by Jerry Waxler
At this year’s Philadelphia Stories Push to Publish conference, Curtis Smith played an important role, by throwing in a few choice comments about how much fun writing is. (To read more about his comments, click here ). One of the parts of writing that seemed to be working especially well for Curtis was his regular publication in literary journals. Since he was getting so much satisfaction from that aspect of his craft, I asked him to share some tips and pointers with the rest of us. Our interview follows:
Jerry Waxler: Your bio says you have published in 50 journals. Could you say more about how you found these journals? How much legwork do you do to become familiar with the journals in your “space.”
Curtis Smith: In the pre-internet days, I found them using books like The Writers Market or Dustbooks Small Press directory. I’d familiarize myself with them mainly through the stories reprinted in the annual anthologies like Best American Short Stories, Pushcart Prize, or the O’Henry series. Sometimes I’d order a particular journal; other times I’d go to the local college library, which carried quite a few lit journals. These days I mainly use websites like Duotrope or New Pages to find markets. And I visit the journals’ websites and see what kind of work they post.
JW: Do each of the journals tend to have their own “voice” — and if so, when searching for a journal you will submit to, how much must you understand their voice preferences?
CS: Some journals do have a unique voice, the independents mostly, print places like Hobart and Monkeybicycle and online places like Smokelong. These days, a website will give you a good indication of a journal’s aesthetic. I think if you’re dealing with a journal affiliated with a college, you can find the turnover of editors may lead to a somewhat less defined voice–that said, many university-sponsored journals are beautiful and have a long history of publishing great work.
JW: How did you decide which journals would be most appropriate for the nonfiction essays you wrote about your relationship with your young son?
CS: That’s been more of a crapshoot–since many journals only have one or two essays per issue, it was harder for me to get a feel for that. Some markets I did target–I had a piece in The Humanist and a few others in special theme issues.
JW: During your writing process, do you ever write with a particular editor or publication in mind?
CS: Rarely–sometimes I’ll see a call for a theme issue that piques my interest, but usually I just write for myself.
JW: You mentioned at the Philadelphia Stories conference that once you have published in a journal, you develop a rapport with the editor. Could you say more about that process or give an example of how it has worked for you.
CS: I’ve been lucky to click with a few editors–the collection of essays coming out next year will feature three essays that first appeared in Lake Effect and two that first appeared in Mississippi Review. I’ve developed a long relationship with other editors with my fiction–my last two story collections featured a trio of very long stories that first came out in The Greensboro Review. I also have a couple places that have taken a number of my flash fictions. If I enjoy an editor and his journal, I’ll gladly submit more in the future.
JW: When your work is published in a journal, of course the journal’s stamp of approval gives you authority as a writer. I imagine, then, that as an aspiring writer, you would want to be accepted into the most prestigious publication, the higher the better. Right? How do you even know which journal is more prestigious and which is less so?
CS: Of course you want your work to appear in the best journal possible. And there are some wonderful journals out there, but outside that first tier of places like The Paris Review and Ploughshares and Georgia Review, there are any number of fine journals putting out great work. How does one know which journals are good? I think you just have to keep your eyes open–check out the annual anthologies like the Best American Series and Pushcart and see where they’re getting their work from. Listen to what your friends are reading and where they’re publishing.
JW: What sorts of feedback do you get when publishing in a journal? Do you hear from readers? Is it like a tree falling in a forest? Is there a specialized audience that gets to know your work?
CS: It used to be pretty rare that you’d get feedback. If you were lucky, you’d get a Pushcart nomination or a mention in the Best American series. But now with the advent of social networking sites like Facebook, you get a lot more feedback. If I read a story or essay I enjoy, I make sure to drop a line to the author if we’ve hooked up on a site – and many people do it in return. The audience is pretty much limited to writers and fans of lit fiction and journals, but it is a bigger audience than before.
JW: Do you put much of your own marketing/networking energy into publicizing your piece in the journal?
CS: Not much beyond a posting on Facebook. I add links to online pieces to my website. I save the bigger pushes for my books.
JW: Please give examples of journals you published non-fiction essays in, and some thoughts about why these particular ones worked out for you.
CS: I’ve published a number of essays in Mississippi Review and Lake Effect. Others have appeared in Turnrow, Bellingham Review, Philadelphia Stories, Red Cedar Review, Inkpot, The Humanist, and a number of others.
The two essays from Mississippi Review were theme issues, so they worked out because my work could address those themes. And the same for the Humanist. The others were just nonfiction spots in lit journals–and I think they fit because my writing comes from a fiction-writer’s perspective, and I bring fictional techniques into my work.
JW: Many of the readers of my blog “Memory Writers Network” do not come from a “literary” or “creative writing” background. They are just looking to develop the best writing skills possible so they can share parts of their lives. Are there journals that would appeal to this segment of the writing public, the well-told stories, that would not necessarily earn high grades in a creative writing class?
CS: That’s an interesting question. I’m not sure. I’m guessing that journals would, by nature, appeal to the folks with literary and creative writing backgrounds. That said, I think there are some wonderful journals that have fine literary work that is also very accessible. For the readers of your blog who are interested in nonfiction more than fiction, I’d suggest Creative Nonfiction or Fourth Genre. The online journal Brevity is also very interesting (short-short nonfiction).
Click here for Curtis Smith’s home page.
Click here to see an index of the other essays and interviews on Jerry Waxler’s blog.