26th Annual Woodtick Poetry Retreat: July 17th-July 20th



On Horseshoe Lake

Retreat to Susan Stevens Chambers “cabin”

Merrifield, Minnesota

Thursday, July 17th through Sunday July 20, 2014

Each poet should bring food and at least a thirty minute program.  This can be a writing workshop, talk on writing forms, a reading from a famous poet.  Let your imagination run wild!  Be sure and bring your own poems for many sessions of “read-arounds”.

Casual dress, you may be asked to deliver your program in the woods or on the beach. Bring a swimsuit and long sleeves to fight off mosquitoes in the evening.  You may be asked to share a room with a roommate. You do not need to bring linens or towels.  Everyone pitches in with the clean up.

Please let me know arrival plans and what you want to bring for your food so I can coordinate rooms, food etc, the earlier the better!   Most participants arrive sometime on Thursday p.m. or Friday.

Contact Susan Chamber at to register and for direction or any other questions you may have.

When Nepotism Fails: Insights and Commiserations on the Submission Process.

At The League's spring convention, Mary Stein was the speaker of one of our breakout sessions. She was gracious enough to allow us to post her essay that was the basis of her talk on our site for all to read for those that might have missed it. 

By Mary Stein:

When Nepotism Fails: Insights and Commiserations on the Submission Process.

