Submission Season #SLFAQ Recap
Submission season is upon us! With so many magazines opening for submissions, we recently held one an #SLFAQ Twitter chat to answer your burning submission and writing questions. Members of the Split Lip team were joined by some of the the wonderful editors from our Real World series: Tyler Barton of Fear No Lit, our friends at CHEAP POP, Dorothy Chan of The Southeast Review, Robert James Russell from Midwestern Gothic, Lynsey Morandin from the Hypertrophic Press team, and Carlotta Eden at Synaesthesia Magazine.
You can view the full chat -- and all the wonderful conversations it sparked -- here. And below, you can find a recap:
Among rejections, do you see more fiction that’d be better as flash or flash that’d be better longer?
Maureen Langloss: I see stories that feel too long or too short every time I sit down to read subs. Some stories are smushed into clothes that don’t fit. Others wear pants that are too baggy. Choosing the form—micro/flash/short story—is a pivotal decision. Form must match content to work.
Kaitlyn Andrews-Rice: Yes! A frequent comment I leave on a sub is THIS IS A STORY NOT A FLASH. (And I say this as a writer who tries to write flash and always ends up writing a story)
Carlotta Eden: So often we think "man I wish they'd cut this a page or two ago". But if we see that & we feel it'll work w the edit, we'll suggest it! More often than not, we vibe with the writer and it works
Anna Vangala Jones: We’ve definitely seen it go the other way, too, that if a piece were to be condensed and tightened, it would work so much more successfully in the flash form than when it’s missing what we’re expecting to see when we sit down to read a short story.
Michele Finn Johnson: I totally agree, @MaureenLangloss. It seems to go both ways. That said, I do seem to see quite a few short stories that start on page 4 or higher.
Kaitlyn Andrews-Rice: 100%! The flip side is that often the short stories we see should be shorter, by 100-300 words.
Maureen Langloss: This may be controversial, but I think all story writers should work in micro, flash, & 5000+ word stories. Go back & forth between them. Don’t settle into just one form. It will allow you to have better instincts for which length is right when.
Robert James Russell: More fiction that needs to be cut. Without a doubt. I have maybe never wished for a piece to be longer, or very rarely, anyway. One thing I see consistently is we don't know when to edit down our own work. And in fairness: THAT IS TOUGH. But my goodness: I'd rather have a piece leave me wanting more, playing it out in my mind, 9 times out of 10, rather than have it go on too long, dictating too much in the end.
Tyler Barton: What everyone else said. I'll add this: A useful experiment is taking a long story of yours that seems broken and seeing if you can rewrite the whole concept/plot/idea in 500 or 1,000 words. This has worked for me many times.
CHEAP POP: As a flash-only journal, we def get a lot of pieces that are lovely, but feel too compressed. Flash is GREAT (obvi we’re big fans), but sometimes a story begs for a little more room.
Hypertrophic Press: I’d say that the majority of stuff we get feels like it’s at the right length, but there are definitely pieces that could benefit from cutting some fluff. The ones that I want more from are typically at a good length already but I’m just greedy.
Synaesthesia Magazine: I would say, always, make it shorter. I can't tell you the amount of flash we've read where we've all agreed: CUT THE LAST LINE / PARAGRAPH
How does being an editor affect your own writing/submitting process?
Kaitlyn Andrews-Rice: Being an editor means I know to submit infrequently with a serious submission plan, reading the mags, understanding what they're up to. Fit is one of the most important things for an acceptance and we see so many subs at SL that simply don't match our aesthetic.
Michele Finn Johnson: Considering Fit—so much better than shooting a million arrows into the dark night!
Anna Vangala Jones: Yes! Feels like way too often we’re saying, “I really enjoyed the writing, but it’s not a very voice-driven story” or “it’s lacking that Split Lip edge or pop culture twist.” That’s not to say all stories should be the same! But some fit with our aesthetic is kind of a must.
Maureen Langloss: Being an editor has brought more joy to my own writing. Working with other writers to improve their stories, becoming enthralled by their words, & seeing authors so engaged and even joyful in the editing process makes me feel that what we do has meaning. That words matter. Basically I’m now a happier writer with way less time to write.
Robert James Russell: I mean the number of subs we get at MG is A LOT, so when I'm in the throes of submissions...actual time to write is a premium, yes, but when my brain gets inspired by good writing, it's hard to stop it. I probably write more--maybe not finish, but start--during submitting processes than any other time tbh. But editing an issue, reading subs, comes first. Period. It has to. So mostly, I start stories, write down ideas, then get back to work and finish em up later on. b/c let's be real: putting an issue together of ANY size is a monumental task. Full stop.
