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Submissions – to enquire or not to enquire?

First of all a huge thank you to Matthew Stewart of Rogue Strands who has once again mentioned my blog in his ‘Best UK Poetry Blogs of the Year’ roundup. It’s exciting to be in there with such great company, and always very nice to know this blog is read and enjoyed. I think all bloggers have those days when you’re writing something and you suddenly think “what if no-one reads this, am I just sneezing into the ether?” or whatever.

Now we have those crazy last two weeks before Christmas which, in a musical household, tends to mean every spare moment is taken up with concerts and the myriad jobs they involve. Poetry has to take a secondary role. Having said that, tonight is a last huzzah of the year with the Brighton Stanza having a seasonal evening of readings, magazine-swapping, socialising, celebrating and commiserating. I’ve managed to delegate the compering to two fine poets with big personalities and am looking forward to hearing a wide variety of poetry styles and performances from our eclectic mix of members, Brighton-stylee.

overwhelmed editor
I do sympathise. Honest.

Submissions news: no news (and not necessarily good news). But I did come across a very handy tool put together by Nathaniel Tower on his blog Juggling Writer – it’s a spreadsheet for keeping track of submissions. (The link to it is about halfway through this article.) My own submissions tracking started off very well but has gone a bit scruffy lately, and having inputted my current ‘out’ poems into Nathaniel’s nice clean version, I can see at-a-glance that I have 13 poems that have been out for 34 days, 4 for 50 days, 2 for 61 days, 4 for 89 days and 4 for a whopping 114 days.

I did recently enquire about the four poems that were submitted 114 days ago (August 16th) – a very polite enquiry of the magazine in question, asking where they might be in their reading schedule to give me some idea of how much longer before a response. I was brief, and about as friendly, humble and self-effacing as I could be within the confines of human dignity. But it didn’t surprise me not to get a reply, which in itself makes me sad.

I’m trying very hard to see it from the magazine’s point of view. I’ve read all the articles about how editors are overwhelmed, losing money and hair, besieged by poets who don’t read the magazine or the guidelines, who pester and get shirty if they’re rejected and so forth. The magazine editors I know or have met are nice people with a difficult job. I do understand and generally speaking I know you just have to wait, and when you get a ‘no’, you move on and send it elsewhere. I obey the ‘no simultaneous submissions’ rules and am prepared to tie up poems for months on end, that’s just what poets do.  I rarely enquire – but when I do, I wring my hands and think and think about the wording. I try to be as considerate as possible. But I don’t think it would be unreasonable to submit elsewhere after five months if a gentle query brings no reply.

Do you agree? Do you ever enquire about a submission, and if so, at what point? Do you get a response?

Meanwhile, a quick plug for the next Telltale Press event at the Poetry Cafe in London on Wednesday 7th January at 7pm – please come if you’re anywhere near London. It’s FREE! On the bill are Catherine Smith, Canadian poet Rhona McAdam, Siegfreid Baber plus Peter Kenny and myself. There’s a Facebook event page, let us know if you’re coming and hope to see you there.

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  1. hi, yes it’s a dilemma, isn’t it? Currently I have had 5 submissions that have had no reply whatsoever and that is even when I have sent a polite and self effacing and brief little question about the poems. Two mags have not replied x 2, not even long after a year. So … twice bitten, twice shy. It makes me not want to submit to those magazines again which is a shame because they are mags I would so like be in if possible. I don’t know what is the best thing to do….. I hoped you would have the answer, Robin! Certainly that spread sheet will help me see where I am so thanks v much for that.

  2. Hi Becky – oh dear, a year? That’s horrid. And as you say, you end up not wanting to submit there again, which is their loss. I’ve quite often had poems go inexplicably astray, but when I’ve enquired the editors concerned have always been great at replying and offering for me to re-send. The particular mag I’ve talked about here has twice taken my work in the past, which makes we wonder if they’ve simply taken their eye off the ball and are tied up with other (more exciting?) projects. One doesn’t always know the reason, for example Interpreter’s House went very quiet for a long time before it came to light that its editor Simon Curtis was terminally ill. So I’m sorry not to have the answer! Except perhaps to look more widely for publications who may welcome your poems. I’ve started submitting occasionally to US journals, there are too many to keep track of but I’m cherry-picking a few that are publishing work I like, and getting to know them.

  3. Coincidentally, two other poetry friends have just told me exactly the same has happened to them. Some editors (only a few) are apparently making a habit of not sending back even when the SAE has been sent! We swapped notes as to who it is and it’s the same ones….so I’m glad it isn’t just me but regrettably two other poets and whose work I admire. Sob for everyone.

  4. Thanks for the link to the spreadsheet idea. It definitely pays to be organised ~ not my strong point but definitely hoping to improve.
    As for queries, I tend not to and if no response after 6 months, just press on.

