Philadelphia and the Ploughshares Literary Boroughs Series

Miscellanea Libri, in the Reading Terminal Market

It’s up! My guest post is up!

If you live in the Philadelphia area, are moving to town, or just want to know what’s occurring on the Philadelphia literary scene (where to read, where to write, where to get published) definitely check it out!

I had a lot of fun doing the research for this project. Though over the years I’ve attended a lot of events–such as the Push to Publish conference–and was involved with Philadelphia Stories through my internship, this blog post gave me a whole new appreciation for the city. Normally, we of the suburbs avoid adventuring into Philly too often, but I’m starting to really appreciate how many things there are to do there. I think that as teenagers we labeled it as “lame,” just because it was nearby and familiar and we never got past that negative stereotype.

I’ve really been enjoying the entire Literary Boroughs blog series. There have already been posts on Minneapolis, Ithaca, Brooklyn, Omaha, Portsmouth, and Morocco. It’ll be running until next spring, one post a week, so keep tuned to explore other cities!

Cover Letter Mad Lib

When you’re submitting a short story to a literary journal, you send along a cover letter. It’s a little like a query letter, only briefer.

This is the Mad Lib of my usual cover letter format:

Dear [NAME],

[1-2 sentences demonstrating that you’ve read their publication; mention how you came across their publication–are you a regular reader?–a story you enjoyed, or a story they published which you believe is similar to your own submission]

Attached, please find my [WORD COUNT] submission, [TITLE]. [One sentence summary of the story]

[Bio paragraph]

Thanks for your time and consideration,

[me]

This is an actual fleshed-out cover letter I’ve been sending around recently. I’ve gotten quite a few bites and positive feedback for this particular story, a lot of “almost” and “dear story, let’s just be literary friends,” talks from several kind and lovely editors. If I just sending it out, hopefully it’ll find a home!

Dear Mr. Towers,

I recently discovered your journal and am in love with the content. I was particularly fond of “The Bank Robbers” in the March issue.

Attached, please find my 1,700-word submission, “Nine Lives.” Fed up with a horde of feral cats terrorizing his family, George undertakes an unorthodox problem-solving approach.

I am an Assistant Editor at Transaction Publishers and have had work appear or forthcoming in Inside Pennsylvania, The Stillwater Review, The Honors Review, The Susquehanna Review, and Weave magazine. My writing has also been awarded 2nd place in The Baltimore Review’s 2011 Creative Non-Fiction Contest and Honorable Mention in Writer’s Digest Young Adult Fiction Competition. I maintain a writing blog at https://thewwaitingroom.wordpress.com/. Despite what you may think, I am extremely fond of my little black cat, Gizmo.

Thank you for your time and consideration,
Hannah Karena Jones

(Image, No Copyright)

Philadelphia Literary Journal Pride

As I’ve been combing through Duotrope, New Pages, and Poets & Writer’s in search of new markets to submit my writing to over the past few weeks I’ve slowly come to the realization that Philadelphia has a promising up-and-coming literary scene! Not that Philadelphia shouldn’t naturally be super literary and cultural–it is one of the most historic and largest cities on the East Coast–but Philadelphia, at least from my viewpoint, has been in a bit of a hibernation-mode in recent years. Honestly, people keep leaving the Philadelphia area in favor of New York and Boston and DC because the city has been going stale. Cool restaurants have been closing, there isn’t much of a shopping-draw, the only good stuff that does exist is rather expensive–concerts and the like–and it’s generally unsafe in most areas so nobody wants their cars to get vandalized or walk around the streets exploring after dark. So the fact that literary journals are budding out of this environment like a bed of tulip bulbs is rather exciting!

Though Philadelphia Stories and Apiary magazine are the only two that show clear favoritism towards Philadelphia/Pennsylvania writers and themes in their editorial mission statements, the fact that a whole bunch of exciting, new, innovative, and ultimately successful literary journals are springing up out of Philadelphia gives me hope that lots more good things are to come!

On the old side, Painted Bride Quarterly is one of the country’s longest running literary magazines, circa 1973, and is in-part staffed by Drexel University students. On the new side, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, a non-profit flash-prose journal associated with Rosemont College, only launched last year. Same with TINGE magazine, staffed by graduate students in Temple University’s MFA program in Creative Writing, and Nailpolish Stories, the brainchild of Philadelphia writer Nicole Monaghan.

