Wednesday, December 2, 2015
For your consideration: a panel of editors
Here is an article on getting published in literary journals and what editors are looking for. I wrote this after attending a Straw Dog Writers Guild panel discussion with four editors of journals, all with international audiences and contributors, that are all published in western Massachusetts.
It was first published in The Recorder.
If you are a writer who aims to get published, then it is likely you know what it feels like to work up the courage to send out a piece of fiction, an essay or poem to a journal in the hopes that it will be selected. And it is likely you have asked yourself: what are the editors looking for?
The Straw Dog Writers Guild recently put on an event at the Lilly Library in Florence that gets to the heart of this question. On a Saturday morning this fall, the guild gathered editors from four well-known journals published in western Massachusetts. The editors shared their insights and anecdotes on what they are looking for and what it is like to put out a journal.
The editors were Diana Babineau, managing editor of The Common; Emily Wojcik, managing editor of The Massachusetts Review; Elizabeth MacDuffie, editor of Meat for Tea: The Valley Review, and Lori Desrosiers, managing editor and publisher of Naugatuck River Review.
The room was packed to capacity.
The most important piece of advice, repeated by each editor with emphasis, is to read the journals you are thinking of sending your work. Become familiar with what they choose to publish, the style, tone, subject matter.
“Reading an issue is crucial,” said Wojcik. She said The Massachusetts Review, which has been publishing since 1959, is committed to publishing emerging writers next to established writers. She said the journal is looking for pieces of writing that have “real interest in the world beyond the self.”
MacDuffie said Meat for Tea is about to turn 10 and that it was founded with something of a punk-rock sensibility, while setting the bar high for quality. The journal, published quarterly, is not academically affiliated. “Art that offends no one … that’s not worth a damn,” said MacDuffie. She said the journal likes to feature artists and writers in the Pioneer Valley, but publishes work from around the world, from emerging and well-known artists.
Babineau described The Common as a print and online literary magazine, publishing high quality literature examining ideas of place. It was founded in 2010 and makes its home at Amherst College. The magazine also considers “global histories and works in translation.” The Common publishes in print twice a year, in the fall and spring, and publishes new work online four times per week.
Desrosiers started Naugatuck River Review “on a whim” and said it is a journal of “compressed narrative, strong emotion ... and great quality” poetry. The journal is published twice a year. She is also an editor for Word Peace, an online literary journal devoted to social justice. According to its website, wordpeace.co, Word Peace is looking for “... work that asks for positive change and is forward thinking. We publish writing that takes a stand against corruption and greed, brutality, genocide, and oligarchy.”
Reading the journals themselves is the best way to get a sense of the sort of writing editors are choosing to publish. Along with this basic idea of acquainting yourself with the journal, Desrosiers adds, “For goodness sake, read the (submission) guidelines on any journal.” These vary. Some publications accept submissions electronically only, while a few still accept hard copies in the mail. But don’t get this wrong because it will likely mean that your submission will never get read.
On the topic of what they are looking for, MacDuffie, whose journal accepts work in many genres, including visual art and recipes, almost begs the audience “ send me more essays … give me a well-crafted essay, please.”
Wojcik of the Mass Review seconds that, “we have a dearth of nonfiction; we’re always looking for nonfiction ...”
Desrosiers, nodding, adds, “Word Peace is looking for nonfiction, especially essays.”
When asked how important the cover letter is, the editors agreed that it isn’t all that important. Don’t send in your resume, they add, but do mention if the journal has published your work previously.
On the topic of feedback, there is a range of interaction between writers and editors, depending on the journal. According to Babineau, The Common editors will sometimes work with a writer when they think a piece is nearly ready for publication, but could be improved, while Meat for Tea does not alter work. MacDuffie said she either accepts the work or rejects it.
Another way to get to know the work published in local journals is to attend public events they host. Each of these journals hosts readings to celebrate their publications. The Common also records podcasts available on its website. The Naugatuck River Review hosts a contest every year and holds public readings. Meat for Tea hosts quarterly cirques to mark the launch of each issue. These are multi-artform evenings including short films, a gallery of visual art, spoken word and music at Sonelab in Easthampton. The Massachusetts Review publishes a blog and videos and is accepting submission of longer form fiction and nonfiction for its Working Titles ebook project.
All of the journals have Facebook pages.
To learn more about Straw Dog Writers Guild, go to: