The essay “Submit Like A Man: How Women Writers Can Become More Successful” by Kelli Russell Agodon, co-founder of Two Sylvias Press, is getting a bit of attention and generating some discussion. I’m not on board with the article’s advice encouraging women to emulate men as a way to be successful. I also often wonder what we mean by the term “successful” in this sense (not just in regard to this essay). Why are men the gold standard for success? Is it simply because men are published more than women? Is that because some men are especially persistent in submitting their work? Or are there other reasons?
I also find this advice less than helpful because it’s suggesting for writers to be more aggressive in a way that I perceive as pushy and hasty. Maybe my editorial view is skewed by dealing with too many overly-aggressive writers, who tend (but not always!) to be men. As an editor, I don’t want to feel like I’m dealing with a salesperson working on commission. As a writer, I don’t want to conduct myself like a salesperson.
This certainly isn’t the first time women have been advised to do something “like a man”. Recent bestsellers like Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man and Lean In squarely put the focus on the shortcomings of women acting “like women”.
After a brief Twitter discussion, Kelli explained that her intention was to encourage women writers to have more confidence and not to overthink the submitting process. She pointed out that often when editors encourage women to submit work, they don’t do so promptly or at all. There certainly is some truth to that and I can get behind her sentiment. If we’re going to speak in broad generalizations, my anecdotal experience does support the claim that men are more likely than women to pounce on an opportunity.
But is every opportunity worth pouncing on? I don’t doubt for a second that some writers (of all the genders) are hesitant or slow to send work because they’re overthinking something or fear being rejected. But I also think some writers are simply more discerning with what work they send and to where.
These are the writers I appreciate and wish more writers would emulate.
I have my own set of guidelines for all writers: Submit Like a Queen
Be discerning. Don’t respond to every call for work that you come across. All calls and invitations are not equal. If you’re not already familiar with the publication, take the time to investigate it. Is it worthy of your work? Will the editors do a good job presenting and promoting your work? Will the publication connect your work to readers? Do you have applicable work to send for the particular call/invitation?
Sometimes I get invitations to send to publications that I have nothing appropriate. One time an editor invited me to send work for his “Jimmy” anthology. I wrote back and asked what’s a “Jimmy” anthology? (Jimi Hendrix, fyi) I didn’t send work not because I lacked confidence or was overthinking anything, but was because I had nothing for such a project and no worthy perspective to create something new. I can recognize “Purple Haze” on the radio, that’s about it. The same goes for invitations for themes relating to “place” — I don’t write about place and have little interest in writing about cities as subjects. Another time I was told by a friend that an editor felt blown off because I responded to his invitation for a piece about writing mentors with, “I’ve had some wonderful teachers, but nobody I’d ever call a mentor.” That wasn’t a blow off.
The above are all compelling and interesting topics for anthologies and theme-issues, but they weren’t for me.
Don’t be a label whore. A publication’s name recognition does not correlate with its quality or suitability for your work. A perceptive reader can recognize brilliance written on a napkin. A perceptive writer recognizes this. Not that I’m advising you to publish on napkins.
Although I’m not discouraging it either.
Have some dignity! While it’s perfectly fine to have “dream” publishers and publications, places you really really would love for your work to appear in, they’re hardly the only games in town. Sure, keep sending your work and hope for the best. A little persistence can go a long way, but cocky assertiveness comes off as obnoxious and sometimes desperate. You’re better than that. You are a beautiful, bold, independent writer. Act like it.
A queen is never desperate and always better than a cock.