An Online Panel on Literary Journals (Part 2 of 4): In Thee Candled Operahouse with Blood for Flames (Penance ex genesis)

by Salvatore Pane

Last week, I began an online discussion about literary journals. We continue this week with commentary from Robert Yune, a writer living in Pittsburgh. Some of his past jobs include factory worker, construction worker, landscaper, online banking representative, behavioral health interviewer, and teaching assistant.

In 2008, he earned an MFA from the University of Pittsburgh and received a full tuition minority scholarship to the advanced fiction workshop at the New York State Summer Writers Institute. In 2009, he received one of nine fiction writing fellowships through the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and published a story in Green Mountains Review.

He is currently seeking representation for his first novel, Eighty Days of Sunlight.

From Robert:

“Recently, I’ve been using a combination of Newpages and Duotrope to find literary journals. I’m careful about who I send to. It’s surprising how many seem professional until you click on the ‘about us’ or ‘staff’ page. I take my writing seriously and don’t want my work published on a website whose ‘about us’ page contains the phrases ‘fun-kay scribblings,’ ‘bLeEding SOuL’ or ‘Send us your best cat haikus!!!!!!!!!’ I have nothing against journals whose staff pages pictures are all dancing monkeys, but they’re just not for me.

Beyond personal preference, some literary agents read literary journals and contact writers. This is another reason I submit to professional journals–I’m not sure how many agents read Cat Haiku Literary Journal. But now that I think about it, writing a cat haiku actually sounds like fun.

I work in bursts and tend to send out dozens of stories over the course of one or two days. For me, it takes a certain mindset to send work out: SASE, manila envelope, email or submission manager, put _____ in the subject line, do/do not put your name on all ms. pages, attach international reply coupons for foreign journals, etc. For me, it’s simply faster to get into a submission mindset, send out stories, and return to a writing state of mind.

I’ve noticed that many literary magazines have specific submission guidelines, for example, ‘Put your name and the word “Fic Submission” in the subject line of your email submission’ or ‘Please use claspless manila envelopes.’ While these guidelines surely have practical reasons (‘Fic Submission’ subject lines make it easier to identify submissions, clasped envelopes jam mail slots), they’re also the fastest way for editors to determine how competent a writer is. From an artist’s perspective, everything about the submission process should generate the reader’s goodwill, from the cover letter to the manuscript’s layout. Taking care to follow specific directions is probably one of the most overlooked parts of the process.

I imagine many of you are MFA candidates. My best advice is to volunteer to work for a literary journal. I worked as a reader for Hot Metal Bridge and the experience was invaluable. I quickly learned countless things not to do when submitting. As someone with a deep love and respect for the craft of fiction, imagine how I felt when I received a story with a title like ‘In Thee Candled Operahouse with Blood for Flames (Penance ex genesis)’ by vampyrepoet32@comcast net. Imagine how I felt when I received a story whose title was misspelled, and not on purpose. Also, it’s really useful (and healthy, somehow, for a writer) to understand the debates and timelines behind the editorial process.

I should also mention that we, as writers, need to support literary magazines. Even subscribing to just one literary magazine a year (which costs like $20) makes a difference. A lot of colleges are looking to make budget cuts, and many are scrutinizing their MFA program-sponsored litmags. It’s easier to justify cutting a litmag with 300 subscriptions than one with 5,000.

On a very primitive level, the primary reason to purchase subscriptions is simple self-interest. If a literary magazine (especially one you got published in) runs out of money and closes, the value of your publication dwindles into nothingness. The opposite is true: the more subscriptions (and money, and resources) a litmag has, the better your publication looks. I realize how obvious and ugly this argument is, and I apologize for making it. But in terms of simple numbers, a mid-sized litmag might have 15 staff members reading 20,000 submissions a year and only 2,000 subscriptions–this kind of budgetary imbalance is simply not sustainable.

I’ve worked as a volunteer reader for a litmag and spent months searching through literally thousands of submissions to find that that one astonishing, beautiful, or devastating story. And I did my best to argue for that story during editorial meetings, I did my best to promote that story by recommending it to friends, family, and students after we published it. Literary magazines do a lot of boring, grinding, behind-the-scenes work to support writers.

I’ve always believed that good writing will find a home. Sometimes, it just takes longer than expected. I hope this helps.”

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