Thursday, April 5, 2018

Publication. The Payoff for Hard Work




I am please to report, I received more that just rejections in this first quarter of 2018. Specifically, two publications have accepted five of my poems. Happy, happy day.

Dodging the Rain, a literary and arts journal based in Galway, Ireland, will be publishing four of my poems in their June 2018 issue. My interest in this journal was based on the editor makeup, all past grads of NUIG's (National University Ireland Galway) MA programs. I so loved my time at NUIG as a student abroad in the summer of 2015 and I do hope to return and attend that MA program myself . Preferably before I turn eighty. This is the fourth time an Ireland based publication has accepted one or more of my poems in the last two years. Four. It's a tiny number but still, so much better than zero.

Months To Years, a fairly new journal, will be publishing one of my poems in May. I was drawn to submit to them because of the intent of the editor and the CFO. They are Renata and Tim Louwers respectively and both had experienced the loss of spouses. They felt there was opportunity to improve conversations and written work around terminal illness, end of life decisions, and mortality. They divide their time between Virginia's  Shenandoah Valley and San Francisco. My years in hospice nursing continue to mold the direction of much of my work, so this journal feels like an excellent fit.

After these poems are published I'll be able to share them here on my blog.

As thrilled as I am to have these acceptances come my way, it's important to understand how much effort it took, to make this happen. This is not a Praise me I worked so hard, statement but more of a Oh Dear God getting published takes so much effort one. Yes, there is the rare bird who writes one piece and submits it to one publication and receives one glorious acceptance, but for the rest of us common fowl, a ton of work must be completed and another ton of rejections must be read, absorbed, and filed before VOILA! our name appears in print. Here is the "formula" that worked for me.

Since January 1, 2018 I have submitted 153 poems to thirty-nine literary journals. Some journals were print only, some were on-line only and several did both. Some only wanted one poem while one accepted up to eight. Most wanted between three and five.

Of those thirty-nine journals, four so far have rejected my work and two (mentioned above) have accepted poems. The rest I have not yet heard from. This is not unusual as the competition is stiff and the number of submissions is great. Some publications receive thousands of poems every month and many will tell you may not hear from them for six months or longer.
       
Regarding the poems, 153 sent does not mean 153 different poems. For example, I may have sent poem A to ten journals, Poem B to twenty and Poems A, B and C to fifteen. Not all poems are appropriate for all journals.

Although it appears to be a large amount of work for little payoff, I don't see it that way. I write first for myself and then second, for an audience. The act of writing itself is a great payoff.  It's excellent practice in the basics of spelling, grammar and language use and it continues to hone my writing discipline skills. On average I write four hours a day, five days a week. Ass in seat, is the mantra I repeat in my head. I suppose some people can write standing up, not me. Although I can write on planes, trains and in automobiles.

Most importantly, writing gives me time alone. Not only, am I unable to write standing up, I am unable to write when I am around people I know. So, I don't write when my husband is home, when I am babysitting, or when traveling with my sisters. But, put me in the middle of Chicago on a park bench surrounded by 2.8 million strangers, and I can sit and write all day. 

Maybe even all night. 




Thursday, February 15, 2018

Jumping Through Literary Magazine Submission Hoops Without Breaking Your Neck.


Winter 2018 is going fantastically as far as submissions go. After a sloth-like Fall where I was writing but not submitting, it feels great to be filling up my submissions log again. Since Jan. 23 (my last submission prior to that was Aug. 2017)  I have submitted sixty-five poems to sixteen publications.

Some of this work is older, some of it is old but revised, but much of it is new, written last fall in my Anti-Submitting period. This method of writing for a few months then submitting for awhile is working well. I may continue it or I may not. Haven't been doing this long enough for any real pattern development.

But here's an observation about patterns you might find useful. Literary magazines don't follow any. They all do their own thing when it comes to collecting submissions and that "thing" is as variable as Illinois weather has been the last eight weeks.

Snow, fog, bitter cold, sleet, ice, tropical waves, and that was just before noon today.

Back to literary magazines. Some have long pages of instructions while others have two sentences. I like those two sentence ones. They say Here's our email. Send us something. Don't forget your name. Some use the online program Submittable while others wish you to send an email, and still others will take only postal submissions. Not that common, the old fashioned postal route, but it happens.

Of those who prefer the Submittable program they may charge a minimal reading fee or not.
Of those who prefer email they may want your submission as an attachment or not.
Of those who prefer snail mail they may return your work or they may not.

Most of them want a cover letter, but a brief one.
Some of them want a bio, but a brief one. Like about 9-11 words. The more generous magazines might give you fifty words to brag about yourself. Have a blast.