Dear Philadelphia: I’m proud of you. Good show.

Do you have some local literary journals you’re extra fond of just because they call your town home?

(Image, No Copyright,

To the Glitter End . . . Get Your Nailpolish Stories Published!

I’ve heard a lot of people wonder aloud who the lucky guy is who gets to invent awesome crayon color names for a living (did you know there’s 120 core Crayola color names?). Seriously, can you imagine coming up with brilliant creative names like “macaroni and cheese” and “mango tango” and getting paid for it? The same goes for nail polish colors. “French Quarter for Your Thoughts,” “Ski Teal We Drop,” and “Barefoot in Barcelona”–what great names! And, as Nicole Monaghan, the founding editor of the flash fiction online journal, Nailpolish Stories, believes, what a great inspiration for a story!Fiction submissions must be 25 words, exactly, not including the title (and the title has to be a nail polish color). Ms. Monaghan is looking for stories that use powerful language, a minimum of adjectives, and that stuff a lot into a little space. Check out the full submission guidelines here.

Even if you don’t end up submitting to the journal, I’d encourage you to use this as a fun writing exercise. There are so many different nail polish colors–you could get lost in the amount of inspiration they offer!–and it doesn’t take long to write a 25 word story. I wrote ten one afternoon and loved the ideas they sparked up. Write a whole bunch and get your creative writing juices flowing! Maybe it’ll end up being the first sentence to your next novel!

So, You Want to Work in Publishing

Publishing exists outside NYC! Get a hands-on internship at a local publisher near you!

I got my dream job pretty much right out of college: an editor at a book publishing company. But as those of you who have broken into the publishing industry know–and as those who haven’t broken in yet, probably suspect–it wasn’t easy to get a job in publishing.

When I went to The Susquehanna Review launch party a few weeks ago, I had a lovely conversation over dinner with a university poetry professor. When she heard I worked in publishing, she started peppering me with questions. “Most of my students want to know what they should do to get a job in publishing,” she explained. “What should I tell them?”

I remember, not too long ago, being the same desperately uniformed student. I went to a good state university with a wonderful creative writing program, but we didn’t have any fancy publishing classes like a lot of universities apparently do, no connections in the publishing industry to secure internships, and pretty much zilch guidance for how to break into publishing. If you majored in English at my school, it was assumed you were also majoring in Eduction. Everyone in turn assumed that every English major had a pretty standard, prearranged teaching career ahead of them. Though there were classes dedicated to technical writing and other practical skills that could translate into a book-loving writing-enthusiastic career other than teaching, little effort was dedicated to preparing English students for those alternate careers outside the classroom. If a student wanted a publishing internship, for example, they needed to do the research, find the opportunity, and arrange for it themselves. It was a daunting and, as I found out, often fruitless task.

When I attended the NYU Publishing Institute and started meeting other publishing enthusiasts, and even when I secured my current job, I started hearing about all sorts of internship opportunities I WISH I had known about beforehand.

So in memory of my own desperate and unguided attempts to break into publishing, I’ve decided to start a weekly guest blog series, “So, You Want to Work in Publishing.” A bunch of publishing professionals I know have agreed to participate–people who work at the big names like HarperCollins, Wiley, and Hachette and others who work in equally awesome, but less known companies outside of NYC (for those of us who don’t dream about living in the city).

Every Thursday, from now on, you can look forward to the personal stories of how someone else broke into publishing. The guest bloggers and I hope that you find our stories encouraging, informative, and helpful in your own path to a publishing career. I’ll update the new So, You Want to Work in Publishing page every week so that you can easily find the links to each guest blog post. I’m going to organize them by position (editorial, production/design, marketing, etc.) so that you can specifically read about the type of publishing experience you’re dreaming of.

Today, I’m going to kick off the blogging series with the story of my own path to publishing:

Name: Hannah Karena Jones
Current Title: Assistant Editor
Hometown: Langhorne, Pennsylvania
Graduated from: Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, May 2011
Where I currently work and live: I live in Monmouth Junction, NJ and work about a half hour away in Piscataway, NJ

