Fewer Subs in 2023, Yet Almost the Same Number of Publications

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Image: Eric Rothermel

Year-in-Review lists, followed soon after by fresh New Year resolutions: two activities that go hand-in-hand this time of year. 

Some of us love the tradition. Others wince and skip it. 

I fall in the middle, neither loving nor hating it. I see the value in tallying my accomplishments over the year, and it motivates me to keep my momentum going as I start a new list of annual goals. Yet, it also shines a light on goals I missed, as I jab a finger of judgement back at my own reflection.
I still have 10 more days until I need to carve my 2024 New Year resolutions into the stone tablet, but I’ve already tallied my report card for 2023. In doing so, I discovered an interesting story in the numbers and recently shared it with my accountability group, the fabulous group of WOW! bloggers and staff who are part of our “Butt Kickers” cohort. We’ve been cheering, commiserating, and entertaining each other for years now around our individual writerly triumphs and travails. I cranked out my annual Year-in-Review stats to share with the BKers last week. 

2023 Writing Activity 

  • Submitted to 18 literary journals. 
  • 7 pieces published – with 2 published in print ($50 payment for each print publication). 
  • Submitted the first 5 pages of my memoir manuscript to 1 contest: 
      • First Pages Prize. $20 fee. Second time I submitted, after being longlisted in 2021. 
      • Did not place on the longlist. 
  • Submitted 10 queries to agents (some with sample pages). 
  • Was accepted into the print anthology Awakenings: Stories of Body & Consciousness – published in October 2023. 
      • Teamed with 3 essayists in the anthology, calling ourselves the Northern New England cohort, to help promote the anthology. 
      • Our cohort participated in a virtual Zoom reading in November 2023. 
      • Our cohort had a post published on the Brevity Blog in November 2023; a craft article that discussed our promotional activities in support of the anthology. 
      • I pitched a podcast host I'd met on Instagram to have our NNE team appear on “Fine Cut.” We taped in October 2023 and the episode aired in December. We discussed a scene from the 2022 movie “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” – then we discussed our essays in the anthology and the theme of bodies and awareness. 
      • I interviewed the Awakenings anthology editor, Diane Gottlieb, for the November WOW! Markets newsletter. 
      • Will attend a salon reading in Brunswick, Maine, in winter 2024 where our NNE cohort will read parts of our essays and discuss the anthology – activity pending
      • Will give a reading at a Portland, Maine, bookstore in March 2024 with the NNE cohort – activity pending
      • May have an opportunity to join an anthology reading panel at the AWP conference in Kansas City, Missouri, in February 2024 – activity pending.
  • Attended the Salem Lit Festival in September 2023 to read my Five-Minute Lit flash, titled “Germie.” 
  • Interviewed 4 editors for WOW’s “On Submission With …” column. 
  • Started blogging for The Muffin through WOW; wrote 6 blogs. 
  • Was selected to attend a writers retreat – Millay Arts in Austerlitz, NY. 
  • Was selected to attend the Prague Summer Program for Writers for 3.5 weeks in Prague, Czech Republic. 
  • Was accepted into an inaugural “Craft Year” program – a free mini-MFA style workshop that kicked off in August 2023, with monthly meetings scheduled into August 2024. 
  • Completed a 5-week long Book Proposal Bootcamp in November 2023. Took apart and rebuilt my book proposal and query letter. 

For comparison, I submitted to 60 lit journals in 2022 (vs 18 subs in 2023). I was published 9 times in 2022 and was published 7 times in 2023. The year before that, in 2021, I submitted to 82 journals and was published 10 times. 

This is the part of my Year-in-Review stats that jumps out at me. Considering that I subbed to far fewer lit journals in 2023 than in 2022 or 2021, I had nearly the same acceptance rate. 

Interesting, right? 

I asked my Butt Kicker cohort what they thought. They feel that I’ve learned how to submit the right pieces to the right journals. Essentially, they say I’m targeting my markets better. 

I agree. I’ve never been one to firehose my longform essays, flash CNF, or prose poetry to a bajillion journals. I know this approach works for some writers, and it’s one way to build a portfolio. For me, though, the firehose method makes me uncomfortable. I don’t want to send out the same piece to dozens of journals at the same time, or turn a piece around and submit it to another journal on the same day I receive a rejection. 

It feels like begging. It also doesn't give me the opportunity to reevaluate why a piece was not selected. By firehosing (yes, I'm calling this a word), I miss the chance to think about and perhaps rework a piece before submitting again.

My publications number shows that I’m uncomfortable with the firehose approach. And, I’m OK with that. It’s likely why I also have not yet queried my memoir to scores and scores of agents. Some writers argue that it’s a numbers game, so yes, I’m probably missing opportunities by not querying more. I sent only 10 queries in 2023. I queried 45 agents in 2022. 

Yet, as I look at my Year-in-Review stats, I’m going to give myself grace around my querying and journal submission strategy because I'm learning from my Year-in-Review numbers. It indicates that I for sure am getting better at targeting the right homes for my work—which means more to me when a piece does land because it also indicates that I was just as selective in choosing the journal as they were in accepting me. 

I want the same feeling when subbing to agents and independent presses. And with that, I’m ready to usher in 2024.

Ann Kathryn Kelly writes from New Hampshire’s Seacoast region. https://annkkelly.com


Sue Bradford Edwards said...

I'm with you on not flying my work into the ether willy nilly. Although I do acknowledge that submitting more would likely be helpful.

Angela Mackintosh said...

Ann, you've had an incredible year!! You've done so much, traveled to amazing places, given back to the literary community, and made some solid connections. Plus, all those publications! Yes, you are certainly targeting your markets better than ever. I think the firehose submission method works best for new writers who haven't placed their work yet. There's nothing wrong with it! It's much better to targets, but that only comes with experience.

I consider a few points when submitting creative writing: Does my story, theme, and writing style fit with what they've published before? Who is the journal's core audience? Who are their editors? I normally read up on the editor's favorite reads and read their writing, if they are writers. You can tell a lot about what they might accept. The rest is luck! And you just never know. The important thing is to keep at it. :)

Cheers to your 2023 accomplishments! And to a productive 2024!

Ann Kathryn Kelly said...

SueBE, I'm more at peace with my journal sub strategy over the last year but I can certainly see where I fell down on the agent querying and independent press querying front. I gotta step up my game in '24, for sure ... or my manuscript might live in a drawer forever!

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

When you are querying, it is hard to hit just the right balance. So many agents, at least in children's, say "I'm greedy. I love it all. Send me everything." But then there list doesn't represent that. Is that because they aren't really send everything? Or because they don't buy everything? So do you play it cautious or submit more broadly?

Ann Kathryn Kelly said...

Ang, your points are spot on regarding your journal research. That feels way more targeted to me than a spray approach. In particular, I like your tip about reading a journal editor's own writing, if it's available. Smart move! Onward into a great '24, for both of us!

Ann Kathryn Kelly said...

Thought-provoking questions, SueBE! I'm at a bit of a loss, as I think many writers are ... sigh ...

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