poetry, publishing, Uncategorized, writers, writing

The Merits of “Submitting Small”

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Not too long ago, someone told me to quit submitting my work to small journals. “I’ve never even heard of half of these,” he lamented. “Your work deserves to be in bigger places — you know, like The New Yorker or something.”

Don’t get me wrong: I’m among the great morass of writers submitting their poetry to The New Yorker every year. It’s almost like a custom of sorts. I send something, and six months later, I get their standard rejection. C’est la vie.

But to completely abandon the small, independent magazines to exclusively focus on getting published in “major” venues would be both foolhardy and counterproductive. Small journals have, for decades, provided my work with a home that has become gratifying in different ways.

One of the greatest rewards of “submitting small” occurs when that tiny publication really takes off. Take, for example, Deep South magazine. Erin Z. Bass, who has become a friend of mine, started this little venture years ago when I was still getting my feet wet in the literary realm. She published some of my fledgling work, and since that time, she’s provided a home for some of my more mature poems as well. It’s been great to see how her magazine has thrived, covering food, culture, literature, and the broad array of¬† southern life topics. With pride, I tell people I’ve been published there. Had I kept my work for some “bigger” magazine, I never would have been part of this success story.

Smaller journals also nominate for awards. Not that big publications don’t, mind you, but more often than not, I’ve found my work gets nominated for prizes when it’s been published in little places. These journals’ editors appreciate the well-crafted line, the strong image, and the dexterity of wordplay. As a result, they will often nominate work exhibiting these qualities for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and other recognition. I’ve always enjoyed the potential of having my work nominated unexpectedly. It’s a pleasant surprise and one of the perks of doing this work.

Finally, the literary community only works when we all pull together. What if everyone strictly contributed to mega-zines? The little voices that are so necessary to a civilized and well-read society would dry up, and we would all be forced to consume the standard tastes of a select few big shots. Boring! The little journals ensure that the broadest diversity of voices is presented. Let’s face it: Not everyone is going to love poems about rural life, generational customs, and historic landmarks, and yet this is what much of my work addresses. Without the small mags, these creations would remain safely tucked away inside my laptop. But instead, there are editors out there who recognize value in a breadth of experiences: urban, suburban, and yes, rural.

I will continue submitting my work to the up-and-coming journals. They do good things. Certainly, I’ll take my shot with the “name brand” magazines as well — it’s part of being a writer. But don’t expect me to withhold good work from a place just because it’s not as lauded as the monolith publications. If we’re eager to hear from a wide variety of experiences, the small magazine must thrive. And it’s up to writers to help it do exactly that.

life, poetry, publishing, Uncategorized, writers, writing

No “Formula” for Winning Writing Contests

In the Christmases of my youth, my dear (now deceased) Aunt Martha always bought me a yearly subscription to a very popular writing magazine. Novice scribblers religiously scoured its pages for insights to getting published, receiving recognition, and of course, winning those all-important writing competitions. Article titles included such enticements as: “10 Secrets to Crafting a Contest Winner” and “Win That Award! Top Writers Tell You How.”

In the body of such articles, glittering generalities and pseudo-motivation reigned. Typical promises: If inexperienced writers simply use Times New Roman 12-point font, keep their cover letters brief, and “write with their heart,” they will magically become gold-medalist poets/short story writers/novelists/whatever. Other suggestions included such wisdom as, “Be sure to center and boldface your title” and (perhaps my favorite) “Don’t thank the contest sponsor or judge; it shows a lack of confidence.” Gee, thanks.

The unfortunate truth is, no one approach (or set of rules) will guarantee a contest win — ever. The world of publishing is incredibly subjective. What one editor or judge loves, another will hate (and vice-versa). You can “always submit your best,” as the old saw goes, and still come up empty-handed when the laurels are passed around. Such is writing life.

Just as writers learn to expect rejection, we also learn to live with losses. Defeat is especially disheartening if you paid a big submission fee. Of course, the good side of this issue contains another truth: Stick around long enough, and sooner or later you’re bound to win a few. Even little contests feel big when your work has won, and it’s gratifying to learn that someone somewhere (even at the tiniest of journals) has appreciated your work enough to award it.