CHEAP POP: I (Hannah) make sure I’m following submission guidelines. Those are important. I also make sure to thank the editors, because I know how hard they’re working!
Michele Finn Johnson: Gosh, I’ve only been with @splitlipthemag as asst fic ed for a month, but I’ve actually slowed my submitting and upped my editing as a direct result! Making sure I get the early paragraphs as spot-on as I can. It’s so freaking important.
Anna Vangala Jones: Editing fiction for two mags has definitely slowed down my own submitting, but for the better. It makes such a difference to know what it’s like for the person reading your work on the other side of the table. Has made me more thoughtful, patient, & intentional with my own work.
Dorothy Chan: It makes me even more intense. Something I love about being an Editor-in-chief and being a poet is that the two are linked. For instance, if I'm helping my poetry team w/ submissions & scrutinizing every last line , then I transfer that kind of critical lens to my own work. Also, being active with The Southeast Review makes me even more aware of all kinds of lit mags. And I love all kinds of lit mags. It gives me no excuse to not jump in there and submit my own work.
Tyler Barton: It has certainly trained me to slow down a bit and not worry about sending something out the second I'm excited about it. (Though, I will admit I still do this every once in awhile, especially if I think the peice is perfect for a certain mag that I love that is open atm)
Hypertrophic Press: Oh man. I (Lynsey) don’t write nearly as much anymore just because running your own mag takes so much time! I often get very inspired by reading other people’s work, but then never sit down to write my own.
Amy Rossi: One thing that's changed is how little attention I pay to submittable now! In progress means so many things.
Robert James Russell: YES! I feel like it's just something I vaguely remember to check every great once in a while. And I'm...very okay with that?
Kaitlyn Andrews-Rice: OH YES. This is the biggest FYI. In-progress simply means your submission was assigned to someone. It doesn't mean it's being read or that a decision is imminent. Sometimes we can read the sub without assigning it. We read every sub, no matter what you see in Submittable.
Do you consider diversity when compiling an issue, and if so, what kind of diversity are you looking to cultivate, and if not, why not?
Kaitlyn Andrews-Rice: This is a huge part of the editorial convo @splitlipthemag and we don't make editorial decisions in a vacuum. We use a digital workspace (slack) to ensure we can make editorial decisions together, taking into consideration the overall diversity of our issues.
CHEAP POP: same with us - the five of us (@robhollywood, @schmuhlface, @_hannahnicole, @migdalorr, & @DustinPetzold) make all editorial decisions together.
Tyler Barton: diversity of all stripes has been important to @FEAR_NO_LIT in the series we host, the people we feature, and even at the events we put on. One type of writer diversity we've been focusing on a lot lately are writers with backgrounds/jobs/positions outside of academia.
Kaitlyn Andrews-Rice: Yes, yes, yes. Age is another thing I feel like goes unnoticed when reading subs (but shouldn't). We've published everyone from retirees and high school students. Our print issue will have work from several undergrads.
Dorothy Chan: 100% intersectionality all the way. As EIC, that's one of my major goals.
Hypertrophic Press: We definitely try to, and typically it works out really well without us having to do too much ourselves. In our recent issue we had contributors from India, Canada, Australia, etc. and we love that! I think it’s very important to represent all voices & we can always be doing more
CHEAP POP: ^ agree. Diversity is definitely important to us, and it’s something we’re conscious of when accepting pieces. We want to do our best to represent a bunch of different backgrounds and stories.
Hypertrophic Press: One of the reasons we started the magazine was to try and give a voice to more people than we saw being represented. We publish people of all ages, races, education levels, sexualities, etc. and I think it makes a magazine better/more interesting to include all those perspectives.
Synaesthesia Magazine: Yes, we try to look outside of our selves, what perspectives could we have on this theme that isn't our OWN, that isn't something familiar that we already know we love? We want words and art from all diff cultures in the world.
What’s the deciding factor between an acceptance versus a positive rejection?
Amy Rossi: or me, if it's really close, it's often if the story is doing anything new or attempting something fresh. the writing can be strong but it feels like a lot of other flash or veers into the safe choice, I'll vote positive rejection
Robert James Russell: Oh goodness. Sometimes its intangible, just the (eventually) accepted story lingering more than the other. If we have pieces (at MG) that are similar thematically or with settings or plot, we will look at them both side by side: which is the one that we really couldn't live without? Which is the one we GUSHED about. Sometimes it's only a piece that sets it a part, but that's enough.