    • Ah Jean, I should have known you’d have a wise and tempered approach – it’s good that you don’t allow these things to derail you. I probably need to focus on the writing a bit more and not let other people’s behaviour annoy me 🙂

  5. Robin, I really struggle with the wait as well, and often get concerned that my submission got lost in the post or the email submission got lost somewhere. And, yes, the time spent trying to word the enquiry just right so that it doesn’t tick the editor off but also to let them know they can have more time if needed. When I submit to one particular magazine, I know they’ll take up to a year to make a decision–that’s about the only one I have patience for as I know what to expect. 😀 I agree–it is very rude of those that don’t even notify you that you’ve been rejected, but I’ve encountered that more with American magazines than British. I use Excel to manage my submissions as well, but it doesn’t calculate days out, so that would be a cool feature to have. The only problem I encountered was that after several(!) years, the file corrupted on me, and for a few weeks I was unsure which poems were where. I also couldn’t remember where I had submitted particular poems previously, so I just had to hope editors didn’t get the same poems twice. 😀

    • Hi Charles and thanks for commenting – I’m glad I’m not alone in thinking that no response is a bit rude – although I’ve been quite lucky I think. I would say my experience with magazines has been good and civilised in around 85 – 90% of cases. I genuinely think most editors do respond to submissions that have followed the guidelines, even if it takes a while. Hmmm … I think this is turning into another blog post!

      That’s a shame about the corrupted file, that would be a pain for sure. I do tend to keep other records, so I can always double check where I’ve sent stuff (and which version). It does mean a lot of duplication and probably sounds a bit anal but I quite enjoy filing! I probably need to start archiving stuff on an external hard drive though.

      • yes, I quite agree with that percentage–it’s rare that I have to chase. And when I do, it’s usually my anxiety for an answer that’s compelling me. Only in two cases was it right to follow up as the editors had misplaced or misplaced the submission. For those uncommon instances where there’s no response whatsoever, it’s hard not to think ‘OK, never again to you.’

        Saying that, having now joined the “other side” at TIH, I now understand the workload from the editor’s perspective and also admire those submitters who wait patiently for months for a response (say, because of a backlog or that they submitted outside the submission window but are willing for us to hang onto their work until then).

  6. I once paid to enter a pamphlet competition. Having had no acknowledgement I asked when I might receive one and was told “We are logging all submissions on an individal basis and you will receive a confirmation e-mail in the next few days”.Over a month later and no confirmation email. I chased it and received no reply. This was from a well-known magazine/competition which I won’t be submitting to again..

    • Oh no, that’s not good. I think pamphlet competitions have to be even more stringent with their admin, as there are fees being paid. More mags are now using Submittable, which I think is a great service when used properly. Thanks for commenting, Karen.

  7. I wouldn’t inquire. After a submission is sent that’s it, and I wouldn’t expect any response. Just keep going. If you do get a response think of it as a wonderful surprise. Also question whether your inquiry is a good use of your time, if you really believe in the strength of a poem, maybe it would be better off being published somewhere else.

  8. Hello Anonymous Commenter! That’s certainly one way of handling it, although since I do get a response the majority of the time I’d never think of it as a wonderful surprise. It is wonderful to get an acceptance though. But I suppose my point is: it’s not that I think my poems are strong enough to merit publication and therefore deserve a response, but that responding to a brief, polite enquiry when the publication’s guidelines have been met and the ‘we aim to respond by’ date is long gone, is a simple courtesy.

  9. Want to thank you for another interesting & useful post, Robin. And I’ve been enjoying the thread comments too. I have been using a spreadsheet for the last few years to keep track of things but I plan to use Nathaniel’s from now on – I like the automatic days calculation AND discovered that the colours are automatically put into the row – once you note as accepted, rejected etc. So that’s cool too 🙂

    I haven’t been submitting that much this year. Hope to do a bit more next year. Generally I’ve been notified in the time frame that i was told to expect. Rattle is great (from the USA). Recently had a good experience with Poetry24 – they got back to me right away AND they accepted my poem! And many places use the Online Submittable thing – and it works well – at least you know that your work has been received – you get immediate acknowledgement.

    My only current “beef” is that in the spring I entered a Canadian competition where I sent them copies of my chapbook plus an entry fee, but never received news about the winners, judge’s comments etc. I expect there is an explanation, and I am trying to find out more information.

    But overall, can’t complain. The Adventure continues!!

    • Hi Elly! Thanks for sharing your experience of it all – The Adventure indeed! I’ve actually got a few things out to Rattle at the moment, so good to hear they’re prompt. I like the magazine a lot and the whole thing seems very professional, which usually bodes well.

      Funny thing is – since writing this post, within 3 days I’ve had two magazines get back to me (both rejections, but at least it frees up those particular poems!)

  10. […] UPDATE: following last week’s blog post – thanks for all the discussion around this, on this blog, on Facebook and by email – […]

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Robin Houghton 2021