Publication is a difficult beast. It’s a daunting and often confusing process. And yet in the land of academia publication is the inevitable dragon to be slain. I understand. Before coming to my current program in rhetoric and writing, I completed two (!) graduate programs in creative writing. Immediately upon entering my MA program in creative writing, I felt the pressure to publish. It was expected that–if we weren’t already deep into doing so—all of us potential poets, essayists, and fiction writers would immediately set about reading and researching literary journals, choosing places to submit our work, and preparing stacks and stacks of packets for submission. By the time I finished my MFA, I had accumulated a huge folder full of rejection slips, but I had successfully published about fifteen poems–a respectable number.
Being a poet, I faced the highs and lows of publication early on, and I quickly learned the best practices for putting your work out there. Here are a few tips that hold up in any submission and publication process, and that can help you manage your job applications in the academic job search as well.
- Aim high. When I first started sending out poetry to journals, I chose those journals that weren’t necessarily the most selective so as to maximize my chances of getting published. As I gained more experience and wisdom, however, I realized that if I wanted to have a shot at getting accepted into more selective journals, I actually had to send my work to them. Highly selective journals and/or that dream job you want to work at that still maintain an open submission policy (meaning they aren’t closed to anything but what theythemselves solicit) will still review your submission or your application. So go ahead and submit, or apply. You never know what will strike a chord with the editors or the hiring committee. The worst that can happen is that you’ll be rejected, or that you’ll never hear back. Which brings me to my next point…
- Expect long waiting periods. The editors of small journals, like the one I worked for as an MFA student, are swamped with submissions all the time. They rely on small, underpaid or volunteer staffs to get through the piles–and yes, I mean PILES–of submissions they receive on a weekly basis. If a submission wasn’t rejected right away, and if it wasn’t an immediate “yes!” it would move on to an editorial meeting wherein chosen members of the staff would debate its merits and drawbacks at length, keeping in mind what the journal was looking for. All of this takes time. Tons of time. When you send a submission or job application out, be hyperaware of the time it takes for who you’re waiting for to get back to you. It could be a few weeks, a few months, or even a year or longer (I’ve heard as long as two years, but that’s pushing it). It’s important to be patient. Generally, the longer you have to wait, the less of a chance you have of being accepted, but this is not always the case. Be mindful of posted response times. If you haven’t heard anything in that time, wait a few weeks longer (yes, more waiting) and then it’s okay to send a polite note inquiring about the status of your manuscript/application. This brings me to my third tip…
- Keep good records. When I started sending my work out, I took a cue from an established poet and started an Excel document to record my submissions. I kept track of the journal I submitted to, the name and address and email address of the editor, the contents of the packet I sent, the date I sent it, and the estimated response time. I also created cells for whether my submission was accepted or rejected, the date I received a response, and what, if anything, the editor had to say about my work. Once you have some success, you’ll be asked to sign a contract. Keep copies of your contracts if you get them, and understand what they mean for subsequent publication of your work. When you get onto the academic job market, you may be overwhelmed by the huge amount of paper-pushing that you’ll have to do, and all of the complex application packets you’ll have to keep track of. You will probably be custom tailoring your job letters for the institutions you apply to, so it’s important to keep track of what letter goes where. You can use a similar tracking process for your application materials. You can easily keep track which letters you sent, or which version of your CV or teaching philosophy went out with it. And of course, no matter how you keep track of your submissions, be sure to schedule follow-up days in your calendar.
- Prepare for rejection, because you will experience it. Guaranteed. Being a writer who wants to publish means being a writer who is/has been/will be rejected. This is true regardless of your academic discipline, your chosen medium or genre, etc. I have a file folder full of rejection slips. Most of them are form rejections with no personal info. Some of them have a few handwritten words of encouragement. One of them was downright rude. But there are many, many more of them than acceptances. Rejection is a fact of life. It is not a reflection on your character. It’s important to remember that rejection happens for all sorts of reasons, and that a rejection is frequently about them, not about you. The journal could be full up, there could be internal issues, it might not be the right place/right time, etc. That being said, it’s a good idea to graciously accept constructive criticism and graciously dismiss destructive comments.
When I was doing my MFA, I sometimes sent out up to fifteen packets of poems at a time because I knew that I had to send at least that many to have a shot at getting anything published, statistically speaking. You could send a hundred poems out, and then a hundred more, and get rejected each time. But on that 201st poem, you might get into The New Yorker. Similarly, if you apply for academic jobs, you might send a hundred applications before you get a bite, but on your 101st application, you could get your dream job. As a teacher of mine once said, “Don’t let them not publish you.” Persistence always wins, and those who persevere prosper.
[Image by Flickr user Kevin Steinhardt and used under Creative Commons License]
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