Recently I found someone complaining that an editor rejected her piece because the editor didn’t like the style of writing she submitted to this particular magazine. Her assumption is that the editor shouldn’t have rejected it because of that, but should have looked at the value of the piece itself instead of the style it was written in, that the editor shouldn’t have used his/her personal preferences to reject a piece. As founder of a literary magazine, I am here to deliver a hard truth that writers who have never been editors or slush pile readers need to hear.
- Your writing only has value to us if we like it. If I read your piece and I don’t like it because it’s stream-of-consciousness (a style I frankly hate), I’m going to reject it. I don’t care that you think I need to look outside of my box to see the value contained therein. If I don’t like your story, I don’t like your story. That’s all there is to it.
- We editors choose pieces that both fit our personal preferences and fall within what would best suit the magazine as per the guidelines. Editors are human, and we want to love what we read. Frankly, there is no value to us within a story if we don’t like what we’re reading. Even if my magazine accepted stream-of-consciousness, if I’m reading the story and have no passion for it, I’m not going to accept it; therefore, I’m not going to look for any supposed innate value. In any case, why would you want to be accepted in a house or magazine where the editor has zero passion for your story?
- Being published in a million places doesn’t obligate all magazines to publish you. Writers need humility. Just because someone has been published in hundreds of magazines doesn’t suddenly give that person permission to think he or she is “hot stuffs,” so to speak. It’s fine to have confidence in your writing, but be humble about it. Don’t get angry or annoyed if an editor rejects you because he/she doesn’t get what you’ve written, and you think you should have been accepted because your publication history is as big as the affordable health care act. We all perceive things differently. What one editor doesn’t get, another editor may get.
- Be tactful. It’s fine to need a place to rant about being upset about a rejection, but it becomes very tasteless and unprofessional when you basically imply the editor who rejected your piece is an idiot and then suddenly your friends join in on the topic and back you up, calling the editor an idiot, too, saying you’re the best thing out there. Yeah, that’s what I saw today. It wasn’t me being talked about, but it boiled my blood to find this editor being maliciously attacked by people who know nothing about the editor who rejected the piece. We’re human. Plain and simple. We slough through tons of stories, most of which we don’t like, and eventually get annoyed because we want to find the one piece we do like. The Corner Club Press only submits form rejections, but I know some magazines out there will justify why the piece was rejected. Sometimes it’s tasteless, sometimes it’s not. In the case of tastelessness, keep in mind that editor is probably cranky, tired of going through the slush pile, and probably sent a tasteless rejection as a way of easing tension. Am I justifying it? No! Not at all. But this doesn’t mean the editor is a crap editor, just that the editor is human. You obviously submitted to that magazine because you wanted to be in it, so calling the editor an idiot is unprofessional and counterintuitive, especially because you likely looked at what has been published by this magazine. And, yes, sometimes rejection letters are sent with typos in them because we’re bleary from reading all of those submissions that we don’t care to take the time to proofread.
- Rejection. Handle it with grace. Just because I didn’t like your piece doesn’t mean another magazine won’t. We all have different preferences. That is the fact of the matter. You cannot remove bias from the acceptance process, which is why editors work in different houses and at different magazines. I’m not going to work at a magazine that only publishes erotic fiction. I don’t like erotica. Safely assume that the editor is at that magazine because the editor likes what the magazine publishes.
Today is publishing Friday. As I said I would do, every Friday I’m going to post an article that deals with something in the publishing world, so I decided to write a post about creating a literary magazine for those readers OR writers who are thinking about starting one, or for those just curious about how a literary magazine gets started. But here are some things I think you need to have.
- Experience. I didn’t start my lit magazine without prior magazine experience or editorial experience. I started out as a slush pile reader, so I was able to receive a behind-the-scenes view of how a literary magazine worked. I then went on to be an executive editor for a start-up magazine. Last, I apprenticed beneath Georgia McBride to receive experience in editing. All of this experience will make the magazine look reputable and something people want to submit to. Everything eventually culminated in my decision to create a magazine–and to be an editor for clients needing my services.
- An idea. You want to make your magazine separate from others. What makes yours different? Why should people submit to yours? The Corner Club Press is about putting a strong emphasis on both poetry AND short fiction/creative nonfiction, as there are many magazines that don’t do this. You will also need to know what to call your literary magazine. Make it creative. Make it even have a backstory. And a tagline for the magazine never hurts, either. CCP’s is ‘Where Poetry and Fiction Converge.’ It’s effective enough to let people know what our magazine is about.
- A strong staff. Once you have experience you are comfortable with and ideas put in place, you now need to find a strong staff dedicated to the magazine as much as you are. The Corner Club Press started out with two people, but we were able to manage it alone, until my poetry editor/formatter had to leave. So then it moved to just my personal assistant and I; however, that became too much. Now we have a strong team of people with professional experience to help create a strong magazine.
- How often you are going to publish. You need to decide this before gathering submissions. How often are you going to publish? CCP started out as quarterly, until Daphne had to leave. Then the schedule became too erratic, so we needed to bring on other people to get the magazine in order. Now we’re publishing quarterly again.
- Gathering submissions. You need to find out how you’re going to gather submissions in the most effective way possible. Sure, you can start out asking people to submit through Google+ and the like, but Duotrope and Submissions Grinder and Poets and Writers will earn you submissions more effectively, especially once you’ve established that you are professional and your magazine will be professional. To be honest, I am turned off by magazines that have to go around and ask for submissions. This means they didn’t plan well in advance. I get we all have to start somewhere, but when I started, I received over 100 submissions in the first week without having to do this, just from being listed on Duotrope. You can even start a simple thread somewhere, simply letting people know that your magazine just opened, and then link to your magazine’s website. I warn against actually having to go around and ask. It shows you don’t know what you’re doing to manage a magazine. You also sound desperate.
