Not Bad Advice Per Se

The problem with submitting to a plethora of places is that you tend to get a plethora of rejection letters—all at the same time. For writers, it is an universal truth that the number of rejections one receives will far out weigh the number of acceptances—in some ways it joins death and taxes in its dependability.

As you can guess, I’ve received a few rejections recently. Regardless of how I feel, there is nothing to do but to keep writing and keep submitting.

But, one thing that depresses me when submitting is doing the research.  Of course it is because I’m following that one piece of advice that we’ve all heard—whether  it is from other writers, the editors of the magazine, or thick manuals on how to publish work—read the literary magazine to see if they publish work like yours.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love reading literary magazines whether they’re in print or online, but reading with the question of “would they publish me?” tends to sour the experience.   I’ll come across a really amazing poem, and the first thing that jumps into my head is “Wow, this is awesome! They’ll never publish me.”  I much rather just enjoy the work in the magazine.

Recently, I’ve become suspect of that bit of advice.  In the first place, I can never identify work “like” my own.   My poem may share themes or may have similar style to a lot of poems out there, but when I compare my work to the work of others all I can see are the differences.

When I submit to places that have published work “like” my own, I get rejected—and not the nice “We did not have room for your work this time” but the “your work is not what we are looking for.”  In other word, “Don’t waste our time by submitting again.”

Now I’ve submitted to magazines whose work I not only enjoyed, but also felt that my poems would not be something that the editors would go for.  And more often than not, I was correct. But the few times I’ve been published, it has always been those long shots. (Brief note: I still follow the submission guidelines for each magazine.  Always fellow the submission guidelines).

What this whole pattern seems to suggest is that I may not be the best judge of where my poems fit aesthetically in the contemporary tradition.  Or, maybe editors get sick and tired of reading poems that deal with the same themes or are written same style over and over.  Ultimately, I think the advice should be to read literary magazines, and if you find the work exciting submit even if it seems like a long shot.


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