Monday, December 27, 2010

Themed outlets, and some interesting possibilities

In my last post I talked about so-called fledgling markets and why newer writers may be well served to check them out: namely, newer markets attract fewer submissions than more established ones, so, statistically, the odds for having a piece accepted are much improved. This same rationale could be applied to themed publications, or, especially, themed issues of publications. 

Most outlets, while they have some brackets around what they want to look at (see my post on writers' guidelines), are open to almost any topic, submitted by almost any sort of writer or poet. Some outlets, however, have an overarching theme that limits, often pretty narrowly, the kinds of work they want to consider. I'm probably using theme here in a broader way than some might, but from the perspective of up-and-coming writers who are looking for places to publish their work, any sort of qualifiers placed on submissions by a journal or publishing house constitute a theme. Some outlets, for instance, only want to see specific genres (sci-fi, or western, or romance). Others may be dedicated to specific topics (food, travel, zombies). Others limit their focus geographically, only wanting work written by people from a specific area (West Coast, Upper Peninsula, Canada), and/or pieces that are set or somehow about that area may qualify, even if the writer/poet doesn't hail from that place. And a lot of outlets are dedicated to highlighting the work of specific sorts of people, either by gender, age, ethnicity, orientation, occupation, or some combination thereof (like work by lesbian Latinas who live in Los Angeles -- all right, I made this example up because I like the alliteration, but it's certainly plausible).

Another sort of themed publication -- and here I'm using theme more conventionally -- is an outlet that usually is open to any topic by any sort of writer, but the editors decide they want to step out of that mode for a single issue and concentrate on a specific theme. Some publications have a regular schedule for doing themed issues; for example, they may do one open issue a year, and one themed issue. While others may only do a themed issue for a special occasion, like the publication's tenth anniversary or to note the passing of a literary figure.

In a few posts I've mentioned Duotrope's Digest as a very handy tool for helping writers find outlets for their work (see, for example, my post on my favorite resources). Duotrope's is handy for finding themed publishing opportunities as well in that their weekly email updates that they send to writers include a list of themed outlets. Just as a sampling, here are a few from the most recent update.

Here's a multi-themed possibility, Tales of Blood and Roses, which publishes "horror and thriller" fiction, poetry, art, and photography. Plus, for its debut issue, the editors have an even more specialized theme of "love gone wrong," according to their submissions page. This is also a fledgling market, which means it's not on a lot of people's radar just yet. So for a writer or poet who has something that seems to fit the editors' needs, this market is a great opportunity -- but you need to get in gear because their deadline is December 31!

Here's another multi-themed one, also with a tight deadline: May December Publications is wanting fiction about zombies (3,000 to 10,000 words), but only fiction written by women, for an anthology titled "Hell Hath No Fury ..." to be released, appropriately, in time for Mother's Day 2011. It'd be best to get your email submission to the editors by January 1, however. See their submissions page for further details.

This publication stood out for me, as well, because of its unique focus: you are here: the journal of creative geography, published out of the University of Arizona. Its 2011 issue is focused on the topic of "dislocation," and the editors are looking for a variety of creative projects that explore dislocation. See their submissions page. Another fast-approaching deadline, however: January 1.

These three possibilities are just the proverbial tip of the theme iceberg. It takes some time to peruse the options, and I suppose some industrious writers and poets (poets especially) may feel inspired to write something new to match an outlet's theme -- though more likely you have something available that happens to align with the theme. In either case, the competition for publication will likely not be as stiff as with an unthemed publication, whose editors may be sorting through tens or hundreds of thousands of unsolicited submissions.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Why 'fledgling markets' are worth looking out for

In previous posts I've talked about things like where to look for outlets for your prose and poetry, and writers' guidelines; today I want to talk about "fledgling markets," as Duotrope's Digest terms them specifically. These are new markets, often times these days, electronic journals, that tend to be more open to writers and poets who haven't been published, or published much, previously. In Duotrope's Digest, an outlet is "fledgling" if it's been around for fewer than six months.

The reason these markets may be your best bet if you haven't published much is largely a numbers game. While well-established journals will receive tens, even hundreds, of thousands of submissions in a year -- these newly established journals will receive only a tiny fraction of that number from hopeful writers and poets. You still need to read these new journals' guidelines carefully, and avoid sending them what they aren't interested in seeing. But there are enough of them cropping up regularly that you should be able to find a fledgling journal or two without too much bush beating.

