Behind the Scenes: Volunteering for a Literary Magazine

I have been a member of Carve Magazine’s Guest Reading Committee for about a year now and I can’t say enough good things about it. Not only have I had the opportunity to work on the other side of the publication process (through reviewing submissions), I also read for annual contests (and even conducted my first author interview earlier this year!).

While I can’t speak for every literary magazine out there, I would still like to give my fellow writerly friends a sneak peek behind the scenes and encourage everyone to volunteer for a magazine at least once. It is a great way to familiarize yourself with the publishing world, connect with others, and hone your craft.

Why do literary magazines need volunteers? Depending on the size of the magazine, they can receive a high volume of submissions, which creates a large backlog of work. In order to keep up, editors will assign volunteer readers submissions from the slush pile. From there, the volunteer weeds through countless submissions in order to find pieces worthy of publication.

This is certainly not a glamorous job, but the process of reading through hundreds of submissions exposes you to all different kinds of writing. From the good and the bad (and the very bad), you will inevitably learn what works and what doesn’t work, as well as the ins and outs of the publishing world.

Some believe that all literary magazines house their headquarters in posh, New York offices. Although this would be amazing, most small presses do not receive a steady income. As a matter of fact, literary magazine staff members often have separate, full time jobs and conduct magazine business in their down time. This means that a lot of the work is done remotely and online (such as the review of submissions and correspondence).

Office desk with laptop computer, planner, mobile smartphone and coffee cup.

My swanky office (not). Image Credit: FreePik

What does this mean for you as the writer? It is not uncommon for months to pass before you get a response from a magazine regarding your work. This can be due to a magazine’s high volume of submissions, as well as the fact that each piece submitted must go through several rounds of careful reading before a decision can be made. It is important to understand that running a literary magazine is very much like running a business; editors are dedicated to publishing the best work they can get their hands on and must make sure that each piece fits their magazine’s aesthetic.

So, don’t panic if you don’t receive a response regarding your work right away. Magazines will typically provide a time frame for you in their submission guidelines. If you haven’t heard back within the specified time (and if the magazine is okay with queries regarding submitted work), feel free to reach out to the editor/s with a polite email.  

— Manuela Williams

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Evolution of a Chapbook

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Image Credit: Birds Piled Loosely Press

Since I first started seriously writing poetry (and by seriously, I mean that I stopped rhyming “rain” with “pain” every other line), I wanted to publish a chapbook.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, a chapbook is a shorter version of a full length book (for example, my chapbook is only 32 pages, compared to 100+ pages). Chapbooks can be cheaper than full length books and, according to the Writer’s Digest article I linked to above, inexpensive for publishers to produce (as most are sewn or stapled together rather than hard bound).

Before I began the submission process, I had hundreds of poems stashed away on my computer. Why didn’t I just throw all those together into a manuscript, send it to a press, and call it a day? Simply put, when putting together a chapbook manuscript, story still matters. How are the poems working together as a whole? Do they form some kind of story? Speak to a specific theme? All of these questions matter when putting together a good manuscript.

When I was confident that I had a strong manuscript, I turned to one of my favorite resources: Entropy Magazine’s “Where to Submit” bimonthly blog post. I absolutely love this website and it has helped me find small presses and journals for my poetry.

It was through Entropy Magazine that I found the 2017 Hard to Swallow Chapbook Contest from Birds Piled Loosely Press (BPL). And the rest, as they say, was history. My chapbook manuscript, Ghost in Girl Costume, was one of three winners and is now available for purchase.

I found working with BPL to be very rewarding. The editors were responsive and wanted me to be 100% happy with the final product. They worked closely with me on cover and interior design and were patient with all my “newbie” questions (hey, this is my first chapbook, cut me some slack).

One of the most rewarding aspects of the process was the “final workshop” of my manuscript. Through Google Hangouts, I met with BPL’s editors, who went through my manuscript page-by-page and suggested ways in which the manuscript could be further improved. That being said, they never forced me into any changes (creative freedom, woohoo!).

Finally, as I am a firm believer in giving back, I decided to donate any royalties I make through this chapbook to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a cause that I am extremely passionate about.

This certainly isn’t the end for me, though, and I hope to have some new material out in the world soon. Keep an eye out!

— Manuela Williams

 

New Year, New Blog?

Hello, everyone! It’s been a while hasn’t it?

I needed to take some time to do some soul searching, especially in regards to what I wanted to accomplish with this blog. During my last attempt at blogging, I found myself trying to be and do too many things at once.

Now that I’m starting to develop more as a writer and a professional, I want my blog to best reflect my journey. That being said, this blog will not just be all about me. Even though I will definitely be promoting my own work, I also want to provide helpful advice for emerging writers as well as more in-depth services for those who might need some extra help with their writing.

I am a firm believer in giving back and, through this blog, I hope to make an impact (no matter how small).

Keep an eye out for my next blog post, in which I will be discussing my debut chapbook, my experience working with a small press, and my decision to donate my chapbook earnings to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

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– Manuela Williams