I’ve been writing “real” poetry for about 20 years now, and in that time, I’ve had the joy of being nominated for the Pushcart Prize five times. My 2014 book, Middle Class American Proverb, was nominated for both the American Book Award and the Florida Book Award. Yet for all these nominations, I’ve never quite ascended to the winners’ platform. I guess I could throw myself a pity party and moan, “Always the bridesmaid, never the bride,” but truthfully, I appreciate just being nominated. In retrospect, a small-town poet like me getting Pushcart nods and similar tokens is a pretty big deal. Sure, I’d like to win one day, but poetry is a marathon, not a sprint or a dash.

And of course, this isn’t to say I haven’t won my fair share of contests. Going all the way back to 2002, I won the Wesley Ryals Writing Award for Poetry from my first alma mater, Florida Southern College. Later on, I was among the winners of the Robert Frost International Poetry and Haiku Contest put together by The Studios of Key West. My work has won me scholarships and partial scholarships to places I would never have traveled otherwise. I’ve also been a runner-up in America magazine’s Foley Poetry Contest. So, I’ve done all right. And if you stick around, you probably will, too.

Another advantage of time: I’ve served as a journal editor and a contest judge over the years, and those roles allowed me to see things from the viewpoint of a decision-maker. It’s tough to cull out writing that is “soooo close,” but inevitably it happens. Here again, what I liked wasn’t necessarily what others liked. The things I rejected would have been accepted by someone with different tastes. But in the end, someone has to be declared winner. Sometimes, just knowing you’re a finalist, a semifinalist, or an honorable mention can be motivation, and that happens quite often when your work is satisfactory.

Keep going, writer. Don’t get seduced by “secret formulas” or “sure-fire ways to success.” There’s a reason that the magazine my Aunt Martha gifted me every year recently filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy. The allure of pretty-sounding logical fallacies and empty promises can only be sustained so long. For the devotee of words, everything will eventually happen the way it’s supposed to. That includes winning contests, getting published, and achieving other milestones. Don’t quit. Persist. That’s how you win.

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life, poetry, publishing, Uncategorized, writers, writing

National Poetry Month Concludes

 

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View at Medium.com

View at Medium.com

April has certainly been less than “the cruelest month” this year. I’ve had some pieces published, spent some time with excellent poets, and with spring has come that sense of hope and relief. Soon, my boys will be out of school, and summer will press its Floridian heat upon us, urging us to the community pool and the beach. But for now, I’d like to spend the last little bit of a great month celebrating a victory or two:

1.) Deep South magazine, a publication that has been friendly to my work since its very beginnings, recently published “My Grandfather’s Exhibit,” a newer piece of mine that deals with a subject very dear to me:

http://deepsouthmag.com/2018/04/19/my-grandfathers-exhibit/

I’d appreciate folks visiting the link and hitting “like” or offering a comment, if you can spare the time. The editor loves for people to interact with content, and maybe this piece will inspire a few memories of your own. I’ll also share the audio version below:

2.) Alternating Current Press, who publishes a great online journal called The Coil, recently awarded an ekphrastic piece of mine in its Daguerrotyped competition. Using the photo provided from them, I put together a piece celebrating the contributions of women during the mid-20th Century:

https://medium.com/the-coil

Here again is an audio version for those who prefer to both hear and read works:

I also have some pieces forthcoming in other venues that I’ll announce as I’m able. I hope that National Poetry Month has treated you well, reader, and that as the year progresses, poetry will continue to be a valuable part of your everyday life.

View at Medium.com

View at Medium.com

View at Medium.com

View at Medium.com

poetry, publishing, writers, writing

The Personal Touch Still Matters

“This is a very, very fine poem. I just wanted to call you and let you know that we’ll be including it in our July issue. Thank you for sending it to us.” …And my day was made.

It isn’t every day one receives a phone call from the editor of a literary journal, especially one as busy as The American Journal of Poetry, founded and operated by Robert Nazarene¬†(who called me) and James Wilson. Readers may recognize these two esteemed gentlemen as the former editors of MARGIE, a literary magazine that was legendary in its time for inclusion of high-quality and award-winning material.

