There’s a certain amount of give and take in the relationship between poet and editor, though the onus must remain on the poet to manage that relationship. Editors are swamped, hampered by deadlines. They have no time to foster personal relationships, and they don’t want to, either; you’re not sparking a friendship, you’re promoting a business, your business, and editors are right in the thick of it. Yet some poets (I am in this category) wind up giving in to impatience and over exuberance, and that can impede publication.
Let me digress for a moment. The waiting period between submittal and final disposition can last many months. And, if you’ve submitted your work simultaneously, you want to know the strongest journal is interested prior to acquiescing to the lesser one. The entire system is…well, it’s not poet- friendly. And for a person of my ilk, it fosters impatience AND over exuberance. Or at least it used to. End of digression.
Intellectually, I was in tune with my impatience and over exuberance. In practice, I had a hard time with it. I would query editors during the selection process, send emails every few weeks asking the status of my submittal. Though I’ll never know, I’m certain this hampered my chance of publishing somewhere through the years. Since then, I’ve learned it’s good to keep email to a minimum, even after a journal has selected me for publication. I’m verbose–I love to share good news. In one case, I decided to share my exuberance over and over with the editors of a quarterly. They’re much busier than poets. They don’t have the time we do in the business of poetry. I’m sure my deluge of emails did nothing but irritate the editors of that fine quarterly. Just like impatience, over exuberance, while refreshing, might hinder your publishing success.
I’ve put a plan in place to combat my impatience (which also covers over exuberance). I’ve created spreadsheets to follow what poetry is where, any unique submittal criteria, et cetera. I’ve promised myself — and stuck with it — not to email editors unless it fits in with common courtesy (thank you notes), or when it’s obvious that an email is in order, such as when months have passed and I still haven’t heard anything. But that’s it. Common courtesy and “hey, did you receive my stuff?” emails. Poets write, and that should be that. As unfortunate as it seems to a poet, there are two distinct sides to publishing: the creative process of writing, and the business process of publishing.
And so goes the business end of poetry, along with impatience and over exuberance. They get in the way of a proper poet/editor dialogue. Before you send an email, or a tweet (which will be covered in an entirely different post), think closely about it. Are you sending it without a message? Not good. Is it a thank you note following the editor’s lead? That’s appropriate. Have the editors had your poem for a long time without letting you know its disposition? In the case of timing, I use the four-month rule — if I haven’t heard anything in four months, I draft a concise, well-written, COURTEOUS email. It’s very fair to do, and it doesn’t need to be long or elaborate.
Always — ALWAYS — follow the editor’s submittal guidance and try to develop spreadsheets that follow the progression of your submitted work. And, for pete’s sake, stop editing poems once they’re submitted! Abandon them, as it’s been said. I learned the hard way, recently, when an outstanding journal agreed to publish what turned out to be a first draft – not a finished version – of a poem I wrote. It was embarrassing. Out of exuberance, I made myself look silly, unprofessional. I was impatient, AND I was over exuberant, this time in the submittal process, sending out work that wasn’t finished.
I’ll end here by saying good luck with your submittals. Whatever you do, try to maintain some form of patience as you pressurize yourself in the world of published poetry. You’ll look professional in the eyes of the editor, and as long as you followed submittal criteria explicitly, your chances are better that editors will, at the very least, give your poetry a longer look.
Please comment if you have ideas that work for you. Or, if you’d like, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I promise I’ll get back to you well before four months have passed…