Sunday, July 8, 2012

The world doesn't need another story (or poem)

The world doesn't need another story -- it's a point that my mentor and thesis director Kent Haruf used to make to me and my fellow fledgling fiction writers on a regular basis when I was studying at Southern Illinois University Carbondale (gulp) getting close to twenty years ago.  Kent didn't say it to be mean (he's one of the kindest, gentlest people I know), but he wanted to emphasize that if we wanted to be writers, the drive would have to come from inside of us.  No one would care, no one would even notice if we stopped writing -- and certainly no one was going to beg us to get back to it.

Kent was a graduate of the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop; he went through it at the same time as novelist John Irving, and he used to claim that besides him and Irving, none of his classmates ever published anything after earning their MFA from Iowa.  They apparently needed the incentive of producing for an instructor and to get a grade and finish the degree, but once those fairly concrete incentives were removed, they didn't appear to produce anything.

Just this morning I was indulging myself in reading the Master, William H. Gass, and I rediscovered his take on this very issue in the preface he wrote more than thirty years ago for the republication of his classic collection In the Heart of the Heart of the Country and Other Stories (originally published in 1968).  Gass wrote,
The contemporary American writer is in no way a part of the social and political scene.  He is therefore not muzzled, for no one fears his bite; nor is he called upon to compose.  Whatever work he does must proceed from a reckless inner need.  The world does not beckon, nor does it greatly reward. [...] Serious writing must nowadays be written for the sake of the art. (Nonpareil edition #21, xviii)
 He must proceed from a reckless inner need.  Indeed.

One of the reasons I've been thinking about this fact is because of the writing workshop that my writing friends -- Lisa Higgs, Tracy Zeman, Meagan Cass -- and I have been leading this summer in Springfield, Illinois.  It began back in May and will run through the beginning of August, with us meeting about every two weeks to discuss issues related to writing prose or writing poetry.  More than forty people registered to participate, but the numbers have dwindled steadily and I suppose we'll end up with about half that original number who will actually stay with it all summer.

Frankly, it was to be expected.  What prevents most people from writing who feel that they want to write is the lack of reckless inner need, as Gass called it.  I have no research to back me up, but I'm going to say that most writers live in households (or maybe situations is a better word) that don't understand their desire to write and don't support it, and perhaps even discourage it, maybe deliberately or maybe accidentally out of ignorance.

For nearly all of my adult life, I lived in a house that didn't get it and spent a great deal of energy discouraging it.  Had I simply stopped writing, things may have been easier at home in some ways, and certainly no editor would've called wondering why I hadn't submitted anything for a while.  But that was simply never an option for me.  I have to write, regardless of whether anyone is reading it or publishing it.

So if you think you want to write, you have to foster that reckless inner need.  For me, being a responsible person, I had to find time to write when no one would care that I was doing that instead of something else, which meant early in the morning.

Perhaps you're fortunate enough to live in a situation where people support your writing, or at least they're not working against it; if so, then it's a matter of developing a routine whereby you find yourself notebook in hand or laptop open every day.  Some writers give themselves page or word goals (they're going to write two pages a day, or 2,000 words, something like that), while others (like me) set a time.  I write for thirty to forty minutes each morning during the academic year, longer in the summer but rarely much beyond sixty minutes.  For folks starting out, it can be as little as a half page or five minutes.

The important thing, if you're serious about writing, is to stop being your own largest obstacle.  Make the time and the psychic space to write ... do it for yourself, do it, as the Master said, for the sake of the art.
Weeping with an Ancient God
Men of Winter

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Finding a home for a long story

For the most part, the length of stories that journal editors will consider has shrunk over time, in keeping with cultural attention spans, so if you write a story in excess of 6,000 words, it can be tricky to find a place to publish it.  This past spring I wrote a story that weighs in at just over 11,000 words, and it does take some digging, but you can find editors who are willing to consider the longer short story or novella.

In a moment I'll share some of my discoveries regarding editors who are open to lengthier submissions, but since I brought up the word novella, let me say a few words about that somewhat misunderstood form.  The terms short story, novelette, novella, and novel are often distinguished by their word count.  There are no strict rules (in fact, there are virtually no rules at all), but short stories are perhaps in the 10,000 word range as their limit, the rarely mentioned novelette 10,000 to 20,000 words, the novella maybe 20,000 to 50,000 words, and the novel, of course, any length beyond that.  I readily acknowledge that it would take you no time at all searching online (or, heavens, in some sort of reference book) to find definitions disagreeing with the number limits I've offered here.

