Turning over a new leaf

I’ve been done with most of my responsibilities since the 15th, but it’s taken me 5 days to recover and get back to business on here. We approved the final bluelines for The Pinch on the 15th, and it’ll be in stores around the country and in your mailboxes by mid-February.

Since The Pinch‘s Managing Editor position only lasts a semester, I am done, and I feel some sadness about that. It’s been an absolutely wonderful experience. I have learned so much about managing, editing, and writing, as well as submitting. I hope every writer has the chance, at some point, to work or read for a literary journal, and that EVERY potential MFA student chooses a school where they have a chance to work for a literary journal. It’s truly invaluable experience.

I’ve written here a lot about what I’ve learned about the submission process, but I’ll add some things:

-The Pinch receives a wealth of good poetry in its slush pile. Great poetry to choose from more often than not. Thus, poets really have the short end of the stick. A poem needs to really jump out to stand apart from the mass of good poetry we already get. I’m not necessarily talking about having an experimental form, but when an editor reads through tons and tons of submissions (and our genre editors definitely do), the poem needs to really hit him or her in the face with its interesting imagery, language, etc.  I imagine it’s like this for most journals that publish poetry, thus poets really have an uphill battle when it comes to getting published. The Pinch publishes a wide breadth of poetry, from form poems (we would love to publish more form poems, but form is hard, and most of the form poems we see either don’t make the form covert OR the poem’s just not interesting on its own) to more experimental poems. We publish maybe one very short poem with really sparse lines per issue, if that. Short, sparse poems usually seem too boiled down, and that’s not usually what we want. We accepted four prose poems for our Spring 2012 issue.

-We receive a lot of not-so-great fiction. It’s edgy, but doesn’t have any depth (weird, gratuitous sex for no other reason, for example). It’s a bathtub story (as in, a character is in a single, confined space for the entirety of the story and has little interaction with the outside world), which can sometimes be good, but usually is not. The story doesn’t have a clear sense of place. We don’t know enough about the characters to understand their motivations. The premise or situation is common and doesn’t add anything new (girlfriend/boyfriend cheats or wants to cheat). Since we don’t receive a lot of great fiction in the slush pile, we usually get a bulk of the fiction we publish from soliciting other authors, whether well-established or emerging. We solicit authors for all genres, but we wish we got more good fiction in our slush pile to choose from. We want to publish emerging authors.

In 5,000 words or less, we want fiction that has emotional depth, that really brings us into a character’s life for a moment. We want action. We want well-done flashbacks. We want to know these characters. Most people who read for a journal decide by the first or second page whether it will be a piece that they will keep reading. Editors apply this to the work we read because that’s how our readers read stories in our journal. If we aren’t interested or brought in by the first second or page, our readership probably won’t be either. The 6 people who read your submission will read it in its entirety, but if they aren’t interested by the first or second page, you’ve probably already lost ’em. Make your first 1-2 pages engaging and punchy. Get to the chase quickly. Start with some action. Editors don’t have time to follow you through your slow-paced story unless you earn it from the get-go, either with lovely language or good, clear action.

Our creative nonfiction slush pile is always small. Creative nonfiction writers really have the best chance of getting published, at least in our journal and most likely others, because you are competing against so few others. But we don’t get many pieces in our slushpile that we choose to publish. Most of the creative nonfiction I can remember us getting is memoir. Memoir needs to be situated in a larger context. None of us live in a vacuum, even if your mother died or your drug addiction spiraled out of control, you don’t live in a vacuum. You still have this greater world you interact with that SHOULD somehow be included in your piece. We don’t get many personal essays. We particularly like creative nonfiction that pushes at the genre. We published a piece that worked as a poetic interview in the Fall 2011 issue.

-When you send your work out, send out your best. Honestly. This doesn’t mean that you should agonize over a piece ad infinitum, but do a revision, even if it doesn’t seem perfect, at least one last time. Run it through the spellchecker. Have someone read over it for typos, glaring coherency problems. When genre editors read work, they are looking for reasons to reject it. It’s just the nature of our jobs. We read through SO MANY that we have to weed a lot before we finally settle on one we all like. Each piece for The Pinch is read by 6 different people. If one editor doesn’t like a submission, but the other 5 do, it’ll get published. You still want to eliminate silly reasons for your piece to get rejected like horrendous spelling errors, which make most editors twitch in pain. Things like that basically convey that you didn’t care enough to take the time to check over your work before submitting it. This is MOST important in fiction and creative nonfiction submissions.

-Be polite about sending your work. Follow submission guidelines. Nothing irks an editor more than when someone clearly hasn’t read the guidelines. One poet has sent us packets of 40 poems at a time multiple times in a reading period. That’s simply insane and completely disrespectful of us and the hard job we already have to do. We ask for a MAXIMUM of 5 poems at a time so we can give every poem the same level of attention. It’s not fair to anyone if someone rudely sends in 80 million poems. QUALITY, NOT QUANTITY. At The Pinch, the genre editors log all of the hard copy submissions and usually remember names because they’ve been with your work every step of the process (logging, reading, rejecting or accepting, etc.). If you over and over again choose not to follow the guidelines, the editors will notice and start to badmouth you. Your work may be splendid, but you don’t want an editor to dislike you, at any step of the process. Politeness always.

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