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

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Markets opening with the arrival of the academic year

With August's august arrival, markets for fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction have begun to open in earnest. And this trend will continue into September. Because so many literary journals and small presses are affiliated with university writing programs, and hence edited and staffed by faculty and graduate students, the vast majority go on hiatus during the summer, closing submissions; but return, with renewed vigor, with the arrival of the academic year.

As I've often said in this blog, Duotrope's Digest and are excellent sources for keeping tack of the markets (who's accepting submissions, what contests are open, etc.). In previous postings I've talked about things like how to search for markets, how to keep track of your submissions, and how to decipher submission guidelines -- please see the sidebar of this blog for older posts on these and other topics.

Since now is the time that writers and poets begin submitting material with zeal (as an editor and reader for lit journals, I visualize this time of year something like unlocking the doors of Best Buy on Black Friday), it's worth keeping some things in mind -- and here are the things I have on my mind:

Writers' guidelines: I've talked before about how important it is for writers/poets to read carefully and follow the submission guidelines that journals and presses provide via their websites. See this posting on guidelines. It's worth noting that guidelines frequently change, so even if you thoroughly read a journal's guidelines last year (or last week), don't assume they're the same now. For one thing, because many journals and presses change editors every year, often times the new editorial board makes some changes as well. The new editors may revise the focus or mission of the journal (old editors can do this too of course). 

They may shift the kinds and/or lengths of material they're willing to consider. The way that editors are receiving submissions is constantly changing too. More and more are going to some sort of submission portal -- Submishmash is increasingly popular, for example. The journal I read for, Quiddity, is moving to using Submishmash this fall. Even if they're not going with Submishmash, many editors are trying to be greener and therefore using another online portal or encouraging email submissions. I've noticed that the journals using emailed submissions seem less wary of attachments than journals tended to be just a couple of years ago. That is, it used to be that with email submissions, the vast majority wanted the story or poem, etc., to be pasted into the text of the email message, fearful that attachments would introduce viruses into their computers and networks; now, however, I'm not seeing as many prohibitions of attachments. Perhaps with applications like Google docs and more sophisticated virus-scanning software, editors are less concerned about contracting a bug.

See my post on various ways to submit your work.

With the uptick in editors' employing Submishmash, reading fees have also become more prevalent. It used to be that reading fees (that is, charging writers and poets a couple of bucks just to read their work) were considered rather gauche -- the sign of an outlet that wasn't especially professional or legitimate even. Instead, serious journals and presses would only charge fees to enter contests (and generally if you paid the contest fee, you'd at least get a subscription to the journal or a copy of the anthology produced with the collection of the fees). Contests and their fees still exist of course, but nowadays -- thanks to especially harsh economic climates, combined with dwindling readerships and the ease of commercial trafficking on the web via PayPal and so forth -- increasing numbers of editors are asking contributors to pay $2 or $3 to submit their work. 

The rationale tends to be that writers and poets are not having to use their paper and toner, and they're not having to pay for envelopes and postage, as in the old days, so it's not unreasonable to ask for some monetary support via a reading fee. I agree with this policy by and large -- though as a writer I do feel the hassle when I'm submitting work and have to stop to get out my credit card, and so on. Moreover, if every outlet were to go this route, of charging a nominal fee, it would definitely affect how writers and poets circulate their work. I for one wouldn't submit to twenty journals in one sitting if I had to pay $2 or $3 a pop, that is $40 to $60.

So while online submission portals like Submishmash tend to exponentially increase submissions to a journal or press, adding a reading fee will most likely counterbalance, to some degree, the number of submissions, thus keeping them somewhat in check. It's important to keep in mind what that fee is used for. Yes, many journals are still in a print format, and the fee helps pay for printing costs, but even if a journal is totally online (or employs a print-on-demand component, like via, those fees are used to promote creative writing in other ways. Journals and presses will sponsor local programs, and they'll invite published writers and poets to give readings to promote their work and to promote the arts in general in their communities.