Their July issue of AJP will include such renowned poetry giants as Mark Jarman, Alice Friman, and Tony Hoagland — and it will also include yours truly. The fact that my work is being published alongside these poets and others I deeply respect would have been enough to send me over the moon. But the fact that the editor reached out by phone, a nearly unheard-of act of kindness in the poetry realm, was the icing on the proverbial cake. His praise of my work combined with his personal interest spoke volumes about his work ethic and his dedication to an oft-underappreciated task.

So as you’re reading over the ugly remarks about editors on sites like Duotrope, bear in mind that there are still a few out there who do the task in a timely and proficient manner. Some even care enough to make phone calls, and by doing so, rekindle the fire of poetic passion beneath skeptical and world-hardened writers. Even in a time dominated by online submission trackers and digital everything, the personal touch still matters. Thank you to those gatekeepers and decision-makers who continue to do their jobs in a way that enhances the humanity of the literary community. Now more than ever, you’re needed.

 

poetry, publishing, writers, writing

When should you blacklist a publisher?

magazinesI’m not usually one to post one negative thing after another, but recently, circumstances in my literary life have been causing me to offer a few “no-nos” to the general public. In today’s edition: How to know when you should never submit to a magazine/journal/publisher again.

Without naming names, I’ll tell you that I’ve recently scrawled a list of literary venues that I will never offer my work to again, and posted them to my bulletin board as a reminder. As a younger writer, I did this after a single rejection (or even two or three), which was hot-headed and foolish on my part. However, the places that I’ve listed and “sworn off” recently have committed editorial faux pas that I consider frankly unforgivable in the 21st century. And so, without further adieu (punny, yes?), here’s why I said goodbye and good riddance to a few literary outlets lately:

1. No response unless accepted. One journal is on my list because the editors cling to a policy that states, “We will communicate with you only in case of acceptance.” Hogwash. There is absolutely no reason that a magazine of any size should refuse sending a simple “no” to a waiting and hopeful writer. Their exclusive practice is rude, and rudeness doesn’t fly, even today.

2. Hostile, condescending, or insulting rejections. Another place is on my list because the editor could have sent a simple form rejection letter or a polite “This doesn’t fit our current needs,” but decided instead to engage in blatant snobbery and offer a few ad hominem cutting remarks. Where “no thanks” will suffice, subtle or obvious condescension has no place. Farewell, editorial ugliness. You have no home here.

3. Rampant inefficiency or gross incompetence. My third blacklisted venue accepted my work more than two years ago, and published it about a week ago. No, I haven’t mentioned them by name here or on social media. I thought the place had gone belly-up, honestly, as my attempts at communication were never returned, and I had already submitted the pieces they accepted to other venues. This could have created a major legal snafu, among other issues. Also, my author’s bio was grossly outdated in this publication due to lax oversight and poor management. Never again, (name withheld) Review. Yes, I know publishing is tough and time-consuming, but not to the extent that it should cause literary malpractice.

4. Emotional/personal affairs affecting editorial discernment. The final place to which I will no longer submit is operated by a novice publisher who sees every “no thank you” as a personal attack, or as an affront to the integrity of her/his operation. This same publisher overshares his/her personal problems when deadlines are missed or when quality is questionable. When the boss has problems, everybody has problems, much like the old adage “When momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” I’ll steer clear, thanks.

So there you have them: my reasons for “blacklisting” certain publishers. Some of these may seem hasty or even unfair, but in every case, my personal experience has been such that I felt compelled to write them off. I would be interested to know why you, the reader, have stopped submitting to various places, as well. Feel free to posit your experiences in the comments section (please keep it clean and non-libelous). We’ve all been there. Keep writing!

poetry, Uncategorized

Latest publication: The Wayfarer

What a beautiful journal! The free e-edition is very nice, but I would encourage my readers to purchase the print edition — it’s worth the price, and small presses can use all the support they can get in these times! Thank you to the editors of The Wayfarer, whose skills and sharp eyes made this edition a visual feast as well as a fulfilling reading experience.The Wayfarer magazine

poetry, Uncategorized

Latest publication: Steel Toe Review

Just as I was beginning to question my regional work, along came a lovely acceptance letter in my inbox. Steel Toe Review, a journal of Southern arts and literature, has published a piece of mine entitled “Tongue Economics:”

http://steeltoereview.com/2013/06/06/tongue-economics-by-john-davis-jr/

I love Grit Lit publishers! What an awesome way to start my summer vacation!