One editor’s tips for writers submitting to journals, lit mags, and zines

There are “rules” for sending your work to literary magazines, and they don’t usually appear in submission guidelines.

Foundlings Vol. 3 will be out in just about two months. We’re very excited about this, but we can’t share any information about the contents just yet. Submissions closed at the end of March, and we’ve been reviewing them since then. It’s a humbling thing to see an inbox full of so much stirring work from so many writers, friends and strangers both, and a difficult task to pick just a few poems to include in each volume of the magazine. Being an editor, or any kind of curator, forces you to examine your own gut reactions to writing, and to articulate your artistic beliefs and preferences to yourself, to the other editors who share in this work, and eventually to the writers who’ve submitted. (At least, we try — more on that further down.)

I don’t submit my own work to magazines as often as I used to (and some day soon I hope to explain why), but I still devote a lot of postage every year to SASEs. My file of rejections — digital and physical — continues to swell steadily, at a greater annual rate of growth than any of my financial investments.

Now, though, a full year and a half since the other Foundlings editors and I decided to start our project, and after three rounds of submissions, I’m starting to think like an editor. I’ve begun to recognize the most common sins hopeful writers commit during the submissions process. And, lest you misunderstand me, I’m not about to dish on unsavory side of the Foundlings Gmail inbox. We do see some faux pas; some writers make us uncomfortable, and some are unpardonably swinish and rude. But the vast majority are awesome.

This isn’t about our submissions. Instead, I think, the act of editing now three volumes of poetry, and all the ways that’s drawn me into sharing more and more pints and conversations with other writers and editors, have made me more aware of the peccadilloes and travesties writers so frequently commit in their pursuit of publication. For most of the rules below, I could provide a counterexample from my own catalog of bad habits and regrets.

So, read on for a few tips all hopeful writers would do well to remember when submitting their work to lit mags and zines.

1. Be the Wayne Gretzky of letters. Or at least the Happy Gilmore.

While many have debated both the attribution and the mathematical accuracy of The Great One’s famous assertion that “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take,” even the most cynical cannot deflect this slapshot of an aphorism. I’ve heard many writers explain why they haven’t submitted to such-and-such a magazine, and their reasons are usually pretty similar: “I don’t know if they’ll like me,” or “I’m not sure if I’m ready yet,” or “They only publish people with MFAs/cool names.”

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All of these things might be true. Editors might not like you. You might not be ready yet. And entire magazine staffs might have really idiotic and lame conscious or unconscious biases. But you should probably submit anyway. Take that shot.

In most cases, the excuses I’ve listed above are code for “I’m not a serious writer.” So, maybe you aren’t. That doesn’t mean you’ll never be a serious writer. The change could come when you decide that you have to be great, that you are great, and that other people will love you for it. Not all the people who feel that way are, great, of course. But the people who feel that way are more likely to keep writing and keep submitting until they do write good work; more likely to submit that good work; and more likely to see their good work in print.

There are only two reasons that should ever stop you from licking that stamp. One, don’t submit if you know in the blue flame of your writerly heart that you’d be mortified to see some flawed or unfinished work in print. For the second reason, keep reading.

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Whistle Stop readers respond to questions from The Varsity

The Varsity, The University of Toronto’s student newspaper, published an excellent article on the Whistle Stop Tour today. The writer posed some questions, and our performers’s responses were so beautiful (and unpublishably generous) that I wanted to present them all, uncut and unvarnished, here. Kassandra asked: What do you do, and why? What motivated you to participate in political commentary? How important is it for events like this where artists can speak about current politics? How do you respond to criticism surrounding what you are doing? Read our answers below:

Justin Karcher

On “Me”: Always an interesting question – what I do for “money money” is a lot different than what I like telling people I do – I’m an adjunct professor of writing every now and again, poet, playwright, published author, etc. – an artist, basically. However, art and a passion for writing doesn’t necessarily pay the bills. What does these days? For my day job, I work in insurance where I navigate the tricky waters of catastrophe, like trying to operate a rowboat with a q-tip. Every day you hear about an accident or something tragic and it could be something very minor, but for that person you’re talking to, it is the biggest catastrophe imaginable, especially at that exact moment in time. Kind of like a poem you hear at an event – at that exact moment in time, it is the greatest demonstration of the power of language, a syllabic submarine popping up out of the mouth and if the poem is honest, if it’s true and passionate, it will take aim at all the things that are bringing us down. Working in insurance has allowed me to appreciate catastrophes and that might sound weird, but by appreciation, I mean having a greater understanding for the tragedies that befall all of us on a daily basis – and socially/politically speaking, it’s important for us to know every level of catastrophe and break it down and learn how it affects ALL of us on a daily basis – and really, isn’t that what poetry or art is all about? Continue reading

Friends and Foundlings – Interviews with our Favorite Poets

In this series, the Foundlings lads have casual chats with some of our favorite Buffalo poets.

Ep. 1: Justin Karcher

Interviewed: Justin Karcher, author of Tailgating at the Gates of Hell and editor of Ghost City Review.

Topics: Tailgating at the Gates of Hell, the fragmentation of the Buffalo literary scene, hip-hop and Modernism, stakes and timelessness, and editing Ghost City Review

Friends and Foundlings Ep. 1: Justin Karcher — TEASER from Foundlings Magazine on Vimeo.

Call for Submissions – Foundlings Vol. 2

Foundlings Vol. 2 is slated for a mid-winter release, which mean we need new material from this planet’s best poets.

Submissions will remain open from Friday 5 August to Friday 2 September. Please send 1-5 of your best, previously unpublished poems to foundlingszine@gmail.com. We will endeavor to respond to all submissions sent during this period within four weeks after the submission window closes.

If you’re considering submitting for Vol. 2, you should check out Vol. 1, which is available at both Talking Leaves locations and online — you can purchase hard copies (signed!) or digital downloads through our Gumroad store. You can also look at copies in the Canisius College library literary journals section and in the University at Buffalo Rare Books collection.

Following our wildly successful launch of Vol. 1 at Sterling Tavern this past May, we’ve decided to stick with the “reading and rager” model for launches. You can trust that release party for Vol. 2 will be even bigger and better than the last, and that we’ll have more information on a date and venue soon.

Facebook: @foundlingszine, https://www.facebook.com/foundlingszine/

Instagram: @ foundlingszine, https://www.instagram.com/foundlingszine/

New Poetry: Foundlings Vol. I and Ghost City Review Vol. II

Sunday night marked a special occasion for the Buffalo literary scene: a new poetry magazine was born, in a fete of tears and sausages, IPAs and whiskey-waters, howls and man-hugs and microphone drops. Maybe a few in the audience went out after to evangelize — which is good, because we’ll have to go quiet for a while. We’re not done – last night made that much clear to all of us. We just have to set forth and find new foundlings for volume two.

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