) Do each of your pieces look similar and consistent? Are they in the same font, same margins, etc., from one piece to another? It is obvious when you simply recycle pages that have come back from different submissions. Remember, editors want to feel like your blind date; they want to believe you sent your work to them because you respect their work as editors and you have chosen their journal or site due to that respect, that you want the honor of their choice of you for their publication.
And remember that it takes a LOT of work to select new literature for publication. Remember that when you send your new poems or short story, there are hundreds of other passionate, eager writers doing exactly the same thing at the same time. An editor never has time to put feet up with a cup of joe and slowly read and reread your brilliant work to bask in your genius effort. Editors are up against stacks of submissions and insane deadlines. Think of their eyes, their very tired eyes that read your work because they respect writers. Be kind to them...
We hope that this little primer on submissions helps you plan your efforts well. Feel free to ask questions of the DWC faculty if you have them.
On a side note: Peter Orlovsky, Beat poet and long-time companion to Allen Ginsberg, passed away on May 31st in Vermont after a long, private battle with lung cancer. You can read more at the following link:
We hope to see you Friday as three more of the inaugural class of the DWC PRO students present their thesis readings!