Submissions: E-mail or Traditional Mail?

Though I’d been writing poetry very regularly since my sophomore year of high school, I did not start submitting my poems to publications until January of 2006. Being my own harshest critic, I was prepared to get rejected to all the places I submitted, so I set a rule that I would only submit my work via e-mail or online submission forms (as an economic decision). However, I was surprised to find more than 20 of my poems accepted over the first 15 months or so of my submission efforts.

After success via e-mail and online submission forms (and with the ability to afford stamps without sacrificing my son’s next haircut appointment), I decided it was time to start submitting to places that only accept submissions the traditional route. That’s what I’m currently in the process of doing, and I’m wondering if that is a good or bad thing.

I wonder: Am I somehow just following the crowd by submitting by post? Am I doing it just to have a cool credit? Should I just be trying to get my material published as fast as possible by whoever “understands” what I’m getting at?

By the way, I don’t have any answers to those questions yet. Just thinking out loud.


As far as the respectability factor, Virginia Quarterly Review and The Pedestal Magazine–both very respectable publications–only accept submissions online. The New Yorker and Ploughshares accept submissions online and through the post. So there shouldn’t be any kind of taboo on online submissions–it all comes down to what works best for the editors.

Yet, I’ve noticed that I submit by traditional mail if I’m given the option of either/or, because I figure traditional mail at least forces the editors to open the envelope. Online submissions are so easy to “accidentally” delete or forget.


I submit both ways, but I’m wondering if one is better than the other. Or is a mix-and-match approach the best way to submit.

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4 thoughts on “Submissions: E-mail or Traditional Mail?

  1. Waldo Jaquith

    "Yet, I’ve noticed that I submit by traditional mail if I’m given the option of either/or, because I figure traditional mail at least forces the editors to open the envelope. Online submissions are so easy to ‘accidentally’ delete or forget."

    I can’t speak for other publications, but here at VQR, exactly the opposite is true.

    By the old process — submitting on paper — things could easily be lost. Incoming submissions were opened up, date-stamped, and put in a genre-appropriate bin. Readers would come into the office every so often, pick up a handful of submissions, and take them home to read them. Days, weeks or even months later they’d bring them back with notes scrawled on the envelope or the cover letter. The process would then repeat until a consensus emerged, when the best would be passed up to the editor for him to review. He, in turn, would take stacks home to read before picking the few that would be published. As you can imagine, submissions often went astray, lost in people’s cars, living rooms, etc. Worse still, there was no way to tell if something had gone missing, no audit log.

    Compare this to the electronic submission process. When something is submitted, every bit of data is instantly and automatically logged into a database. Your name, the submission title, genre, your cover letter and the Word file are saved. The Word file is converted into plain text and likewise saved. Then all of that is saved to a file on the same server, as a backup. That database is backed up internally on the hour, and it’s backed up to another server twice daily. All of that is done in an off-site facility that’s protected via a keycard-secured entry system, gas generator backup and state-of-the-air climate control system. Then we have software that tracks each submission, alerting us when a submission has been languishing for more than 60 days. Our editor is given a "dashboard" view of all submissions, graphing the average response time, the average age of submissions by genre, and the ability to drill down and inspect the status of any author’s submissions or a reader’s progress.

    *Nothing* gets lost when it’s submitted to us electronically. It’s far, far more reliable than paper submissions, enabling us to provide far better service to our customers — that is, authors — than we could ever do on paper.

    Again, I don’t know how other publications’ electronic submission systems function. I have no idea if this is normal. But at least at VQR, we don’t even *have* a delete function. Once you submit something, we’ve got it, whether we like it or not. 🙂

  2. Robert Lee Brewer

    I think that’s a great point, Nancy. And in practice, that’s how all poets should approach the issue, which is also why I worked on my craft for more than 13 years before making my first submission. Of course, there has to be some sort of publishing drive to even submit in the first place, because I was almost tempted at one point to never submit my poetry–thinking it would never be good enough for publication.

    So while it’s good to work on the quality of your work, it’s also good to submit to gauge how well it is being received by others. That is, if publication appeals to you at all; there’s certainly nothing wrong with filling shoeboxes or hard drives with poetry for your own personal fulfillment.

  3. Nancy B.

    I haven’t been submitting much in recent years, so I have no views one way or another regarding the pragmatism of using one method of submission over another. I do know, based on reading all the listings in Poet’s each year, editors usually have specific reasons why they don’t accept e-mail submissions, so I don’t think postal mail vs. e-mail is a good way to gauge a publishing credit.

    What I do want to comment on is your statement: "Should I just be trying to get my material published as fast as possible by whoever ‘understands’ what I’m getting at?" In my opinion, the drive to accumulate as many publishing credits as possible has become a compulsion for too many poets–and it’s really bad for poetry in general. Having a long list of publishing credits doesn’t prove anything, which I think is why so many editors say, "DON’T tell us all the places you’ve been published!" What matters is the quality of the work, and that’s what poets should focus on first. As editor Brian Daldorph says in his listing for Coal City Review, "Care more (much more) about writing than publication. If you’re good enough, you’ll publish."


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