Today I’m sharing some mistakes I’ve made when it comes to submitting pieces for publication. Remember, this is my year of being ENOUGH, so I am not sharing these to beat myself up, but to continue to adopt a fail-fast strategy. I may have failed and made mistakes, but I can learn from them. Also, if any of you are new writers who are beginning to submit pieces to journals and online places, I hope you can learn from my mistakes!
1. Not Getting to Know a Journal/Magazine/Publication Before Submitting
So, let’s be realistic. There’s are thousands of literary journals out there and as a writer I don’t have time to explore every single one in detail. However, if I am going to submit an essay or poem to a journal, I need to peruse the journal’s website at least a little. I try to check out the “About” section to see if the style of journal lines up with my writing, and most importantly I check out past issues to see what kind of poems/essays the journal has published.
The truth is, though, that I have a handful of poems that were published in either small, unknown journals or just plain weird journals that now I kind of regret. I should have done more research at the time. I recently responded to a submission call I saw on Twitter. I very briefly surveyed the website before submitting. The journal accepted two of my poems, but publication date was supposed to be December 22 and I haven’t heard anything. There have also been a couple of other red flags, so I have emailed to withdraw my poems. My fault. I should have explored the website more thoroughly and thought a little bit more before submitting.
2. Submitting the Right Piece to the Wrong Journal
This is related to number 1. And it’s a mistake that yes, I have made. If you spend time researching a journal, you need to consider if your writing fits that journal’s style and audience. In my case this was more of an online Christian site that looks at pop culture from a spiritual lens, not a true literary magazine. I had written a piece about a documentary called God Loves Uganda. They were interested in the essay and I worked with an editor on it for a couple of weeks. But in the end, they decided not to run the piece. There were some changes that they wanted me to make that I was uncomfortable with. They weren’t critiquing my writing ability; they were thinking about their audience. But the truth is, I should have been thinking about their audience, too. My essay was not bad, but I pitched it to the wrong place. Lesson learned.
3. Not Being Wary When Submitting to a Fledgling Journal
So a friend of mine posted a link to a brand new online literary journal that looked beautiful. The first issue was a great mix of personal essays, poetry, photography, pencil drawings, and even an interview with an organic gardener. The writing and presentation were both great. I looked up the theme for the second issue and wrote an essay just for that theme. When I submitted, I received an email saying that my essay would be “a lovely addition to the _________ Issue.” I thought that meant it was accepted. They did ask for some small revisions, which I made.
But after a few weeks of not hearing anything, I got an email saying that the direction of the issue had taken a turn and they would not be using my essay. (In other words, better submissions had come in. It’s a hard fact for a writer to face, but face it I must.) I replied with an honest but courteous email telling them that I felt like it was not professional to accept and then un-accept a piece. They responded kindly and apologetically, and they did admit that as a start-up journal they need to be more clear as to whether or not a piece is accepted.
So, while I was disappointed, the truth is that this is a risk you take when submitting to a fledgling journal. New journals are still working out kinks, and there will be fits and starts. Mistakes will be made. I am not suggesting NOT to submit to new journals, but just be aware that glitches may happen. For the record, I still think it’s a lovely journal, and I actually posted a version of that essay here on the blog, but I won’t tell you which one. 🙂
4. Insulting the Editor
Yes, I humbly admit that I have insulted an editor before. It was more of an online culture/lifestyle magazine than a lit mag, but from the very first email, I could tell that the editor didn’t really know what he was doing. He took five paragraphs to say, “Your piece has potential; please look at my revision suggestions.” That said, he was the editor and I was not. I made the changes that I thought helped my piece and ignored the suggestions that didn’t. He wasn’t happy when he saw that I hadn’t made all the revisions he wanted. Heated emails were exchanged. I withdrew the essay. And yes, I did send him an apology email. It was really hard to swallow my ego on that one. I am still not sure how to balance your writer’s gut with an editor’s suggestions. But I do think that it’s pretty bad form to be mean to an editor. Again, lesson learned.
What lessons have you learned as a writer? What mistakes have you made and how have you dealt with them?
Thank you so much for sharing these lessons for your fellow writers. Do you have any tips for folks new to the publishing world (hint: me)?