It should be noted that length is a distinguishing factor, but other factors should be considered, too, like the number of major characters and the sleekness of the plot (elements that are even more open to interpretation than word count).

Nevertheless, if you do find yourself in need of placing a story that runs in excess of 6,000 words, here are some possibilities.  When I was searching for my own purposes, incidentally, I made use of a site that I've referenced several times in this blog:  Duotrope.  Duotrope has a search function that allows you to plug in all sorts of criteria, like genre and form, but also length.  So I searched for venues taking stories more than 10,000 words long, and while I didn't find a lot, I did find more than I'd expected.

One such venue is the aptly named Big Fiction magazine, which is interested in "long shorts and novellas of 7,000 words and up."  The editors, however, stress in their guidelines that they want more than length; they want "substance, texture [and] urgency."  Their reading period for the current issue closed at the end of May, but if you have a longer story, keep Big Fiction in mind for when it reopens to submissions.

Another option -- and one that is currently accepting submissions -- is Caketrain and its editors' chapbook competition in fiction, which allows for the entry of novellas and longer stories within the context of a collection of stories.  The editors are looking for manuscripts between 40 and 80 pages.  As with virtually all contests,  there is an entry fee and specific guidelines for formatting your entry, so read the competition page carefully.

A brand-new and exciting option is Pshares Singles, a digital-only extension of distinguished Ploughshares journal.  The editors are looking for fiction between 6,000 and 25,000 words that will be available for download in Kindle and Nook formats, as well as in digital text from the Ploughshares main site.

These are just a few options.  So don't be afraid to write that longer story or novelette or novella:  there are editors with stamina who are interested in these more substantial forms.
Men of Winter

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Beware posting to a blog or Facebook

This summer my writer buddies Lisa Higgs, Tracy Zeman, Meagan Cass and I will be leading a series of workshops at The Pharmacy in Springfield, Illinois, and in the process of setting up the online components of the workshops it was underscored for me just how careful one must be about where and how one's writing appears online. As a writer, I've just taken for granted that everyone is aware of the need for caution, but it's occurred to me that maybe doing a post on the subject wouldn't be such a bad idea.

Here's the thing: Journal editors almost always want what's termed "First Rights" for your work, meaning that they want to be the ones to publish your story or poem or essay, etc., for the first time; then after it appears in their journal, the rights revert to you, the author, who can then do whatever you want with it -- see if an editor who does "reprints" will take it, or offer it to an anthology, or include it in a collection, or post it to your own blog or website. (Book publishing, by the way, is far more complicated, and contract language varies widely as to what authors can do with their own work after it's been taken by a publisher.)

Just using myself as an example (because it is, after all, all about me), later this year my publisher Punkin House will be releasing my book Weeping with an Ancient God, which is a novella and story collection. The novella will constitute about half the book, and it hasn't been published previously, except for the first chapter, which appeared under the title "Melvill in the Marquesas" in the online journal The Final Draft (now listed by Duotrope's Digest as deceased), in the fall of 2010. In truth, I mainly sought a journal publication for the opening chapter in hopes of sowing some interest in the novella, which was originally slated for publication in 2011.  The Final Draft, however, only left "Melvill in the Marquesas" up for about three weeks before replacing it with another fiction piece (by someone else); and -- now, frankly, this is strange -- its editor didn't archive previous editions. So the stand-alone chapter disappeared off the Internet within a few weeks of its publication; and since The Final Draft was only online, that means my piece was in essence gone for good, leaving next to no opportunity for sowing interest in the forthcoming novella and story collection.

Luckily, since The Final Draft only had First Rights, I could do what I wanted with "Melvill in the Marquesas," so I "reprinted" it at another blog that I write, called 12 Winters Blog, thus archiving the piece online myself. As far as the stories collected in Weeping with an Ancient God, they're a dozen short stories that have appeared in various literary journals, all of which only took First Rights, leaving me free to include them in this book, with the usual understanding of my acknowledging where they appeared originally.

It's typical to try to publish individual chapters of books before the book itself is published (for example, with my novel Men of Winter I'd published three of the chapters as stand-alone pieces before the book found a home at Punkin House).

