Submissions, Part 1

Table of Contents

I’m doing some reorganizing of my office studio this month — so I’m chucking out a lot of paper in the process. A lot of what’s going made its way into the office after the 2006 AWP conference, held in Austin. Much of the departing paper was printed to inspire submissions of more paper.

Imagine a space the size of two football fields, side by side, lined with 10-foot-long tables, each representing a small press or smaller lit journal. Each has a stack of books or issues to sell. Sycamore Review was one of those. I scraped up the details on the twice-a-year fiction and poetry journal that prints just 1,000 copies for each issue. It’s pretty typical of the lit mag submission dance.

Sycamore has an eye toward what it calls “stories that have a ring of truth, the impact of felt emotion.” Its entry in the 2008 Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market uses the word “emotion” several times. You can offer up your writing to the publication only by printing paper and mailing it, but at least the Sycamore staff has let go of the No Simultaneous Submissions commandment.

They have an annual contest, the Wabash Prize, which accepts fiction entries until March, and Poetry entries in the fall. Don’t forget to send along your $10 reading fee. (By the way, some lit mags don’t charge a submission fee, like Farfelu here in Austin.)

They also want “fiction that breaks new ground.” On the pub’s Web page, the sample story Exposure begins thusly:

Wednesdays and Saturdays are my days off at the pharmacy, but Saturdays my wife is off too, so I do my flashing on Wednesday afternoons.

Edgy, as they like to say in Hollywood (a place where not much writing is going on for TV, since the writer’s strike remains unsettled. But I digress). Exposure was also this year’s Wabash winner. The Sycamore editors read until March 31, and they just put an issue to press this month, so they’re reading for their first 2008 issue. You can submit to

Sycamore Review
Purdue University
Department of English
500 Oval Drive
West Lafayette, IN 47907

And if you wonder why Sycamore Review, like most literary magazines, demands the paper on ink plus stamp and envelope ritual, the answer is: they’re a little magazine, with old computers, and they read paper. Oh, and taking the trouble to submit through the mails, um, that’s part of the weeding-out process. It eliminates the riff-raff, according to the world as one editor described it during 2006.

There’s something about having to actually print out submissions, write a cover letter, get stamps, and go to mailboxes that weeds out the dilettantes. With emailed submissions, every high school student whose creative writing teacher praises him would be sending submissions. (I’ve seen this happen, the hordes of emails not hardly worth reading…But I’m not knocking high school students, creative writing teachers, or you in any way.) You can’t just walk onto American Idol—they have a screening process. Similarly, you can’t just write your way into Sycamore Review—there’s a built-in screening process called “submitting” that allowing emailed submissions takes away.

Computer budgets and tiny staff aside, the handsome postcard at the top of this entry is part of the Sycamore Review budget, one of several hundred printed for the AWP show. Paper for the journal issues is even more dear, apparently: there’s only enough pages for five stories and eight poems in the most current issue. The good news? There are thousands more publications out there to send your paper to, including a $10 check. A couple of football fields full of them.

But a lit mag with two issues per year, payment of two copies to successful contributors, and a yearly contest with a $1,000 first prize? That’s about what you can expect. Do the math. $200 a year will get your five of your stories considered by four journals. Or you could spend the money on a good editing job for a novel. That kind of work sells here in Austin for about $800 for a novel.

But that’s another kind of submission, one that puts you on your way to being in print.

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