At LitFest: What Writers Must Know When Submitting

LitFest at the Lighthouse Writers Workshop
LitFest at the Lighthouse Writers Workshop

Yesterday at LitFest, I had the pleasure of participating
in the panel “Five Things Writers Absolutely Must Know: Literary Editors Tell All” on behalf of Denver Quarterly. Stephanie G’Schwind (Colorado Review), Sophie Beck
(The Normal School) and I discussed tips and strategies for successfully submitting to literary journals. I shared my experiences as an editor and as a fellow writer.
Here are some of the highlights:

Regarding “good” literary journals.
How are we defining “good?” Do we mean the number
of major authors in each issue, the amount of Pushcart Prizes or Best American selections? If this is the case, then, sure, being in The New Yorker or Ploughshares
will help your CV. Having one of these establishment
print journals might help your query letter stand out
to an agent. But, beyond this, I think “good” should be defined by where the most exciting work is being published. And it should be you, the reader, who determines this. What journals excite you and inspire you to write more? I think those are
the “good” journals.

Regarding how to know if your work is “ready.”
Don’t submit your work immediately after completion because you are going to need two things to determine if your work is ready to submit: time and other people. Establish a period of time that you won’t look at a completed draft after it is written. Two weeks seems to be a fair amount of time. And when you re-read it, does it still excite you? Do you still find it interesting? If yes, then you are ready to move on to the second thing you are going to need. Get in touch with other people in your community and read your work to them for their input. This works best if these people aren’t family or close friends. Having an objective peer will help you see your work as strangers would or see something in it that may necessitate more attention. If your “other people” are as enthusiastic as you are, then submit away.

Regarding some journals that excite me / that you should know about.
Sometimes I like to spend more time with a writer’s work than just one or two poems. The Seattle Review and Verse publish long poems and portfolios, respectively, and offer a deeper reading experience where you can see how themes and ideas develop over more material. It can be very refreshing. Meanwhile, The Offending Adam publishes work with introductions from the editors. This offers an interaction among contributor, editor and reader that’s fantastic. For fiction folks, A Public Space has started to offer Emerging Writer Fellowships, which include publication, mentorship and a stipend. They also publish incredible work every issue. Lastly, I am a huge fan of Chicago Review. I didn’t mention this yesterday, but I am. Handsomely designed and printed, editors there highlight the best in American letters that often leave me in awe. There’s no other journal like it.