Submission. What a strange, unhealthy word. Whenever I write a cover letter to send off with a few poems, I can't avoid using it, and when I do, I can't suppress a little cringe. There really couldn't be a more perfect response to the word, with its suggestion of tentativeness, of I-await-your-good-judgement-my-lord. I submit unto you these humble poems, dear editor.
Then again, sending out your writing is more or less an exercise in masochism in general. You put your heart-wrung darlings onto paper and hope that they are chosen, or at least acknowledged. Months pass, then that skinny SASE returns (and, by the way, is there anything more depressing than seeing your own damn address in your own damn handwriting, in your own damn mailbox?) and the indifferent rejection note confirms your expectations and fears. And then you do it again. And again. Yes sir may I have another!
Well, I have cringed again today, while sending off four poems to The Kenyon Review. We'll see what happens to the poor dears.
Let me talk about The Kenyon Review for a minute. Highly professional, snazzily produced, long history of excellence, etc., etc. But, whereas most literary journals steadfastly refuse to even think about accepting submissions through any delivery system other than the mail, KR has taken the opposite approach and established an online-only submissions (*cringe*) process. You register for an account, type in your cover letter, upload your file, and you're done. It has a kind of transactional flavor, but it works smoothly.
The benefit to KR is that it enables them to control how often you send in your work (you cannot send new material until the work you have already submitted has been reviewed), make the review process easier for editors, audit the system for orphaned submissions and monitor turnaround times (presumably), and stop fussing with envelopes and piles of paper. Cleverly, they have also limited the box for your cover letter to 250 words, which prevents anyone from sending their autobiography in letter form.
The benefit to writers is that you can log-in to check on the status of your submission (still meek! weak-kneed as ever!) and pull it from consideration if things are taking too long. No postage or SASEs required. The system also sends email confirmations upon receipt of your work, so you know that everything got there safely. Of course, that also means that they send rejection letters via email, which could lead to a new heights of inhumanity. Can't wait to rate that rejection.
In any case, I think The Kenyon Review is ahead of the curve on this one. Undoubtedly there are writers and editors out there who will claim that it signals the end of an era, that you should use the web to order DVDs, not send in your masterpieces, and so on. That's all hooey. The people at KR have just had the good sense to take a shitty, inefficient system and make it work better for everybody.
Or at least I think so. If I find out their system ate my poems, well, I'll... submit someplace else. *Cringe.*