The subject of this week’s herding is literary magazines – in particular, what to submit and how long to wait for a response before abandoning all hope.
Making the grade
Firewords literary journal has launched a podcast series which is very informative. Episode two deals with the submission process from an editor’s perspective, and the two speakers – editors Dan Burgess and Jen Scott – discuss what can make the difference between an acceptance and a rejection. To illustrate this, they talk about the large body of work they sifted through during their most recent submission round.
The main point they make is that as well as submitting something you think might please an editor’s palate, a writer also has to hope there isn’t a plethora of other submissions covering a similar theme. Some subjects crop up more than others, and in the case of their latest slush pile, the vast majority of submissions were about 1. elderly people, 2. bereavement and 3. refugees. The first two are, of course, universal themes, the latter highly topical. I would imagine that journals the world over will soon be inundated with dystopian stories about the demise of democracy.
Obviously if your story deals with a common theme, it’s going to be much harder for it to stand out from the crowd. This raises an interesting point in considering what to submit to a journal: is your story different enough? It needs to either be an unusual topic or cover a well-trodden path in a unique way.
I can exclusively reveal – but shh, tell no one – that I was one of those whose work was rejected in their latest round. I can also exclusively reveal it was about one of the three themes mentioned. It was a very nice rejection email, with positive feedback, but they did mention that other pieces on the same subject were ‘more memorable’. Ouch, but at the same time I understand, particularly after listening to the podcast.
Here’s the episode if you’d like to have a listen. I think they pack a lot of thought-provoking info into an economical 14 minutes.
Why are we waiting? Wh-iy are we wai-ting?
Another journal-related item I came across recently was on The Review Review website. Five literary editors were asked what they reckon is a reasonable length of time for a writer to wait for the verdict on a journal submission, and whether it’s okay to submit to multiple journals simultaneously.
As you’d expect, there are five different answers, though the general consensus seems to be that beyond three months you can assume it’s a no and submit elsewhere (unless that journal stipulates a longer waiting time frame in their guidelines. Then you just have to decide before submitting whether you’re content to wait that long). If your work is subsequently accepted by another publication, it’s courteous to either withdraw your piece from the first one if they use something like Submittable, or let them know so they don’t waste time considering it when they do eventually get around to it.
You should also be flexible in your thinking with regards to placing your work. Trudy Lewis, an editor and professor at the University of Missouri, advises writers to cast their nets wide rather than getting bogged down with being published by particular magazines:
‘…I urge writers not to obsess about publishing in particular venues. Sure, it’s great to have publishing aspirations. But I find that it’s actually more gratifying to find the editors who genuinely respond to the particular work. In other words, if a journal likes my story, it’s generally a good match. Love the one you’re with!’
So now that you have a surefire winning strategy in place, here are some magazines with open submission windows at the moment.
Banshee literary journal is accepting submissions for issue 5 (autumn/winter 2017 so no bikini stories) during the month of March. Short stories and essays should be between 1,500 and 5,000 words. Flash fiction should be a maximum of 1,000 words, and poems a maximum of 40 lines. There is no theme. They offer a small fee for accepted work, as well as two contributors’ copies. Issue 4 is currently available to pre-order if you want to see the kind of work they look for.
Here’s one I happened to see today – Chroma is a new magazine inviting submissions for their launch issue. The theme is ‘Red’, and they rather dramatically say: ‘We are looking for writing that focuses on war, communism, meat, blood, anger, sexuality, gender, mind and body, colour, poisonous animals, foxes, bulls, the devil, and wine. But of course, we are always open to other suggestions.‘ Send them your short stories, articles or creative essays of between 500 and 1,500 words. The closing date for submissions is April 30.
Incidentally, for far more publication opportunities than I’m willing to research, writer Angela Carr keeps a regularly updated list of magazine submissions on her blog. She also very kindly lists every competition going.