I have just begun teaching new a writing class, and at the end of my first group, I had the
students read some inspirational quotes about writing. After reading through many of the quotes,
one student raised his hand and asked, “Are all writers sad?” I realized, after he asked this, that
many of the quotes were about despair.
I wasn’t sure exactly how to answer my student, but as I drove home, I reflected on his
question and realized that––even if all writers aren’t inherently sad––there is a lot of torment
they must steel themselves against. Because if the writing process isn’t painful enough, the
submitting process threatens to extract any joy that results from writing.
Everyone has different submission habits. I have one dear writer friend who submits like it’s a
necessary bodily function. He is a machine gun submitter, and will send out submissions while
he watches football games, when he’s bored, on the toilet, or probably while waiting in line at the
Post Office or anywhere else. In any given year, he will submit to hundreds of journals.
Hundreds of journals.
As a submitter myself, I tend to be the polar opposite. If he’s a machine gun submitter, I’m like
an archer. I sit on the deer stand for hours (which, in the publishing world translates to months
and years), wait for a looming beast, then I put my bow in the quiver, aim well and miss often.
Admittedly, I am a terrible submitter. I don’t like submitting and when I do I become horribly
indecisive––is this the absolute perfect piece for this journal? And then I’ll sit on my deer stand
for another year and contemplate my piece, oblivious to the hundreds of other deer that mosey
You won’t be surprised then, to discover that my friend has a lot more publications than I
do. I tend to think there’s a balance, but I often wish I had the submitting tenacity of my friend.
One thing I do to push my edge on submitting is to carve out time where I only submit pieces.
This usually involves a rogue free weekend once or twice a year, fountains of wine, and a remote
area. I invite a writer friend or two, and we each bring oodles of literary journals so we can see
what we might be missing, to stare down the tunnel of our blind spots. Then we get to the dirty
business of submitting, and I’ll be damned if it isn’t a little bit fun.
During these submitting retreats, there is no feedback, no sharing work, no editing for
comma splices or rethinking a final couplet or first line. We send out work and go to sleep only
when our laptops have burned images of cover letters onto our pupils––we just give it up to the
gods and wait. After all, they call it submission for a reason.
Submission can feel like a kind of terrible purgatory, but I want to start out with some really
good news. We editors are human beings. We are not trying to be assholes or to sort out our own
rejection issues by rejecting others. In fact, for most editors it’s quite the opposite. We want to
love your work. We want to discover the next new amazing voice in poetry. We read each
submission with a glimmer of hope, like every piece we pick up just might be the next messiah.
Personally, I get no satisfaction from rejecting a piece. In fact, I’m beginning to wonder what it’s
doing for my karmic status in the publishing world. But the important thing to know is that many
and most editors are sympathizers, working on a journal out of a labor of love for little, or more
likely, no money. We want you to become widely read and famous just as much as you do. When
an editor publishes you, you are the only one who gets to wear the laurels in the end. As editors,
we just want to rest those laurels on your head, then get a good night sleep because we did the art
world some good by serving as a conduit for your amazing work.
Just remember that your submission is going to be read by an actual human being with a job, a
family, a writing life, and other commitments like intensive therapy––spurred by the existential
struggles of trying to live an artist’s life. Essentially, when you are submitting a piece of work,
you are asking a stranger for a favor, and as writers, it’s our responsibility to make that favor as
painless as possible.
But I’m here to commiserate with you, as an editor and a writer. Though I don’t have a
silver bullet (if anyone did, no one would be here right now), there are some strategies that can
make submission less painful for all involved.
A Thing to Behold: When You Think Your Work is Done
It seems so obvious, maybe even more obvious than gravity, but a piece of work should be
polished before it’s submitted. I know. I know. I want to hit myself, too. But I cannot reiterate
this enough.
I am a slow writer. So, so slow. So when I finish a draft I tend to feel pretty pleased with the fact
that I finished it, even if I’m not thrilled with its results. Sometimes, I am so happy to be done, or
so excited about the work, that the first thing I want to do is bomb my Submittable account, to
proselytize my piece, to share the good word of its completion.
But I must urge you to pause. Just for a moment. If editors can break bread and commune over
one feeling, it’s over the frustration of unfinished work––and I’m not talking about sloppy work,
I’m talking about the small oversights that plague writers even after 8 drafts. When I finished one
of the favorite stories I’ve ever written, I was certain it was gold––my paragon, the definitive
story that would certainly send the New Yorker running after me with contracts and accolades.
The story was good and I had revised it at least 5 times––5 slow, painstaking revisions, some of
which took as long or longer than completing the original draft. After obsessing over this story, I
threw it at editors like rice at a wedding. The story was officially disseminated. But in the middle
of submitting it I noticed that I had a minor typo in the first sentence. It was an embarrassment.
A hypocrisy. I am an editor after all, among those who break bread with other editors in
contempt over errors or sloppy writing in the first line, stanza, paragraph or page.
Even when you’re certain a piece is complete, I encourage you to learn from my blunder and
consider a few steps before sending it out:
* Edit, edit, edit and then have a friend copyedit it, too. You get to decide when a piece is done,
so if you send a story out to be proofed, tell your reader you’re not looking for feedback.
There’s nothing as sad as a a reader telling you your story has major structural issues when
you’re just trying to make sure you don’t have comma splices.
* In a grotesque way, submitting is a like a job interview for your poem. The way a poem
physically looks on the page is important. Sometimes when I submit work, I go through a very
stalker-ish process of formatting my piece similarly to a page of the journal’s spread. If a
journal uses a Garamond font, I might just ditch my Times New Roman habit for a spell. You
want your poem to look like spawn from the journal you’re submitting to, if you can.
This seems obvious, but make sure your piece can physically fit in the journal. I’ll go
more into the nuances of finding homes for work later, but get a sense of the journal’s
physicality. Conduit, the journal I work for, is a half page spread. Oftentimes we get work with
a poetic structure, that is essential to the poem but can’t physically fit in our journal, which is a
huge deterrent for emerging or established writers alike.
More than anything, considering a journal’s layout shows the editor you are familiar with
their journal and you respect their guidelines; and before they even read it, it looks like a poem
that would appear in their journal.
* Read it out loud: I imagine poets do this all the time, but as a story writer, I often neglect this
step unless I’m practicing for a reading. But I find that my most productive edits surface from
reading my piece out loud. Reading a piece aloud helps with the “intangibles” of craft––like
flow and rhythm––the qualities that make a poem or story harder to put down even when the
structure is a little shaky (but it’s not because you’ve workshopped your piece and revised it 8
times already!).
You know in your gut when a piece is done. If you are the kind of person who feels all your work
springs from the groundswell of genius, then give it to an honest friend who is able to tell you to
keep editing without disrupting the fragile ecosystem of your ego. This person should probably
not be your partner. On the flip side, If you are the writer who is waiting for your piece to
become Pulitzer worthy, then give it to that same discerning friend who can tell you that your
piece is a solid step toward your ambition and that it’s time to move on.
In the end, it is the writer’s responsibility to make a piece impossible to reject. Then, and
only then, are you ready to send it out.
Be A Beggar and A Chooser: Finding a Potential Home for Your Work
Okay. You are ready to send your piece out, to excise it from your psyche so you can stop
thinking about it and begin to creatively obsess over something else. So where do you send your
work? To be honest, I have no idea. It depends on your work and what your publishing goals are.
But what I can tell you is that, to answer that question for yourself, it takes considerable research,
and there a few ways to go about that research process:
Another thing all editors can agree on is that they want submitting writers to look at a back issue
before they submit work. Of course, it’s impossible to subscribe or even buy a back issue to
every journal you would like to submit to. We are writers, therefore we are poor. But there are a
few ways to familiarize yourself with journals very cheaply:
* One good strategy, is to go in on subscriptions with other writers. It’s like a clothing swap, but
with literary journals instead. When you meet up or workshop with your writing friends, ask
them to bring semi-recent issues of literary magazines they have lying around, and then behold
the smorgasbord of journals that you can feast on. That way, you can also get feedback
regarding others’ submission experiences with different journals.
If, like me, you find perverse enjoyment in the mayhem of AWP, pack light then go to the
bookfair on the last day when journals are just dying to unload their past issues on you for little
or no money.
* The Loft Literary Center has a library full of journals. I’m embarrassed to say that I have only
been in there briefly. But it’s a treasure trove of resources and it’s FREE.
New Pages reviews literary journals and is a great way to get a sense if a journal meets
your aesthetic. It gives a thorough interpretation of a journal’s creative ethos.
The Review Review is another (free) resource to check out literary magazines, though it’s
far from exhaustive, it provides somewhat comprehensive information regarding specific
journals’ submission periods and guidelines.
* My best advice, however, to finding where to submit work, is to stalk the writers that you like,
whose aesthetic is similar to yours. Every time I read a poetry collection or story collection that
I resonate with, I read the back of the title page or the acknowledgements page to see where the
author has published work, and I look up those literary journals to explore them further. I also
make sure to look up authors’ websites which will always include exhaustive lists of where
they’ve been published. This is nice, too, because their published work is often listed
chronologically, so if you’re researching a fairly “emerged” writer, you can see where some of
their earlier work has been published. But it’s good to look at writers who are in the same stage
of the publication process as you, or maybe a few steps ahead, so you can get a sense of which
journals might be a more realistic goal.
* It’s important to realize that nowadays, journals may be reading pieces for print and online
publication. If being published in print is important to you, you might want to first send your
pieces to print-only journals. If Hunger Mountain accepts a piece for online publication and
you were hoping for their print issue, you say yes, rejoice, and next time you wait out the
submission period of your favorite print-only journals. This is by no means intended to
disparage online journals–– To overlook online journals would be shortsighted. Many online
literary journals not only have pieces nominated for Pushcart prizes, but also garner a much
larger readership than print journals.
When you have (at least a mental) list of dozens or hundreds of journals you’d genuinely like to
submit to and think would be a good home for your work then it’s time to prioritize the journals
where you want your work to go. As much as I hate to talk about journals like they’re in a
pecking order, it’s helpful to tier your preferences for publication––but which journals are among
gods and which are among mortals is up to you. Some writers rely on schematics, making