And while I, living near Springfield, Illinois, may not be able to attend a literary event in, say, Wichita, Kansas, that was made possible, in part, thanks to my two dollars, presumably I will be able to go to a local event that is supported by some Jayhawk's hard-earned cash. It's the Great Circle of literary life. That is to say, don't think of it as throwing your money out the window to pay a reading fee: You're supporting the creative arts in general, and that's always a good thing.

One last thing (for now): With the opening of markets and the fervor for submitting your work that it brings, don't forget the importance of keeping good track of your activities, including the paying of those reading and contest fees. As I've said, developments in online management systems may make using spreadsheet programs, like Excel, obsolete, but we're not there quite yet, at least as far as I'm concerned. See my post on keeping track of your submissions.

Let the submissions begin. . . .

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Some interesting themed opportunities

In a post last December I discussed some of the advantages of pursuing publication in themed publications (or themed issues of publications) -- and perhaps chief among them is the fact that the competition is likely not as fierce as in a general interest publication. I thought I'd pick up that train of thought by looking at a few interesting opportunities currently available, especially for genre and cross-genre writers. These themed publications were found via Duotrope's Digest's weekly email bulletin -- as I've said many times before, an absolute must for poets and writers who are actively seeking outlets for their work.

Perhaps because I saw the new film Cowboys and Aliens this weekend, Pill Hill Press's call for submissions for its contest anthology "Conquest Through Determination" caught my attention. Specifically, Pill Hill is looking for stories in the Sci-Fi subgenre of steampunk. Steampunk, a variation on the term cyberpunk (think Matrix), plays with the idea of advanced technologies in a steam-engine era. The editors discuss the subgenre on their contest page and cite Jules Verne as a pioneer. Wikipedia, meanwhile, provides a thorough entry on steampunk. The editors also stress that they're looking for seasoned voices as well as new ones.

Red Skies Press currently has five anthologies for which they're accepting submissions: First Contact Imminent, Dreams of Duality, Celtic Blade, Frozen Fear Deluxe, and Medieval Nightmares. See the press's website for complete details.

Rune Wright has three themed deadlines fast approaching: Hallows Eve Vol. One, Holiday Spirit & Mayhem Vol. One, and Penny Dread Tales, Vol. Two. Editor Christopher Ficco stresses that the themes should not be taken as rigid, but rather they should inspire creativity. See Rune Wright's submissions page for complete details and deadlines.

Imagination & Place is planning its fourth book, titled "Imagination & Place: Weather," and is wanting fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, and essays that explore weather "both interior and exterior, calm and turbulent." Check out the submission details.

There are many, many themed (and non-themed) deadlines in the next couple of months, so visit Duotrope's Digest and other sources, like, to see what's available.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Some summer writing contests to consider

In my January 22, 2011post I talked about the benefits of entering your writing in contests, and while summertime may be a bit slow in terms of available outlets, there are numerous contests that are taking entries.

This line of thought was sparked by my receiving an email from Donna Talarico, the founder and publisher of Hippocampus Magazine, regarding her journal's Remember in November Contest for Creative Nonfiction. See the contest page for complete details, but some highlights include cash prizes, publication, and (maybe best of all) a significant portion of the entry fee will be donated to the Alzheimer's Association. Contact with questions or comments. The deadline is September 15, 2011.

While I'm at it, I'll point out that the journal for which I'm a reader, Quiddity international literary journal and public-radio program, has two contests underway: The Book Trailer Contest for Writers and Small or Independent Presses. As the name implies, there are two categories -- one for writers who are promoting their manuscripts, and the other for small or independent publishers who are promoting books. See guidelines for complete details and a sample trailer. The deadline is December 10, 2011.

Quiddity is also sponsoring the Teresa A. White Literary Award: "Buck-a-Word" Contest. The journal is looking for flash fiction of no more than 500 words, including title. The deadline is October 31, 2011.

