System of a Poet
by guest blogger Hattie Jean Hayes
Hattie Jean Hayes is writer and performer of many things, as well as a poet, but I asked her to write a guest post about her submission strategy, since she has such a successful method, far from the “dreamy, impractical” stereotype. Although I am behind on my posts for April is Poetry Month, Hattie was gracious enough to share some of her tips with my readers,
I didn’t begin submitting my work “in earnest” until February of 2021 when I set a goal of submitting a piece of writing every day. By the end of that month, I’d logged 32 submissions on the calendar. That “sprint” broke me of my anxieties or reservations around submissions, and I continued submitting through the rest of the year. My year-long goal was to see 12 pieces of writing accepted for publication; a total of 21 were accepted. I’m on track to surpass that number in 2022. If you’re trying to challenge yourself for a single month or grind on submissions all year, you can use these practices.
I use two tools to inventory all my creative projects: Google Sheets and Notion. I use a spreadsheet titled Creative Project Dashboard to log my in-progress and completed projects, including short stories, novels, essays, scripts, parody songs, original musicals, and poems. Once I begin working on something, it’s allowed to be recorded here – if something is just an idea, it stays in Notion.
Every category of project gets a different sheet, and every sheet has different columns. My stories and essays, for example, get these columns: title, status (in progress, complete, awaiting feedback, editing), synopsis, length, and where I’ve submitted it. The poems get a similar treatment, with the synopsis column replaced with a “spawn point” signifier, so I can remember if something was first drafted during NaPoWriMo, a workshop, etc.
Inventorying my work allows me to track where I’ve sent things, and it means no project is forgotten. There are hundreds of items listed in my document, and when I’m putting together a submission for a journal that will review five or six pieces, it’s helpful to have a list of all my work, so I can say “Wait! I haven’t sent that one out in forever and it totally fits this theme!”
I log all my projects in Notion, a note-taking app/website similar to Evernote. Just use whichever productivity app you’re likely to actually use. I like Notion because I can easily create and move different “pages” in that dashboard. I keep a list of ideas for each category of project, and I put early drafts of the projects themselves in Notion. I really like the flexibility to use dashboards in Notion to track where I am with revisions, or record a bunch of feedback from a workshop and see it at a glance. This is not an ad for Notion, I just like it!
My Notion also has lists of all my accepted and published work, so when these pieces go live, it’s easy to copy and paste the live links onto my website. I have a page in Notion where I record third-person biographies of various lengths since this is something you need to have on hand for submissions.
I don’t rely on Submission Grinder or Duotrope to find and record submissions, only because I find it overwhelming. Sometimes I use the aggregators on ChillSubs.com or in Submittable to look for open journals, but that’s usually when I have a specific piece that hasn’t found the right home, and I need to expand my view a little.
My primary means of finding places to submit are social media. I’m in a submission group on Facebook that introduces me to a lot of new journals, and I use Twitter’s bookmarks feature to flag journals I want to read and submit to.
I have a bookmarks folder on my browser for lit journals, and when I make a new bookmark, I name it “SUBMIT XYZ TO [JOURNAL NAME]” so I’m not confused about the bookmark later. If there’s a journal I’m eager about, and the submission window isn’t open, I set a calendar reminder – with the name of the piece I want to submit – for the day submissions open.
I don’t think you need to be a devoted fan of a literary journal to submit to it, but I do think you should get a feel of the tone and some of the published work. I think I’m most successful when I’m mindful of how my writing will fit a particular journal’s readership. My “best” writing isn’t always the best for the job.
This is probably the most customizable part of the process. When it comes to actually submitting, YMMV! Do you like month-long “sprints” where you send work out every day, or even shorter, day-long marathons? Do you want to fill your calendar with reminders of submission windows, and submit as they open up? Or are you going to focus on one piece of writing, and shop it around until it’s snapped up?
Whatever works for you is good! Make sure that you follow guidelines about submission formatting, and respect any rules around simultaneous submissions. Consider creating a document like mine for short bios/publishing history.
Indexing your writing is just inventorying, again. Once you’ve submitted a piece, index the places you submitted to. There was one poem I submitted to 40 different journals in 2021. By the time it got accepted, I had 9 journals still considering it, and it was so handy to have a list of journals that needed to receive that sweet, sweet withdrawal email.
Log your kudos: were you nominated for a prize? Did your mentor say something complimentary about the piece? Put it in there! If you decide to stop submitting a piece while you revise it, make a note about your different drafts. Once you place it, you’ll want to remember the “before” and “after” so you can see what changed. And if you decide to axe any pieces, consider indexing them into a “graveyard” where they can be cannibalized into new writing later on. I began logging my projects this way in 2016, so I have six years’ worth of ideas (good and bad), drafts (good and bad), and completed pieces (mostly good! some bad) on record. That makes me a hell of a lot more confident when it comes to getting published, and when I get rejected, it’s another data point.
Hattie Jean Hayes is a writer and comedian, originally from Missouri, who now lives in New York. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Hobart, HAD, Janus Literary, Sledgehammer Literary and the Hell is Real Anthology. She is working on a novel and several much sillier projects.