Yes, Your Submission Phobia Is Holding You Back
By Michelle Seaton
If you’re feeling discouraged about your work, I guarantee that your number-one problem is this: You aren’t submitting enough. I might not know you, but I know I’m right about this.
In 12 years of teaching at Grub Street, I’ve learned three truths about students:
- They don’t submit enough, especially the most talented ones. Read that sentence again and then ask yourself how many times you’ve submitted something in the past year. Yeah, I thought so.
- Many of my most talented students never submit anything. This makes me crazy.
- The students who publish most often submit constantly, as though it’s their job, or their final year on Earth. And guess what? It works.
I think I know why you don’t submit: It’s easy to become so comfortable in the womb of the supportive workshop or writers’ group that the thought of having a cold eye cast on your work is paralyzing.
Also, we writers are expert liars. Here are the top three lies we tell ourselves.
- Rejection is all powerful. You think rejection is proof that you have no talent or that the work is no good. Actually, the only thing a rejection proves is that you sent out your work. Good for you. I suggest you collect ten of these and then reward yourself.
- I will submit this story soon, when it feels finished. No you won’t. For most stories and essays there is no moment when it will feel good enough. Submit before you feel ready. Like, today.
- I’m afraid that my work will end up in a journal that’s not good enough. Right. Because keeping the work moldering in your hard drive for a few years is a much better fate for it. No one knows how prestigious a journal is or isn’t—except for those at the very top. So stop obsessing.
In my class on submitting essays, I insist on several things. First, that students submit each work to no fewer than 10 journals at once. Twenty is even better. Yes, journal editors hate this advice, so don’t tell any that I said to do this. But this is what you must do.
Someone in class always asks if they should read the journals before submitting to them. The short answer is no.
Should you be reading journals extensively? Yes. Should you subscribe to several? Yes. In fact, if you are a Boston-area writer and you don’t subscribe to one of the many outstanding local lit journals, well, that’s a crime. But right now we’re performing triage on your submission phobia, and the last thing you need is six months’ worth of homework with which you can procrastinate. Go to each journal’s website and look at the work that’s posted. For now, that’s enough. Want a great shortcut to compiling a list of journals to submit to? Visit www.duotrope.com , which now lists nonfiction markets.
Second, I insist that writers have a boilerplate cover sheet into which they can insert the name of each new story, essay or poem and its length. An ideal cover sheet is short and perfunctory. Why? Because editors don’t read them. Your work speaks for itself.
Finally, I make writers sit down and set a date on the calendar—for this week—when they will submit a particular work.
Are you still reading this blog? Stop now and start submitting.
Michelle Seaton’s short fiction has appeared in One Story, Harvard Review, Sycamore Review, The Pushcart Anthology among others. Her journalism and essays have appeared in Robb Report, Bostonia, Yankee Magazine, The Pinch andLake Effect. Her essay, “How to Work a Locker Room” appeared in the 2009 edition of Best American Nonrequired Reading. She is the coauthor of the books The Way of Boys (William Morrow, 2009) and Living with Cancer (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017), and Change Your Schedule, Change Your Life (HarperWave, 2018). She has been an instructor with Grub Street since 2000 and is the lead instructor and created the curriculum for Grub Street's Memoir Project, a program that offers free memoir classes to senior citizens in Boston neighborhoods. The project has visited fourteen Boston neighborhoods and produced five anthologies.See other articles by Michelle Seaton