Submission Weekend thoughts…

Labor Day weekend was, for me, Submission Weekend. Many literary journals are now open for submissions, and I’m not wasting any time.

The first time I submitted to a journal, many years ago, I was still writing on a typewriter (it was electric — I’m not that old). Today, countless submissions later, so much has changed, some of it for the better, some of it not.

It’s nice not having to type out submissions — or even to print and mail them with a SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelopes — remember those?). But in many ways, technology has changed things in ways that aren’t quite as writer-friendly.

Here are a few things I’m realizing this submission season…

My short stories are too long. I tend to write stories that fall between 5,000 and 7,000 words. This was never an issue when I first started writing. But with each passing year I get the feeling I’ve missed the memo. I’m now hard-pressed to find a journal that doesn’t cap submissions at 5,000 words, or less.

4,000 words is the new 5,000 words. With a bit of effort, I’ve edited down stories to fall under 5,000 words, but I’m now coming across journals that cap word length at 4,000 words. And for the first time this year, I’ve encountered a few journals that cap word length at 3,000. But word counts are a silly way to define a work of prose. A novel can balloon to 120,000 words and still be called a novel, yet it better not drop below 40,000 words or risk getting labeled a novella. Still, writers are pragmatists. As journals drop their max word counts, writers will adapt their writing styles to fit the new guidelines. And it concerns me to imagine a future when the only fiction getting published in literary journals is flash fiction.

I’m tired of paying the Submittable tax. Yes, I love not having to kill trees to submit short stories, but I have come to resent how Submittable forces literary journals and publications — many of them nonprofits — to keep raising their submission fees simply to maintain their paid subscriptions. Submittable is a venture-funded software company, so it was only a matter of time before prices went up. But we, the writers of the world, are paying a tax to investors who view art as “content,” and that doesn’t feel right. I’m not advocating a return to stamps and envelopes. But would it be so awful to return to plain old-fashioned email submissions?

But I still love submitting. Despite the rejections, the fees, the lost hours on holiday weekends, I get a kick out of sending stories out into the world. I realize there is no guarantee that this round of submissions will amount to anything more than the next half year of checking on, yes, Submittable. But the one thing I do know, the one thing that never changes: You can’t get published if you don’t submit.

Finally, I’ve spent quite a bit of time on our list of Literary Outlets for Environmental Writing and found a number of journals that are no longer active. So our list is now a bit shorter but, hopefully, a bit more useful.

Happy submission season to all you writers out there.

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