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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Helping Editors Accept Our Poems

Now that you know who The Editors are, it's time to seriously figure out how to get that hula-hoop/hula-skirt poem out of the slush pile and onto the editor's desk.

I'm no expert, but over the years I've learned a few things about getting past the grad students in their black turtlenecks . . .

1. Read the magazine. Get acquainted. Try to read more than one issue, if possible; if you're strapped for cash, buy a back issue at a reduced rate. Subscribing to said mag is even better. We wouldn't dream of trying to sneak into a movie theatre, yet there's this assumption we can waltz right into a full house without paying the price of admission.

2. This will be on the quiz. You should be able, upon being asked, to describe a mag's aesthetic, the writers whose work s/he tends toward accepting, to characterize, in a few words, the magazine or publisher's jizz. If you can't, don't send.

3. Cover letter etiquette. I learned this back at UW where I did my MFA and worked in the creative writing office: watch it with the cover letter. If you sound like a novice, you ain't making it to the editor's desk. Tell-tale novice signs: (1) listing every publication, including your illustrious appearance in Dog Shit, (2) explaining your poems, (3) scented stationary, (4) name dropping, (5) being overly chatty and cozy-cozy. Brief and to the point, please. I liken it to the Soup Nazi Seinfeld episode--get in there, politely state your needs, and get OUT. With one exception: if you read the last issue, and you love a poem they published, share away!

4. Don't get nasty. I know it bruises your ego to pieces and causes endless nights of sweaty sheets wrapped around your ankles, but do you have to take your rejection out on the poor editor? Keep you disgruntled self to yourself. If you have to vent, pin the rejection slip to a dart board and aim good and hard. If you get mouthy, you'll be 86ed faster than you can say "ABABCDCD."

5. Think of it as a lifelong pursuit. When I was a wee bud-ling poet, Michele Glazer gave me a priceless piece of advice: think of it as building a relationship with a magazine, not a one-shot deal. She showed me her files, one for each magazine, and each file was THICK. She went back and forth with The Georgia Review six or more times about . . . a semi-colon. I don't know about you, but I like long-term relationships; I like making friends and keeping them. And I don't believe in friendships happening overnight. Editors feel the same way.

6. Cherish your rejection slips. Yep, that's right. All kidding aside, I've kept every single one of mine, and they're all neatly filed with a date scrawled on the back. I'm not a masochist; I just like having a record of my 30+ year devotion to poetry and the pursuit of publication.
Yeah, I hate rejection, too. Yelling You'll regret this! stops the temporary bleeding quite well, and then I go upstairs, staple the envelope to the slip, write the date on the back, and add it to the file. Why? Because my goal is to eventually get my poem into whatever magazine just rejected me.

Next post, how to make your poems hula!


Kathleen said...

Thanks for the clear, calm advice and the dart board! Loved reading about the filing systems, too!

Martha Silano said...

Thanks, Kathleen. Michele taught me to love my file cabinet!

Nancy Devine said...

as much as i don't like rejections, rejections do remind me that i'm sending things out and trying.

Martha Silano said...

Exactly, Nancy -- I like spending a day getting a bunch of submissions out, and I also enjoy when the loop is closed, even if it's not the news I want. The only thing that kills me is when a mag takes a year to get back to me or doesn't bother to respond at all. Now that's annoying!

Susan Rich said...

Your point on long relationships resonates with me. After 20 year sending out work, I have a few journals that I send work to regularly and they often publish it -- not always! When they say no, however, it is with a personal note. Journals want us to keep sending our good work.

In order not to take any of it too seriously, I play the license plate game and try to get something published in each state. This month I got a yes from Rhode Island. Marty, who do you suggest in New Jersey?

Martha Silano said...

Susan, you are one of my role models when it comes to not taking rejection personally.

Congrats on getting Rhode Island! I play this same game with the alphabet (Zyzzvya be damned!).

Isn't Raritan a NJ publication, as in the Raritan River? That would be a nice feather in your cap.

Diane Lockward said...

NJ journals you might want to try: Tiferet and The Literary Review.

Jessie Carty said...

i love the idea of trying each state! I'm still an alphabet girl it seems :)

the only one I pause on a little bit is #2 (oh that sounds awful but list #2, ok it doesn't get better!) i have read quite a few really great journals that just have "good" poetry, things I like to read but I don't know that I could put a finger on what their particular aesthetic is.

I might have to start analyzing the journals I read to see if I can start naming what their aesthetic is.

rams said...

Another approach would be what David Dodd Lee (as opposed to David Lee) calls "building a regional presence" -- sending to journals large and small in whatever you describe as your "region." Funny how much harder it can be to get into small local ones than larger important ones, but still... (Probably the black turtlenecks cut off the blood flow to the brain.)

Martha Silano said...

Rams: Thanks for posting Lee's suggestion re: "the regional presence." William Stafford, an early teacher, suggested to us newbies that we start local. My first publication was in the Lane Community College literary magazine. I slowly moved from Eugene Oregon's best to the PNW's best (Poetry Northwest), and then tried my luck outside Ecotopia.

Steven D. Schroeder said...

Good advice all. One thing I would say that might seem like "explaining the poem" but I think is solid on a letter: if your poems are all part of a longer, connected series (with all similar subject matter, all similar forms, whatever), it's not bad to let the editor know that.

Martha Silano said...

Good point, Steven -- sometimes things do need explaining!