Submitting is Not a Dartboard
September 15, 2016 § 8 Comments
Allison Williams, Brevity‘s globe-trotting social media editor, writes often for this blog on issues of dedication, endurance, and inspiration for writers. Some of those blog posts, along with plenty of new material, have been assembled into Williams’ first book, Get Published in Literary Magazines: The Indispensable Guide to Preparing, Submitting and Writing Better. Brevity Editor Dinty W. Moore recently asked Allison a few questions:
Dinty: There is so much advice for new writers out there. What are you hoping your book will accomplish?
Allison: I want to reposition the submissions process as a matter of great diligence and skill with a dash of luck and timing, rather than the other way around.
Even for writers with a publication record, submitting is scary—we’re all terrified we’re sending to a magazine that’s actually way out of our league, and we all worry that our ego is telling us our work is better than it really is. So I made a point of including a chapter on figuring out how good your own work is, and how a writer can analyze a literary journal and see if their own work is at that level. If it isn’t, they have the option to seek a magazine closer to their level (which might be higher!) or to use what they discover about the magazine’s content to improve their own work. I’m hoping that even for writers who don’t feel ready to send out work, they can still use the book to write better, and start reading widely in the places they want to publish, so they’ll feel more on top of the submissions process when the time comes.
I’m also demystifying the actual, physical process of submitting. It’s not a lottery and it’s not a dartboard. Writers can be reasonably methodical about assembling a list of magazines and building a pattern of submitting—whether that’s daily, weekly, once a month, whether they’re focusing on one piece and submitting simultaneously or firing out ten pieces at once—that works for them.
Dinty: In your opinion, what is the biggest misconception writers have about publishing in literary magazines?
Allison: It’s a double-barreled shot of inadequacy: We think editors are eager to reject us, and that rejection means we suck.
In fact, most editors are almost comically eager to discover and promote writers new to them. Their dream is to open up Submittable one morning and find a pile of amazing submissions they can nurture into publication, so their next issue is practically done. Editors love finding brand-new writers, they love helping people debut, and every single one of them wishes they had time to give feedback and advice on the submissions that are “almost there.”
Feeling bad about rejections is normal, but rejections are normal, expected and necessary. Think about going out for dinner—you pick the thing you want most off the menu, based on what looks good, maybe what the waiter recommends, and your mood at the time. You’re not looking at every other dish and thinking it’s garbage, right? Choosing the fish doesn’t make the pasta terrible. And maybe when you pick the fish for your entree, you don’t want to also have smoked salmon for the appetizer. Putting a literary magazine together works the same way. Out of a pile of good, better and best things, the editor selects pieces that strike their personal taste, that fit well together, and that suit the overall tone of the magazine. Your essay about childbirth may be phenomenal—but they just did a special issue on mothering. Or they only have one essay slot this month, and they feel like the essay on the Deaf community complements the poem about meaning in silence. Maybe they have six “best” poems, but they’re all sonnets, so they pull two of them and pick two more poems from “better” and one from “good.”
There is no writing life that doesn’t include rejection. Even if I self-publish my own literary magazine, filled with my favorite of my own work, not everyone’s going to buy it. So as tough as it is, and as much as it stings and feels personal, rejections are proof a writer is doing their job and sending their work into the world. If writing is your desired profession, treat rejection like a meeting at a corporate job—you don’t love it, and it’s always a pain, but it’s part of the job you do in order to keep doing the other parts you like. If writing is your beloved hobby, remember that you don’t hit a home run every time, and those doubles, singles and strikeouts are helping you become a better hitter.
Easier said than done, of course, but I will say that since I started submitting more often and more widely, each individual rejection stings less.
Dinty: I know the landscape changes quickly, especially now that so much literary publishing is happening online, but here in September 2016, Can you name five or so solid magazines you’d recommend that talented but not-yet-widely-published authors investigate and consider?
Boulevard mentions they are “very interested in publishing less experienced or unpublished writers with exceptional promise.” And they pay!
Smokelong Quarterly publishes flash fiction and chooses a new editor to curate each issue, so there’s a variety of taste in the pieces they select.
Linden Avenue Literary Journal is an up-and-comer with a great editor, Athena Dixon, at the helm. They publish “poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction that highlights the intersection between art and everyday life.” http://www.lindenavelit.com/
Drunken Boat does a series of themed “folios” and is a great place to submit work that’s grounded in a specific culture or community.
And Sixfold is unique—they produce an online literary magazine, but the content is determined by voting among all the submitters (it’s fair, and thoroughly explained at their site). Each piece goes through at least one round of six readers/fellow writers who provide feedback on your work, and I found the brief critiques useful and totally worth the $6 submission fee. If you’ve got a piece you’re hemming and hawing on, it’s also a place to find out if it’s really “ready,” because if it doesn’t make the magazine, the comments help you figure out what needs improvement without feeling like you’re establishing a reputation with a particular editor.
Dinty W. Moore founded Brevity magazine in 1997.