Shaun Levin

Archive for July, 2016|Monthly archive page

Thoughts on Submission

In Writing on July 27, 2016 at 11:29 am

ClickHereToSubmitI’ve been submitting a lot lately. It’s fun to submit. Always? Often. Often it’s fun to submit. For a while I stopped submitting. Novels, stories, essays, flash fiction. The lot. I’d had enough. Submission wears you down. You know what it’s like: You have these stories you’re sure are right for them, so you send them to them. Or you have a few stories that have been lying around for ages – years! – and they need a home, so you risk it. You aim high. The New Yorker. The Paris Review. Or you aim a bit low. High or low, sometimes neither wants your submission.

Look long enough at a word and you start seeing its other meanings. In the world of writing we seem to ignore the submissive side of submitting. We go for the proactive aspect of submission, not the masochism of the sub-dom world. But it’s there. It’s there. We fear and loathe and are fascinated by submission submit. When it works, it can be transformative. We crave the acceptance of the one we submit to. Especially when our submission is honest and true and in compliance with everything they’ve asked for, then the rejection is bitter and demoralising and makes us wonder: Am I being a good submitter? A good submissive?

What does it take to be a good submitter? How do you choose the right people and places to submit to?

At least when you submit to a journal, the rejection feels less personal, but when you submit to an agent – it’s personal! They don’t like your work. They said no. They’re just not into you, and that hurts. Of course, we move on. Eventually we move on. Recently my friend M submitted to an agent whose attitude he liked. The agent was enthusiastic and dedicated and pushed their authors into the spotlight, got their books written about in all the major papers. My friend wanted that agent to be his agent. He didn’t love the authors the agent represented but he loved the agent. The agent said no.

“I’m not surprised,” he said to me. “I don’t even like the writers they like.”

“You’re rationalising your hurt,” I said.

“They should have loved me,” he said. “I’d have been good for them.”

Submit to places and people who love the work you love. If you don’t love the work they love they probably won’t love yours. Obviously that’s not always true, but mostly it is. Another friend of mine was determined to be published in a certain journal. He liked the vibe surrounding that journal. Cool people hung out there. My friend read their back issues and worked out what these people were into. He wanted to be amongst them, for his voice to be amongst theirs, so he studied how they did it and wrote a piece he was proud, albeit a piece he wouldn’t have written if he hadn’t wanted to be in that journal. He wrote it for himself but he also wrote it for them. It’s a delicate balance, he told me, and one that he enjoyed trying to maintain. They liked the piece and said yes and now he is amongst the cool people.

“It’s not the first time,” he said, and told me how back in the late 1990s he’d written a story for a porn magazine and the people at the porn magazine had loved it and paid him for the story and told him to send more; his fee would increase incrementally with every story he published with them. He tried, but he couldn’t do it. The kind of story he sent them wasn’t in a style he could sustain. It didn’t come naturally. He’s also the kind of person who, if you say yes to him, if you say I love you, he freezes up.

All writers keep getting tangled up in the Venn diagram wheels of exhilaration and devastation.

Find the places you want to be published in, absorb the kind of work they like, then write something for them. Write something for them that you’re going to enjoy writing, that will challenge and educate you. This experience will expand your range as a writer and you’ll get a kick out of it. Find the strength in being a sub. Submit to places that will help you grow, places that will get your name out there, places that will push you to write outside your comfort zone. Pick your play partners carefully.

We all want to be rescued from the desert islands of our writing desks. Don’t submit just because you want to be rescued. Nobody likes a clingy bottom.

Submission is the relinquishing of power. You are not relinquishing the power to define who you are. Do it in a way that feels integral to who you are. If something doesn’t feel right, trust your intuition and don’t do it. On the other hand, do it and see what happens. It’s not like you’re being tied to a St. Andrew’s Cross with the whip of an evil dominatrix lashing against your back. It’s only one story of many. Submit and see. Submit wholeheartedly. There are hundreds of places out there to submit to. As the Hebrew saying goes: Le’kol sir yesh michseh. There’s a lid to every pot.

Submit in order to let go of stuff. The more you submit, the more space you make for other work. Submitting is a way of letting go. One of my yoga teachers has this thing at the end of a session when we’re all lying in corpse pose and at some point they’ll say, let go, let go, let go. At first I wanted to laugh. What a hippy thing to say! What a clich√©! But then I grew to like it, to just do it, to try and let go, let go, let go. Because what I noticed is that once I let go, I felt stronger when I emerged back out into the world.

Submit in order to let go.

And remember. Writing. We’re in it for the pain. We’re in it for the joy.