You’ve taken the plunge– polished your words like a finely honed piece of bone, printed out a clean copy to stuff into an envelope, or taken that breath and hit the “upload” button. And now the waiting game begins. Months pass with no word, and you wonder what’s happening with the poem, short story or play you’ve sent off with such good faith. Was it right for the publications? Is it being read with the care it deserves? Is it languishing on someone’s floor like a lost pet, or worse, tossed into a recycling bin? You wait, you fret, you wait, and in some cases, even forget that you’ve submitted in the first place.
When word finally comes and your surrogate child has been accepted, much joy and gratification follows. But if your piece was not suited to what the editors were looking for, more confusion and fretting can be the result. Like most of the writers who submit to us, many members of echolocation‘s editorial board are writers themselves. The arduous waiting game is familiar to us as well, and the letters declining work just as painful (does it ever get less so? even veteran writers respond, “hell no”.)
So in order to make the process less mysterious, we’ve asked two of our editorial board members some questions about what they’re looking for. Andy Vatiliotou and Aerin Fogel were both writers who appeared in Issue 11 of echolocation, who later became invested in the magazine and volunteered their time to read the thousands of pages of submissions (we’re not exaggerating). You may remember them from our issue launch last fall. Their forthcoming responses are after the jump.
Finally, it’s important to remember that like most small magazines in Canada with a circulation of less than 5000, echolocation is completely volunteer-run. This means we are juggling production and editorial meetings around the lives of very busy graduate students. The editorial board is assigned submissions via the online submissions manager, where they can leave comments and vote privately. They meet weekly to discuss the pieces at length, often having to fight for the pieces they love, or to justify their critical comments. It’s a time-consuming undertaking, one made longer due to our own success in marketing our submissions call this year, but also jolly and interesting.
At the same time, as Michael Lista summed up in his truculent article for the National Post on why literary magazines should fold, there is supply-demand imbalance when it comes to literary magazines. While MFA in creative writing programs and many excellent community writing groups are turning out reams of compelling fiction, poetry, plays and everything in between, literary magazines are struggling for readers.
This imbalance may be the subject for another post, however, it’s worth asserting that if you are submitting your work to magazines, you should be subscribing to them. Not only would you be supporting the very industry you hope yourself to make a living from, but you’d be familiarizing yourself with the journal’s tone and identity, and ensuring that your work has a better chance of being accepted. If you can’t afford to order magazines, email your local library and see if they’d be willing to acquire us, or visit your local independent bookstore to request it, so at the very least you can browse it. Not becoming familiar with a magazine before you submit is like investing in a company without seeing its annual report. Like planting seeds without investigating what growing season you’re in. Like giving blood before… you get the idea.
1. What made you decide to become a volunteer reader for echolocation’s editorial board?
A: Understanding what makes a piece tick is important as both an editor and an author. It’s a pleasure to look at so many submissions and begin to understand why some hit home over others, in order to understand the same in my own writing.
A: I like seeing how others put the words together to make the sentences. Sometimes (oftentimes), when the sentences are strung together to make the stories, the stories are bad, but when they are good—huzzah! Also, I heard there would be baked goods.
2. What has surprised you most about reading submissions? (i.e. what have you learnt?)
A: Good writing really comes down to meticulous editing, scrutiny, and a giant serving of chance.
A: Good writers can make the dull exciting; bad writers make the exciting dull.
3. What do you look for in a winning, publishable piece of writing?
A: I look for convincing character(s), within a compelling conflict or situation. From poetry, I appreciate an unexpected turn of expression; from prose, an unexpected, but crucial/thoughtful plot development. In either case, I’m drawn to work that uses adept language, not to be confused with using elaborate, eight-syllable words. The diction should be strong, but clean, readable and accessible. Finally, the work should be revised and polished, without (unintended) spelling or grammatical errors.
A: Primarily I deal in the strange. If the plot and characters are ordinary, I often never make it to the end. I can tell if a piece has been passed off after its first draft. Even the most colorful, coherent stories need a few gos, and a winning story to me is one that has been re-crafted a couple times for a more interesting structure and tight logical corners.
4. What is the “deal breaker”, i.e topic, tone, language that kills the mood or is an automatic “no” for you?
A: Please refrain from using language akin to a Gothic novel or a Romantic poem. The Brontes and the Wordsworths were successful, in part, because their work spoke to the readers of their day—write for the readers of your day. Please avoid characters that seem to exist in the present, without a past that informs who they are, or a future for which they are destined. Real people respond to the world around them, equipped with fears and desires. Most importantly, please ensure you have a plot. The only thing worse than killing the mood is having no mood to kill in the first place. Ensure your story has some sort of situation, event or conflict that needs to be evaluated/resolved. A character, alone with his/her thoughts, is deadly. A story needs action and reaction. (FYI—arriving at a neatly-packaged resolution is not necessarily a prerequisite)
5. What kind of issue do you think issue 12 is shaping up to be?
A: Controversial and sexy.
A: Energetic and humorous. Like a clown running down the boardwalk in last night’s makeup high on gummi bears and hiding his sorrows beneath a very nice wig.
Thanks Aerin and Andy for your responses!