If you read my last column, you know that I believe writers should actually seek and embrace rejection as a means to conquer our fears about it, and ultimately to get published along the way.
That, of course, is what we’re all hoping for: to write meaningful prose that others will read, a.k.a. to be published. And that’s one of the best things about Literary Mama: we often publish creative nonfiction by writers who have never published before. To discover new talent, and give that talent a readership, is one of our greatest joys. And although you’ll see names that you recognize in our Creative Nonfiction section (writers like best-selling author Jennifer Lauck), you’re much more likely to read a story by a mama who’s finding her literary voice in print for the first time.
How do they do it? How do they break in?
First the bad news: it isn’t easy to get published in Creative Nonfiction. We get about 12 submissions a week, and 98% of them are rejected in the first round. The other 2% are forwarded to the senior editors and a conversation ensues. The conversation sometimes goes like this:
Jennifer: I think this piece is really strong and I like the fresh approach the writer is taking to the topic of mommy friendships.
Senior Editors: Yes, but … it needs tightening, the ending isn’t strong enough, and we’d like more lyricism in the scene about dancing with the alligator. We suggest a revise and resubmit.
So I get back to the writer with some direction about how to revise her piece and she, feeling rejected and miserable, goes back to work.
Now the good news: there are concrete steps you can take to get onto Literary Mama’s Creative Nonfiction pages. They involve some work on your part. But if you want to add this market to your resume, some hard work, persistence, and thoroughness may pay off. And don’t be surprised if some of what I tell you seems basic — but so many writers don’t do these simple things that they bear repeating here.
- Read the Creative Nonfiction section and analyze how the writers craft their narratives. Study these pieces like you’re back in college. Every magazine has its own style and the best way to learn about it is to read the market you want to crack.
- Read the guidelines (please). As the guidelines make clear, in Creative Nonfiction we ask for a brief cover letter. If you send a piece without one, we think we’re being spammed. We don’t like being spammed. And please don’t send a cover letter in an attachment, because we won’t read it. Tell us something about your writing background and also show us in your letter that you read our magazine. And it never hurts to say something you like about it. Everyone likes a compliment.
- Be as formal, polite, and professional over email as you would in a letter. Include your address and phone number in every correspondence. Sometimes we’re looking for a mom-writer in a specific part of the world and that person could be you. If we accept your piece, we’ll need to contact you. Be available and easy to find.
- Just because you’ve corresponded with us, don’t assume we know you. Send a cover letter the next time. Send a reminder of who you are (I submitted X piece and you said Y about it, that sort of thing).
- Submit creative nonfiction that tells a story with a beginning, middle, and end, that has vibrant characters that leap off the page, that puts the reader right there with the action of the story. Make sure the first paragraph (people read quickly online) is gripping. The biggest mistake new writers make is submitting pieces that aren’t ready to be published. Those should go to your writing workshop. Put your best foot forward with us.
- Make sure the “I” character in your piece is an interesting person. The reader wants to know her, feel alongside her, be next to her. Don’t hold your reader at a distance. Don’t tell us what is happening — show us.
- Don’t be afraid to experiment. We like italics, we like creative, we like racy, raw, raunchy. We are not inside the box. We are outside of it. If the piece you submit would work for a glossy it probably won’t work for us. If the piece you submit makes you gag or laugh or sob, we might like it. No subject is untouchable.
Now. It’s time to minimize this screen, grab a beverage of choice, read some creative nonfiction, and submit something to us. If we reject your work, don’t give up. Embrace the rejection — hang it on the wall — and try again.