Many will take simultaneous submissions, but there are a few that will not. My hope is that those magazines are getting less submissions and therefore increasing my chance of an acceptance, but it's only a theory.

In regards to your actual manuscript...one editor wants your name on every page at the bottom while another wants it in the top right with your email address. Some read "blind" and don't want your name anywhere near your work and don't think you can fool them by misting your signature cologne on a page or two either, as those editors will sniff you out for sure.

Some want you to number each page of your submission while others insist on hieroglyphics.  I made up that last bit but you get my gist.

Once you've made it through that landmine,  a writer must then understand the follow up process. Most publications tell you up front the expected time frame as in We usually get back to writers within three to six months. Or they will tell you that if you don't hear from them after six months, you may then-and only then-email them and ask. Some will only reject you via your Submittable account while a few will never call, never email, never write.

I only had two that did that to me last year. Brought back a few old boyfriend memories.

So why would a writer go through so much work for so little in return? It's the rare magazine that pays cash. Instead, most will award with a copy of two of the journal issue that features your work,  while others publish on-line only.

I do it because it's part of the process. It's the admission price to that organization I want to belong to: The Published Writer Club. It's the dues that must be paid, man. It's also good practice for future publications. If I can't follow a few-OK, several-instructions for submitting my short pieces, how will I ever be able to work with an editor or publisher in the event I am fortunate enough to publish a poetry collection or a novel? So a magazine wants me to  send them a poem in Times New Roman font size 12 with a 1 inch margin at top, a 1.5 inch margin on left and a 2.0 inch margin on the right? Yes, I can do that.

Even with all the variables I discussed, it doesn't have to be a stressful process. Pick out your best work then select one or two publications which will be a good fit.  Do it when you're alone in the house so you're not distracted or feeling rushed. Take the time to read some of the quality work already published by the publication you've chosen and remind yourself they've earned the right to be picky about how the material gets to them. Imagine all the other writers who rush through the process and number their pages in the bottom right instead of the upper left.  Dotting all the i's and crossing the t's in the correct font size, will widen that first gate you must get past before an editor grants you the privilege of a fair read.

I also like to sip a bit of Jameson when I am submitting. We do what we gotta do.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Neglect, by Any Other Name, Is Still Neglect.



                 “What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”
                                                                                                                              John Steinbeck

It is embarrassing to note my last blog post here was over 6 months ago. I was on sabbatical I shall claim. Not from writing but from writing about writing, and from submitting. I was writing in private I suppose. 

It was not intentional, but rather, practical. My non-writing life includes a small homestead where my husband and I live and work. If interested you can read all about it HERE. Last summer we started building a barn and a couple months after that, two wonderful new grandbabies arrived. Then winter stormed in. 

I kept up my writing routine and I was reading copious amounts of work by other writers, but all submissions stopped which consequently meant all acceptances stopped as well. Funny how that works. But last week a barrier of some sort broke and I got busy. In a matter of eight days, I wrote three new poems and submitted a total of twenty three poems to seven separate publications.

Seems I'm on a roll and it feels fantastic. 

To further wind me up I discovered the article Reconnecting After a Silence written by Jane Hirshfield in the latest edition of Poets and Writers. (Jan/Feb 2018) In it she discusses ways to rejuvenate your writing and suggests not only concrete activities like translating a poem from a foreign language you love, "To keep your relationship to word-shaping awake", but cerebral exercises such as reminding yourself why you wanted to write in the first place. She further suggests that a writer can write about not writing, as I did at the beginning of this post, as a way to check in on where you are right now. In all she lists seven ways a writer can rejuvenate and reconnect. 

Although I was not blocked in regards to putting words on paper, I had definitely blocked myself from the next steps needed: revising, fine-tooth combing, and submitting. When I took time last week to review my work over the last few months I was both pleased and appalled at the number of poems I had started but never completed. I had neglected to take my words, thoughts and feelings, the entire distance. I had plopped them down on a piece of paper and abandoned them, leaving them to flip flop around without direction like the fan tail fish who leaps out of his bowl and lands on a cold kitchen floor. A skittering mess of confusion. 

So thanks Jane for the kick in the arse I needed to finish up, to follow up, to write a poem about nothing, from beginning to end. 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Our Father Who Art In Clifton





So thrilled that ROPES Literary Journal of Galway, Ireland has published my poem Our Father Who Art in Clifton, in their recent issue. I was invited to the launch and so would've loved another trip to Galway, I do consider it my other home, but it wasn't possible.