CHEAP POP: THIS IS HARD! Sometimes, we love a story, but it just isn’t ready yet. It sucks, but we’re also sure to reject it kindly so that the writer knows there’s something there. Other times, one editor loves a piece, and others don’t. But we’re always sure to hear them out & revisit. Sometimes, our editors REALLY go to bat for certain pieces.
Anna Vangala Jones: Yes, it’s funny that when we’re submitters, we want our work back fast! But when I’m editing, it’s the stories that I give the most time, attention, rereads, thought, & discussion with the other editors that I’m seriously considering. That’s a tough disconnect to accept, I think.
Dorothy Chan: What I call the "X factor." Besides being polished on the page and of course free of grammatical errors, does it push me over the edge? Do I learn something new? Is it something I've never seen before? Does it just have that QUIRK I cannot live without?
Kaitlyn Andrews-Rice: 1. Do we have something similar coming up? 2. Do we think we could reasonably request edits? Maybe our vision is too big and would require too much of the author, in which case we ask for more. 3. Have we ever seen it before? Does it use voice in an interesting way?
Maureen Langloss: It’s often time. Does the story get better each time I read it? Do I still love it a week later? Do I find myself thinking about it a few days after the 1st or 2nd read? Does everyone on the team love it? Does @thelegitKAR love it? I want us all to be excited to pub.
Hypertrophic Press: It’s a shitty answer but honestly I think it comes down a lot to your gut. Sometimes you just FEEL an acceptance or a rejection. But our acceptances are usually so strong that we respond in all caps and w/ a ton of emojis, so that makes it obvious to us that we can’t live w/o it. We also have to take into account what other content we have in that issue and whether the piece fits alongside all that. Sometimes we will accept a piece for a future issue instead of the current issue, & other times you can just tell the writer is SO close b not quite there.
Synaesthesia Magazine: Acceptances are usually immediate for yes, we have to feel that in our bones. But we've had LOTS of pieces where we see something we love but it's. Not. Quite. There. In which case, an encouraging (positive) rejection. We'll try to share our reasons for declining.
Are there themes that stick out in submissions more than others? Do you ever get stories you’re just sick of getting? If so, what kinds?
Anna Vangala Jones: This is why I think voice and specificity are so important to a piece. It’s hard trying to write something no one has before! And often doesn’t work when that’s the writer’s only goal. What makes it fresh and maybe more importantly, what makes it yours? What brings it to life?
Michele Finn Johnson: Exactly, Anna. I mean, I always think about music--if songwriters can write about love in a zillion different ways, consistently, surely we prose writers can come up with a few new fresh approaches. And writers do. All the time. And it's so awesome to read and cheer for!
Kaitlyn Andrews-Rice: I say this every #SLFAQ but overtly political work (that is mostly just a satirical thing without any real story) or stories about dead children. But this is not to say you shouldn't write about these things! Write about whatever you want. It's just a matter of: is this piece doing something new with material we see frequently?
CHEAP POP: Hmm... stories about unhappy relationships/marriages seem to be REALLY popular.
Maureen Langloss: Dating stories. Stories in bars. These are omnipresent & can be wonderful! But we see A LOT of them.
Tyler Barton: hospital stories are really tough. I'm not saying don't write it if you feel it, but it's like you're giving yourself an even higher mountain to climb. Especially if it's a twentysomething meditating on a dying grandparent.
Hypertrophic Press: If we get something that isn’t about love/lost love/longing for someone, etc. it immediately sticks out bc everything seems to be about relationships. There are tons of people who write about relationships in fresh ways, but it’s always refreshing to read something not about love. One of the stories I still think about was called Cakerson Inc from our Summer 2015 (?) issue and it was about a guy who goes to work for a company that’s just really fucking weird. And I still think about it because it felt different in theme/tone.
Carlotta Eden: but do it in a way that's DIFFERENT. I tend to not enjoy cancer/hospital stories, diary-style or stories broken up into dates/time: "APRIL 5TH 1998 2.30pm." I would also add I've read so much flash recently that forgets the importance of story/plot. It's not just a pretty picture in 300 words. WHAT AM I READING / WHY SHOULD I READ?
What strategies (aside from tweeting!) have you used to spread the word about your issues & gain more readers?
Amy Rossi: this is something we think about a lot! the Split Lip newsletter is an strategy to stay in touch with submitters and readers who might not be on social media and let them knew a new issue is out
Kaitlyn Andrews-Rice: Having a full social media strategy where you utilize different apps for different purposes (rather than sharing the same thing everywhere). Consistency of using social media. Engaging with your audience. We recently started reaching out to MFA programs to share info.