As I recommended in my earlier post, you should sign up for Duotrope's Digest's weekly email update on markets, as it's your best resource for finding these newer outlets. Here are a few that I found via Duotrope's that sound intriguing -- and worth contacting, especially if you're an unpublished, or underpublished, writer/poet.

The Scarlet Sound -- According to its website, "Founded through Rutgers University, The Scarlet Sound builds upon the idea that through diversity and recognition of others, community arises." The journal's editors are looking for a variety of things, including flash fiction of fewer than 1,000 words and poetry of 25 lines or fewer. They're also interested in audio and video files, which is becoming increasingly common for online journals (or the online components of traditional print journals), as the technology is making it easier and easier to work creatively with sound and images.

Beecher's Magazine -- Established in conjunction with the MFA program at University of Kansas, Beecher's Magazine will have both a print and an online edition. Its editors are looking for poetry, fiction and nonfiction. I notice that they're willing to consider fiction up to 10,000 words -- which is a lot. So if you're a newish writer with a long manuscript, take a look at Beecher's Magazine's guidelines. Journals willing to read pieces beyond 5,000 words don't grow on trees, so take advantage of their editors' open-mindedness (and stamina).

Ad Hominem -- Its homepage says that Ad Hominem "publishes good art that can be enjoyed in minutes." The editors are looking for poetry, fiction, essays, and photographs. Founded by a group of artists in Hampton Roads, Virginia, their "about" page says they "spread the word about people we like." Unlike the previous two journals I mentioned, Ad Hominem has published some work already, so check it out to get a better sense of what they seem to like.

Let me stress: These three journals are just a sampling of the information available in one email update from Duotrope's Digest, and it took a modicum of effort to find some very interesting-sounding new journals. If you're serious about getting your work out there, you have to sign up with Duotrope's Digest.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The cover letter -- a sample and some personal preferences

When you snail mail a submission to a journal, it's standard practice to include a brief cover letter. Some journals claim they don't want one at all; others make it optional; but most at least expect it, or even encourage it. Even if you're submitting electronically -- via email or a site's submission portal -- you'll probably supply cover-letter-esque information, commonly in the body of the email, or in the comments window of the submission portal form. There's no definite right and wrong when it comes to what to include in these accompanying bits of information, but here are some suggestions, including my personal preferences.

First, though, I'm discovering that young folks are losing the hang of letter writing. They text and email and increasingly when they apply to a school or for a job or scholarship, there's an online form into which they simply input the requested information. In short, they aren't required to write letters on a regular basis. I recently invited my 18-year-old students to submit a letter expressing interest in a scholarship opportunity in order to be considered a candidate, and not one of the seven respondents actually wrote a letter; in fact, they seemed rather nonplussed as to what a letter should even look like. Therefore, briefly, here's a typical format for a business-style letter:

Ted Morrissey
1111 My Street
My City, IL 65555

11 January 2011

Samantha Jones, editor
Great Lit Journal
Great University
Great University Town, NY 11111

Dear Dr. Jones [I usually research the editor online to see if he/she holds a doctorate or not so that I can address the editor appropriately; if the information is unavailable, perhaps simply Editor Jones.]

Enclosed for your consideration is my short story "A Great Read" (2,000 words).

My fiction has appeared in a few journals, including The Cat Review, The Dog Review, and The Goldfish Review. I hold an MFA in fiction writing from East Coast University, and I teach English at Terrific Liberal Arts College.

Thank you for considering my story. This is a simultaneous submission.


Ted Morrissey [leaving space above the name for my signature]

If you're including information in an email or in the comments window of an online submission portal, you may not follow the formal style of the cover letter, but the basic information will be the same. Here are some points to consider:

Writers tend to believe their work will be more attractive to an editor if they can supply some sort of credentials. These credentials usually come in the form of previous publications, but alas you may not have any meaningful publications. In lieu of meaningful publication credits (I acknowledge that "meaningful" is a nebulous term), writers may be tempted to fill in that space with, what I consider, dubious information. For example, they may mention publication credits that are, well, less than impressive (like very small circulation newsletters, or good showings in contests that only attract a few participants). I would say, though, if all you can offer is a less-than-impressive credit, don't mention it at all.