Before the advent of web publishing, journal editors tended to discount publishing in a really, really small outlet as publishing at all.  In other words, if you had a poem or story that appeared in a newsletter or tiny in-house magazine of some sort (like a college-campus lit journal or student newspaper), then you could still submit it to larger circulation journals as an "unpublished" piece, thus legitimately offering their editors First Rights. I suppose this may still be true, but only if those tiny outlets are traditional paper publications.

However, the web and specifically blogging have cast First Rights into a whole new light. Because even the most obscure of blogs (like mine) could be read by thousands (millions, billions?), journal editors now consider posting to a blog as publishing and thus eliminating the piece from further publication consideration, other than in those rare journals that are willing to do reprints.

Moreover, I've recently seen in submission guidelines the specific reference to blogs and Facebook as examples of publishing that prohibit a piece from being considered by a journal. The mention of Facebook caught my attention in particular because the site and co-sponsor of this summer's workshop series, The Pharmacy (with the Vachel Lindsay Association being the other co-sponsor) has a Facebook group called The Pharmacy Literati whose members routinely share work on Facebook to get feedback from other members of the Literati -- and, really I suppose, anyone who happens upon it.

I've been mindful of all this while setting up the online components for our workshop. We want participants to be able to post their work electronically in order to get feedback from the workshop leaders and from each other, but I didn't want to use the public-access blog that I've set up to broadcast information about the workshop, just for the reasons I've outlined here. I didn't want a workshop participant to share a poem or short story, only to discover later that he or she couldn't then submit that piece for journal publication because it had appeared on the workshop blog.

I considered closing down public access to the blog once the workshop participants were set, but that didn't seem like a good idea for all sorts of reasons. So what I've decided to do is to establish a private chat site via Google Groups which will allow workshop participants to share their work for critique without its being simultaneously published on the blog. Of course, the terrain of online publishing shifts underfoot minute by minute, but I think this Groups site will accomplish what we want for the workshop without risking coincidental publication of participants' work.

Obviously, this post has mainly been focused on our workshop to take place here in Springfield, Illinois, but the issue of posting to a blog or Facebook as a type of publication, and thus eliminating the opportunity for granting First Rights elsewhere, is one that all writers should consider.
Men of Winter

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Some online publishing opportunities with the arrival of spring

I've been remiss in keeping up this blog the last few months as the winter was exceedingly busy, but I think I've emerged on the other side of all those projects and I'd like to ease back into it by highlighting some interesting online outlets. Many literary journals and publishers go into summer dormancy (some starting as early as May 1 in anticipation of the academic year's conclusion), so there's no time like the present to get some prose and poetry into editors' inboxes while they're still in reading mode.

Using recent notices from one of my favorite market reporters, Duotrope's Digest (of which I've written repeatedly), here are some venues that piqued my curiosity:

The mission of Brink Magazine is "to bring good literature and art to light." Established in 2007, the editors of this uncluttered and eye-pleasing online journal are interested in the usual literary fare in addition to criticism, interviews and translations. They are taking submissions through June 30, for this reading period, via a form within their own site.

Another interesting online possibility is Conte, a journal of narrative writing, which "aims to celebrate, explore, and expand the boundaries of both narrative writing and digital publishing." The journal's web designers definitely work at bringing digital artistry to each issue. The editors are currently reading for their summer 2012 issue and only accepting work through Submittable (formerly Submishmash). See their submissions page for links to helpful tips.

Another online journal worth checking out is milk magazine, which features a simple, straightforward and easy-to-read design. Submissions are being accepted now through August via email to milk's editor, Larry Sawyer.

Orion Magazine is an online outlet with a specialized focus which "lies at the nexus of ecology and the human experience." Its editors are looking for short fiction, essays, narrative nonfiction, and interviews, but no unsolicited poetry. See the magazine's guidelines page for a thorough description of what the editors are interested in -- but the current reading period closes March 16.

These are just a few interesting places to submit your work with the coming of spring. Check out Duotrope's Digest plus for a wealth of information on outlets that are currently reading.
Men of Winter

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Alternative outlets may be just the right venue

One of the great sources for potential markets that I've mentioned in several posts is, but I've generally focused on the literary outlets included there. also has a section titled "Alternative Magazines" that is worth perusing as well. There appear to be a few distinctions between literary and alternative outlets, but, given the focus on this blog, I'll underscore that literary publications tend to publish almost exclusively creative work (poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction) with perhaps author interviews and book reviews; whereas alternative publications tend to have a particular agenda, and their use of creative work is limited, preferring to publish essays and journalistic exposes.