My Path to Publishing: Since I was in elementary school, I knew I wanted to be an author. I was that kid who brought books out to the playground at recess and preferred reading to the monkey bars (I always fell off them! Every time. I was completely athletically challenged). But I was told by everyone that it wasn’t a “real job.” It was an “and” job. I’d say, “I want to be a writer,” and my teacher, girl scout leader, etc. would say, “That’s nice. What else are you going to do? You’re going to be a writer and . . .” and then stare at me expectantly. (Even when I was in elementary school, they wouldn’t let me just write “author” down as what I wanted to be when I grew up. So I also put down veterinarian.) I can’t remember the moment, exactly, that I decided I wanted to be a writer and editor–I suppose it was a natural thought process to want to read and work with books all the time–but I remember my mom and I doing research and discovering the Columbia Publishing Course and the New York University Summer Publishing Institute when I was  freshman in college. Because both courses are designed for recent graduates or young professionals trying to switch careers, I had to count down the years until I could apply. Thankfully, NYU accepted me. More on that later.

Before I graduated, I managed to cram in a lot of experiences. I served on the Warren Literary Art Journal prose and poetry review boards for two years and then I served as the co-chief editor of the publication for two more years. I fell in love with reading short fiction, memoir, and poetry and actually really enjoyed the production process, once I figured out how to use Quark and InDesign software, and was dedicated to finding a job at a literary journal–until I realized that there basically isn’t a paid literary journal position in existence anywhere in the world, except for maybe The Paris Review.

So I putted around and did an online editorial internship with Philadelphia Stories, where I read and critiqued submissions, sent out rejection and/or acceptance letters, and organized electronic files. I also job shadowed a literary agent for a few days, to get an idea of what an agent actually did (a lot of legal contract stuff and a lot of rejecting query letters who ignored her submission guidelines). One of the most valuable experiences I had was designing the website for Watershed: The Journal of the Susquehanna, a fabulous publication Professor Jerry Wemple had founded a few years before, for a class. That in turn lead to an opportunity to serve as the managing editor of the journal, where I was chiefly responsible for designing the page and cover layout.

I think the best way to put it is that I thought I wanted to work in publishing before the NYU program; I thought I wanted to work in magazines (literary journals, specifically) and I thought I wanted to be an editor. But after the six-week intense crash course in all things magazine, book, and digital publishing, I knew I wanted to work in book publishing and I knew I wanted to be an editor (I was also open to subrights positions because they get to travel all the time!) The six-week institute dedicated three weeks to the magazine industry and three weeks to the book industry. Digital publishing and discussions on the rise and importance of e-readers were emphasized throughout the program.

Students were divided into groups for hands-on projects; first they had to launch their own magazine–complete with a business plan and cover designs–and then they had to launch their own book publishing imprint. From beginning to end, the program offered daily lectures and panel discussions totaling in over 150 editors, publishers, content directors, web editors, marketers, publicity directors, art directors, literary agents, production managers, professional bloggers, booksellers, and authors, exposing students to the wide landscape of publishing and the various jobs within it, while at the same time offering the opportunity to forge invaluable professional contacts.

I learned a lot at the program, both about publishing and where exactly my niche in publishing was. Because I was exposed to pretty much every kind of publication and publisher, and every type of person involved with the industry, I learned exactly what positions and what kind of companies I would be interested in working for. I was able to hold my own in interviews; instead of saying I wanted to be an editor simply because I love reading, I was able to cognitively have discussions about the publishing industry, developments in ebook technology, and ask informed questions. The program was great for me, as a last-ditch effort to dive into the publishing industry (and it’s one of the best ways to break into the NYC publishing scene, if that’s your goal).

Opportunities I wish I knew about when I was still a student:

All the publishers in the Philadelphia area who offer internship opportunities! I honestly believed that the only publishing internships available were in NYC, so every summer I would apply for the super competitive spots at the HarperCollins Summer Internship Program, the Penguin Internship Program, and the Scholastic Summer Internship. I thought I had “failed” every summer when I didn’t get one. If only someone had told me that there were so many quality internship opportunities right here in the Philadelphia area! Running Press, Quirk Books, Princeton University Press, and the Internship Program at Penn Press all offer internships in multiple departments.

How did you find out about your first publishing job?

Indeed.com, specifically looking for “assistant editor” job openings. But I found out about a majority of the jobs I applied for on the Publishers Lunch Job Board, the job board for publishing positions. Also, I’d recommend signing up for the Publishers Lunch and Shelf Awareness newsletters. They’re a great daily read and a great way to stay updated about the publishing industry (and any position openings).

What does your typical day look like?

I work 9-5 and spend a good chunk of the morning responding to emails from authors, and other people involved in our publication process. Some days I read a lot, some days I don’t read/edit anything besides the promotional copy in our book catalogs. My job is predominately about organization and keeping a slew of books (about forty-five titles a year) on schedule; I need to make sure the copyediting is done on time so that typesetting can begin on time so that the book comes out on time. I create page estimates and P&L’s*, present books at cover meetings, do book checks to identify and eliminate errors, and edit the content on our website. Every day is a different mixture of these responsibilities.

Connect with her: As you all know, you can follow my blog, follow me on twitter (@HannahKarena10), friend me on goodreads, and, if you’re interested, add me as a professional connection on LinkedIn.

If you’re a publishing professional interested in contributing to the blog series, feel free to contact me at HannahKJones10@yahoo.com.

*Profit and Loss statements compare the forthcoming book you’re working on to other comparable titles–for example, sales of book #1 of The Hunger Games are a good indication of how many books the second volume in the series will sell–with the chief goal to decide how much the book should cost and how many copies should be ordered.

Introducing the Rejected Page

In the interest of compiling all my submission records (Submittable and Duotrope) into one, organized location rather than expecting readers to dig through the archives of posts to find out who, when, and where I’ve submitted and what the submission response time was, I present to you a Rejected list. Similar in structure to Court Merrigan’s Failure Page, it’s intended to expose you to lovely literary journals you might never have heard of before and to give you a general idea, as this blog originally intended, of how long you can expect to wait before receiving a rejection or acceptance letter. So instead of sporadically forcing a Slow Sunday blog post upon you, you can check the list whenever the fancy strikes. Also you can check out my published page to learn about other great journals and magazines!

Does this format work for you, or is there valuable missing information you’d like me to include? I’m open to suggestions :]

How to Edit Out the “Boring” in your Writing

I wrote a particular short story (fiction) two summers ago and was pretty proud of it. I did everything you’re supposed to do–give it to other people to critique, let it sit untouched in a drawer for a couple weeks before reading it again–and after several rounds of editing over the course of a few months, I felt good enough about it to submit it to a slew of literary journals.

It slowly got rejected, one at a time, and has been waiting for a response at one hold-out journal for over a year. This week, I decided it was time to dust it off and submit it for another round of publications. To refresh myself on the story and get a good idea of what journals might be interest, I reread the story.

And I was horrified by the writing.

It wasn’t bad, exactly. I still loved the story idea, but the thing that really nagged me was that there were clunky stage directions everywhere that were:

  1. Boring;
  2. Dragging down the pace of the plot; and
  3. Unnecessary boring details.

What do I mean by stage directions exactly?

Well, here is an example of some of the original sentences:

George clicked the garage door opener. He scurried under the lifting door to lean over and sniff the tuna fish cans he had prepared the night before.

George put down the platter and ran back to the house. He returned with a gallon of bleach.

He dropped the empty bottle next to the platter, grabbed hold of the rope ladder, climbed up, and squeezed through the tree house’s child-sized doorway.

And here’s what they ended up being after some very necessary cutting:

The cans of tuna fish were artfully arranged on an antique silver platter, its surface etched with delicate curlicues, which he had polished for the occasion. George sniffed the food and smiled.

Grinding his teeth, George ran back to the house to fetch a gallon of bleach.

Feeling light-headed, he clung first to the rope ladder as it swayed with each step and then to the tree house’s child-sized doorway as he squeezed through.

There’s less “he did this here and then he moved this way and put this thing down and picked this thing up.” I don’t need to say he opened the garage door. The reader doesn’t care if he opened the garage door. If they know he’s in the garage, they can assume the first part. The reader doesn’t care if he put something down first before leaving. And the reader certainly doesn’t need to have it spelled out for them that the character climbed the rope ladder. In the original I was telling stage directions rather than showing what the character was up to.

I feel better about the story, now, and more confident that future editors will enjoy the piece more/give it the time of day. And the editing was easy, in a way, because the stage directions were glaring at me, begging to be sliced, while the rest of the prose was able to stand pretty much unscathed. But I’m rather upset that I wasted time submitting a sub-par story and even more upset that even though I certainly didn’t rush through the rewriting and editing stages, I didn’t notice that it needed work.

Have you ever had this happen to you before? Long after you’ve submitted some writing, you realize that it needs a ton more work? What sort of boring stuff do you tend to include in your writing, but edit out later?

(Image, No Copyright, National Media Museum)