Submitting Work Is Like Dating

When I first started dating, I was just happy to have a boyfriend.  My standards were low (even if the guys were truly nice, cute, etc.).  I looked for a nice smile and answers to questions about what he liked to drink (preferably something alcoholic).  These early relationships didn’t last.  The issue wasn’t that the guys were bad or that they weren’t… I don’t know, pick a quality; rather, they weren’t the ones most compatible with me in terms of building a long term, good relationship.

Picking a place to send your story is like making a dating decision: how well do you know the place where you’re sending your work?  How well does your work mesh with that outlet’s take on writing? If you send your work and they publish it, will you regret it in the morning?

The best way to do justice to your work is to do your homework: Research these publications.  Take the time to read an issue—and by read I mean do more than scan the table of contents.  What types of stories do they publish? Are they looking for female-driven narratives? Are they looking for work that is experimental in nature? Work that is non-linear? Stories that convey something SIGNIFICANT about the human experience?  And please take their word for it if their submission guidelines mention—explicitly—we like such-and-such (stories told from the point of view of a student, let’s say) and we don’t like such-and-such (like science fiction or stories told from the point of view of a dog).  They’re serious.

Ignoring these simple directions is like going on a date and having the date tell you: I don’t want kids.  That’s fine, but if you want kids, you’re not going to work in the long term.  At no point will the person say: you know, I didn’t want kids, but you, you’re perfect, so maybe… If a publisher does not like work that deals with children or stories set in outer space or stories that are more than 3,500 words or novel excerpts, they mean it.  Your story WILL NOT convince them otherwise.  All you’ve done is waste your time and theirs.

And since your work will likely be tied up for at least a month (and for as long as six months), why would you bother sending your work someplace that will likely reject it anyway?

But here’s something to consider too: if you think a certain publication is out of your league, it might not be.  If your work can stand up to what else they publish, send it anyway. The worst they can say is no. As long as you are respecting the publication by sending work that is line—in terms of approach or content—then send away. Part of being successful in the publishing world involves luck. You should know that you’re up against bad odds, but publishers have to publish something—and an editor might take a shine to your work—so it might as well be your story.

Outside of these pieces of advice, I would also say that you should get in a routine about constantly submitting your work.  Publishers will not seek you out; you have to go to them. Also: it’s a good idea to keep track of what you submit to whom and when.  I have a nice, basic Excel spreadsheet where I list the story, the journal, and the date sent. The last thing you want to do is resubmit a work after it’s already been rejected.

You want to respect where you send your work. Think of every publication you consider as one you would be proud to show your parents.

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  1. #1 by My Rite of Passage on January 7, 2013 - 11:07 am

    I love your dating analogy, and I couldn’t agree more about showing respect for your own work by making sure you match it with a publisher who will do it justice and feel proud of their publication for showcasing your excellent work. However, we’re writers first and a good writer does not write with the intention of match-making—so, surely trigger-happy publishers who reject submissions at the first minor mismatched aspect (and I’m definitely not suggesting major ‘transgressions’) are doing themselves, their readers, and the literary future a great disfavor? After all, the slush pile is not entirely the result of bad match-making.

  2. #2 by priceswrite on January 7, 2013 - 5:08 pm

    Great analogy! I especially like the “will you regret it in the morning?” part. It is easy – particularly at the beginning of your career, or when you are trying to break into the next level – to accept a “date” from anyone who asks. “At least I’ll get to go the party,” I want to whine. “It will open the door to something.” I once turned down an offer on a gut instinct and then regretted it – for about 2 months when a HUGE opportunity arose, one I would have blown had I taken the first one.

  3. #3 by virgowriter on January 11, 2013 - 11:19 am

    Belinda, I do agree that we are writers first and not match-makers. Of course, just as we would like to be matched well, this doesn’t always happen–and publications turned down a lot of quality work (slush pile). Just like in dating, sometimes the best match is overlooked for some superficial reason.

    Linda, I do think out instinct can do a good job guiding our decisions. Like any part of us, we have to train our instinct to some degree but also train ourselves to learn to listen to these feelings. Malcolm Gladwell explores this topic really well in Blink.

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