Hello CU Poetry and Friends,
Throughout 2014 we have been meeting every week to discuss and improve our poetry. So what should we do with our abundance of creations, how do we go about sharing them with the world? As we discussed, having some sort of system (aka a spreadsheet) is a necessity so one can avoid unnecessary headaches not only for you but the kind editors of the journals you submit to. Jo Bell has a great article I am reblogging here. Please visit her blog or follow her on facebook. So what are your thoughts on multiple submissions?
Jo Bell is an English poet and prolific promoter of poetry I have been following on facebook for a while. You can find more information about her at belljarblog .
Submitting to journals: the Jo Bell method
I’ve spent some time lately with poetry journal editors – and also with the poor poetic beggars who, like me, send off work to them. It’s struck me anew that many people, especially those at the beginning of their poetry career, don’t have much idea of how submission works and what time span is realistic for an editor to consider a poem. Also, they’re wondering how to keep tabs on the seventeen different poems that they’ve sent out, in order to avoid the no-no of simultaneous submission.
What follows is the Jo Bell Method; the method of an immensely, award-winningly disorganised poet who nonetheless has managed to win awards. My vast and lofty experience teaches me that the key part of winning any prize or getting into a journal is this:
SEND THE BUGGERS OFF.
This is the only area of my life where such a streamlined system exists, but it has helped me to keep sending work out. It is Ever So Simple and it works for me. If you want to get into the habit of submitting to journals, it’s not too late to make this a New Year’s Resolution and start doing this in 2015.
Make a table or database with four columns – Available. In Circulation. Published. Date When Available Again. Do it on the computer, because you will be cut-and-pasting from this for years. Put into the first column the titles of all your poems that you think are ready.
By the way, they are NEVER ready. You will NEVER send out a poem that you are wholly and perfectly satisfied with. Nobody does. Nobody does. Abandon that hope. Do your best.
January 30th (for instance)
Make a habit of setting aside one day a month for submissions. Put it in the diary. On the first occasion, take three ‘available’ poems and send them to Magazine A. Transfer their titles to ‘In Circulation’. Send three DIFFERENT ones to Magazine B, three different again to Magazine C, and two or three to Competition X. Put all their titles in the ‘In Circulation’ column. You’re in business. In the ‘Date When Available Again’ put a date six months from now, or the date when competition results are announced.
Astonishingly, you have not heard a word from Magazine A, B or C. You have been waiting by your inbox like Greyfriars Bobby every morning but still no word. How very odd. Never mind. Send three poems to Magazine D, three to Magazine E, three to Magazine F. Once sent, forget them. They are dead to you until they come back or get accepted.
Continue. NEVER send the same poem to two different magazines. Editors don’t want to slave through a pile of poems to accept a handful, proudly draw a line under them – and then find that you already had your poem accepted by another magazine. The only reward for their labours is that they have put your poem into print for the first time, and they want to do so without fear of copyright arguments or embarrassment. Don’t submit to two places at once.
Etc etc. You are losing the will to live. You are running out of poems to send out. Fear not, you are about to get some back.
Four months is not unusual, six months not unheard of. You might get a response from Magazine A around now if you are lucky. Hurrah, they want one of your poems. It will always be the one you stuck in the envelope last, thinking it was a no-hoper. Send a brief mail saying ‘thanks, I’m delighted.’ Move the title of that poem into the ‘Published’ column, buy yourself a new pair of shoes, put down the deposit on that house. Tell everyone on Facebook.
And then put the poems that they *don’t* want right back into the ‘Available’ column. If they don’t want any of the poems, no need to reply. If you must, just send them a line saying ‘thank you for letting me know, good luck with this issue!’ Honestly. That’s all.
Send out some poems, as usual. If you get an acceptance, hurrah. If you get a rejection, hurrah – you now have some poems free for the next journal or competition, just when you were wondering what to send out. Those which come back, put in the Available folder again, and then send them to magazines that haven’t seen them before. Those which are accepted, put in the published folder. Those which come back over and over again… er, may not be any good. Take that as a valuable piece of free feedback. Review, revise, put them back in the Available folder.
Keep sending the buggers out. The editor of Journal F, after all, has very different taste to the editor of Magazine A, and has not seen your poem before. It is fresh as a daisy to her. Remember however, that there is no shortage of daisies in her in-tray. She is eating and drinking poems. She is sick of poems. She wakes up in the night wondering why she does this. Cut her some slack.
Develop a stoical acceptance of the flow – some poems coming back, some going out, and every now and then a little firework going up to mark a success. Eventually you will be so serene about rejection, that you will be quite disappointed when a poem is accepted because this interrupts the endless recycling process.
Continue, ad infinitum. Check the dates in the fourth column of your table every so often. The competition results have been announced and you have inexplicably not won the National Poetry Competition (again)? Hurrah, those three poems are now free. Put them back in the Available column.
Do NOT (even, indeed especially, whilst drunk and discouraged) send journals a slightly tetchy email saying “I haven’t heard from you, and I should have thought that four months is long enough”. You *might* perhaps send an email (after six months, not before) saying “You won’t remember my poem On The Digestive System of the Hippopotamus – this is just to let you know that there is an RSPCA competition on Pachyderms at the moment, so I’m withdrawing the poem, in the unlikely event that you wanted to use it. Good luck with all your sifting, I know you have a lot of poems to wade through.”
Because they do. They have a heap of poems as deep as their desk and they mean no offence by hanging on to yours. They very possibly haven’t read it yet. They certainly have a lot of other poems (more than you imagine and by better poets than you might think) to consider. They have poems piled up in the lounge, the bathroom, the bedside table. Their partners already think they spend too much time on this. The work is not only unpaid, but they have to scrabble for funding to keep the magazine floating at all. It is stressful and almost entirely unrewarding. They have day jobs, often running small poetry presses which make them just enough money to pay the bills if they are lucky. Like you, they have children and social lives and commitments. Like you, they are trying to write their own poetry and (possibly unlike you) they are also putting something back into the poetry ecosystem. They get ten or twenty tetchy notes a week saying “I sent you my poem last Tuesday and am exceedingly surprised that you have not yet replied to it.” They feel bad about this. They dread going to book launches because someone who has a grudge against them, for rejecting a poem which they don’t even remember, will say something snide about the time it takes them to reply. The only reward for all this is that occasionally they get to put into print someone whose work they love. It might be you. It might not. Hey ho.
I’m not putting the editor on a pedestal – but do remember that in this process, you are the supplicant. The editor has more poems than s/he knows what to do with. No matter how great your unrecognised genius, indeed no matter how great your recognised genius, editors are doing you a favour by considering your poem. They will not remember your name as one of the dozens of poems on their bedside table – but they will remember it (immediately and for a long time) if you join the ranks of the narky, sarky and unpleasant who bitched about their response times.
So, set up that database or table and get started. Gradually you will start to accumulate titles in the ‘Published’ column, but there will always be a lot more titles in the Available column.
If you’re disheartened by that, it may be that you’re looking for an excuse to be disheartened. Really, it is not so hard to put a poem in an envelope or send it by email and then *forget about it*. And it really does get easier, the more you do it. So do it, huh?