Friday, May 16, 2014

Guest Blogger Faye Rapoport DesPres on Submitting to Literary Journals

Faye Rapoport DesPres stops by today on her virtual book tour to discuss literary journal submissions. Don't miss her next stop on Monday at My Machberet. Read through to the end and learn how to enter to win a free copy of the book from Buddhapuss Ink!

Faye Rapoport DesPres is the author of the new memoir-in-essays titled Message from a Blue Jay (Buddhapuss Ink, May 2014). Faye was born in New York City and raised in upstate New York, and she has also lived in Colorado, England, and Israel. Her personal essays, fiction, poetry, reviews, and interviews have appeared in a variety of literary journals and magazines including Ascent, Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, Fourth Genre, Platte Valley Review, Superstition Review, and the Writer's Chronicle. Faye earned her MFA in Creative Writing from the Solstice Creative Writing Program at Pine Manor College.

Submitting to Literary Journals: Is it worth it?

By Faye Rapoport DesPres

My new book, Message from a Blue Jay, is a “memoir-in-essays.” In other words, the book is a collection of personal essays that have been edited and linked thematically to form a cohesive whole. Before I edited the work into a collection, however, a number of the chapters were published by literary journals as individual personal essays. Submitting to journals was often a painful process, but for me the effort was worth it. 

Submitting to literary journals requires time, hard work, and (for most of us) a seriously thick skin. It can take weeks (and money spent on a lot of sample copies) to figure out which journals might be interested in your work. You can spend hours reading writers’ guidelines, which are highly specific to each journal, and learning how to prepare and submit manuscripts (one journal, for example, might ask you to include your last name on every numbered page, while another might not want your name to appear anywhere on the manuscript). Once you’ve followed every guideline and sent out your work, perhaps the hardest part – waiting  – begins. The wait can be long – six months or more. And when the inevitable rejections arrive (most writers receive more rejections than acceptances) it can feel like you’ve been kicked in the stomach.

If you’ve never gone through this process, you might ask: Why bother?

The three years I spent submitting to literary journals before completing my manuscript were wholeheartedly worth the effort and the pain. For one thing, I found it easier to work on craft while shaping and completing shorter works. Basically, I needed practice—and submitting, revising, and re-submitting shorter essays greatly improved my writing. I also wanted to determine if literary editors would appreciate my work. I am being careful not to say that I wanted to know if the writing was “good,” because I have learned, over time, that acceptances and rejections don’t necessarily correlate with “good” and “bad.” Most literary journals publish only a small percentage of the thousands of submissions they receive; the editors have to turn away a lot of good work. Sometimes a piece might not get past an early reader for the most random of reasons: maybe the reader liked a different type of writing, was bleary-eyed at the end of an exhausting day, or had just read another essay mentioning birds in Bermuda. If you’ve submitted your best writing, have done your journals research, and are lucky enough to reach the right editor at the right journal on the right day, you have a better chance of landing an acceptance. But usually, as Michael Steinberg, the founding editor of Fourth Genre, often told me on my most despairing days, “The acceptances are just as irrational as the rejections.”

So yes, you need a thick skin to go through the process. You can’t let rejection prevent you from soldiering on, because being persistent (even if it takes months or years), improving your craft, and finally landing those acceptances can provide important boosts to your literary career:

·      Readers – Most of us write because we want to reach out to readers. It’s a great feeling when you know your work has an audience. You might even begin to build a “fan base,” especially if your work is published online. Readers might follow you on Twitter, “friend” you on Facebook, and express an interest in one day buying your book.
·      Quality – The process of submitting and re-submitting to journals often requires revision and subsequent improvement; as a result, the work will be stronger by the time it is published and/or you incorporate it into a manuscript.
·      Confidence – Many writers feel more confident about their work once they have some publications under their belts. That confidence can be invaluable when you begin a search for an agent and/or a publisher – a process that can be even more daunting than submitting to literary journals.
·      Networking – If you stay in touch with the editors who accept your work and continue to read and support their journals, they can become invaluable contacts, advisors, and even friends as you continue on your path toward a book publication.
·      Publishing Appeal Publishers take a big chance when they sign a book by a “new” writer. They might feel better about taking that leap if the writer’s work is published in literary journals. They might feel (rightly) that you’re a serious writer who has been working on your craft, and the fact that other editors published your work might help quell potential doubts. Finally, if publishers see that you already have a recognizable “name,” they might decide there is something to build on when it comes to marketing your book.

When I was seeking a publisher for Message from a Blue Jay, the fact that I had been published in a variety of journals helped crack open some doors. Some really wonderful editors had published my work, and that helped my case with potential book publishers. One of the journal editors even wrote a “blurb” about my work that I included in the cover letter with my manuscript.

Did having parts of the manuscript previously published ever hurt me? Yes, once. One editor at a university press liked the book but was concerned that too much of the manuscript was previously published. Even my agent was surprised at that response; no other publishers had a problem with this fact (although in the final manuscript, more unpublished work actually appears).

Is publishing in literary journals necessary? Of course not; no single path to “success” works for every writer. But if you’re a writer who is relatively new to the literary scene,  submitting shorter pieces in literary journals is a good option as you begin your journey as a writer. Submitting makes a statement:  “I’m here, I’m ready, and I’m going to keep at this for as long as it takes to reach my goals.”

Enter to win a free copy of Message from a Blue Jay:
This was the third stop on Faye Rapoport DesPres's Virtual Book Tour.
Don't miss the next stop on 5/19 at My Machberet!

The publisher is offering a personalized, signed copy of Message from a Blue Jay plus swag to the winner of their Virtual Tour Giveaway.
We invite you to leave a comment below to enter.
For more chances to enter, please visit the Buddhapuss Ink or Message from a Blue Jay Facebook pages and click on the Giveaway Tab!


Shasta said...

I really enjoyed this post! I'm in the process of submitting excerpts from my memoir manuscript to literary journals so this information is encouraging and helpful. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Very helpful information. I have a number of friends just starting out as writers who would benefit greatly from reading this post!

Unknown said...

I love hearing writers talk about their paths to success, because they're always different. Excellent read, thank you!

Amy Bucklin said...

This is a very helpful post. I appreciate both the author's personal experience as well as her insightful tips. Thanks for sharing!

melabee said...

Thanks so much for sharing your experiences. I found your personal insight into literary journals and publishing to be invaluable.

Chloe Yelena Miller said...

I agree - thanks to Faye for the great post! I'll be sure to reference this in future classes.