In which this editor disabuses you of a few notions

I’ve mentioned before that working on the other side of the desk when it comes to the writing game (first in becoming an assistant at Fifth Wednesday, and later becoming an editor, then a managing editor at Los Angeles Review) has changed the way I as a writer look at the world of literary magazine publishing. In fact, there were a number of points of mystification for me when I was simply on the mailing-stuff-out side of the equation that have since become clear. For every perplexing guideline, question about how and when to withdraw a piece accepted elsewhere, or confusion over what the heck first North American rights meant, I’ve had a corresponding ah-ha! moment as an editor.

Sometimes it seems we editors get frustrated with writers because those writers aren’t giving us what we want, whether its with regard to formatting, the number of pieces in a submission, or querying about a submission’s status. It’s easy from an editor’s point of view to think that what we want to see from submitters must be pretty obvious. But, thinking back, I realize there are a number of things I would have liked to have known about when it came to submitting. I would have found it very helpful to have someone demystify some of the murky areas of this strange profession. So I thought I might take a blog post here and there to address some issues that inquiring writerly minds might want to know about.

First, let’s talk about region.

At the AWP conference in February, I experienced an odd phenomenon. As writers came by our table, flipped through our magazine, or just stared confusedly at us (hey, we all get a little tired by the end of the conference. I certainly did my share of confused staring, too), a number of people said “I wish I could submit, but I don’t live in Los Angeles” or “I don’t write short stories about Los Angeles” or “I’ve never been to California,” and so on. This perplexed me. I pictured writers walking down the rows of tables, saying “I don’t live in New England” or “I don’t live in Mid America” or “I don’t live in Colorado” to the editors of all of those geographically named Reviews. (One wonders: do they also say “I can’t submit because live in a brick apartment complex” to Tin House?) As I walked around the bookfair, my suspicions were confirmed (well, not the Tin House suspicion)–I heard writers telling editors that their personal geography prevented them from submitting work to any number of journals.

If you are one of those writers, I have good news for you: the vast majority of literary magazines do not, in fact, have a strictly regional focus.

In LAR’s case, yes, we are officially based in LA. We are part of a press that’s an LA institution. But we publish writers across the West Coast, the Midwest, the South, and the East Coast. We’ve published writers from Israel, Singapore, Poland, China, and Brazil. In fact, the majority of our editors make their homes away from Southern California. Like most nationally distributed literary magazines, we’re proud of our journal’s hometown, but we don’t expect to read hundreds of short stories about or set in LA. We look for poems and stories and essays of quality–pieces that don’t limit themselves to one area, but that can speak to a variety of people in a variety of regions. We’re looking for something human, not something specific to our latitude and longitude.

Most editors will tell you the same thing. There are a few journals that are strictly regional–take, for example, Wisconsin People and Ideas–but they are in the minority. If you’re in any doubt as to whether you can submit your work to a journal with a geographic-sounding name, take a look at the publication’s guidelines. If you don’t see any language about region, it’s safe to say that you’re free to submit. If you find yourself at a conference, flip through the contributor bios in a display copy. If you see people from a variety of locations, you’ll know you’re not constrained by local residency. If staff members happen to be present, as they usually are at conferences like AWP, you can ask whether the journal has any themes or editorial areas of interest.

But, by all means, don’t limit your submission opportunities based upon where you live.

2 Replies to “In which this editor disabuses you of a few notions”

  1. All true, Kelly, but actually I’ve seen an increase in the number of journals that are regional, particularly here in the Midwest. Could be because this part of the country has been so down and out over the last decade that the publishers wanted to do something to boost the morale of writers here.

    I hope in future posts you’ll share your thoughts on publications that hold theme issues. I’d be interested in what you and your commenters have to say.

  2. True, Joe. More and more regionals are starting up–which I think is a great thing, especially for regions like the Midwest that, as you say, could use a morale boost– but they still represent an incredibly small slice of the literary magazine pie. The vast majority of journals are still generalist.

    Ah, theme issues. I don’t feel quite as strongly about them as many people do, but I have never yet foregone an opportunity to hold forth… 🙂

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