Monthly Archives: October 2015

Let’s talk about someone else for a change…

Rottenecards_1149199_kkdt69n3n5Well, my goal of updating my blog once a week is off track, I could talk about reasons-work, vacation, blah, blah, blah. But the best way to get back is just to do it! I could also talk about something I’ve been up to creatively, my latest thoughts on writing, publishing, etc. But one of the things I really like about living in this area of Vermont is that there’s such a strong writing community here. And several members of that community have had some neat news recently, so I’d rather talk about that!

Andrew Liptak is the dynamo behind Geek Mountain State, a promoter of creative geekery in Vermont in all its forms, and the weekend editor at io9. He recently shared on his blog about how he is leaving his day job to focus more on his various pursuits, and maybe start a new thing or two. I’m always excited when any of us can pull this trick off, doubly so since he’s a friend , and makes such wonderful things in the world. Well done Andrew!

Angela Palm is one of the first writer-folk I met when I moved here, courtesy of her own dynamo-like involvement with multiple local presses and writing organizations. Her memoir Riverine is coming out early next year from Graywolf Press as a result of her winning their nonfiction prize. And she recently had an excellent essay published at Parent.co about the challenges of balancing work, kids, and marriage with really launching her writing career. I appreciate how she’s unblinking and honest about the impossibility of doing it all, and the cost of making decisions about the trade-offs involved. It’s sobering, and yet at the same time really inspiring. If you’re struggling with any of these issues yourself, you might want to check her essay out!

Michelle Watters is one the poetry editors I work with on Mud Season Review, and also a creator of some beautifully darkling poetry that I adore. I’ve been totally inspired by how much energy she’s poured into getting her poetry published over the last year, and the honesty with which she shares her ups and down around it. On her blog she recently talked about her bitter disappointment when she didn’t win a Poetry manuscript contest she had high hopes for. And then just a day or too later had some poems accepted for publication, and talked about how that turned her mood around. And also noticed that white butterflies seems to have something to do with literary acceptances…

The thing about being a writer is, it’s hard work. Not just the writing itself, and the emotions around that, but the constant ups and downs of the work it takes to put your stuff out there in the world. Hearing about successes (and struggles) from some of the others who are strapped in to the roller coaster of the creative life with me totally keeps me going. So thanks guys!

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Should We All Be Cheating?

(Note: This post is about the submission process. If you were expecting an entirely different subject matter based on the title, I apologize profusely, and would like to offer you a complete refund.)

(Further note: Judas Priest video vaguely thematically related, but otherwise fairly gratuitous.)

I’ve been fascinated by an article by Theodore Ross with the attention-grabbing byline: “Cheat! It’s the only way to get published!” that a reading/writing friend of mine recently re-posted. Ross’ thesis seems more or less to be that following the submission rules is for suckers, and a writer ought to seek to bypass them, and peddled influence wherever possible. There’s also a dash of- Nothing is ever accepted off of the “slush pile”, and anything coming from there is treated with derision by all readers.

There was a lively comment string following this posting, in which several writers and editors I know pointed out that this is mostly bull-puckey. In the particular case I’m most familiar with, Mud Season Review, where I’m a co-editor for Poetry, these things definitely are not true. While we will occasionally solicit submissions from someone we admire (and even then, the submission gets reviewed by the editorial panel, there’s no automatic “fix”), almost all of our submissions come through Submittable via our general submissions call. I.e., it’s all one big virtual slush pile. Every submission is read by Readers, who pass it on (or not) to Assistant Editors, who pass it on (or not) to the Genre and Managing Editors. And in the process of sending out the rejections, the Genre/Managing editors also take a quick look at what was passed up by earlier readers, so even the first-level rejections get at least 1.5 reads.

We do not, as Ross seems to think might be widespread, have pizza parties where we chortle at all the fools who decide to submit. I don’t doubt that what he says he did can work. And of course, as in any professional field, it doesn’t hurt to mention connections. I certainly, for example, put in the fact that I’m an editor at a literary journal in my cover letter in my submissions, on the chance that it may increase the likelihood I’ll get a second look. Ditto with mentioning if the journals editors’ and I know someone in common who brought them to my attention. And I don’t doubt that there are journals out there that solicit a larger percentage of their work, and deliberately lead toward name-recognition. Based on the number of journals out there though, and the people I know who work on them, that is in no way a majority.

Getting back to Mud Season as an example, if someone does contact us directly to send something in, we either re-direct them to Submittable, or, if it’s a personal connection and we’re feeling generous, might post it there ourselves. Either way, it ends up going through the same round of editorial reviews as it would if it were directly submitted. The only difference I’ve seen is that we tend to send a more personal response for rejected material if there is some kind of direct connection.

Also, I’m a *bit* skeptical, given that he himself notes he’s not kept records, about how much extra oomph he really got from this methodology. Did it double his acceptance rate? Increase it by 10x? And is the increase worth the string of vaguely annoyed editors who will re-direct you to their preferred submission method, and the ones who will zap things that don’t follow their guidelines sight unseen? I’d like to see some data! In the mean time, I’m not convinced that we should all be cheating.

Fellow readers, writers and editors, what do you think?