Dorothy Chan: On another note, this summer, SER launched SER TWO ("This Week Online"), our online companion to the print journal. We published several poems by poets that are in our print journal out now (36.2). It's great to think about how the online and print spaces can work together.
Kaitlyn Andrews-Rice: I love this! It's so important to have a strategy of how to promote print since sometimes writers publishing in print don't get the kind of publicity an online pub can bring.
Dorothy Chan: Exactly! So if you can somehow merge your print and online spaces to make both unique but work together, I think that's the ultimate goal.
Maureen Langloss: I think reading the work of other magazines & sharing it helps bring our whole community together. Sometimes spreading the word is really about community building generally—not about promoting a single issue or story. Also, I tell my mom & kids about Split Lip all the time. This is really widening our circle because I have a chatty family.
Hypertrophic Press: Twitter has definitely been the biggest for us in terms of spreading the word, but we also try to attend as many local literary events as we can and just meet other writers/editors. We also teach classes and just generally try to interact with those in the community.
Carlotta Eden: Newsletters + we try to contact publications or PR that we've worked w in the past, to let them know. We like to build social connections to spread the word! In comes MARKETING FOR THE LIT MAG AGE
What are you reading right now that you LOVE, editors?
Dorthy Chan: I'm crazy about all the writers coming up in The Southeast Review's 30-Day Writer's Regimen: Timothy Liu, Sam Herschel Wein, Kao Kalia Yang, and Ching-In Chen.
Maureen Langloss: The new Paris Review edited by @EmilyNemens. Love War Stories by @IvelisseWrites. Denis Johnson’s The Largesse of the Sea Maiden. #Middlemarch (Just finished! Took ALL summer!) Up next: Pachinko.
Anna Vangala Jones: Recently finished Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body And Other Parties & Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. Reading & loving Pachinko.
Robert James Russell: James Baldwin's The Devil Finds Work. Discovered it by accident looking for #WiP research, but I am ENAMORED. I can't stop reading it—like, RE-reading it. Oof, I'm in love.
CHEAP POP: Just finished @rokwon’s THE INCENDIARIES & am currently listening to FATES AND FURIES by @legroff. Plus, a new issue of @HypertrophicLit came out today. Lotsa good stuff
Hypertrophic Press: Too kind! I second Fates and Furies too - definitely a fave and one I recommend constantly.
Kaitlyn Andrews-Rice: The Dud Avocado and the short story "Nashville" from @southern_review's (amazing) Summer 2018 issue
Michele Finn Johnson: I'm so behind, just started Springsteen's memoir Born to Run and am impressed--that man can write prose (duh).
Hypertrophic Press: Just finished Lauren Groff’s collection Florida and have Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties lined up next.
Carlotta Eden: I just finished MY ABSOLUTE DARLING by Gabriel Tallent which was my fav book this year. And PISCES by @sosadtoday. Both exceptional books that kept me awake at night. For Book Club I'm reading Why I'm No Longer Talking To White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge abt black British history that I don't even know half of, it's such an important book.
What’s your best advice for getting an acceptance?
Robert James Russell: Goodness. I mean, you HAVE to know the publication. Don't just submit a piece you love to every journal on your list. I know that can be the temptation, but it has to FIT. It may be a well-written piece, but not a good fit for us.
CHEAP POP: Edit, edit, edit. Write a story YOU’RE proud of. Put your heart into it. At the end of the day, you can’t account for other people’s taste, but if you write something that YOU love, it’ll show.
Dorothy Chan: Don't try to be like anyone else. Don't try to mimic poems that you've seen accepted -- be yourself, be original. Write what makes you unique to the best of your ability and push yourself to make it go that extra mile. Don't think of it as a formula
Hypertrophic Press: ACTUALLY READ THE MAGAZINE YOU ARE SUBMITTING TO. Also, please read their guidelines - and follow them! Knowing where your work actually fits is so much of the battle. If you have a good sense of what the magazine publishes then you’ll also have a good sense of your chances at getting picked up there.
Carlotta Eden: SO many good answers, I'm not sure what more I can add! But ok: IT MATTERS SO MUCH THAT YOU KNOW WHAT MAG YOU'RE SUBMITTING TO. If it's not right, we know off the bat, and it's an immediate decline. Don't do that to yourself!
Kaitlyn Andrews-Rice: Revise, edit, revise, edit! Several times. Three more times than you think. Proofreading is not revision. Don't send out your work until you're so unbelievably sick of it, until you cannot possibly edit one more word. Follow the guidelines. Keep the faith. You've got this.