Saturday, August 2, 2008


August has arrived. For those unfamiliar with the world of poetry publishing, most of the journals and publishers work on an academic calendar. Things move slowly, slowly during the summer months, if they move at all. Many lit mags and book contests are closed to submissions during June and July.

Yesterday, a handful of lit mags opened their reading periods. Come September, the floodgates will be loosed. It's time to warm up the printer and buy the paper.

However, soon, the paper and printer will go the way of all things 20th century. A good portion of the journals are now accepting submissions via electronic means (either email or an online submission manager). A poet-friend and I had lunch this week and exchanged recent experiences with online submissions. There are many pros and a few cons, it seems. The pros have to do with saving money on postage not to mention paper and ink, receiving confirmation on receipt, ease of withdrawing a piece if necessary, and saving time in general. Our one beef with the electronic submission format has to do with the responses we receive. Both of us have received snail mail rejections with notes of encouragement from mags that are now using electronic systems. We've both gotten vague replies via email from the same mags that encouraged us in the past. It is near impossible to tell if the rejection is the standard one or if there is a personal message within.

Case in point. I recently received this email from a journal I absolutely love and admire and have been submitting to for years. In the past two years, I've felt like I was gaining ground because in snail mail rejections, I've gotten personal notes of encouragement. Here's the email:

"Thank you for giving us the chance to consider your work for publication in The anonymous Review. Though it does not fit our current needs, we appreciate your interest in our magazine and your commitment to quality writing. I really enjoyed reading your poems. Keep up the great work."

Those first two lines seem to be the standard rejection, but the next sentence brings in the "I." Is that the personal message? It seems unlikely that editors have the power to edit within the system, but I'm still curious. Does the electronic system prevent editors from sending personal notes?

Let me be clear. I'm not criticizing this journal, or any of the others using electronic submissions. By and large, I prefer to submit electronically. I'm just throwing the uncertainties out there. Anyone who tries to get their work out there knows that the process, aside from the very clear guidelines provided by most journals, is muzzy indeed.

I've got my list of 20 mags with open reading periods, I've got my batch of poems all polished and shiny, and tomorrow I'll begin the process of sending my poems out there, if I find the courage to begin.


Paul Gibbons said...

I've been waiting for someone to post something besides cost and money with respect to electronic submissions. I concur with the point you make about encouragement coming from an editor's effort to write a personalized note. With the elctronic submission, it seems there's little middle ground to interpret -- you either get a full-on email about your poems or you get what is easily interpreted as a standard rejection.

I have another point, too: in some electronic submission systems, you log on and can see what happened with your previous submissions. I wonder what effect this record has on the editors who receive a submission from someone who has clearly been rejected before -- perhaps multiple times. If you submit in such a system, isn't your submission colored by the editor being confronted with the foremost fact that your work has been rejected before? Or do these online systems treat submissions diffrently than I'm protraying them here?

Sandy Longhorn said...

Hello, Paul. It's good to "meet" you here in the blog-world, as I recognize your name from reading journals or Poetry Daily/Verse Daily, not sure where. It's also good to meet you, since I sometimes wonder where my words end up.

Thanks for adding more to the discussion on electronic submissions. I hadn't thought about the tracking system that seems to be embedded in most programs that are "online submission managers," and which the editors must surely see, if the tracking exists. I try to be an optimist and believe it when editors say they read the work first and aren't swayed by cover letters, personal connections, &etc. But the doubts do creep in. If anyone out there knows how these systems work from the journal side, please get in touch.

Paul Gibbons said...

I know this comment is on an old post. But I had trouble submitting this evening on two different submission managers of poetry journals, and I put in "submission online trouble" and ended up on a site that is the documentation for the most widely used submissions manager I've seen.

On that site, about three or four minutes of skimming (there's much to yawn about in it) yielded this:

"Configuring Actions:

Action configuration is detailed here.

Some notes:
To see how you can customize the email templates, see the sample rejections on the action page.

reject 1:uses only one placeholder - the name of your company in the subject of the email
reject 2:inserts the writer's name, the title of the story, and the company name into the body of the email
reject 3:inserts the same fields as reject 2, and allows the staff member to insert a message to the submitter
reject 4:is a completely personal email. It uses no form language, but simply allows the staff member to compose their own email text."

I don't know how the post here will be configured, but in reading the above you'll see that it's possible (probable?) that even submissions via forms are allowed personal commentary.

And so after this ten minutes, I remembered your post about getting an electronic rejection notice.

And on a whim, I thought you might like to know. I don't know if this info illuminates anything about your previous emailed rejection or not. Just thought I'd pass it along.