- A professional website. See the picture above (there is more to the home page than what you’re viewing). That is what my magazine’s home page looks like. I use Weebly, and unfortunately we don’t have the funds to buy a domain, but people are still submitting and don’t think our magazine any less professional for it. Weebly already has set templates, but you can mess around with those templates to set yours apart from others that use the same template.
- Tabs you need. You need a tab detailing how your magazine got started. People love to know the background of a magazine they are submitting to. This also gives more credence to your magazine. You need a submissions guideline, obviously, and I’m going to link to mine below on what needs to be included. You want the staff listed, along with their credentials, just so people know their experience. This will bolster their confidence in your magazine. Obviously you’ll need an issues page, starting with the most recent issue you’ve published. You’ll want to use your magazine’s cover and link the cover to a pdf or a website that can create a magazine for you. I use Calameo. And of course you’ll want an archive to put your backlist issues in once you start a new volume. We are on volume 3.
- You do not need to pay. Your magazine can still be reputable without paying your writers. Non-paying magazines exist for a reason. I have published people who were published by magazines that paid. It still looks good on a cover letter to be published by a reputable magazine, even if it doesn’t pay.
- Now begin accepting submissions. Close down for a submissions period when it’s time for you to read them. Let Duotrope know you’ve closed so that way they can let writers know not to submit during this period. When you let Duotrope know you’ve opened back up, they’ll slide you in a tab of magazines that have both opened and closed. Writers flock to this tab first. You’re on there for about a week.
- Once you’ve accepted work, send out acceptance letters immediately, along with a short contract. You can look up a short contract for a literary magazine. They’re easy to do. When rejecting, you do not have to give feedback. I used to give feedback, until that became too much. A rejection letter is all writers are owed. Nothing more. Nothing less.
- Formatting. You need to decide how you’re going to format the issue, what sort of art you want to use (keep this art consistent), and so on and so forth, so make sure you have someone on your staff with good formatting experience.
- Editing. Your accepted pieces should only need light editing. Any more, and you probably shouldn’t have accepted those pieces in the first place.
Now I’m going to link to my magazine’s submission guidelines so you have a general idea of what you need to include. Also look around the website and note how professional it looks.
Next Friday’s post will be for those thinking about becoming freelance editors. I’m going to write what you need to do in order to make this happen.
As you all may or may not know, I found a literary magazine called The Corner Club Press about 3 years ago. I am now simply the president and web designer for the magazine, having decided to take a backseat to focus on all the other things going on in my life. In any case, throughout these three years, I have come across a multitude of things that are just downright annoying. You expect them, but countless posts have been written like mine, and, yet, writers still do these things we tell them not to do. I feel like there are no excuses anymore, not when you have an entire world’s worth of information at your fingertips. Not to mention that every reputable magazine should have solid submission guidelines. In any case, let’s begin with what you should be doing when submitting a short story or poetry piece, or when you are considering doing so.
- Follow submission guidelines down to the very last letter, lest you be rejected. It doesn’t even matter that the submission guidelines are detailed. People will still sub to us with wonky or small fonts, incorrect formatting, genres we don’t want, or more pieces beyond the limits we’ve established. We’re not desperate for submissions. We receive more than enough. And, to be frank, when I was going through the slush pile, I was looking for any reason to reject a piece because I’d get so many. The ones we accept are the rare few that make us not want to get up from our chairs to fetch a snack.
- When submitting, address us accordingly. I once had a writer address me as Mr. Forbes. Read the bios. They’re not just there for gloating.
- Rejection. Throughout the three years of the CCP’s existence, only one has ever gotten into a fight with us about rejecting his piece. I wasn’t able to find the e-mail he sent us. Otherwise, I would have posted it right here, sans name. I am not above doing that. We editors eventually develop a snarky side. I can’t even remember exactly what he said, either, but it was enough to cause me to send a polite, nasty letter to him, simply for the sake of his own writing career. So, technically, I was doing him a favor by responding at all. Mariah was the one who read his response first, by the way. I don’t look at submissions anymore. I trust my experienced staff with them.
- Don’t respond to rejection letters. Even if you’re just thanking us for taking the time out of our day to read your piece, don’t do it. At all. It’s not going to make us accept your next piece, just as not responding is going to make us reject your next piece. Just send to us again. That alone tells us you really want to be in our magazine, and that alone makes us hope we eventually accept you.
- Respond to acceptances immediately. Please. Don’t send us a revised version, either. We liked what you originally sent us. Plus, we do light editing anyway.
- Don’t tell us to make corrections AFTER PUBLICATION, when there is no error on our part. I actually had one writer tell me I published the wrong story. It was THE ONLY story said writer had submitted. Poets are especially notorious for doing this. Don’t tell us to italicize something when it wasn’t italicized to begin with. This means having to go through and change something so you don’t slander our magazine, having to change links, and then having to re-upload the issue. Think about how you’re inconveniencing us before you send a correction to an error we never made. We’re not perfect, and we have made errors in the past that we’ve fixed, but if no errors were present to begin with, don’t accuse us of doing something we didn’t do in the first place.
There you go! My post will be just one of thousands already written, but it’s worth repeating, over and over and over and over and over…