Nevertheless, some alternative outlets do actively seek creative writing, and you may find that your work suits an outlet's specialized viewpoint. Here are just a few possibilities that I unearthed thanks to NewPages' Alt listings.

Well known in the literary world, The Bloomsbury Review offers book reviews on literature that is ignored by more mainstream publications because it's been released, generally speaking, by smaller, independent presses. As its homepage says, "The Bloomsbury Review is simply lively writing about good reading and good writers." Its editors, however, are interested in publishing original poetry as well. They tend to avoid simultaneously submitted work, according to their guidelines, but poets may want to check it out (as should essayists and reviewers).

Another possible outlet for creative writers of various ilks is Feminist Studies, which is "committed to providing a forum for feminist analysis, debate, and exchange." As far as creative writing is concerned, FS's editors "welcome all forms of creative expression, including but not limited to poetry and short fiction in all forms," says their guidelines page. Be aware that the editors do not consider simultaneous submissions.

A third interesting possibility that I'll highlight is Stone Voices, "a magazine and online community that explores the connections between visual arts and the spiritual journey." Among the editors' many interests are fiction and poetry, and they emphasize that each issue is done with high-production value so that it's "a book worth enjoying ... [and] a book worth keeping for a long time." Like many specialized journals, they have fairly lengthy and specific submission guidelines, but it's a venue that's worthy of attention for fiction writers and poets.

These are just three of numerous alternative outlets listed at Not all alt journals use creative work, but many do, and you just may find a nice fit if you take the time to check out the possibilities.
Men of Winter (now available for Nook and Kindle, as well as in print)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Four intriguing publishing possibilities to check out

Thanks to my weekly email alert from Duotrope's Digest, I've discovered three new journals and one that is expanding its scope which are all definitely worth noting, for writers and readers of excellent literature alike. (I've written about Duotrope's usefulness, bordering on necessity, for anyone looking for outlets for her and his creative work -- see the sidebar for older posts, several of which mention the digest.)

A brand-new, and sassy, journal that is seeking submissions for its inaugural issue is What the Fiction, "a journal of great fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry," according to its webpage. WTF was inspired by a creative writing class at East Carolina University in Greenville, NC, and its editors plan to release their first issue online in early 2012. They also intend to do a "best of" print anthology by the end of the year. Edited by Michael Brantley, the journal's webpage provides a plethora of information about its editors and their inspirations and attitudes. It's worth checking out for the insight -- and as reading entertainment in itself.

Executive editor Sarah Rae of Poydras Review has an ambitious agenda for her gestating journal. In addition to short fiction, nonfiction and poetry, the journal will include articles on theory -- and the editors hope to attract "the largest public possible by using a variety of mediums including print, online, and ebooks," according to their mission statement. A woman after my own heart, Ms. Rae has an MFA in creative writing and MA in psychology (all right, I have neither an MFA in creative writing nor an MA in psychology, but my dissertation devoted much space to trauma theory and neuropsychology).

Another intriguing journal, nearly brand-new, is From the Depths, produced by Haunted Waters Press. From the Depths is a print journal, the first issue of which will be out this winter, but the website will also feature work by its contributors -- in fact, some of that work is already posted and well worth checking out. I must say, while I really appreciate the attitude of What the Fiction and the ambition of Poydras Review, I love the feel and look of Haunted Waters Press, founded by Savannah Renee Warren and Susan Warren Utley.

Finally, Noctua Review, a journal of the MFA program at Southern Connecticut State University, is expanding the mission it began in 2008 (to publish the work of SCSU graduate students) by including work from "writers and artists across the country," and will release this new incarnation of itself in 2012. Editor in chief Julie Oliver appears to have a full masthead of editors to undertake the journal's rigorous new scope.

These are just four engaging journals in the process of launching and expanding. In addition to Duotrope's Digest, also check out NewPages and the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses for other great possibilities.
Men of Winter

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Submishmash seems to be leading the submission race

In an earlier post, I wrote about the various ways that writers and poets can submit their work to editors and publishers -- via email, an online portal, or snail mail -- and it remains true, but even though it's only been a few months since that post the submission landscape has changed appreciably. I completed a novel in June, after five years of working on it, and I began writing a series of short stories. As such, I've been quite active in the last few months in terms of contacting publishers (regarding the novel) and editors (regarding the stories). Based on my experience, it seems that more and more people are utilizing the submission service known as Submishmash. There are others, including Tell It Slant, but far and away Submishmash is leading the pack.

