Submit? Who does that? Again and again, the more the better. Wimps? Masochists? Writers, that’s who. We submit a lot, and when we don’t we tell ourselves that we should. So does that mean we’re submissive?
Words have power, especially for those who use them as tools. Since I began sending out pieces of writing for consideration by editors and publishers (and yes, getting rejections in return), I’ve found myself thinking about the words used for this process. Many publishers have “Submission Guidelines” on their websites. Writers are sometimes advised not to send out multiple submissions. My writing colleagues speak blithely of their “subs” to critique groups and elsewhere.
So what is it about submitting a submission that bothers me?
I think it’s that “sub” business. Think of other words that begin with it: subterranean, subculture, subordinate, subterfuge, subversive, subjective. There’s something low, sneaky or suspect about them. Let’s see what we can learn from the dictionaries.
The Random House Dictionary gives these definitions of “submit”: 1. To yield in surrender, compliance or obedience, as to a conqueror. 2. To subject (oneself) to imposed conditions, treatment, etc. 3. To refer or present for the approval or decision of another or others.
The OED (online version) has the following: 1. To place oneself under the control of a person in authority or power; to become subject, surrender oneself, or yield to a person or his rule, etc. 2. To yield, surrender, be submissive. 3. To surrender oneself to judgement, criticism, correction, a condition, treatment, etc.
Submit! What a word!
It’s interesting that neither dictionary explicitly mentions the specific meaning that pertains to writers, i.e. putting a piece of work out to a publisher or editor for consideration. The definition that comes closest is the third of the Random House ones: to refer or present for the approval or decision of another.
Both dictionaries give the etymology of the word “submit” as Latin sub (low) + mittere (to send). Hence, to lower, reduce, yield. It’s clear that submitting something for the approval or decision of another is done from an inferior position. The person doing the submitting is perforce a supplicant.
I think we writers need better words for a process that’s a major part of being a writer. It’s challenging enough already, without all the connotations of lowness, deference, yielding and surrender. I can understand the use of “submit” or “submission” in law, where deference before the authority of courts and the state is inherent, but writing is an act of creation, and the results of this act should not be seen as something that must be presented from a prone position, cringing and grovelling before an all-powerful authority.
Certainly there must be conventions in the dealings between writers and publishers. Certainly writers should observe these conventions and present their work in a professional manner. Yes, rejections are part of the process and we have to deal with them gracefully (most of the time). But I think we can do without words that imbue the whole business with such a negative connotation.
What might be an alternative? The one I favour right now is “offering.” To offer, instead of to submit. Here is my offering. I present it to you, a fellow human being, standing on my feet, looking you in the eye. You may accept or reject it, but not with your foot on my neck.