Submission fears

I’m always afraid to submit a manuscript to a publisher or literary magazines. I mean, it’s so scary, isn’t it? Anonymous editors judging our work and maybe even making snarky comments to the co-editor sitting next to them.

I know. I used to work as an editor and yes, sometimes I did make snarky comments, and I’m not proud of it, either. And don’t get me going on the subjectivity of the submission process. Think of it: You can submit the most amazing poem or essay, and the day it lands on an editor’s desk she could have a cold or just had a fight with her husband or spent the night awake with a colicky baby, and she’s not exactly in a positive frame of mind.

It happens, trust me. Yet if your piece is good, if it’s sincere and beautiful and holds tiny granules of truth, it will eventually get picked up; it just might take longer than you expect.

I’ve never been a very patient person. I’m the woman jiggling her foot while standing at line at the bank and singing old 80s songs while braked at a stoplight. I want to send out my work and hear back the very next day.

Of course, it doesn’t happen that way. And if I do hear a quick response, chances are it will be a big, fat, form-reply rejection (try submitting at The New Yorker and you’ll know what I mean).

This picture has nothing to do with the submission process but the mood is bleak so I thought I’d include. This is actually our backyard, taken this morning: Yes, it snowed today in Alaska. Snow in May–I think the gods are laughing down upon us.


This past week I took the plunge and applied to the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation Residency Program, the William Faulkner-Wisdom Writing Contest, and the Writer’s Center Emerging Writer Fellowship; I have a slight chance in hell of receiving any of these honors. Sometimes I wonder why I do it: Why go through the agony, the twist, gut-wrenching agony of polishing and re-polishing a piece, of worrying that the opening isn’t as strong as it could be or the middle sags or wait!, that semi-colon in the first paragraph–does it stutter? Should I perhaps change it to two separate sentences instead?

I worked myself up into a ridiculous state. I cried. I ate too many peanut butter sandwiches. I yelled at the dog, at my cat, at my partner, and when I glimpsed myself in the mirror, I looked like a crazy woman: My hair unwashed and uncombed, my tee-shirt smeared with jelly stains, my hands trembling slightly from spending all night at the keyboard. I stared at my reflection and thought: Who is this woman and what is she doing in my bathroom?

But appearances aside, I got all of my submissions in on time and you know what? It felt good. It felt liberating to step outside my comfort zone, to reach a little bit higher than normal, to say to myself, “I deserve this chance.”

Because, face it, if we don’t try, if we don’t take that tenuous and terrifying leak of faith, we’ll never see our work in print.

Hi, William Faulkner! I know that you’re dead but I just entered a contest in your name. Please breathe a little luck upon me, okay? P.S. Are there books in heaven?


I hope that everyone reading this sends in at least one submission next week, and I know you have one, too: That poem or story or essay tucked in a drawer, the one that both thrills yet scares you, the one that you secretly believe is the best thing you’ve ever written.

Pull it out, polish it up and send it out, okay? Because if you believe in your work, and I mean really believe in it, sooner or later someone else will, too.

Good luck!

8 thoughts on “Submission fears

  1. Cinthia ~ I absolutely wish your submissions the best of the best of results! And I want you to know that one of the major magnetic pulls that I experience toward you, your writing & a hoped for budding friendship is your sincere, consuatent & down-to-earth encouragement to other writers. As a life long writer who has only published two pieces to date, encouragement from writers such as yourself ~ meaning authors whom I adore, respect & appreciate your written words ~ means a whole hella lot. Thank you.


    1. Thanks so much, Janet! I had help from established writers when I first began writing seriously, and owe them more than I can ever say. The best way of showing thanks is to pass on what I’ve learned in hopes that other writers might profit from my mistakes. Cheers and big hugs.


  2. Good luck with the submissions! I really hate that waiting too. I’ve just given a copy of my new manuscript to a well-read and critical acquaintance, and I’ve already got the jitters.


    1. Oh, those waiting-to-hear-what-someone-will-say-about-my-manuscript jitters are the worst. Hang in there, honey! Hope you have a lot of chocolate on hand to get you through. Good luck and happy writing (can one write happily—hmmmm).


  3. Amen, and all the very best of well-deserved luck to you! You are so real, such a trooper, such a role model, peanut butter on your T shirt and all. And yes, interning at the Georgia Review right now, going through piles of submissions, some of them really other than good, I’ve often, often returned to “what if that was my baby manuscript?” And had to suppress the urge to offer to work with every single one of them to make theirs reach its potential.
    Meanwhile, I need to work on my own stuff. Thank you for setting such a peerless example.


    1. Oh, I miss you, Ela! Can’t wait to hear about your days at the Georgia Review. Reading others’ work is an honor, isn’t it? I swear, it can feel almost holy at times, and terribly, terribly frustrating at others. See you soon (I hope). Hugs, hugs, hugs.


      1. Hugs to you too! I’ve been thinking of you often during this process. And yes, you put it so well. Such a sacred honor and sometimes despair-inducing!


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