Monday, December 10, 2012

Lit Mags: Learning the Landscape

38º ~ clouds, wind chills in the 20s, an arctic front sweeping the south into winter, ready or not

So, I'm waiting for more papers to come in and then a set of final exams on Wednesday, and I'm still thinking about my last post.  Learning the landscape of contemporary writing involves a lot of reading, reading of books, yes, but also of literary magazines as well, especially if you are a short story writer, essayist, or poet.

I mentioned using the acknowledgments pages from books you love as a place to start investigating lit mags.  I wanted to elaborate and say that by "books you love" I should have said books by authors whose work feels kindred to your own.  I, for one, love a lot of books, and sometimes, the poets I love write wildly different poetry than I do.  In my first few years of submitting, I often made the mistake of thinking that because I loved their poetry I should submit to the same places they did, even though my work had little in common with theirs.  Doh!  Head slap.  Not effective.  Now, when a book not only sets my hair on fire but aligns with my own style, I send out poems to the same journals as the poet.

Today, I was reminded of another gem in the search for markets:  New Pages, a clearinghouse for lit mags, independent publishers & booksellers, and a ton of other literary links.  This is an amazing resource, which is still free for now.  I subscribe to their blog updates, which feature mini-reviews/announcements about new journals on the scene, both in print and online.  So, yet another place to browse the virtual stacks.

Now, here's another tidbit that took me years to figure out.  There are three types of journals when it comes to editorial control and consistency.  This is another layer that you really only discover after reading many issues of the journal.

1.  Independent journals not associated with any university, college, or collective of student writers.  Here, the editors are set and change very rarely.  There is a clear and consistent aesthetic.  With these journals, the writer has a chance to build a relationship with said editor(s) over time.  A personalized rejection letter with an urge to send more may be more likely to lead to future publication (though not guaranteed, of course).

2.  Journals associated with a university, college, or collective with an editor-in-chief (often a faculty member).  When reading multiple issues over several years (look at the back issues!), check the masthead.  If this person remains the same, check and see if the aesthetic of the journal remains consistent.  If so, while the grad students/collective readers are doing a lot of the beginning reading from the submissions, it is clear that this editor-in-chief trains said readers to look for specific things and retains a lot of control over the content of each issue.  Here, the writer has that chance of building a relationship with the journal over time, although the writer may be communicating with different sub-editors over time.

3.  Journals associated with a university, college, or collective where the editor-in-chief rotates each year or every two years.  I was stunned to learn about this type of journal, although it makes perfect sense.  Here you have, usually, grad students all taking their turns at different levels, working their way up from readers to editorial positions.  While the journal will retain whatever aesthetic is cultivated in that program, it often offers quite different content over time.  In this case, a rejection letter with a note encouraging the writer to submit more work in the future might need to be handled a bit differently.  Resubmit right away if that editor is likely to move on soon.  If resubmitting at a later date, try to be clear about who sent the letter or the time it was sent so that the new editors have a reference.

While all of this might sound like a lot of work, it is work that I love.  First and foremost, I'm reading to find more work that moves me.  True confession: I do not read ever piece in every journal all the way through.  I read opening paragraphs of stories & essays, the first lines of poems; I browse the buffet and when hooked, I lick the plate clean and go back for more (looking up books and other publications by the authors I wish to devour). 

The knowledge of the publishing landscape accrues slowly, over time, and then becomes a comfort & a strength.


Kathleen said...

I love your advice and have learned those categories, too, by reading & submitting, etc.! I remember being asked to submit work by certain grad-student editors, only to be rejected by other grad-students editors! But at a magazine I still love!

Likewise, I try to read around in many journals. If I am going to submit poetry, I do try to read all or most of the poems in the print or online journal. It's been a while since I submitted fiction, but....!

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks for adding to the conversation, Kathleen!

Tawnysha Greene said...

Wonderful advice, Sandy!

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks, Tawnysha!

Molly said...

Great points - I stumbled into the same understanding myself over time. Thanks for the good reminder!

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks, Molly. I find that when I've stumbled through it on my own, I learn more and retain it longer. :)

Tumbling my way toward mastery.

John Vanderslice said...

Great advice, Sandy. I recognize all three types in my own reading, and you're right that it matters that one recognize the nature of a given mag that he or she submits to. These are thoughts I need to pass on to my own students!

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks, John. Hope the students find it as helpful.