These are the proverbial tip of the iceberg. A good resource for finding contests that are currently accepting entries is's contest page. The site, which is a great resource in general, organizes the contest pages (one for magazines, one for books) by deadline month, and several are coming up in July and August.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Three new journals planning fall launches

In my last post I talked about the fact that summer offers fewer publishing opportunities for writers and poets but "fewer" isn't none -- so I wanted to call your attention to some editors/publishers who are currently reading for their inaugural issues, all found courtesy of Duotrope's Digest's email newsletter.

Orange Quarterly caught my eye. It's a brand-new online market "showcas[ing] both emerging and established artists and writers from around the globe." Founded by Allison Leigh Peters, OQ is currently accepting work for their debut issue, which is scheduled to launch this Halloween night just before the clock strikes midnight. As a drama-building tool, the site has a countdown-to-launch clock. The editors are accepting work via email, and as such there are quite a few do's and don't's, so read their submission guidelines carefully. Prose writers should note that they'll read work up to 7,500 words, which is more than many journals are interested in considering. I must say I like the look of OQ's site; it appears professionally constructed and well thought out. In short, it looks to me like an online journal put together by folks who know what they're doing (even though it doesn't appear that any of the "OQ crew" will be applying for their AARP card anytime soon).

Whether you submit or not, Orange Quarterly will be a journal worth keeping track of as the editors get their first issues out into the cyberworld.

Here's another interesting-looking online journal in its embryonic stage: Specter Literary Magazine (also featuring a countdown-to-launch clock -- maybe that's a new trend).  SLM's editors have a somewhat narrower focus than Orange Quarterly's in that they want poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction with "themes rooted in the generation of the 1980s and forward from a multi-cultural/multi-sexual perspective." That sounds intriguing but to be honest I'm not 100 percent sure what it means, and in fact I'm not even certain who "the generation of the 1980s" is.  The editors' guidelines offer some clarifications, and, as you'll see, they're taking work via Submishmash. SLM's blog has links to additional information, like the journal's masthead.

The editors are eager to see your work regardless of background (publishing or otherwise), so check out Specter Literary Magazine. It will be interesting to see how their focus manifests itself once it begins to publish in (let me check) about three months.

Speaking of interesting-looking online journals in their embryonic stage, here's another: S/WORD. Founded by husband and wife Seth and Chelsea McKelvey, S/WORD (which can be pronounced a multitude of ways) has a very, well, philosophical mission regarding text and reader interpretation. Trying to paraphrase it wouldn't do it justice, so please read the editors' about page  -- but it seems to me an important distinction of their journal is that, at the risk of oversimplifying, the editors are interested (even) in pieces that are not necessarily "finished" but are clearly still forming in the author's mind.

S/WORD, too, is accepting work via email. The editors want to see poetry and prose, but they also want to hear about creative work that doesn't quite fit into either of those pigeon holes, which is interesting. See their submission guidelines. S/WORD's site has a sort of New Age feel, but it's visually engaging and easy to maneuver within.

These are just three publishing possibilities. Check out Duotrope's Digest and NewPages for even more opportunities.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Yes, Summer Is a Quiet Time, But It Still Has a Pulse

For writers and poets eager to get their work into print, summertime can be a bit frustrating in that the vast majority of literary journals are directly or indirectly affiliated with colleges and universities; and thus their staffs take a break from reading (and also from the mundane bureaucracy of keeping track of incoming submissions) in the summer. However, "vast majority" is not "all," and there are journals that read during the quiet months of June, July and August. It just requires a bit more effort to find places to submit. In an earlier post, I talked said that when I became serious about getting my work into print, I vowed to make a minimum of six contacts per week. I managed to meet that number in the summer months, but it did require additional research.

When you start looking at submission guidelines, you discover that there are essentially two sorts of places that accept submissions in the summer: those that claim to actually read them (some of whom acknowledge that response times are slower in the summer), and those that accept submissions but say upfront that the submissions won't be read until the academic year commences. As I've said previously in this blog, it's important to read submission guidelines carefully, as there's no point in sending work to journal editors who say they don't want summer submissions; and by the same token, if you're truly "eager" to get work in print, you may want to think carefully before submitting to a journal that acknowledges its slow response time in the summer, or one that tells you your submission, while accepted, won't be read until fall.

By the way, it's worth mentioning that "summer" is a bit hazy (ha) -- meaning that the front- and tail-ends of reading periods tend to vary greatly. That is, one journal may stop reading at the end of April, another the end of May, another part way into June; and a journal may start reading again August 1, another September 1, or perhaps September 15 or later. So, again, read guidelines carefully.

A quick perusal of Duotrope's Digest's weekly email bulletin can give one a sense of the summertime submissions landscape. The bulletins list markets that have been added, ones that have opened or reopened to submissions, ones that have closed, and ones that seem to have dissolved or at least gone on indefinite hiatus. Here are some highlights from the most recent bulletin (this one tailored for fiction writers).

A Few Lines appears to be reading in the summer, and their editorial board "actively seeks emerging young writers."

Paper Nautilus reads year-round, but warns that their response time is slowest October through January (so this may be a good bet for the truly eager).

Stoked Press, which seeks a variety of types of work and which publishes them in a variety of print and electronic formats, appears to read year-round as well.

Caper Literary Journal reopened to submissions May 25. Caper, like Stoked Press, is looking to publish all kinds of creative material via all kinds of formats.

Also recently reopened to submissions is Knockout literary magazine. Note that its editors are "primarily looking for poetry," but they also want to see shorter prose pieces as well. They also emphasize that they are "as GLBT-friendly as ever."

These journals listed here tend to be start-up -- and up-start -- journals, and there's nothing wrong with that. Some writers/poets are mainly interested in more established (perhaps traditional) journals, and these sorts of summertime submission opportunities are more rare, but they do exist. A good source to begin one's search for the more established who may be reading in the summer is the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses (CLMP) database of members.

American Short Fiction, a highly respected journal, is open for submissions.

Granta reads year-found, but like all the well-established and well-respected journals, competition is, let's say, fierce.

Quiddity, a print journal that I helped found and now still read for, accepts submissions year-round.

Again, those more traditional/established possibilities exist, but it takes a bit of digging sometimes to unearth them.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

First publications with Ninth Letter

I thought it would be interesting and maybe even useful if from time to time in this blog I highlighted a journal editor who's recently published new writers and poets, and to also include the insights of those writers/poets whose work first found the light of publication with that journal. So I have.

I figured I would start close to home with the unique and well-respected journal Ninth Letter, a collaborative arts and literary project produced by the Graduate Creative Writing Program and the School of Art & Design at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Ninth Letter combines top-flight writing with way-outside-the-box design (some issues look more like the creative writing folk collaborated with U of I's School of Engineering -- it's that elaborately imaginative). Don't take my word for it. Here is a review of issue 7.2 by Sima Rabinowitz of

Editor Jodee Stanley says, via email, that her number-one piece of advice for anyone wanting to publish in Ninth Letter is "don't oversell your work in a cover letter." And for new writers in particular she adds, "Don't try to cover up for that fact by summarizing or 'pitching' your work. Let your story, essay, or poetry speak for itself." 

Moreover, says Stanely, "It's a really good idea to read Ninth Letter (or any journal you are considering submitting to), just to see if our aesthetic fits with your own. If you read a few pieces in 9L and generally like what you see, chances are we have similar tastes to yours and will be more likely to be interested in your work."

Shes goes on, "If you don't really dig any of our stuff, though, you'll be better off submitting to other journals whose aesthetic runs closer to your own. That's not to say you need to write stuff that's exactly like what we've already published, though!"

Stanley emphasizes the need for perseverance: "Don't give up! Many, many writers appearing in our pages have submitted numerous times before hitting the mark with something."

