Dear Literary Journals, Remember the Golden Rule?

There is a certain mid-level publication* which, I have decided, will remain nameless, who sent me a rejection letter recently. A perfectly polite form rejection letter. I agreed with them. Since I submitted the story to them, I’ve reread the story–been thoroughly horrified by how silly a writer I was back then–and rewritten the story to, what I believe, great effect. The original version I submitted to them didn’t deserve to be published. No hard feelings.

I do have hard feelings over how long it took them to get back to me, though. You see, I submitted this short story in January 2011. Yeah, it took them fifteen months to get back to me with a rejection letter. This is particularly horrifying when contrasted with their promised response time: six months. And the fact that they are one of the rare bird publications that don’t allow simultaneous submissions. They expect exclusive rights to view your work, and then don’t get back to you for more than a year!

I understand that editors are busy people. Really, I do. So about two months after I should have heard back from them, I sent a very polite email. Just checking in that my story hadn’t been lost (I saw it was “In-Progress” on Submittable.com, but still) if there was a projected average response time, and how I was interested in potentially interviewing an editor for my blog.

No response.

Since then, I had sent two more, very polite emails, and two equally polite Facebook inbox messages (their editors update the content on their Facebook fan page every.single.day.)

Nada.

And now the informal rejection letter. I just wish somebody had thought it worth their time to say, in response to one of my many messages, “Hey, we’ll get back to you.” Something vague and unhelpful, but at least a response. Proof that the journal is run by real people, not a hoard of robots.

Let’s just say I’m not planning on dooming one of my stories to a year of hard-time, languishing in this literary journal’s inbox, ever again.

*By “mid-level publication” I mean it’s decently well-known, respectable publication, but it doesn’t pay the contributors a cent, which is fine if you’re into that kind of thing, and is, on the ladder system, definitely several dozen rungs below some really swoon-worthy publications that serve as massive high-points in a writer’s career, like Gulf Coast, Ploughshares, New Yorker, and Hayden Ferry’s Review.

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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

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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?

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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!

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 :]

Perks of Being A “Jersey Girl”

1. Cheap gas that someone else pumps for me
2. Jersey tomatoes (taste so much better than Pennsylvania ones)
3. Jersey corn (can you tell I’m thinking about summer and gardens?)
4. Jersey Devil Press, an online literary journal that has some really impressive content and one I’m looking forward to submitting to! (Thanks go to Carol Deminski for inadvertently introducing me to the small independent press with her story “The Fortune Teller,” a clever take on the Jersey Devil’s plight and personality.)

For those of you who follow sports, you already know that New Jersey’s only professional sports team, the Jersey Devils, is based off a hugely popular local myth about a monster–“most commonly described as having the body of a kangaroo, the head of a dog, the face of a horse, large leathery wings, antlers similar to those of a deer, a forked reptilian tail, and prominent, intimidating claws”–that stalks the Pine Barren forests of southern New Jersey.

A bit of a rare bird in the literary community, Jersey Devil Press is super up-front, offering all the answers any writer could ever want or need on their website. For example, despite the fact that New Jersey is now and forever associated with Snookie and the Jersey Shore, Jersey Devil Press clearly states that they are not impressed with the association and in fact strive to “publicly decry the downfall of humanity that is Jersey Shore.” Thank goodness! My respect for them improved several notches. (Not that it wasn’t already pretty high, after reading their most recent issue. Seriously, I don’t care if you don’t have time; make time to read “About the Hiding of Hidden Treasure,” by Kimberly Lojewski. It’s gorgeous and probably one of the best things you’ll read this month. No seriously, go read it right now.)

They also answer some more practical things, such as:
What They Want: short fiction stories sub-4,200 words that “straddle the line between speculative fiction and literature.” There’s a more detailed list of what they don’t want, too, so don’t disappoint them.
When They Want It: Anytime, day or night.
How They Want It: Via Submittable (a.k.a. formerly known as submishmash)
Simultaneous Submissions? Yes.

Multiple Submissions? No. Only one story at a time, please.
Accept Previously Published Material? Yes, but share that information in your cover letter. They won’t publish anything that’s already available elsewhere online.
Paying Market? Nope. As they explain, they’re poorer than you are. And if you’re a starving artist, that’s saying something, now isn’t it?

Submission Response Time: Less than twelve weeks. Query if you don’t get a response within that time.

How Winning a Writing Contest Can Improve a Writer’s Self-Esteem

Wonderful news, folks! You are officially reading the blog of the winner of Honorable Mention in the 2011 Writer’s Digest Young Adult Fiction Competition!* According to their congratulatory email, “competition was fierce,” so I’m super proud! While first and second place comes with fame (publication of their entry in Writer’s Digest) and fortune (they won some prize money), honorable mention certainly isn’t a shabby win!

Benefits from Winning Honorable Mention:

  1. One free copy of the 2012 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market
  2. Mentions/Promotion in the May/June 2012 issue of Writer’s Digest and on www.writersdigest.com
  3. Bragging rights in future cover letters
  4. Bragging rights in future query letters
  5. Total rejuvenation and inspiration to jump back into my NaNoWriMo novel

You see, the short YA story I submitted to the contest was an excerpt of my NaNoWriMo novel, Waterlogged.  I had already written the first three chapters of the novel for my senior undergraduate creative writing seminar last spring and decided to finish the rest of the book during November. It was the best writing I had on hand when the deadline for this contest rolled around so I also decided to submit an excerpt of that already revised/edited/reviewed beginning. And it won! This recognition makes me feel like the entire month of November wasn’t wasted, like my novel has some real potential and merit, and now I am pumped to start the year-long process of rewriting the entire hot mess that is my 56,000-word novel! And I’m even more pumped to have the polished manuscript ready for literary agent submissions so that I can insert this mention-worthy award in the query letter. I already feel like this book has a statistically-better chance of getting an agent!

New Year’s Resolution: Finish the entire manuscript and query it at least once before New Year’s 2012. Everybody hold me to this goal!

*Please excuse me while I jump about in unadulterated joy and excitement.