Fourteen Tips on Selecting Work for Submission
There it was: another rejection. Because I submit work to exhibitions,
journals and competitions in the visual arts and poetry, I have
twice as many chances for rejection. But this letter seemed
different, somehow less painful.
The manager of the gallery gave details about the accepted
artwork, which is rare. One artist "paints round, hex sign-influenced
work..." and the other "creates large, geometric oil
paintings." It was a window into the judge's aesthetics,
and it seemed apparent to me that she favored a very specific
style. If I had known beforehand, I might not have entered the
competition, thereby saving myself $30. On the other hand, if
I had known beforehand, I might have entered anyway, thinking
boldly that I could turn her head with my work.
The experience made me think about what happens after I decide
to submit poems or paintings to editors or judges. How do I
select those three poems or that set of slides that will have
me anticipating the mail carrier's arrival each day? These are
the habits that work for me, and I hope they can help you, too.
1. Try to know as much as you can about the "destination."
Read the journals, study the call for submissions, try to read
between the lines and see IF your work might fit in.
2. Examine your work periodically-all of it. Put your poems
or photographs of your artwork into groups. What do they have
in common? What makes them different from each other? If you
know your body of work, when the call comes you will know if
you have something to offer.
3. When you look through your work, the strong pieces will sit
on top, and you will snatch them up and start typing your cover
letter. But you have just given yourself a chance to grow: don't
be afraid to revise the poem or the painting that has nagged
at you for weeks or years. Time (and fresh eyes) can help you
to re-see your work.
4. A themed call for submissions might seem like a no-brainer:
the entry form says "Light and Dark" and the editors
or contest directors have written a semi-transparent paragraph
about what they mean. Because you know your work so well, several
pieces pop into your head, and you're off to the post office.
The unthemed call presents more of a challenge, and here's where
regular practice with #2 and #3 will help you select what to
5. Try to put yourself in the judge's or editor's shoes. Make
a list of ten things you notice about the piece you are thinking
about submitting? If the piece wasn't yours, what would you
say to the poet or artist who created it?
6. Have someone you trust look at the work you have selected.
You may have a gut feeling that these are strong pieces, but
ask: "What do you notice first?" "If you had
to tell in one word what this piece is about, what would it
7. Prepare yourself for rejection (Judy's Journal - March 2005)
and for acceptance (April 2005).
8. Whether it is a local, regional or national competition or
a journal, don't hold back your strongest work. You never know
who will see what you send in. Pay attention to "No simultaneous
9. Keep a record of your submissions. Use it to learn about
what you valued enough to send out two or twenty years ago,
and ask yourself, "What do I think about that work now?"
10. Prepare your submissions carefully. Proofread your poems,
and have good slides ready. During the selection process, you
may come across something that you feel is strong, but may not
have the time to get it into shape for submission.
11. Be suspicious of sending out your newest work. You may still
be on a honeymoon with the piece, so in love with it that you
can't see its faults. That being said, your latest work might
be your freshest and have a special energy. I finished a painting
a few weeks ago and knew it was a strong piece. I had to run
out and get slide film so I could include it for submission.
You guessed it: that's the piece that was juried in.
12. Ask yourself before you try to select work: what have I
already learned that will help me today? Do you know something
about the politics of the organization, the venue, the editors?
Will your work be "screened" so that the "final"
judge may never see your work?
13. Self-evaluation (which is what selecting work for others
to "judge" entails) is difficult. We are used to having
someone else tell us, "This is good, this isn't. Fix this,
keep that." How many times have you sent out certain pieces
because someone else has said something good about it?
14. Talk with others about how they decide what work to submit.
You may be surprised how thoughtless or how thoughtful people
are when faced with these decisions.
Selecting work to submit is one small part of the creative
process. And each time I submit work or decide not to, it adds
to the accumulation of "small actions taken or avoided,"
as Donald Murray said in the opening quotation. The root of
repeating the action is the need to put my work out there for
others to see and to connect in some way.
While I have learned a thing or two about choosing work to
send out, it would be great to hear from you: email@example.com.
Next month's journal will be "Hanging an Exhibition."