Two previously unpublished writers who hit the mark in Ninth Letter are J. Nicholas Geist and Marianne Jay. Geist's essay "Completion" appeared in issue 6.1, and Jay's short story "Cherry Ripe" came out in issue 6.2.

Geist, via email, says that he had virtually no experience submitting his work prior to submitting his piece to Ninth Letter. "This was a piece that I'd put a lot of work into, and it was one of the few pieces at the time that I'd really felt was ready to submit," says Geist, who was an MFA student at California State University Fresno when he wrote "Completion." One of his teachers had cautioned him against sending out work prematurely: "The worst thing you can do as a writer is send out something that's less than your best, because if it does get published, then that mediocre piece will always be associated with your name -- and it may be what your reputation is based on."

Proud of his essay, Geist decided to send it to a journal that he "admired, with no real expectation of acceptance. That journal was Ninth Letter." He adds that he "love[s] the interplay between art and text.... They're open to new ideas, they like experimentation." Geist had also seen an essay on a similar topic to his in an earlier issue, and it encouraged him to think the editors may like his essay as well. 

Geist describes the "[g]reat, odd, troubling, anxiety-ridden, comforting, exciting, exhausting" process of having his piece accepted:

Maybe a month or so after submitting, I received a phone call from Steve Davenport, then editor of 9L, saying that their readers liked my piece, but because they'd recently run another (aforementioned) essay on the same topic, they didn't want to include my piece in their upcoming issue. But, he said, if the essay was still available he'd talk to Jodee Stanley, who would be taking over the relevant editorial duties for future issues, to see if she was interested in the piece as well. Yes please, I said. I got off the phone and my eyeballs exploded. This was one of the most anxiety-ridden periods of my writing career, such as it is -- the excitement that they liked my piece was at war with the panic that the other editor wouldn't. I don't know how long it was between the first phone call and the second, but if memory serves, it was something like forty or fifty years.

Obviously, Stanley wanted the piece, but they did delay publication for more than a year due to the similar essay they had recently run. "I was incredibly appreciative of the work that the 9L editorial staff put into making my piece work the way is was supposed to," says Geist.

Geist has since received plenty of rejections, including from Ninth Letter. "Publication is, I think, really all about finding the right fit. It usually feels like a pity dodge when you get a form letter saying 'It's not for us,' but it's entirely possible that every editor who read the piece absolutely loved it, but it really just didn't fit the magazine."

As far as advice, Geist believes he may be too selective with his submissions, but some selectivity is important: "We can't know every journal, but I feel like a lot of rejections probably could be avoided if we just payed a little more attention to where we're throwing manuscripts." Furthermore, he says to "love rejection" because it "means people are listening, people are reading your words, people are considering your work.... Rejection means you're in the game ... you're learning."

Marianne Jay received her MFA in poetry from University of Wisconsin-Madison, but took a fiction workshop her final semester that eventually led to her writing more fiction than poetry. She says, via email, that in the fall of 2008 she began sending out work and garnering rejections. Some of the rejection notices were encouraging, but, "[s]till, rejection is rejection. How do you not tell yourself, 'Not good enough' when you get an envelope, addressed in your own handwriting, which contains this news exactly?"

However, in April of the following year she finished writing "Cherry Ripe," which she thought "might be a good fit for Ninth Letter." A friend had wanted her to check out the unusual journal. "It was the first and only place I sent 'Cherry Ripe' and they accepted it within a month," she says.

Jay talks about what came after that joyful news:

But the story wouldn't be printed until the following winter, and whatever I'd been hoping for when I'd think, "If only someone would publish me ..." didn't happen. Writing was just as hard. The vulnerability of sending out work was just as hard. I still found myself at the mailbox, recognizing my handwriting, feeling wounded. And while it was great to see "Cherry Ripe" in print months later, in a lovely journal among work by such writers as Sherman Alexie and Benjamin Percy, I felt no transformation. What I did feel was a new thread of accountability. This publication came at a time when ... it was easy to retreat from the blank page into cozy self-doubt. But like the personal rejections, like the grad school experience, like the support of writing teachers from second grade through college, publishing a story told me that writing wasn't the most ridiculous thing I'd ever done, so I might as well keep it up.