This 25th edition of ROPES is titled Silence and proceeds will aide Pieta House, an organization that focuses on prevention of suicide and self harm.

It is also a huge kick knowing that this issue is on sale at various stores throughout Galway that I have at one time or another shopped in, such as the oh so very wonderful bookstore, Charlie Byrne's. Charlies is a great place crammed full of books on various levels with comfy chairs scattered about where one can plop down and read away an afternoon. Something I did often while I studied at NUIG (National University Ireland Galway) in the summer of 2015.




Our Father Who Art in Clifton



Our father is dead, in yonder hospital bed

                Pale skinned Irishman, cooling while

the pizza warms in the oven

We ordered a thick crust just after he left us

(Watching parents die is exhausting)

thinking we’d have more time

Before the funeral home staff arrived

                Banging at the door

                Hello? Is anyone there?

I hear the extra cheese bubbling so please

                Could we have a moment to eat

to drink, to think

It’s not like he’s going anywhere

Quiet and no longer alert he, basically a dirty

                Footed man who worked menial jobs for menial

 Pay yet kept the bellies of six pumpkins full

Go away hearse, we’ve changed our minds

                Our Father’s first limo ride can wait

                There is one more meal to share

Let us break apart the triangular pieces of heart

                An offering to the man who baked bread

For our suppers, remained faithful to our mother

Who God knows, was no Clara Bernhardt





Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Crime Might Pay But Writing (Usually) Doesn't




From Muzzle Magazine: "Artists should be paid for their labor. We wish we could pay you. We cannot pay you."

I ran across that-what would you call it? A regret? An admission?-when I was submitting yet another group of poems last month. I loved it. The verbal recognition of a writer's worth. It made me want to be published by this magazine and so I submitted five of my best poems. I have yet to hear back from them, but it's only been two months. Not long for most literary journals.

Truth is, few writers, especially poets, are recognized in terms of cash. In the year since I graduated from UIUC and focused seriously on my craft, I have submitted to 123 publications and been paid real money-once. My other acceptances were "paid" via journal copies, or web page shout outs, or just a nice email.

Gemini Magazine sent me such an email regarding their 2017 Poetry Contest.  In a nutshell it said, Thanks for entering. You weren't choosen as a winner but your poem was kinda good. Not good enough to be published but good enough to be listed as "notable."

I liked that email. I'll take notable. It's better than being outright rejected. Better than never hearing back at all. Better than being told Good Lord in Heaven your poetry reeks worse than that piece of salmon you forgot in the back of the fridge.  Stick to feeding pigs already.

At this point in my writing career, two whole years in, I will take whatever reward I might get. A coin tossed my way, a cyber nod, a minor mention at a family event-Hey sister, I read your story in After Hours, it was ok. This does not mean I don't value my work. I do. What it does mean, is that I am a realist. My work is still raw. My work is still new. My work needs work. My work must please me for the sake of writing it-first and foremost.

Besides, most literary magazines operate on donations and subscription fees. Little is left for writer payment. Like many restaurants, lit mags tend to come and go. Which is why so many writers also teach or manufacture fidget spinners or run small farms: because mortgages must be paid, computers run best with electricity, and wee mouths must be filled with food.

When thinking about my future as a writer, and the possibilities of bringing in a bit of income doing what I love sometime before I turn eighty,  I remember what Stephen King said in his book On Writing: A memoir of the Craft. He and his wife Tabitha were under great financial stress in the 1970's and dealing with an ill child with an earache, when he received his first substantial book advance for his novel Carrie. His most immediate thought at the time was, and I paraphrase, "Great! Now we can afford to buy the Pink Stuff."

Me too, Stephen. One day, I hope that my work brings in enough extra cash to buy a bit of The Pink Stuff.






Monday, April 10, 2017

Suffering From Genre Confusion


They say the first step is admitting that you have a problem, so ok, I admit it. I am suffering from a serious case of genre confusion.

As a child I was certain my bent was towards poetry. I scribbled a few lines, rhymed nun with run (we lived next door to a convent in Chicago), and I called it good. In high school, angst filled-who wasn't-I carried around a leather covered notebook for all the brilliant one liners I might have. During my first go-round in college, 1980's style, I hunkered down with all my pre-nursing classes, but slid in a poetry elective just for fun. Even at age twenty I knew I would bring home more cash as a nurse than as a poet, but still, it was poetry that tripped my trigger.

"Tripped my trigger", who talks like that anymore?

