Newsletter posting 1: Getting knocked down

This is my February Newsletter Posting.

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As an academic, I have a tender side to my writing and submitting self.  I am timid, writing with the hope that someone will see the value in what I do.  I submit, hoping for validation.  I still have a lot of growing to do. 
But as a poet, I am fearless.  I write what needs to be written, what calls to me.  I submit to the journals I love, and if an editor does not accept the work, I revise the work and resubmit somewhere else.  Somebody’s gonna love you, a song sung by Alice Russell, comes to mind.  Yes, somebody’s gonna love that poem that I wrote; I just have to find the right somebody. 
            I wasn’t always so resilient.  In the hope of helping someone out there, I’ll share my process. 
            I was a strange kid.  While most of my neighbors were riding their bikes, I was at home reading Poet’s Market and Writer’s Market, figuring out what those listings meant, preparing myself to submit one day.  I was in elementary school when I first submitted a poem to an anthology’s call.  I think it was something that I had seen in Highlights or another kid-centered magazine.  The poem was accepted; my mother bought a few copies of the anthology.  I submitted a few poems that way.  My poem was a third place, runner up for some competition.  Depending on the anthology, I had pen names that I listed in the author notes.  One was Anastasia E. Lore.  It sounded grandiose.  Perhaps, one day, if I should ever write romance novels, I’ll break out one of those pen names again.
I call those early experiences confidence boosters.  Looking back, I can see that the anthologies were put out by vanity presses, presses designed for those looking to be published and willing to pay for it.  Still, for a child, it was exciting to see my name in print, run my hand along the page and feel my words printed there. 
It was in high school that I received my first taste of rejection.  I submitted a huge manuscript of poems to the high school literary journal.  All but one were about the usual teenage angst:  love, betrayal, friendship, the search for something.  I thought that they were good.  What was published?  The one rhyming poem about the Virgin Mary.  I was furious for weeks, because it seemed that my whole identity was invalidated.  All that mattered was my religious leanings.  Did I mention that I went to a Catholic school? 
In college and after, I had plenty of rejections, so many that I could paper my walls with them as Stephen King actually did.  Read his On Writing for his story on that.  When I found his book, I was comforted by this bond, thinking If he can find success after so many rejections, then so can I. 
Sometimes, the rejections came with just a slip of paper, stuffed into my self-addressed and stamped envelope.  A thin envelope in the mailbox was never a good sign.  I have received form letters, sized to about 3 inches by 8.5 inches.  That’s the size of a form letter trimmed on a paper cutter.  I sometimes found myself imagining the assistant copy editor, cutting thousands of 8.5x 10 sheets, each printed with 3 form letters, then cut into three pieces.  I imagined all the people receiving those form letters, without even a note from the editor of encouragement, not even a signature.  It saddened me to think of a sea of our faces, all across the country, united by form letters.  And then, sometimes, I’d think of the cost of that stamp and all the other stamps I had sent, how together they could have fed me for a day or two?  I could go farther down the rabbit hole, and the farther I went, the less writing and the less submitting I did. 
On occasion, I would get the rejections that were still form letters but had notes on them, just a little encouragement about the poem.  The best letters were those that encouraged me to submit again, and I did.  I have files of these letters, which I do recognize is silly, but the hoarder in me can’t let them go, these first inklings that there might just be an audience for my work. 
I learned from another poet that she keeps 13 submissions cycling.  When one packet returns, she sends it out again.  She’s confident in the work.  Through that brief conversation, I started sending 15 submissions at a time, keeping vigilant track of what was out and where.  I have Excel spreadsheets for years on the topic.  I found myself highlighting in gold those acceptances.  For every acceptance, there might have been 10 to 20 or even more different editor eyes on a poem, but sooner or later, most found homes. 
Now, when a rejection comes in, I file it away, check it off of my submission list, and think about the next venue for the work.  What I learned from the process, too, of rejection and writing (and submitting again) as an editor is how much those comments matter.  That’s why The Acentos Review provides personalized feedback on EVERY submission and has done so for over five years.  It may be a line or two, but I know how much that might matter to someone on the other end.  That line or two can be the beginning of the armor we need to keep going.  
  1. So, what research have you done about your craft?  Are you reading Poet’s Market, Writer’s Market, The Writer’s Chronicle, Poets and Writers or other trade magazines?  Are you reading the acknowledgement sections of the books you love?  Are you following those publishers who publish the books you love?  Think about what you write.  Who’s publishing it?  Are you reading those journals and books?  
  2. Are you working in a workshop?  This is a great way to get the confidence boost you need and get the feedback that every writer needs to grow.  
  3. Have you developed an organizational system to keep track of your submissions?  Do you have a submission schedule?  If you want to find an audience for your work, this is almost as important as your writing schedule.  Make the time to write, make the time to submit.
  4. Think about the financial commitment of submitting.  These days most journals receive submissions through online submission managers, but if you are sending out work, think about what you can afford to send.  Whether individual poems/stories or manuscripts for contests, there are costs.  No writer should go hungry in order to submit.  It’s not sustainable, and it’s not healthy.  There have been more than enough starving artists.  You don’t need to be one.  
  5. Read the guidelines for journals.  You are more likely to get the dreaded form letter if you don’t read the guidelines.
  6.  If an editor takes the time to sign a name to a rejection letter, take note and address your next cover letter to that person.  A personal note goes a long way.
  7. If an editor writes feedback on a poem or story, take note.  If you make the changes, submit again, and write in your cover letter what changes you made and why.  If you don’t like the feedback, submit it somewhere else.  
  8. If an editor writes a personal note on your rejection and tells you to submit again, SUBMIT AGAIN!  Don’t just sleep with this note under your pillow!  Go through your new work, mention the note in your cover letter, and submit again!  
  9. Repeat:  Somebody’s gonna love this until you believe it. Keep your work out there in a steady cycle.  Go. 
 

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