Ima Oduok writes short fictions, essays, and travel memoirs, as well as translates from French to English. Previous publications include an article for BlackMillennials.com and a literary travel guide to her hometown, Houston, Texas at EatThisPoem.com. Off the page, she enjoys loitering in libraries, sometimes for pay, and hanging out with her dog Oliver. When possible, she hits the open road/sea/air in search of new, awkward experiences. Online, you can find her on Twitter at @ioduok and on her travel blog roaminginsearchofpasture.tumblr.com.
I look one last time at the requirements. Or, I think it's one last time. Not even close.
For the past few months, I've been sitting on a story. It's as done as it's going to be, and I can only bring myself to look at it to make sure it's double (or single) spaced, that my name is (or isn't) on it, that the pages are numbered (or not). Each literary journal has its own list of requirements, and here is where I get stuck. I look at how to format the page, and then, when there's nothing left to prevent me from hitting the submit button, I decide my bio isn't good enough anymore. Or I have to go through all my Facebook albums to find the "right" writer photo. Then, despite having a template, I rewrite my cover letter from scratch. The final result is about the same as the starting one.
And so it goes in the procrastination stage of the literary submission process. I burn precious days, or let's be honest, weeks, doing more research, rewriting cover letters and bios, and sorting spreadsheets. Seriously, my spreadsheet game is top notch. Why is it so difficult to leave things as they are and just hit submit?
Fear. Of rejections, of not being perfect, of thinking I could have done better.
A journal may reject a piece for an infinite number of reasons. My mind jumps to the one that causes me the most stress. There was something I could have done different. The editor rejected my story because I wasn't good enough. And so every submission season, I pause. Am I better this time around? Did I do enough to my story to make it great, unrejectable? Intellectually, I know it comes down to numbers and style. Different editors have different tastes, different quotas.
Instead of getting stuck staring at the list of sites that might reject my work, waiting past deadlines, this year, I'm taking steps to make this round less painful, and the next more seamless.
1. Keep a submission dossier with an author photo, cover letter template, and bio ready to tailor and submit.
2. Maintain a database of journals and their submission requirements.
3. Do submissions in a concentrated period so I don't have the continued stress of psyching myself up throughout the year.
4. Wine. Or whiskey.
As of this writing, this process has worked somewhat. I made my dossier, and I'm not even going to look at it for revisions until next season. My databases are as sorted as they can get. I submitted to about five or six literary magazines in two days. I haven't had any alcohol this round, but that's because I'm currently on a Caribbean island where I sweat all the time and carry around a two-liter bottle of water. The last thing I want is a dehydrating drink that will warm me up even more.
For those of you writing in a land that actually experiences seasons, I would recommend all four of my listed steps. Especially the alcohol.