Small Press News
I recently had a conversation with some poetry friends that centered around the question “Which literary magazines would you consider to be the top ten?” The lists people gave almost always had The New Yorker on top and then listed other high profile journals such as The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s Magazine, The New Republic, Granta, Boston Review, Literal Latte, Poetry, The Paris Review and the American Poetry Review.
As, for me I am not sure what exactly the criteria is for being a top-ten literary magazine. From the above list it would seem to be magazines with large circulations and large advertising budgets. Some also may be chosen because they are generous with Pushcart nominations.
I can think of only a handful of poets that I know that have ever been published in even one of these high profile magazines. From my perspective most of these magazines are inclined to cater to well-known poets who will reinforce the publication’s own visibility. I am also not impressed with Pushcart nominations, since I know that almost anyone can get a nomination, especially if they are friends with the publisher. Pushcart nominations are worth nothing. Only Pushcart prizes are of value. Heck anyone with $50 and a friendly publisher can even get a Pulitzer nomination.
Personally, I don’t think it is really possible to “rank” literary magazines any more than it is possible to rank poetry in general. How do you rank Milton’s Paradise Lost against Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, Shakespeare’s sonnets or Eliot’s Wasteland? Poetry is an art, not an athletic event. There is no finish line to reach first. Instead personal taste and aesthetics must be considered for any “judgment” of poetry.
I prefer to offer up “favorites” according to my own criteria. First of all, more than anything else, I want to work with magazines that consider the poetry more than a “who’s who” of poets. I want my submissions to be considered for themselves and not because I have an MFA or studied under a former Poet Laureate. I am fond of journals that will place the work of an emerging poet alongside that of a well-known and respected poet. I also appreciate journals that are involved with poetry in multiple ways. In addition to publishing individual poems, do they have contests for chapbooks? And if they are a traditional print publisher, do they also have opportunities for online publications? Do they do things in the community? Are they in love with poetry and the arts as much as I am?
Since I am a visual artist as well as a writer, I have a special affinity towards journals that not only publish great poetry, but also include prose pieces, book reviews, and perhaps pictures as well. I love journals that pay attention to design and display work in the best possible way. I like journals that make a “good home” for my work and those of clients.
In addition to accepting diverse and quality poetry, my favorite journals tend to be poet-friendly. I like when journals accept paper copies as well as digital submissions and thereby give poets the option of how they want to submit. I also like publications that accept simultaneous submissions and/or previously published poems with acknowledgements. And I find it wonderful when an editor will contact me directly to suggest a small improvement or to clarify a format. Below are some of my favorite journals in no particular order. To my knowledge, none of them require a reading fee with the exception of add-on contests.
• Rattle Magazine accepts poems either by online submission, or by regular postal mail. They accept simultaneous submissions. In addition to their journal they also sponsor various contests for single poems and chapbooks, as well as offering online ekphrastic challenges or poems about current events.
• Red Wheelbarrow of DeAnza College welcomes submissions of all kinds, and seeks to publish a diverse range of styles and voices.
• Blueline is a literary magazine devoted to the spirit of the Adirondacks, a small regional magazine that accepts poetry, creative nonfiction, and artwork. It also accepts work from both new and established authors.
• The Aurorean has an interesting fall-back feature for poems which they feel are too dark, too long, or experimental, etc. Unless you request otherwise, these poems are also considered for their broadsheet, the Unrorean. They accept both mail and digital submissions and simultaneous submissions.
• The MacGuffin’s mission is to encourage, support, and enhance the literary arts in the Schoolcraft College community, the region, the state, and the nation. They accept both digital and mailed submissions, and have been publishing since 1948. They are interested in both prose and poetry.
• The Chaffey Review seeks out previously unpublished art, by both established and emerging artists, that is well crafted, has an intelligent sense of form and language, and assumes a degree of risk. They accept poetry, prose and art, and submissions can be made through the mail or online.
• Silk Road has an open-ended call for submissions and accepts simultaneous submissions. The publication is nicely done and if your work is published, they send you two copies of the book.