equations from which journals produce the most awards, or which journals end up in Best
American Anthologies. But I’d like to think that there are journals that seize your tender-writer’sheart
for their sense of adventure or heart-rendering writing––journals that make you feel like
your writing has a place in the world.
Take Cover
Now you know the 800 journals where you’d like to send your work and are ready to roll up
your sleeves and write a cover letter. In my opinion, cover letters are tedious formalities. As an
assistant editor, I could do without them: work either stands up or it doesn’t. I have been
unimpressed with submissions from authors whose work has appeared in journals of the deities
(New Yorker, Paris Review, Ploughshares, etc. etc. etc.) and I have been astounded by
submissions from writers with little or no publishing history. When I read cover letters, I read
them only after I read the submission, and now––after having read all submissions under the sun
for the past few years––I am so rarely swayed by their content. That said, cover letters are
necessary and they need to be done well.
I am a fan of succinct cover letters. I demand them. As an editor these are a few things I look for
in a cover letter:
* I like the salutation to include the name of the editor or editors in the writer’s given genre. This
tells me the reader has at least taken the time to Google the journal and bother to look at its
masthead, and hopefully a few pieces of work to boot. Address the editor by name and spell the
name correctly. If you are not absolutely certain of the gender of the editor, don’t try to guess
by Mistering or Misses-ing them. Just write out their full name.
* Write one line to introduce the piece by title or titles. When submitting multiple poems, it’s
nice to have the pieces listed. No more. Please, no more than this. When submitting to literary
magazines, you aren’t querying an agent and there is no need to introduce or explain your
work: The work must speak for itself. I am adamant about this. If writing is truly polished and
structurally sound, its theme will emerge in the titles and lines of the pieces, and even if the
editor does not know to the letter the ambitions of the writer, the work will resonate. After all, a
star-gazer doesn’t need a lesson in astronomy to live in awe of the night sky.
* The next line should demonstrate your familiarity with the journal. Mention if a). An editor
invited you submit a piece b). You have contributed to the magazine before or c). You are a
subscriber. As an editor, I’m always happy to hear when a submitter discovered a poet through
our journal, or to hear about a poem in a recent issue the submitter appreciated. As an editor, it
can be frustrating to read through a string of submissions where it’s clear that the submitter has
not bothered to so much as even Google the site. For our journal in particular, we get
submissions with layouts that cannot physically fit on our page, and we get submissions that
are egregiously long––sometimes entire manuscripts––that would take up 90% of our page
space. When I read that a submitter is a subscriber or a reader, my gut response is “yes, these
are my people,” and even if that work is to receive a rejection, the submitters’ names will not
be flagged in my psyche as ones to avoid.
No need to be cute. Save your creativity for your work. But let the editor know if you’re
familiar with journal.
* Follow submission guidelines to a t. If a journal asks you not to simultaneously submit, for the
love of all things holy don’t do it. If a journal asks for no more than 5 poems, don’t send 6 or
11 or 22. Some journals ask you to write specific lines verbatim in your cover letter to make
sure you’re actually a writing human who has bothered to look at their submission guidelines.
* I prefer a brief bio at the end of the cover letter. Again, no need to send a full resume or a long
letter of intent––save that for querying agents. Just stick to the basics. If you have published a
bunch of books, the sad reality is that the reader has likely never heard of your books. Though
it’s good to include book publications in your bio, be sure to mention a few recent journal
publications, too.
What to Send and When
After you do the legwork or acquainting yourself with journals, you’ll have a good sense of what
poems to send. Poet Kris Bigalk once mentioned (and I paraphrase) that she will send a few
poems that follow a similar thematic thread, but then throw in one that is completely different.
As an editor, I like this strategy. It’s nice to read submissions that hint at a cohesive poetic
narrative that could stand up in a journal without the context of an entire manuscript. It can help
the reader become more deeply immersed in the work. But the surprise factor is nice, too,
because it also shows some range. If a certain journal has sent form rejections for pieces from the
same body of work, it might be worthwhile to try work from a different writing project.
After you decide, timing these submissions is important. I think the jury is still out on
questions like How many times do I let myself get rejected from a journal? I’ve read some
articles that say you should only let yourself get rejected three times from any certain journal. I
tend to think this is short-sighted since I know my machine-gun writer-friend has been accepted
to great journals after having been rejected ten times. After all, a journal’s reading and editorial
staff can turnover somewhat frequently, so if your piece isn’t landing on the desk of the head
honcho, a different submission might go through a lineage of different readers and eventually
find its way there at a later time. In the end, it’s up to you.
I can say, as an editor, I have no problem with writers submitting multiple times to
Conduit, and I have read submissions that get closer every time. What I do take issue with is
writers who submit their work incessantly. Consider the nature of the journal you are submitting
to––our magazine happens to have a longer response time of three to seven months. We read all
our submissions very carefully, year-round, and my only editorial advice would be to wait at
least half a submission period before you send work again. So if you send a journal work and get
a form rejection, wait a few months before you try again. It’s okay to be a machine gun
submitter, to disseminate your work among the lit mag world widely, but the operative word here
is widely, to many journals.
