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. . . .

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