Another thing I often see from writers who are still looking for their first legitimate credit is to mention fairly well known teachers or mentors who like their work. My sense, however, is that namedropping doesn't work very well. It tends to cast you in a secondary role, as student or groupie, and therefore doesn't carry much clout with an editor.

Instead, just be honest and make it clear that you haven't been published yet. Editors love to publish somebody for the first time -- it's like discovering the next supermodel carhopping at the local Sonic. So you're more attractive as a "virgin" writer or poet who can be discovered by an insightful editor, than you are as someone who's so desperate to appear worthy that you include unimpressive credentials with your submission.

Check the writers' guidelines to see if the editors have said anything about what they want in the cover letter or accompanying information. Some want only the basics. Others want you to provide a third-person biographical statement that they can use in their contributors' notes if your piece is published. Some encourage a sort of chatty letter in which you talk about your interests beyond writing.

As an editor receiving submissions, I always preferred a cover letter that was professionally presented but also casual in tone -- from someone who takes his or her work seriously, but not him- or herself; that is, someone who sounds like it'd be fun to talk to over a cup of coffee, about books or writing or fly-fishing.

Whatever you decide to include in your cover letter (or cover-letter-like material), be sure to proofread it carefully. Many editors purposely read the accompanying material after they read the story, essay, or poem itself, as they don't want their reaction to the submission to be colored, positively or negatively, by the cover letter. But others do read the cover letter first, and therefore are influenced by it -- so a poorly written cover letter, with typos or incorrect information, could put your story or poem in a bit of a hole before the editor ever starts reading it.

Be professional; be respectful; be appreciative.
Men of Winter

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Terminology II: writers' guidelines

In my last post I talked about the three resources I prefer when looking for a publisher of a story, poem, or creative essay -- specifically Duotrope's Digest,, and the Council of Literary Magazines and Press's member directory -- and when you start investigating the journals and so forth these sites will lead you to, what you'll want to look at in particular is the outlet's writers' guidelines, which are alternatively called any number of things, like submission guidelines, contributors' guidelines, or simply a link that says "submit" or more vaguely "contact."

Even if it doesn't immediately reveal itself, rest assured that somewhere on the website you can find out what the journal is looking for and how to go about sending the editors your work if it seems to fit their needs. This could be a lengthy post as writers' guidelines vary considerably, and if I tried to account for every nuance, much electronic ink could be spilled; however, there are certain key features that definitely deserve some attention. You're a smart cookie (you're reading this blog after all, aren't you?), so you'll figure out some of the unique ins-and-outs of each outlet.

So here are some of the key bits of information to look for when you peruse a publisher's guidelines:

Needs: Some journals have a very narrow range of things they're looking for -- like it only publishes haiku, or creative nonfiction, or material about food -- while most want to see a variety of forms. But no matter how narrow or how wide a journal's interests, they all have their idiosyncrasies, especially when it comes to the length of the piece. When it comes to prose pieces, word count is how length is usually expressed (e.g., a journal will want fiction no longer than 3,000 words), which sounds straight-forward enough, but there's some confusion/disagreement about how to arrive at word length. In the old days, that is, before electronic word processing, the rule of thumb was to count a standard, double-spaced typewritten page as 250 words, with the understanding that some pages will have more, some fewer; therefore, a four-page story would be considered 1,000 words. Nowadays, however, word-processing programs, like Word, generate a word count for you (e.g., under File-->Properties-->Statistics). But these sorts of word counters don't differentiate between "a" and "antidisestablishmentarianism" -- they're both just one word, which makes the count highly inaccurate, I think. As an editor of print journals who's been in charge of physical production, I've found the old rule of thumb to be more helpful when trying to guesstimate how much space a story or essay will take up in the journal.

One more thing about "needs": They tend to change, so just because Journal A isn't looking for your type of work at the present, don't forever cross Journal A off your list; editorial boards change with some frequency, hence, so might the boards' needs.

Bottom line: Pay attention to needs, and follow them. You're almost certainly wasting your time and the editors' if you send them things that aren't on their shopping list. (Because of the fuzziness of word-count method, once in a while I've fudged a bit and sent them something slightly longer than they say they want -- but I can't think of a single instance where this has worked to my favor.)