Jay adds, "I wish I weren't so motivated by external validation and expectation; but I am."

Jay knows both sides of the mailbox, so to speak, as she's worked for a literary magazine for the past few years and has "read (and rejected) thousands of submissions." She says, "There are days when it seems that the most efficient thing would be to just mail myself rejection slips, rather than bother with sending out work at all. Most days, however, the piles of manuscripts are a reminder that writers write, and that I am in good company."

She says that she writes and sends out work "in spurts," but the more she writes, "the more I learn to write. Some pieces will be finished when they are published. Others will be finished when I grow bored of them, or embarrassed of them, or when I revise them into their best possible selves, have them rejected again and again, and eventually put in a drawer with old diaries."

For advice, Jay says to try to know where you're submitting your work: "Know the magazine and want to be a part of it." Moreover, "Life is short. Go ahead and simultaneously submit." And, if possible, "[M]arry my husband. If he's not available, find someone else who supports what you do, challenges you to do it better, and who brings you a full mug of coffee even when he knows you will probably only get through half."

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Some interesting outlets to consider

Taking advantage of Duotrope's Digest's weekly email update, I thought I'd highlight a few outlets that look especially promising for newer voices.

Here's a fledgling market to consider, especially if you're female: Adanna, "a journal for women, by women." Its homepage clarifies, however, that the journal is "dedicated to women ... [but] is not exclusive," meaning that men may submit material as long as it "reflect[s] women's issues or topics, celebrate[s] womanhood, and shout[s] out in passion." The online journal wants email submissions by April 31 for its debut issue, guest edited by Diane Lockward. Visit Adanna's homepage for complete submission details.

Here's another fledgling market that looks intriguing: Curbside Splendor, which publishes literary fiction and poetry "based on contemporary urban (and sometimes sub-urban) settings," according to their About Us page. Besides publishing work on a weekly basis on their website, the editors also publish a print journal, and from time to time chapbooks and novels. Their first issue is on sale here.

Write Right On is another fledgling online journal, but this one is based outside of the United States in Lebanon. The editors describe themselves as "a small writer's group involved with an Art space which is full of creative artists," and their mission is to "promote literacy in [their] community and the surrounding areas." They have very open guidelines, as long as the submission is under 5,000 words. Check out their current edition.

I thought I'd conclude with something a bit different: Pseudopod, "the world's premier horror podcast." Its homepage goes on to say that it "brings you the best short horror in audio form, to take with you anywhere." As one might imagine given the unique focus and format of the journal, the editors' submission guidelines are detailed, but well worth looking into if you write horror and would like to hear it via their "talented performers."

This is just a small sampling of the wonderful opportunities out there for publication. Check out Duotrope's Digest, but also my other favorite sources for outlets.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Some tips on keeping track of your submissions

In the last several posts I've been focusing mainly on how to find outlets for your prose and poetry and highlighting some specific venues. As such, it seems an appropriate time (maybe even overdue) to discuss the important nuts-and-bolts topic of keeping track of those submissions. Even if one isn't able to claim writing as his/her profession, being professional is paramount, and keeping close track of where you've sent your work, how you've sent it, what the editors have said about it, etc. is an integral part of being a serious fiction writer, poet, and creative essayist. And by the same token, I believe, it's an integral part of your being taken seriously by the editors, publishers and agents you contact.

(Note to self: I just used the term "creative essayist," and in a future post it may be worth exploring the topic of creative nonfiction, which by most accounts is a burgeoning field within the broad spectrum of creative writing -- yet there seems to be a broad spectrum of interpretations as to what "creative nonfiction" is and what it isn't. My recent sojourn to the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900 confirmed that creative nonfiction is increasing in popularity [to write, to publish and (one hopes) to read] but its definition is, well, indefinite.)

