You’ve written it, but now it needs a home. How does a submission make the cut? In this series, the editors at Literary Mama offer their thoughts on the process. This month, Creative Nonfiction editors Amanda Jaros, Kate Haas, and Maria Gupta share with readers some insight into the pieces they love and the submissions they seek.
What we’re after in the Creative Nonfiction department are honest, reflective, and universal stories enhanced by the craft techniques of fiction. We love reading your submissions and getting a glimpse inside those stories. To help you along in our submission process and make your stories stand out, we’ve answered a few of the questions we often hear in our department.
Do you pay?
We do not. We wish we could, but like many well-respected, nonprofit literary magazines, Literary Mama is an all-volunteer effort, and at this point in time we cannot pay ourselves or our writers.
How soon do you respond?
We respond to every submission within three months, but in most cases, we respond within a few weeks. If you haven’t heard from us in three months, it’s okay to send a follow-up email, but please don’t contact us before then.
Do you want pitches or completed essays?
No need to pitch; send us your completed essays.
How many submissions do you receive?
We read between 30-50 submissions every month and aim to publish two or three in each issue.
What bugs you the most?
We realize that all magazines and journals have a different process, but it makes our work harder when people don’t follow our submission guidelines, and submissions which don’t follow our guidelines are at a disadvantage from the start. Include a brief introduction in your email, written in a standard font, not something flowery or cursive. Send your work in the body of an email. Don’t send attachments, because we won’t open them.
What topics are you looking for – and which do you see a lot?
We’re not looking for specific topics. We’ve published essays about everything from driving lessons to death, report cards to dance classes. If it’s nonfiction that reads like fiction and its focus is the experience of motherhood, send it along. Surprise us. (However, please do not send essays about your “fur children.”) That said, we tend to receive a lot of birth stories. These narratives are naturally very meaningful to the writer, but do not always transcend the individual experience to make a story that will be compelling to a wider audience. The same is often true of the many submissions we get about the diagnosis of a child with special needs. We would love to see more essays about the middle and high school years, or about parenting adult children.
What makes a good Literary Mama CNF piece?
We’re all hardwired to like stories, and we’re looking for stories that speak to our collective, universal experience of motherhood. We want to feel the writer’s own emotional reactions when we’re reading CNF pieces, like in this piece about a terminally ill child “The Carry Home.” Yet, a good story doesn’t necessarily require a hugely dramatic incident as its impetus. The kernel of a terrific narrative can spring from something quite mundane: an uneasy feeling at the grocery store, a routine blood draw, the acknowledgment that your pediatrician is kind of hot. However, it’s not enough to simply reflect on a situation. We want stories that draw us in with colorful and evocative descriptions of scene and situation, like this piece about a family taking a walk in the sweltering desert heat. We look for stories with pertinent dialogue, and strong characters, ones that draw readers in, where something happens, and where the writer arrives at some moment of insight, like in “Flirting With Wilderness” .
All essays published in Literary Mama meet our high standards for literary excellence. We highly encourage readers to read through our creative nonfiction archives to get a feel for what we publish. Thank you for considering Literary Mama as a home for your work, and we look forward to reading your stories!