A few weeks ago, I wrote about Submittable, the service many literary magazines are using to accept submissions. At that point, I only knew the view from the writer’s side. You fill in the blanks, click on “submit” and wait. Eventually you get an email saying yea or nay.
I recently joined the staff of a new literary magazine that will publish its first issue this summer. As one of the poetry editors, I now have access to the editors’ side of Submittable. Each day, I get a list of submissions that need to be read, click into my Submittable account and call them up on the screen. On the left side are the poems, usually submitted in batches of five, all in one file. On the right is a list of staffers with access to this submission and any comments that have already been made, along with how the others voted. At the top of the screen are three boxes. One shows a thumbs up, one a question mark, and one a thumbs down. Yes, maybe, no. With one click, you are rejected.
I have so many poems to read that I read them quickly, and if I don’t like the beginning I don’t read the rest. Our policy, so far, is not to rewrite anyone’s poems, so if they don’t work, they don’t work. What I’m finding so far is that many start out well but wander off toward the end. I want to lop off the last few lines, to scream, “Stop! You’ve said it. Don’t say anymore.” Some are clichéd or try too hard to be “poetic.” Some just don’t make any sense at all. Others are very good and I’m delighted to click thumbs up. To be honest, I’m clicking more “maybe’s” than anything because there’s only so much space and I don’t know what else will come in before the March 31 deadline.
Some lessons I’d like to share from the editor’s side:
- Take time to make your poem as good as it can be and make sure every line supports every other line.
- Less is more.
- Kill your clichés.
- When the guidelines call for “blind” submissions, don’t put your name on the manuscript.
- Give your submission a file name that sets it apart, such as the title of the first poem. Not “five poems” or your name.
Just as Submittable keeps a running list of your submissions and their status–declined, accepted or in progress–it keeps a running list for me of the submissions I’m assigned to read with thumbs up, thumbs down, or a question mark in the margin and blank spaces next to the ones I haven’t read yet.
It’s daunting having this kind of power over other poets. It also makes me reconsider all of my own poems, wondering whether they would get thumbs up, thumbs down or maybe.
Now let’s go write.