Back to the matter at hand: keeping track of one's submissions. I imagine it's only common sense that writers or poets should know where they've sent their stuff and what's happened to it -- but let's be honest: creative types are right-brainers, and matters of organization may not be their strongest suit. Recall walking down the English department's hallway at your university and peeking in English professors' offices ... right, enough said.

At the most basic level, it's useful to keep track of your submissions so that you don't submit a piece to the same journal or publisher twice, maybe after it's already been rejected, or while it's under review; or you submit another piece to that same journal/publisher while they're still reviewing a previous submission -- such confused contacting may be enough to make them reject your work as a matter of principle if it's been teetering on the brink of acceptance amongst editorial board members. I want to talk about other benefits of good recordkeeping, but I'll save that for later, as I'm going over some fundamental information you'll want to keep track of.

One can keep track of submissions in a very low-tech way. I used to keep a three-ring binder with all my stories and so forth in it, and on top of each piece I had a photocopied cover form that I'd developed. When I sent a piece out, I'd get out the binder and jot down the information, and as I'd receive responses (almost always a rejection) I'd go to the binder and note the correspondence. It actually worked quite well -- as long as I remembered to jot down the goings and comings, which I did pretty religiously. At a glance, literally, I could see where I'd submitted a piece, how long the editors considered it, and so on. 

A couple of years ago, however, I got more high-tech and started using an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of everything. It's pretty basic, as far as spreadsheets go, and I'm sure someone with a more sophisticated knowledge of using Excel (say, a sixth-grader) could figure out ways of improving my basic system, which is in essence an electronic version of my old-school three-ring binder approach.

Here are the kinds of information you'll want to include -- all in the form of different columns on your spreadsheet -- and some options that could make things even more useful. Keep in mind that these are suggestions, and you'll probably see ways of modifying them to match your own recordkeeping sensibilities; to which I say, modify at will.

Column A: The title of your piece. I'm a prose writer (used to write poetry and am getting the itch again, but that's another story ... or poem?), and I don't differentiate between the title of a short story and the title of a novel. I suppose that sophisticated sixth-grader could easily insert a formula to count the number of times you've submitted a particular piece, but I never bothered with inserting formulae of any sort. Things may be slightly more complicated for poets, who tend to submit several poems to an editor in a batch, but my way of thinking says to go ahead and list each poem separately (that is, in a different cell in column A), even though it's a bit of a pain at first. Excel, of course, will recall the information, and as soon as you begin to type that title again, it'll automatically fill in the cell for you ... the wonders of technology.

Column B: The date that you sent the piece. In my old binder I used to follow this column with a "perusal time" column, meaning the length of time the editor/publisher claimed they'd have your piece before getting back to you; but I left that column out of my Excel method for maybe two reasons: I'm not one to pester editors, even if they say it's all right in their guidelines. Having worked as a literary journal editor off and on for ten years, I know word will be received, for better or for ill, in its own good time, and there's nothing productive that comes from being a proverbial squeaky wheel. Also, that "perusal time" column made me overly hawkish -- that is, as the specified weeks or months would near, then, often, recede, I'd be unduly focused on (unduly watchful about) receiving a response. I could drive myself a little batty over it, to be honest. I've decided it's better to direct that nervous energy into my writing and revising, and into contacting more and more potential outlets. No matter how intensely one watches one's mailbox or email inbox, it doesn't expedite the appearance of notification.

Column C: Name of the journal or publisher that received your submission. One of the reasons this information is especially important is that you don't want to keep submitting to a place while it's already reading your work, especially if it's the work you want to accidentally submit again. If you're submitting pieces as vigorously as you need to, it's easy to lose track of where you sent a piece, and Excel is Excel-lent (see what I did there?) at helping you to avoid the publishing faux pas of sending the same piece to the same editor, especially if he or she has already declined it. A quick search of your spreadsheet for the journal's or publisher's name will tell you if you've contacted them before and what you've sent them. I've gotten in the habit of doing this search before submitting, and it's saved me more than once from blundering.