But life, children, a career in nurse management, mortgages, another career in organic farming, grandchildren, all took hold and I did not return to that writing love of mine until age fifty five. Now, eleven short months after graduation from a creative writing program, and a few publication successes, I am absolutely, without a doubt, convinced that I am a poet.

Or am I?

It all seemed so certain. I was writing poetry, I was reading poetry, I was submitting poetry, I was even reciting it while milking my cow. There are poetry books all over my house, in my car, and hidden in the barn. A few of my poems have made it into print, one won a major competition.  But then recently I received an unexpected email and my certainty, wobbled.




A short story I'd written last spring for class, revised and submitted to after hours journal of Chicago back in the summer of 2016,  had been accepted for publication in their upcoming issue, which arrived a few days ago. I frankly had forgotten about this little story. It's fairly common to submit a piece and not get a response for three or four months, but if more than six months goes by, I assume it didn't meet the needs of that particular publication and then mentally, I write it off.  So when after hours contacted me nine months after submission, I had to look at my submission log to jog my memory. When I initially wrote this story, it felt nonsensical, but my professor John Rubins thought it had potential.  He told me to revise it. Which I did, a few times.  How to Tell Your Second Husband He is Your Sixth Husband, took on a life of its own, as stories can do, evolving from a goofy diddy about multiple marriages to a darker comment on bad choices.

When the issue arrived last week I read the story cautiously. It was worse than I had remembered. It was better than I hoped. I was embarrassed to have my husband read it, couldn't wait to show it to my daughter, not at all sure if I will show it to my sons, all of whom are near thirty. But what does it mean? Am I now a flash fiction writer as well as a poet?  Is this a fluke or should I concentrate more on story, plot and characters, instead of  the intensity of metaphor and slant rhymes?  Shall I dig out that monstrosity of a novel I wrote five years ago and try to revive it? Will my poems feel jealous that I am spending more time with short stories? Is it right to lay my after hours copy among all my poetry books, or am I being insensitive to them? Rubbing their proses in it so to speak.



And most importantly, am I a total narcissist if I empty out my PayPal account to buy twenty more copies of after hours ?



Monday, February 27, 2017

The Crux of Simultaneous Submissions



The writer has to force himself to work.
He has to make his own hours and if he doesn't go to
his desk at all there is nobody to scold him.
- Roald Dahl


I recently saw a post on a Facebook page dedicated to submissions that suggested, "100 rejections in 100 days," as a writing goal.

I liked that. The idea is clearly, if you submit to 100 journals, either online, print, or both, you're bound to receive an acceptance. Maybe two.

But, if you're sending out that often, your risk, (or your blessing depending on your attitude) is having the same piece of work accepted by more than one literary journal. This happened to me with two Ireland based publications a couple of weeks ago. Fortunately, I had kept good records of what I had sent to whom, and all the magazines I had targeted, did accept simultaneous submissions.

In fact, the large majority of publications will, with their only requirement being immediate withdrawal of your work if  another journal has accepted it.  It's an easy enough process, especially if the journal uses Submittable as their collection site for authors work. Just a few clicks and all is forgiven. If the publication does not use Submittable, simply return to their web site for directions. For most, all that is needed is a short note to the editor via email. In fact, when this happened to me,  two editors thanked me for notifying them of my need to withdraw work, and then congratulated me for my success with another magazine! A couple of class acts those two. I will definitely be submitting to them again.

Watch closely for those publications however, that do not take simultaneous submissions. It will be clearly stated in their submission guidelines. If you risk it and send work to them that you've sent somewhere else at the same time, and you do have to withdraw work because of an acceptance, an astute editor will take notice. They'll wonder why you are withdrawing something that was only supposed to be submitted to them alone. It might affect your chances next time. There is an up side though, to these publications: they tend to get back to you sooner, within just a couple of weeks, as compared to several months for so many others.

The other dilemma with simultaneous submissions, is being accepted first by a journal that perhaps is nearer the bottom of the Pushcart List, or not listed at all, and then soon after, receiving an acceptance for the same piece of work, by a magazine higher up on the food chain. It is tempting to withdraw from the magazine that may not be as well read, but that would be bad manners. After all, if a magazine is good enough for you to submit to in the first place, then they are good enough to have rightful first dibs.

I compare it that girlfriend you had in high school who promised to spend the night at your house, listening to the new Cheap Trick record (yes, I said record) but when she got invited by Delicious Dan to the county tractor pull at the last minute, she bailed on you tout suite. So there you sat, alone in your Black-Light-Lit room listening to I want you to want me, over and over while bingeing on Suzie Q snack cakes and Tab.

Magazine editors have feelings too you know.