Career Builders ~ The Thing About Literary Journals
By Chila Woychik
Why the Eastern Iowa Review? How does someone begin writing for a literary journal and what goes into producing one?
We write what we believe in, what we love. But writing for literary magazines goes a step further: in outreach and quality. This simply means we write for more than a single focus group, more than those like us, those who agree with our point of view, and we must write well, for the competition is substantial.
This is how it started for me: When I began submitting nonfiction to literary journals in 2013, it was because I had been made aware of this new avenue for publication and wanted to give it a try. I had written for numerous larger Evangelical publications such as War Cry, Woman’s Touch, and Wesleyan Advocate, but didn’t know anything else existed for the serious writer who also happened to be a Christian. I can’t recall how I discovered this venue, but most likely from some of my more accomplished writing friends on Facebook. Sadly, my first few attempts failed, though I did receive an occasional and encouraging editorial note that made me believe I was on the right track. Then early in 2014, I received the email that changed my current course: “Dear Chila, I am writing to let you know that we have accepted your story ‘First Light’ for publication in the 2014 edition of the Mayo Review.” I was also invited to the “launch party” at Texas A & M, publisher of the journal, an invitation which I considered but ultimately turned down. Needless to say, I was hooked, reeled in, and landed.
For the next few months, I wrote and polished numerous creative nonfiction articles and sent them to various journals I discovered on the fantastic online source called Duotrope. I took part of that summer off to write, and 2014 ended with about ten of my articles appearing in both print and online literary journals. Obviously, my enthusiasm was running high, but there was one clinker. Much of what I found in literary journals was too gritty for my taste and I longed for those Annie Dillardesque articles that spoke with beauty of word and subject matter and a truth which transcended what I saw in so much contemporary writing—that no-holds-barred honestly sans careful language, theme, and tone, in short, R-rated-speak. I also wanted to avoid most or all profanity, which to me is a waste of time and good English, and more specifically a misuse of intense emotion.
A plan slowly developed in my mind and in early fall 2014, I began sketching out what would become the Eastern Iowa Review: A Journal of Good Spaces. We opened to submissions in November and received enough good material to choose from by early March, began the editing process, cover development, etc., and closed to inaugural issue submissions. The journal is a thing of beauty, I believe, and though every story isn’t upbeat or positive, each holds a special place in my eyes and heart, either because of the writing style, the honest questioning, the astute glimpses at nature or culture or people, or whatever, in a generally PG-rated context.
So I wrapped up work at Port Yonder Press (our last book is to be released soon), established a part-time paid editing service instead, and was approached by a literary agent with a request to join his team; I did, again in a part-time capacity.
Now tell me you want to give it a go, to be accepted in a literary magazine. If you do (and I really hope you do) here are several things you may want to consider first:
- Be aware of what constitutes good literary writing. May I respectfully suggest the upcoming inaugural issue of Eastern Iowa Review? You’ll find the whole scoop on our website: watch for updates (portyonderpress.com). Of course there are many others out there but for sheer good taste and decency, I have tried very hard to meet the needs of the many—material suited to most all ages.
- In your beginning attempts at writing for this market, find a truth or universal theme that everyone agrees on. Most of mine reference nature in some way, and possibly obliquely or metaphorically refer to God or a divinity. Preach and include Bible verses to your own literary writing demise; not that it can’t be done, but it won’t be done, and done right. Simply put, proselytizing is not an element of good writing for the masses, for the general un-Christian reader. (Note again, however, how I often include some kind of religious reference; if done subtly, there is always room for this, and it is powerful in its own way.)
- There’s no shame in starting small; many laudable literary magazines are either new or online-only or smallish in readership. Start small, aim for big, but don’t disassociate yourself from the journals that haven’t made it to a Top Tier list. And it’s not groveling to submit to smaller journals once you’ve been successful with ones that carry a little more clout.
- Judge a journal by what you like about it rather than its size of readership or notoriety. Frankly, some of the larger journals are simply not for me: their focus, their style of writing, their ethos, run askew of what I want to read in a magazine, so why would I want my work to appear there? Establishing a strong resumé is a good thing, and there are hundreds of good journals you can approach to make that happen.
- And speaking of strong resumés … literary journal credits are a spectacular way to build one! Buckle in, though, because it’s challenging work, but supremely rewarding work as well.
There are a number of online sites to help you research the world of literary journals. You can begin with these: The Review Review, Duotrope (annual paid subscription, but well worth it if you’re serious about researching, submitting to, and tracking your submissions), NewPages.com, and Poets & Writers. You may also find a search of “literary journal rankings” of interest, the ranking usually based on somewhat subjective, though nonetheless important, criteria. Most lists contain only the “top” 100 journals or so, but as stated before, there are hundreds of journals and a great percentage of those are reputable whether on a list or not. One of my favorite online articles that details the entire process is here:
We’ll release the Eastern Iowa Review by the end of May or first of June. We’d love for you to sample it before you consider buying a copy. You can take a peek at a handful of essays and fiction from this issue online at portyonderpress.com. If you have a question I’ve not yet addressed, I’d be glad to answer if you leave a comment.
And thank you, Victoria, for the opportunity to speak to the fascinating subject of literary journals in general and the Eastern Iowa Review specifically. I hope many writers will try their hand at this compelling venue.
Eastern Iowa Review is now available online here:
Chila Woychik lives in Iowa with her husband, several Jeeps, and chickens that lay green eggs. When not playing on the farm, she edits at a small literary press. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming in The Mayo Review, Prick of the Spindle, The Milo Review, and others. You can visit her online at www.portyonderpress.com or www.chilawoychik.com. She also hangs out on Facebook on occasion.