Submitting to the Process-Embracing my Ignorance

I’ve made four submissions in the last month.  I’m talking about my writing, if you weren’t sure.  One essay, one poem, and two pieces of flash fiction.  The poem even had more than 17 syllables.  Not that more syllables means it’s any better, or more work, I just thought it was a good poem. It was an okay poem. It was a poem.

It was a poem I wrote a few years ago about hope and I needed to believe in it, to do something, rather than sit at a computer and fantasize about the day when I’d publish my work.

Submitting it felt like an act of desperation, like being possessed.  At that moment I needed to believe my work would be  impossible to reject.  I’m kicking myself now, knowing I could have presented myself better.  I’m a marketer, I know these things, but in these days of electronic submissions, it’s so easy to push send.  The process of printing, signing, putting together a SASE, and finding enough stamps for the whole shebang slowed one down enough to breathe through the adrenaline surge and reconsider.  Now, I’m positive that I could have written a better cover letter, made the hook more compelling, and maybe, just maybe, not sounded like the complete neophyte that I am.

The fact that I have no credentials to fall back on bothers me.  I’ve spent most of my life as an expert.  As a consultant, I would throw my CV on the table and people would sit up straighter. I didn’t have to ask clients, pretty please, listen to my presentation.  I don’t like being a newbie.  Humility. A new hurdle to jump over.

That has been one of the harder parts of this journey–giving up the persona I spent so many years building.  The veneer of certainty served me well.  Even if I was spinning on the inside, thinking I’m a fraud and I have no idea what I’m doing, I was very good at sounding sure.  I can’t do that now.  There is nothing sure in writing, other than facing a large amount of rejection along with the possibility of acceptance.

The waiting is also difficult.  I’m not a patient person. I like resolution, and often push to get things settled when I would be better served to let them play out.  I hate the ambiguity of not knowing where I stand.  I look at three digit response times in Duotrope’s and I wonder what are these editors doing with their time?  Don’t they know my submission is important? Ignore the crappy cover letter–read it! Just let me know one way or the other, and I can move on.

But I know time is my friend in this case–at least I haven’t gotten a rejection yet.  There’s still hope for my poem about hope.

In most jobs, you get a fair amount of legitimacy before you earn it.  You get the salary, the title, the recognition of your place in the org chart from the day you walk in the door.  Then, you spend the next year making sure people don’t regret hiring you.  With writing, you spend years writing, and maybe, if your lucky, you get the legitimacy of getting paid for it, or at a minimum, get your name in print.

So, strangely enough, it is submission twice over. Yes, I’m sending my work to be judged and evaluated, but also I’m submitting to what this career requires.  I’ll need to develop a whole new set of skills, a thicker skin, and a more patient approach to my work. As a friend recently said, this is a lot more interesting than any of the research reports I’d ever written. Not that I’ve changed much yet, I still think I’m always right and get hacked off if I think people aren’t listening.

What has your experience been with the submission process? How do you overcome fear, yet balance it with consideration?

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph by Taz

18 comments on “Submitting to the Process-Embracing my Ignorance

  1. K. McGee says:

    The submission process is one entwined with humility. But it’s much easier if you remember that they don’t know you from Adam and unless your submission is painfully horrible, it’s highly likely they won’t remember your poem or even your name by the time you make your next submissions go-around. So that anonymity of being a no one in the big, cold world of writing, is also very comforting. Best of luck!

  2. margo roby says:

    I have been submitting for twenty years and still feel like a neophyte with the cover letters.

    It also helps to remember that the process is highly subjective on the other end. If you feel the poem has legs, but it is rejected, chances are more than good that it wasn’t the editor’s thing, rather than the poem isn’t good enough. Ship it out again.

    • nanhinchliff says:

      Really good post, Jeannine. It hits on so many of the thoughts and considerations emerging writers have to deal with. In fact, you’ve hit me right where I’m at (so to speak), at the moment. I’ve finished a memoir and am submitting query letters and pages to agents, as well as bits and pieces from the entire work in the form of short stories and excerpts to journals for publication.

      This statement from your post spoke to me: “Now, I’m positive that I could have written a better cover letter, made the hook more compelling…” I keep doing this to myself. Re-writing and re-writing…ad infinitum. But then, I am a perfectionist.

      Where you and I differ is I don’t care if I’m perceived as a neophyte and I don’t find the process humbling. To me, It just is what it is. The reason, I guess, is that I’m a life-long learner and have started at the beginning so many times in my life (personally and career-wise) that I actually like the challenge. I was a teacher for 25 years in Chicago ( of art, music, and creative writing), a learning consultant, and single mom. I worked on a PhD and taught at the U. of Ill. I am now a small bus.owner and run a BnB in Kentucky on my own. And I’ve loved having to start over. Give me a challenge and I get all excited.