Simultaneous Submissions: This is another very important factor. It sounds a little like the term "multiple submissions," but they're very different, and I'll explain. When you simultaneously submit your poem, story, or essay, it means that you're sending the same work to other editors at the same time. Most editors allow simultaneous submissions (though some do so reluctantly). Many editors, generally those who are writers themselves, actually encourage simultaneous submissions. On the other hand, there are journals (often times, more established and prestigious ones) that won't allow simultaneous submissions; that is, when you submit to them, the understanding is that no one else is considering that work. From the editors' perspective the advantage of not allowing simultaneous submissions is that when they're considering a piece, if they decide they want it, it should be available, so they haven't wasted their time considering something that turns out not being available. Editing a journal that receives thousands (even tens of thousands and beyond) submissions a year is very time consuming, so it would be frustrating to spend an hour or two or three reading a piece carefully, discussing the decision with other editors, then contacting the writer/poet, only to discover it's been a waste because some other journal has beaten you to the punch. (I suspect, too, that not allowing simultaneous submissions also cuts down on submissions, so perhaps editors of this ilk aren't quite as barraged by contributions.)

From a writer's perspective, though, it may take several weeks to several months to hear from an editor, and it's not unusual for journals to have limited reading periods (which I'll write more about in a moment), so let's say it takes on average an editor to respond to your work in three months, and the typical reading period is the nine months of the academic year -- thus, if you only submit to one editor at a time, you might only have three editors in a year consider your piece. Throw into the equation the fact that it's often said that it takes around twenty contacts (attempts) to find an editor who will publish your work, that means ... it could easily take six to seven years to find an editor for a story or poem.

I know writers who willfully disregard the fact that a journal will not consider simultaneous submissions and they submit simultaneously anyway. I disagree with this practice, however. I agree with these willful writers that the practice of not allowing simultaneous submissions is ridiculously impractical, from the writer-poet's point of view, but there are plenty of other fish in the sea. (Not that I purchase a copy of every journal I submit to, though I do try to support as many as I can afford, I deliberately will not purchase a journal that doesn't accept simultaneous submissions -- in my mind, they're not supporting writers and writing as they should, so I don't support them either [I doubt they've noticed, however].)

Bottom line: As a new writer (or even an emerging writer), hedge your bet and submit simultaneously, but don't submit to journals that don't want them. This next point is extremely important: If you submit simultaneously and a piece is accepted, immediately send notices to journals to withdraw the piece that is no longer available -- you owe it to the editors who are considering your work, and if you can save them some time by not reading a piece that's no longer available, it's the right thing to do. I also think it's gauche to receive an acceptance notice and not respond for a day or two in hopes of getting an acceptance from a better-known, or larger-circulation journal. You should make the decision about whether you want your piece to be published in a journal before you submit; therefore, reply back agreeing to the publication offer as soon as you receive it.

Multiple Submissions: "Multiple submissions" simply means that you can submit more than piece at a time to a given journal. It varies from journal to journal of course, but generally speaking, editors will allow you to submit more than one piece if the pieces are short (poems, for example, or short short stories, or flash fiction), but longer pieces, like a full-blown short story or creative essay, can only be sent one at a time (that is, don't submit again until you've heard back regarding the pieces you've already submitted). Don't overwhelm editors. Send what you think is your best work; then exercise some patience (some editors say you can email them in x-amount of time if you haven't heard from them, but I trust I'll hear from them as soon as they're able).

Reading Period: Some journals read all year, but most have specific reading periods. Because the vast majority of journals that publish literary prose and poetry are affiliated with a college or university, they tend to read only during the academic year, roughly from September to June. However, there are a wide variety of reading periods, and you need to pay attention to these. If the editors have bothered to post a specific reading period, they're no doubt serious about it; so, again, you're wasting your time and the editors' to submit work outside that period (electronic submission portals, that I talked about in a previous post, are often set up so that they won't allow submissions outside the reading period).

Etc.: This post could go on and on (perhaps you think it has) because there's much more that could be said, but I'll end on this point: Read carefully and follow the guidelines. Yes, guidelines help editors to zero in on what they're interested in, but by doing that, they're truly helping writers and poets. It's in no one's best interest to submit indiscriminately.

If you haven't been, start nosing around for places to send your work, but above all: keep writing and reading.