I know there there are mathematical/statistical miracles that can happen with publication,
and I know that as a writer your odds are better the more you submit. But I have this fantasy that
when writers are rejected, in the interim before they submit again to the same journal, they are
deeply contemplating their work and how they might revise their new work to be a better fit for
said journal.
When you send a simultaneous submission, it’s a good idea to send them around the same time to
journals with a similar response period. If you’re sending it to a shoe-in journal (is there such a
thing?) with a turnover of two weeks, it will not kill you to wait those two weeks until you send
that same piece out to the eight other journals with a six-month wait time. Though at my
submitting best, I might have 50 submissions out at one time, I prefer not to have any single
story at more than ten journals at the same time. This makes it easier on my fragile brain. And
that way, if I have the perfect story for a new journal I just learned about, and they do not take
simultaneous submissions, I don’t have to wait to hear back from twenty places before I send it
out again. This strategy will save you a lot of painful withdrawals. You need that time to cultivate
genius for your next piece of writing.
Don’t worry about a long wait. If you haven’t heard from a journal, wait a few weeks after their
listed response time before you inquire. And when you do inquire, don’t berate the editors, just
drop them a line to ensure they got your piece in the first place. Remember, we editors are
humans with dogs to feed and shitty day jobs to go to. Save heart. In my experience, the longer a
journal holds on to a piece, the more interested they are. The great irony of this is that you will
likely receive ten rejections on a piece (or pieces) until you finally find a home for it.
Sorry, ego.
Submittable is small miracle, but you will need to track your submissions in whatever way your
brain demands you organize yourself. Personally, I just do a spreadsheet with the title of my
work, the journals I sent it to, the date I sent it, how long their response time is and whether or
not it was picked up in the end. If I get a nice rejection, I make note of that, too. I’ve read of
another writer who would write the title of the piece on a blank sheet of paper, write down the
journals they submitted it to, then cross those names off when it was rejected. There are so many
ways to track submissions, and it doesn’t matter how you do it, but that you do. It will save you a
lot of tears, I promise.
The Blessed Yes and the Woeful No: Responding to Responses
A standard rejection is a bummer, but if you are submitting enough it’s an inevitable and frequent
occurrence. Do whatever you want with these slips––build them into an effigy of George
Plimpton and burn them, nail them on your wall in pride, make a quilt out of them––do whatever
you want, but do not respond to them in any way. You are likely pissed and rightfully so. But call
your friend who told you your piece was ready to send out and vent to him or her instead.
Personally, I never edit a piece that I have out to journals. When I submit a piece, it’s like
permission for me not to look at it for a few months until it becomes categorically rejected. But
it’s hard to resist the temptation to edit a piece once it gets rejected a few times. This is all well
and fine, but it’s a bad idea to withdraw a piece that hasn’t been accepted elsewhere. Who knows
how far up the editorial food chain your piece has traveled? As writers, we get rejected often
enough, so why do that work for editors? Fix it and send it elsewhere, and who knows––an editor
might just pick up an older version of it.
If you get an encouraging rejection, you should be extremely happy––an encouraging rejection
means you were likely in the top 5% of submissions. When you submit to them again, briefly
mention their encouragement in your cover letter. Thank them for their kind rejection and tell
them you hope the new piece is a better fit.
If the gods smile upon you and you have your piece picked up, then you should go and have a
celebratory martini––but only after you immediately respond to their acceptance with any
additional materials the editor asks for, and withdraw the accepted piece from every other journal
that might be reviewing it. Submitting a piece to any journal is like a pre-imminent commitment
to publishing there. So if your best friend who started up a new online journal accepts a piece,
and you say “yes,” you can’t retract it when the New Yorker comes after you the next day. That is
just bad manners.
Sometimes an editor might suggest changes, and, unless they’re in some way egregious,
I’d just make the changes and send it back. Once an editor asked me to change an ending of a
story, and though I hesitated, I just rewrote the damn ending. I figured that if I wanted to, I could
always change it back to its original form when it comes out in a collection, but in the end I had
to accept that the edits improved the story.
If an editor picks up your piece, do not send any unsolicited changes. If nothing else,
editors are discerning and will not lead you astray. Besides, you have researched this journal and
admired their work, so chances are their objective judgment regarding your work is a bit more
You Are a Literary Citizen:
* Volunteer to read or edit for a literary journal, or write reviews. Becoming, in some way, a part
of an editorial community will make you a more astute writer and submitter. If nothing else, it
will help a writer understand how her work will be received among hundreds of submissions,
and might even ease the pain of rejection.
Having a piece workshopped can be helpful, too. Even if you feel a bit ambivalent about
the feedback, a workshop is like a microcosm of the publishing world and can represent how
your piece might be received by editors.
Everyone says not to take rejection personally, and it’s true. Rejection is not personal. Of
course when we are rejected, we may feel the inevitable pang of doubt in our gut. We might even
briefly question whether we’re really writers, or if our work is worthwhile. If you’re immune to
this, I applaud you. But the rest of us can lick our wounds and move on. Karen Blixen said,
“Write each day, without hope, without despair.” I think the same goes for submitting. Give it up
to the gods. Have patience. Wait. And while you’re waiting, submit some more.