      All of these experiences have shaped the way I personally/emotionally/mentally, I view the submission process; that is, without fear and trepidation….just another new thing to learn.

      • Hopefully I learn to accept ambiguity and be open to uncertainty as you are. I started climbing up the business ladder since I was a teenager, and kept grabbing rung after rung until I had no choice but to let go. I just keep remembering that the joy is in the process, the writing, and publishing is icing on the cake.

    • Blame it on the editor. I think I can make that strategy work! Thanks for the encouragement, Margo. Fear is a pain in the behind.

  3. Julie Farrar says:

    Jeannine, you covered everything I’ve been thinking since I founded this “start up” called “the writing life.” Yes, when I wore a suit and jewelry every day I knew exactly how to measure progress. I still feel like I’m floundering, but I’m continuing on. Good piece of writing here.

  4. muddykinzer says:

    Great post! I feel the same way about having no credentials in the field of writing. It is a bit of a catch-22: I have no business writing because I have no credentials, but then again, the only way to get any credentials is to write! Maybe just power through, day after day, and keep on writing! 🙂

  5. hiyacynthia says:

    Jeannine, I have had just a tiny little bit of experience with submission and rejection and waiting for an answer, and it isn’t easy. It’s nerve-wracking! I have had feedback which was curt and dry and feedback which was full of love and helpfulness. The rejections I have received so far have been because it wasn’t what they were looking for, not because the writing was horrible, so that’s of some condolence, at least. With my first “real” rejection recently, I didn’t get upset at all. My husband thought I would need comforting. But instead, I confirmed what they did want and got right back on the horse and re-submitted – at it was accepted with great fanfare.

    As Dory says in Finding Nemo, “Just keep swimming!”

    • I went through the whole submission process about 10 years ago with poems and children’s books. At that point, I was broken and not in any place to hold my work separate from myself. I am going to keep trying. The waiting does vex me. At least it’s easier to check email than go out to the mailbox 🙂

  6. I left my 20+ year career in accounting in Feb 2011 to pursue my life-long dream of becoming a writer. It’s been a slow, painstaking process. I’ve cried on my husband’s shoulders saying, “but I don’t have a job description, I don’t have an evaluations, I don’t have a boss providing feedback on my work, and I don’t know what my standards are to gauge my performance.” I was terrified of submitting anything because I had no reference point to determine if I was meeting objections. Then it finally dawned on me that the REJECTIONS would be my standard to gauge my performance. What an editor had to say about my work would be my evaluation. I knew I HAD to submit to learn if I was or was not meeting objections. My first few pieces were rejected, but I finally submitted a piece that was short-listed for a short story contest. May 25th I’ll find out if I’m a winner or not. I’ve begun receiving assignments from my local newspaper for articles and she said they were “fantastic”, and she runs my weekly humor column. My blog is slowly and steadily building an audience. I just keep writing and submitting, and I always second guess if I should changed this or that. But I also realize, at some point I just have to hit that send button, because I will NEVER think my story or cover letter is good enough. I have to let someone else make that determination for me, so I can learn what works and what doesn’t.

  7. susannye says:

    Jeannine – A big old woot woot to you for taking the plunge! Exposing ourselves to rejection is tough but it only makes success sweeter…and our work better. Waiting is a pain – especially when the editor or publisher promises feedback in four, six or eight weeks but doesn’t and the waiting drags on and on and on.

    I may be foolish but I don’t worry too much about cover letters when I submit my work to a contest or anthology. By then I’ve been turned inside out and upside down to make the story perfect or, more likely, perfect enough. I figure the work will speak for itself and all the fancy credentials in the world won’t sell a mediocre story. After all when the story appears in their book or magazine or on their website, it will not have a fancy cover memo. Besides, if they are looking for big names no amount of words can turn my regional success into national or international acclaim. (I’m not big on smoke and mirrors.)

    That said – I do sweat over pitches for new work … stuff that is still an idea and hasn’t been written. Especially with a new editor or publisher, the pitch needs to sell not just the article idea/topic but me as a professional and a writer.

    Good luck and take care – Susan

  8. Submission is intense, but I find it kind of fun, once I got over the fear of being rejected. It doesn’t feel good to have people tell you no, at any time, but once I realized rejection doesn’t necessarily mean an evaluation of my abilities, it became a lot less stressful. Sometimes a rejection really is because it wasn’t right for that person or that magazine. And if you don’t submit, you’ll never get published!

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