Obviously, my favorite journals tend to be independent small presses or publications connected with smaller colleges or universities. And while some of the above journals have been around for decades, I am sad to say that many other wonderful publications have disappeared or are foundering. Often these smaller, friendlier, more democratic journals fail for lack of money or staff. Rattle is a lucky exception in that it is backed by a large foundation. But most of these publications need to sell their books to stay in business or resort to reading fees or contests to cover costs.
But like I said in the beginning, attempting to identify the “best” or “favorite” literary journals is a very personal thing. It depends on how you see yourself and poetry and how you want to interact with others. For me, I prefer submitting to good solid journals where I have a reasonable chance of being accepted rather than to some elitist magazine which values circulation numbers more than the beauty of words.
An artist, writer, editor and local publisher of Palettes & Quills (http://palettesandquills.simplesite.com/), Donna Marbach is widely published in journals, anthologies, and periodicals.
If you’ve been submitting your chapbook manuscript and watching your bank account shrink because of reading fees, this question may be on your mind. Here are some thoughts on the subject from my own experience and observation.
Over the past 10 years, the world of publishing has been inundated with MFA graduates, most with at least a chapbook-sized creative thesis presumed to be ready for publication. That was me in 2007. When my final mentor at Bennington told me, when asked, that about 50% of my creative thesis would make for a good manuscript, my first thought was “Oh, chapbook.” That was not meant in the most positive way at that time.
Like so many others of the pre-millenial generation, I was skeptical of the merit of chapbooks. Several friends had chapbooks published by very, very small presses and had tales of woe about doing their own marketing, chasing down reading venues, etc. However, over the past 15 years the chapbook has become a highly respectable means of publication, with more presses including chapbook titles in their catalogs. This trend encourages more poets to complete chapbook manuscripts rather than full-length collections, as did I after five years of struggling with the issue.
Then there is the cost of producing a printed chapbook. Most contest fees cover the cost, but for publishers that do not run contests, have no major outside funding, or require no reading fees, the number of chapbooks they can produce is smaller. Even those publishers that operate under the contest model are less likely to opt to publish additional manuscripts from the list of non-winning finalists than in times past. Thankfully for me, the judge of Bright Hill’s 2013 chapbook contest selected my chapbook and another as co-winners and Bright Hill was gracious enough to publish both.
Another element is the increasing popularity of publishing ebooks rather than print. It may be difficult for some poets (again, of certain generations) to consider ebooks equivalent to the printed page, despite the fact that an online presence has the potential to reach far more readers than a 200 book print run.
There is also a growing market for multi-media publishing to which some publishers are migrating, mostly in the digital realm, as more technologically savvy editors assume their roles as those decision-makers.
Another factor is timing. Poets & Writers runs an annual feature introducing new poets with first books. While these are not chapbooks, there is one similarity to be observed. Few of those chosen for this special section had their manuscripts picked up immediately. For many it was several years. I was thrilled that I had only submitted my chapbook to 15 publishers/contests over the course of seven months prior to it winning at Bright Hill.
Finally, it all comes down to the ultimate decision-maker, be that an editor or a judge. There is no way to predict how many wonderful manuscripts are read and dismissed or passed along for the decision-maker to select just one.
When I began submitting my chapbook, I knew I was competing against some of my friends with strong manuscripts in very different writing styles and I even shared being a finalist with one of them. I told myself to give it a year and then to consider other options. I would advise that you do the same, submitting to as many places as possible, both financially and aesthetically, for at least a full year.
I hope these thoughts help to ease your frustration.
Last weekend, the home of small press Foothills Publishing founder Michael Czarnecki burned to the ground while he was traveling with his family.
A poetry reading fundraiser will be held at Writers and Books on Sunday, July 22, starting a 2PM and going until around 5PM. If you would like to read as part of this fundraiser, please reply to Wanda Schubmehl ASAP at firstname.lastname@example.org, and choose which hour is preferred – between 2-3, 3-4, or 4-5. We are suggesting a $10 donation from each reader and a small snack/drink to share (nothing which much be kept really hot or really cold.)
If you cannot attend the fundraiser, here are donation options as per Michael:
Mail to : Michael Czarnecki, PO Box 68, Kanona, NY 14856 or Paypal. Go to Send Money and then put in email address: email@example.com Amount, click on Personal tab and then make sure Gift is checked.