Magazine Before Submission
I've heard from other writers, editors, and
practically everyone else that you should review at least one copy of or
sample stories from every magazine on your submission list. This isn't
always possible or economically feasible, but even when it is, I've often
felt adrift. What is it I should be looking for? Am I missing something
that everyone else sees?
There are some obvious things, such as point of
view, traditional versus experimental, and other similar preferences, that
you can glean from simply reading the stories in an issue. However, I walk
away with the sense that there should be something more. If this advice is
so ubiquitous, surely it cannot be that simple.
With this in mind, when I found myself at the 2004
Alameda Literati Book Faire in Alameda, California, I took the opportunity
to ask a panel of authors and editors what they think writers should gain
from reviewing copies of the magazines where they intend to submit. I found
the response of one author in particular valuable enough that I thought I
Landa has the dual perspectives of a writer and editor of
literary magazines. She understands the struggle with this process and
believes the best way to really get a sense of what to look for is to
practice the skill.
For her, voice is the most important element to
seek when reviewing a magazine. However, even within voice, there are
simple elements and more complex ones. The simple ones include point of
view and whether or not a journal is open to rough language, sex, or
violence. The more complex ones involve looking at the subject matter and
how it is presented. Her preferred technique is trying to imagine one of
her stories sandwiched between the stories already published. This allows
her to feel out subconscious messages behind the editorial choices.
I found Landa's response interesting because I had
largely discounted subject matter as an element for the simple reason that
it cannot be used as a guideline. Should you submit a story with the same
subject matter as some stories in the sample issue, unless the journal is
focused on a specific topic, the editor will probably consider that area
However, looking at subject matter and how it is
presented opens up the evaluation of crafting trends. Again, a trend
against foul language might be obvious, but the same evaluation could reveal
a trend toward dragging characters through horrible events that then always
come out all right. While it may seem simple, looking for how an editor
wants to see characters treated can give a real sense of a particular
editor's preferences. With the preference above, the editor will probably
not look favorably on a story with an ambiguous or negative ending. If the
story seems to fit otherwise, I personally believe writers should not do the
editors' rejections for them, but if I had another story with a positive
ending, I might send that one first.
Sensing these underlying, and often subtle, trends
may be easier for someone with editorial experience, like Landa, but she
believes it is a learned skill. For example, have you ever been reading a
fiction magazine and said, "I've got a story that would fit perfectly"?
Practice is what allows you to control that moment consciously rather than
being dependent on your subconscious instincts.
This way of looking at content may seem as obvious
to you as it did to me when I heard the approach, and yet, I had been unable
to articulate it to myself. Now, when I sit down with copies of a magazine
in front of me, I know I'll learn more about what an editor is seeking than
just the surface elements I had been able to glean before. I hope, in
passing on this advice, you too will find more value when you attempt to
piece together editors' preferences from the stories and articles they
choose to present to the world.
Allison Landa is an Oakland, California-based writer
whose work has been featured in CleanSheets, The Ledge, Poetica Magazine,
Swagazine and ArtsFusion. She is also an editor of Monday Night, an annual