In fact, Submishmash now calls itself the number-one submission management tool, used by over 2,000 publishers and universities, according to its website. It's hardly scientific, but since the first part of July, I've contacted 84 editors, including publishers about my novel, and 25 (or nearly 30 percent) have used Submishmash. Two have used Tell It Slant (about 2 percent), and seventeen have used some other online portal system (just over 20 percent). Of course, email continues to be an option, but my sense is that the majority of editors/publishers who were already attracted to electronic submissions have moved to a service like Submishmash, if not Submishmash itself. Of that 84, only seven were email contacts, or about 8 percent. I mentioned in my post regarding writers' guidelines that perhaps email submissions required the most care in that journals/publishing houses tended to have very specific -- and idiosyncratic -- instructions about how to prepare your submission. I imagine that those e-submission enthusiasts prefer the simplicity a service like Submishmash offers.

A few journals still prefer snail-mail submissions, perhaps believing that it keeps the number of submissions manageable. And along with the rise in submission service use, like Tell It Slant and Submishmash, there's been a rise, from my perspective, in journals that require a nominal reading fee (usually $2 or $3). This may be an opportune time for me to acknowledge that the unscientific statistics that I used in the previous paragraph were undoubtedly skewed by the fact that I'm increasingly attracted to journals who use online submission managers. I cannot put a number to it, but I know in my perusals for outlets for my new novel and newly written stories that I passed up a few possible contacts because they were requiring snail-mail or email submissions, and at that moment I didn't have the patience or ambition to pursue them. By the same token, I passed up a handful that required a reading fee. Now, however, I've become comfortable using PayPal to dole out the two or three bucks, so I'm more inclined today than I was even a couple of months ago to pay the reading fee.

There is some debate in publishing circles about the ethics of charging a reading fee, and tied into that debate is whether or not a reading fee suppresses the number (and hence overall quality) of submissions. I'm sure that some editors/publishers, especially those over the age of, say, 25, are disinclined toward the fee because in the "old days" only disreputable journals charged a reading fee. Professional and serious outlets would never lower themselves to charge a fee -- which no doubt led to the creation of so many writing contests, as it was seen as more noble to charge $15 to enter a contest (which in various ways was returned to the winners and entrants) than to charge everyone a couple of dollars, almost none of which would be returned to the writers and poets, in terms of a subscription or sample copy, etc.

The journal I read for, Quiddity, has recently switched to using Submishmash (from snail mail); and I find it quite handy. I receive an email from one of the editors letting me know there are submissions for me to read. My account is the same for both my Quiddity reading and for my own submissions to journals/publishers which use Submishmash. As a  reader, I simply log in, click QUIDDITY, then click on a story (I'm only reading prose), and it pops up on the screen. I generally increase its magnification a couple of times to make it exceptionally easy to read, and when I've reached a decision I either click the thumb-up or thumb-down icon (there's a maybe option, but as a group we decided even before Submishmash that maybes are virtually useless -- it's yes or no, or get off the pot).

There's also an option of adding a comment to the submission, which I don't bother with either. If I read something wonderful and I fear that Quiddity may lose it if we don't act promptly, I'll email or text the appropriate editor and alert her or him that we have a live one we may want to act on as soon as possible.

Just a couple of side notes regarding using Submishmash: I was having trouble at first receiving email notifications from the editors that I had something to read, so I contacted Submishmash support and received a response literally within the hour (it turned out to be a minor technical glitch that was immediately cleared up) -- and this was on a Saturday morning. Even though using Submishmash as a reader is handy, I do sort of miss having to haunt the campus, where I only teach part-time, to pick up fresh or drop off read submissions, and likely running into one of the editors or interns in the Q office. And in addition to the human contact, I miss the feel of the submissions, the bulk and smell of them, and the knowledge that the actual writer who composed the piece physically handled the material and signed the cover letter. I liked looking at the signature to see what it may imply about the author.

Would I want to go back to snail mail? Probably not, but one does lose something of the experience by going to electronic submissions. And based on the trend I'm seeing as a writer, it's full steam ahead for e-submissions, with Submishmash in particular leading the field.
Men of Winter