Column D: Method of contact. In an earlier post I discussed the three basic ways that one goes about contacting editors these days, and in this column you should record the specific method. If it's old-fashioned snail mail (i.e., postal mail), I'd include the exact mailing address here. If it's via email, include the email address in this cell (often times, there are various emails available and it's usually clear which one you should send to, but not always, so it's handy to be able to retrieve specifically who/what you contacted; of course, searching your "sent mail" folder can generally yield the same results, unless you've done as your network administrator prefers, and you've cleaned out your folders with regularity). If you find yourself in the pleasant position of having to withdraw your submission because it's been accepted elsewhere, having the specific email address in your spreadsheet will be extremely useful -- trust me. If the journal/publisher had you use an electronic portal (like Submishmash), I'd recommend copying the portal link into the cell. Recording the specific way you contacted the journal, etc., has all sorts of useful purposes later (like withdrawing an accepted piece).

(Note that these online submission services, like Submishmash, have recordkeeping functions, and may eventually replace the need for writers using their own methods -- but we're not quite there yet, and keeping track in the meantime is vital. In fact, the fast-changing technologies make accurate recordkeeping even more vital.)

Column E: Special information, like money you may have paid to submit your work. Some journals require a reading or submission fee (generally pretty nominal, like two or three bucks), and contests of course require fees (a little more than a typical reading fee, like ten to 25 bucks, depending). You can also record here if you paid electronically, via PayPal, for example, or sent a check (quaint, I know, but it's still a possibility), in which case recording the check number is worthwhile. You could also include here (or another column) if you're supposed to receive something for your money, like a subscription to the journal, or the winning entry in a contest (that is, the chapbook or what have you that was published as a result of the contest). One of those handy formulae that I never use could generate how much money you've paid out for your writing (nice for tax purposes perhaps).

Column F: Date of notification. Record here when you hear from the journal or publisher.

Column G: Result of notification, which is generally either (commonly) "rejected" or (joyously) "accepted." I write accepted in all caps and in red: ACCEPTED. For one thing I just like to look back through the spreadsheet and see those beautiful acceptances jump out at me -- it makes up, psychologically, for the dozens upon dozens of times I've recorded "rejected."

Column H: Comments. Sometimes the editor will reject you but give you some encouragement to submit again, which isn't as terrific as being accepted, but it beats the socks off of a coldly delivered rejection. Besides helping to balm the wounds of rejection, such an editorial note is very, very helpful when trying to figure out where to send new material. (Be sure to note in your cover letter or accompanying comments that you received this encouragement, and thank them for it -- editing a little journal or small press is a mostly thankless job, so any sort of thank-you is much appreciated.) Sometimes, though, you have a less-than-stellar experience with a journal or press, and it's worth recording here what went wrong from your perspective (like "took two years to respond" or "apologized for accidentally dropping my manuscript behind a filing cabinet ... in 1998" or "never sent journal I subscribed to").

Those are the basics: what you sent, when, where, what they said, when they said it. You can tailor your records to your own needs and interests, but I can't overstress the importance of good recordkeeping. It may seem like a pain in the neck, but once you set it up, it doesn't take that much time to record the data. This final point is very important, however -- VERY IMPORTANTConstantly back up your recordkeeping spreadsheet. I've gotten in the habit of sending myself an email attachment whenever I work on my writing and whenever I update my spreadsheet information. You can of course use a flashdrive, and there are other online back-up options. Use several methods. Losing this submission information in part or in whole would be a tragedy. Again, using a spreadsheet may become obsolete in the near future, but we're not there just yet.

Keep writing, keep submitting -- keep keeping good track.