Literary Journals are a very controversial topic, for they are both the fondest ally and most sworn enemy to most aspiring writers. Thus, presenting the notion that “submitting to literary magazines is often a huge waste of time,” is naturally also very controversial. However, the boss man agreed to allow me to go there, with the condition that this article be limited to five curse words within 800-1200 words…when I've out cursed most buccaneers before breakfast.
Oh, the challenges we face every day.
Ironically, the moment before I sat down to write this, on this fine Saturday morning, alongside my breakfast of gin and gin which I slaved away for hours to make…what flew into my email with the grace of a rabies infected swan, but...! Alas, another rejection letter.
I opened up my Submittable and thumbed through all of my submissions in the past year:
Declined. Declined. Declined. Declined. Accepted. Declined. Declined. Declined.
What the hell is going on here? I thought to myself as I opened a thread of sites and digitally skimmed through their newest publications.
This? This made it? I write better than this…
Been there? Have you? Don’t worry, we all have. You can put down the veil of modesty and take the low road around the corner—no one’s here to judge you; you’re right. It’s fucked up. (There’s one.)
So, what you do with this kind of news depends on the type of person you are:
A. The Worry-ward: You pace around the room, re-reading their work, your work, picking the bones like a scavenger hyena in a naked winter. You email back and ask for feedback. You spend an hour of your life trying to figure out what you need to improve on, where you’ve gone wrong, where you can do better—where, why, where why?
B. The Narcissist: You redirect the email to the folder titled: ‘500 rejections till a party’, assure yourself that you’re the shit, people just haven’t figured it out yet, re-read your submissions, laugh because you’re the next Hemingway—decide to make waffles.
C. The Guy That Drinks Green Smoothies, Lives Next Door to Me and is Named Ben: You do something in between both of these—have you been through therapy? I bet you have. You healthy, decision maker you. You probably go to the gym four times a week, have had the same job for a year, are engaged to a girl named Sarah and have a degree in accounting don’t you? Yeah, you do!
Whatever you are, it matters not, for I have good news for you:
Most literary magazines are a waste of time.
No, seriously. They’re crap. The entire concept is outdated; there weren’t an abundance of writers trying to stick their hands in the publication jar back in the mid-1900’s and before, when more people actually spent a fair amount of time reading these journals. People didn’t have time for that submission, re-submission shit (there’s two). They had other things to do, like farming, working in factories to support their families on low wages, cutting sheep skin and taking it to the river to make fabric. Additionally, in the mid-1900s, the world was less populated; people did jobs that brought bread home and those money making jobs didn’t usually pertain to writing. Writing is, to be realistic, kind of an unstable career choice. It’s something you do because you love it and you are crazy. Not because you want to be the next Danny Tanner (but probably without the dead wife).
Modest literary magazines receive around 7,000 submissions annually; the bigger journals receive way beyond that. Just think about reading that many pieces, then filtering, then re-filtering, then re-filtering—even if you’ve got something amazing, it’s still likely to get filtered out, unless you’re famous or you know someone…
And that brings me to another point: Editors tend to favor who they know, promote who they know over who they don’t, and promote writers who they already know to have a following to build business over those who don’t. Where does this leave the other maybe 20 writer slots? That’s right, in the fucking dust. (We’re getting up there.)
There are grips of articles on the internet, also, on “How to Get Published” and “What You’re Doing Wrong.” Laced within these DIY’s for the literary media realm is the soul-crushing but repetitive phrase, “we’re open to a range of genres, but there’s a tone to our magazine, blah blah blah.” Translation: We aren’t open to new, creative, or experimental poetry; we live inside of a box and to get in this box you have to change who you are and how you write.” At this point, is it ever really your work that’s getting published? If you had to doll it up like some Stepford Wife drone in order for it to be noticed?
Didn’t think so.
And last but not least, there exists, one more very important question to take into consideration when you’re submitting your piece of wordsmithing in hopes of fortune and fame and a metal of literary honor beside the greats:
Do you subscribe to literary magazines? Seriously. Do you spend the extra money every month to read through them? I don’t personally have many colleagues that do, unless they’re filing through to figure out how to Stepford their work in order to submit to them.
In summation: Are there more literary magazines than there used to be? Yes. Does that mean a lessening subscriber base? Yes. Does that mean greater chances for publication? It depends on who you know and how many writers there are in the world interested in getting published
(A LOT). Are you better off self- publishing or making a word press or going for smaller presses to debut your work? Probably.
No matter what road you take, the truth of the matter is, rejection is NECESSARY in writing. It’s good to get out there and try—it’s all a part of the process and you’re going to have to be okay with it at some point. But it’s also helpful to realize that the rules of the literary games have changed, and the games doesn’t work quite like they used to; it’s like a chessboard missing its castles…but it doesn’t HAVE to be. You don’t have to be a submission junkie; you can decide on the path you’re going to take as a writer—and that’s the beauty of it? Isn’t it? Somewhere out there is a free willed world of sorts, where you’re allowed to bend and break and curse as much as you want. Speaking of which:
FUCK FUCK FUCK FUUUUCK. (Keeping count yet?)
–B. Dani West, Associate Editor of Thirty West and Master of Disguise
Endnote: Josh Dale is a great man, he smells of fine sandalwood and angel breath. His teeth are very ravishing and he’s a great writer and a terrific man. He might be president someday, because he’s such a great guy and would never do something like fire one of his editors over breaking her curse word limit or anything like that because he’s such a GOOD guy. I think he’s related to F. Scott Fitzgerald, in all honesty, he’s like a Fitzgerald, Mother Teresa, love child. Who cares for his editors like children and would NEVER, EVER fire them over cursing too much, EVER.