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The Submission Mission: IDEA #2 FOR SUMMER
Written by
Anna Leahy
July 2011
Written by
Anna Leahy
July 2011

IDEA #2 FOR SUMMER: Define Submission Widely

            When I sit down, choose a few poems or a story to submit, and double-check the guidelines for a few literary journals, I’m in the process of submitting. Each envelope that goes out and each attachment to the online form or email counts as a submission. I’m sure we can all agree on that.

            But what else counts? What else can we give ourselves credit for? When should I pat myself on the back for moving beyond the isolation of the writing act into the process of putting my words out there?

            During the June live chat, I realized that I wasn’t really counting a lot of other kinds of submissions. It’s difficult enough to find time to submit our work, so it’s important that we judge that time accurately. I hereby declare that all participants in The Submission Mission (whether you are a group member or a silent lurker) count everything that goes out. Everything.

            This declaration means that, if you submit the same story to three journals simultaneously, that’s three submissions. No more saying, “I sent out one story. Three times.” From now on, it's more like, “I sent out three—count ’em, three—submissions.”

            For a long time, I didn’t count the applications to three residencies I did in the spring. That was really frustrating because I sent those applications in after I got riled up about the VIDA count and told everyone to do a dozen submissions that month. I submitted only those applications and fell short of the goal I set in my public statement. Those applications were more work—took more thinking through and more time—than submitting to journals. But that wasn’t getting my work into editors’ hands, so I wasn’t really counting them as submissions per se. Then, Sewanee Writers’ Conference offered me a fellowship, and, suddenly, the applications deserved to be counted as something. Funny how a little success rationalizes previous effort. I should have counted those applications as submission work all along, no matter what the response.

            I also wasn’t counting publications that had emerged from connections or queries. I had defined submission as what I do after I’ve finished writing something. Submission was a one-way process that I initiated: I looked up from my poem out into the world for someone whose attention it might attract. My narrow thinking led me to consider the book review essay I just sent to Fiction Writers Review a writing assignment, not a submission. I had published a collaborative essay with FWR before, so I queried them with the idea for the review essay and they said yes before I had written a word (even before I had read any of the books, which was a little scary). So I wasn’t really submitting the book review for consideration after I’d written it and, therefore, didn’t count it in the work I think of as submission. That’s silly, isn’t it? If something gets published, of course, it’s been submitted.

            I’m trained as a poet. Sending out poems defined for me what it means to submit creative work. But defining submission based on my early, relatively narrow (sometimes flailing) experiences unnecessarily limited me. Now, if I pitch a short article to Air & Space Magazine, that’s a submission (even if they don’t want to celebrate Italy’s contribution to space exploration as the country celebrates its 150th anniversary, which I still think is a great idea). If I enter a contest, that’s a submission. Wow, this post is a submission too—I thought of that just this minute.

Heck, why not count a comment on an online article at NPR a submission? I’m serious. Anything that gets my words (and name) out there in the world is a form of submitting. It’s time we recalculate. It’s time we value all the work we do as writers to get our names, ideas, and writing off our own desktops.

Have I made the definition so wide that it’s meaningless? Okay, don’t count the grocery list you leave in the cart for the next shopper to see. And if you start counting every click of “like” on Facebook as a submission, that’s a serious problem. And maybe it's not a good idea to count this blog post or online comments because they don't go through an editorial review process. But what’s the harm in giving ourselves more credit for our serious efforts beyond the writing itself?

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  • Anna Leahy

    Erika, I think you're right that "submission" should probably be defined as anything that goes through an editorial or review process beyond yourself. I don't think of blog posts as submissions, but it is writing work.

    BBC Online picked up some of our content about last week's shuttle launch, though, so it ended up going through editorial review. And they did contact us first so we generated some content just for them. I'm not used to writing on assignment so I wasn't thinking of those opportunities as akin to submitting, but I need to count them that way--or add an equivalent category.

    Good luck with the residency app. I'm looking into that this weekend too!

  • Erika Dreifus

    I am all for expanding the definition here (I'm working on a residency application right now). So I'm with you most of the way here, Anna. Just not so sure about posts on our own blogs or comments on others' posts/articles. Perhaps the idea that anything that requires an editorial or other programmatic response "counts" is sufficient expansion for now.

  • Anna Leahy

    Yes, yes, Tania, Amanda, and Bridget. I like the idea that every time you "offer this" counts. It's about your WORK and about YOUR work so "anything you put your name to" makes sense. Stay inspired!

  • Bridget Straub

    I submit that anything you put your name to, counts!

  • Amanda Miller

    Really inspiring. Thanks Anna and Tania!

  • Anna,

    Thnx for your cheerful, positive post. ripplesbypost.com is taking submissions for "smallish" poems or "microprose" that fits on a postcard...wanted to share that target for fun. I am working today on a 20 minute presentation for AROHO for August--so very nervous but excited to share process behind making micro poetry movies. Think I'll count that as a part of the larger submission garden I'm planting.

    Thinking too about the potential beautiful humility  "submitting" requires of one--a spiritual act crowning all that internal, hidden work, stepping forward, and saying, I offer this to you (the many faced "you"--and as an editor myself, I'm keenly aware of how varied, personal, multi-facted that "you" actually is.  So there's no harm in trying until each finished piece finds its home).