My poet friends used to joke that if you wanted to get your poetry published, all you had to do was put Cuban-American poet Virgil Suárez’s name on your submission. For a while, it seemed like no matter what literary journal you picked up, there would at least one poem by him included–and it didn’t matter what the journal was–it could be a nothing-in-particular start-up journal, or it could be the Prairie Schooner. I also heard–though I can’t substantiate it–that he had this scary complicated system for submitting his works… and gasp, he simultaneously submitted (back when that wasn’t a thing). The point was, he was very good at placing his work.
I don’t know what Virgil Suárez has been doing lately poetry-wise (his last book of poems came out in 2005)–but according to his Florida State University webpage, he’s just published a book called The Soviet Circus Comes to Havana and Other Stories (C & R Press, 2014) ($15.95 on Amazon)–so, at least I’m not competing for space in journals because of him.
But I am competing for space in journals… and losing, based on the two rejections I received today. One rejection said that they didn’t “love the piece enough” to send it on to the next level of discussion; the other one praised the “ambition” of the work, but then stabbed me in the heart with the criticism that they found my work “too prosy.” That just struck me as wrong. My writing tends to be narrative, but it’s in no way “too prosy.” I know from prosy–after all, I see student creative writing all the time–talk about prosy! But of course, journal editors are human, and humans are subjective. I wasn’t overly bothered by the rejections–submitting is a game to me at this point.
Not that I in any way mean that I don’t take the submission process seriously–I do. I do research on the journals I submit–I generally try to read them before I send them my work. But I guess as a writer you just get to the point where it’s all just a game–trying to figure out what certain people will like based on what they showcase in their journals. If I were the Virgil Suárez of the past, that machine of publishing, I might just send my work everywhere, scatter-shot, and hope something sticks. I might have a hugely complicated Excel file that lists every journal everywhere, and I might cross-list all the poems that I’ve simultaneously submitted–perhaps the same batch of poems for 15 different journals, and have 80 such batches sent out at once.
But that is gamifying the publication process way to much for the likes of me–that’s a little like playing all the numbers in the lottery. It might work–and maybe if I were that mono-focused, I could do that and be published far and wide in any number of start-ups and well-established journals. But on the other hand, my very analog system–I put all my submissions on index cards filed alphabetically by journal–seems to work for me. I can manage that. I feel good about my process of reading submission calls, reading the journals whose calls interest me, and submitting my work to them.
It may not net me a lot of pubs, but it feels like an accomplishment when I see all my index cards, even the ones that fall under the “Rejected” tab, as today’s two rejections now do.