Picked up Books in Canada today. In it, an essay by John Barton called "Where Have All the Poets Gone?", lamenting the small number of poetry submissions he gets at The Malahat Review. He seems dismayed and a little puzzled by the whole thing. Which makes me think of a farmer who, after years of planting potatoes in the spring and ploughing in the fall, wonders why his once-rich field now yields such a paltry crop.
As I've mentioned in other posts here, I almost never submit unsolicited work to literary journals. Why? The short answer is I can't be bothered. The reasons why I can't be bothered are manifold.
I'm an email kind of person. The only things I send by post tend to be solid objects which can't be scanned or otherwise converted into a digital file. A poem can be encoded on a digital file. Hell, a hundred poems can be. What's the Malahat's policy on electronic submissions?
The Malahat Review does not consider submissions sent by email.
Not only that but
All submissions and queries must be accompanied by a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Submissions without an SASE will not be returned or responded to. Do not ask us to inform you about our decision about your work by email in lieu of enclosing an SASE. Submissions without SASEs will be kept on file for maximum of six months after we have complete [sic] our review of them. Email queries about submissions, however, are acceptable.
So, not only do I have to print out my submission and cover letter, using approximately 11 sheets of paper, but I have to buy two stamps. More likely three, as I'll probably want to use a big manila envelope, so I can stuff all those sheets of paper and my SASE into it. So now I'm out $2 in postage and materials.
And now, I wait. And wait. And wait.
Response time will vary depending on the volume of submissions received. Please allow one to three months for poetry submissions, three to nine months for fiction submissions.
One to three months ain't bad, if it's true--which it may well be, given how few submissions they're apparently getting. My experience is that it's usually longer. Sometimes over a year. But at least while you're waiting, you can send those poems somewhere else. Oh, wait:
The Malahat Review discourages simultaneous submissions. Our editors spend an enormous amount of time considering submissions; it is very disheartening to learn that work selected for publication has been accepted elsewhere.
Aw, I almost feel sorry for those poor disheartened editors! Imagine that! I wonder if it's as disheartening as waiting months to find out if your poems are going to get published, only to get a thin slip with a form rejection on it. Poor editors!
But just think of the cash rewards!
We purchase first world serial rights and, upon acceptance pay, $35 per published page, plus a one-year subscription. Copyright reverts to the author upon publication.
Woot! Granted, this is better than a lot of magazines, much better than the $5 I got paid for one of my first published poems, in a now-defunct magazine (at least it covered the postage), but not exactly a huge incentive for a freelancer. I usually get more than that for publishing a book review, which is a lot easier for me to write than a good poem and is almost guaranteed to be published a short time after I've submitted it.
So, if it's not the money, why should I yearn to be published in the eminently respectable Malahat?
Because it's an honour? Not really; they publish all kinds of boring stuff. If I consistently see nothing there that much resembles the way I write, guess I shouldn't bother.
The best way to know what we're looking for is to order an issue at the address below.
Yep, don't worry about producing original art; they want house style.
Okay, but what if I'm a cynic and just want to use the magazine to put my poems in front of eyeballs? Don't kid yourself. No one reads these things. I bet few of those who subscribe read it cover to cover. Most of the subscribers are probably people who entered a contest, or who contributed to a past issue. For all your trouble, a very few people might glance at your poem once. Unless you're a "big name," in which case it's the page everyone turns to, so they can see your latest chef d'oeuvre. Sad as the statement is, the money's the best argument for submitting. Which is why I will publish poems in a journal when an editor asks me for them. And I find I tend to enjoy more the journals whose editors are pro-active in acquiring content.
Y'know, if I was an editor and I wasn't getting many high quality unsolicited submissions, I might just, oh, I don't know, SOLICIT SOME SUBMISSIONS!! If you're a poetry editor, part of the job description, it seems to me, is scouting, keeping an ear to the ground and seeking out work that will distinguish your publication from all the others. Boohoo, no one sends us stuff anymore, what are we to do? What will become of our poor little magazine? Why are my potatoes so puny and few? Oh well, guess I'll go out and get the ploughing done before winter.
And if I wanted to up my unsolicited submissions, I'd open it up to email. Yeah, you'll get a lot more crap that way, but it seems to me if you're complaining about not getting enough, you know... Anyway, it's not hard to filter and instantly reject the worst submissions.
And if I wanted to up my readership, I'd get web-savvy and build a site that complements and supplements the paper content of the magazine. Arc is, I think, the only lit journal to do a creditable job of this. Putting your table of contents on a web-page doesn't really cut it. All that is is information; a successful website combines information and entertainment.