Beyond What You Know: Establishing a Great Submission System

October 2007 Family Fun Magazine

By Sage Cohen
“Luck favors the prepared, darling.”

– Edna Mode, The Incredibles


At a recent gathering with a few poet friends, Bob mentioned that he doesn’t send his work out.

Shawn challenged him: “Which of the poems that you haven’t sent out have been published?” This stumped Bob for a minute, and then we all laughed.

The simple truth behind Shawn’s question is this: the people who send out their writing are the only ones who have a chance of publishing it.

For many writers, especially those focused on creative writing, the leap between writing and publishing can feel like a Herculean one. The best parachute for taking this leap is a solid, easy-to-use submission system. The logic is simple: the easier it is to send your work out for publication, the more likely you are to do it. And the more regularly you send out your work, the greater your odds of seeing your words in print. Following are some suggestions for establishing a submission system that can set you up for success.

Submission system basics
Whether you prefer paper files or computer files, soft copies or hard copies, it’s important to know where your work is and what you intend to do with it next. Following are some of the categories I’ve used to manage my publishing process. Imagine that each is a tabbed section in a big “Publishing My Writing” binder––or a series of folders that are easily accessible in your computer. Take whatever pleases you and make it your own.

Label sections of your notebook or folders:

Finished pieces
Submission guidelines
Contest information
Submission log
Published work
Cover letters

Under “Submission Log,” because it can be confusing to keep track of which pieces you’ve sent where, I recommend creating a spreadsheet or log that tracks the following:

Name of publication Piece(s) Sent Date Sent Results Notes

I order my submission log chronologically with whatever is most current at the top.

Establishing a good rhythm
Procrastination can be the death of your submission system. That’s why it’s important to get a good rhythm going and stick with it. I generally dedicate the last Sunday of every month to “writing administration,” which means that I actively use all of the systems here to send my work out to magazines, literary journals and websites, etc. My friend Shawn sends out his poetry every week. I’m impressed with this, but it’s a rhythm I could not maintain. You may need to experiment to see what submission interval is realistic for you. I recommend that you choose a regular time, be willing to be flexible, experiment until you get it right, and then follow through on your commitment to your writing and yourself.

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Sage Cohen is the author of Writing the Life Poetic, forthcoming from Writer’s Digest Books, and the poetry collection Like the Heart, the World. Her poetry and essays appear in journals and anthologies including Cup of Comfort for Writers, Oregon Literary Review, Greater Good and VoiceCatcher. In 2006, she won first prize in the Ghost Road Press annual poetry contest. Sage holds an MA in creative writing from New York University where she was awarded a New York Times Foundation fellowship. Sage teaches Poetry for the People and Personal Essays That Get Published.

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1 Response to “Beyond What You Know: Establishing a Great Submission System”



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