I’ll admit that I’ve done it, too: waited until the last moment before a journal closes its reading period before sending off my hopeful batch of poems. In fact, many of my submissions this spring have been last-minute missives–products of business and my tendency to take my sweet time with revisions–but I’ve sent each of them off with a little internal cringe; as a person who spends much of my time on the editorial side of the desk, I know that late in the game is often the worst time to send work.
Before I became an editor, I thought, as many writers do, that sending work late in a reading period all but guaranteed a faster response time. How long could a journal hold my work if it was closing in just a few days, right? Well, I was correct insofar as I did get speedy responses. The problem was that they were, as a rule, rejections.
But here’s something that bears considering: most journals that consider simultaneous submissions (and we at TLR think everyone should allow simulsubs) accept work throughout the reading period, not just at the end. When editors see a piece we simply have to have, we know we’d better grab it before it appears in another magazine’s pages. That means we often have few pages left in the issue by the last week or two of the submission period, and competition that was already tough to begin with reaches cutthroat proportions. I sometimes have to say no to great poems when they reach me on the late side.
For example, in TLR’s first reading period, 351 poets submitted work for consideration. The submissions averaged 5 poems per poet, which brings us to over 1,700 poems for the reading period. Of that total number, 220 poems came to me in seven days before the reading period ended; that’s just about 13 percent of all submissions arriving in the closing week. Because I’d already filled two-thirds of my pages for the issue by the closing date, those 220 poems were in heavy competition with one another and with the poems I was still considering from the earlier weeks of the reading period. Would some of the great pieces that came to me at the end of the reading period have found a home in the issue had they arrived earlier? They may well have.
All this is not to say that late submissions are necessarily doomed, or that writers should avoid sending to journals they love simply because the clock has begun to wind down. But bear in mind, especially when you’re trying to break into challenging markets, to give your work the best possible chance for acceptance by sending on the early side.