“You should be submitting your work.” “Make a name for yourself.” “If you get rejected, at least you tried.” You’ll hear variations of these statements in any writing course you take. Why? Because it’s important. Not everyone is cut out to be a novelist and not everyone wants to be. Literary magazines are the perfect place for shorter pieces of work (poems, essays, creative non-fiction) and you can find a place for any genre you’re into. But no matter who you are, where you submit to, or what you write, you’re always guaranteed one thing: anxiousness.
The minute you hit submit button on the form, the send button on the email, or drop the envelope in a mailbox, it’s out of your hands. There’s nothing to do but wait and wonder what they’re going to say. Will they accept the piece? Reject it? What’s going through their heads when they read it? What if the piece wasn’t actually good enough?
It’s the last one that sends writers rampaging over the edge of a cliff, limbs flailing, to the bottom of a trench. We can’t. Stop. Doubting. Our. Work. And that’s what gives us the motivation to better ourselves. But it’s also what causes us to hide from the mailbox for weeks (even months) at a time, curling up in the dark corner of the den and hiding from our computers and typewriters.
Or sometimes we take an alternative route and obsessively check our emails and mailboxes even when the magazine said we won’t hear back for a few weeks. I’m guilty of this as we speak.
I’m working on a lengthy portfolio for a Creative Non-Fiction class and, now that the semester is winding down, it’s time to polish up what I have and make them the best they can be. There was a piece I started by using lyrics from song I love to progress the story. It worked pretty well, I thought, but when I showed it to people for critiques, the words didn’t evoke the feeling I was going for. The cut up the story and interfered (a classic case of the author being too close to their work). A majority suggested I cut out the lyrics completely, some said I should reformat the lyrics and the piece if I really wanted to make it work. I did both.
I took out most of the lyrics (keeping words and phrases that fit with the flow) and restructured the piece. I right-aligned the sentences that were lyrics and used them to create a perspective from my own head. They still separate parts of the story, but in a way that isn’t distracting. And because it was 10 at night when I finished and I was starting to loathe everything else I was writing, I decided it would be a good idea to try and submit the piece somewhere.
The first lit mag I found, The After Happy Hour Review, had an aesthetic that made the piece seem like it would fit right in–but the non-fiction requirement was 1,000-5,000 words and my piece was only 550. It would have ruined it to lengthen it, so I kept searching for another magazine. (But first I made a note of the Review and saved it for another piece. You should keep a running list of places you want to submit to, even if you don’t have a piece ready.) I finally found one that fit the base criteria I was looking for (non-fiction pieces had to be under 1,000 words).
For anyone who has every submitted, you know there are required guidelines and that some magazines have optional guidelines. Treat the optional as if they’re required. It will make you look better. You’ll come across as taking an extra step, trying a bit harder, just to be published in their magazine. And it will set you apart from all the people who decide not to do it because it’s optional.
The magazine I submitted to didn’t have many guidelines, but there was an option to include a brief bio/cover letter. So, naturally, I did. I wanted them to see that I wanted to make a connection, that I want my work to be considered, and that I appreciate them taking the time to read my piece (especially if they don’t think it’s all that great). It didn’t take long to do and it’s a way to show them your skills with grammar, spelling, and punctuation before they even open the document.
You also want to make sure that you actually attach the document. This may sound silly and redundant, but you’d be surprised at how often you can get caught up in the excitement of submitting a piece and forget to attach the piece itself. And once that happens, you can’t make up for it. You can try sending another email, following up with the piece, or you can wait to hear back from them (if they decide to reply to the email). But you won’t be able to redeem that mistake. And make sure you actually send the right document.
But once it’s gone, once you’ve put it in the hands of the editor, there’s nothing to do but twiddle your thumbs (or go hide in that dark corner we talked about). I’m not supposed to hear back from the editor for one-three weeks about the piece, but I’ve got my email open every day. It helps with the anxiousness.