Submitting Something Somewhere: Things to Consider

Literary journals (and anthologies) are a way to get your feet wet in the world of publishing (before unleashing your masterpiece), and a way to reach a wider audience even if you already have books of your own in the marketplace. Plus,  they are a way of sharing your writing, period.

To date, in addition to writing my own books, I have been published in:
Akashic Books Mondays are Murder online series (my first attempt at noir)
BIM: Arts for the 21st Century
Calabash: a Journal of Caribbean Arts and Letters


Cover artist: Heather Doram

Carnival is All We Know: the Daily Observer’s 50th Anniversary of Carnival’s Literary and Artistic Anthology (which I also edited)
Collective Soul ( a local collection)
The Columbia Review
Ma Comère: Journal of the Association of Caribbean Women Writers and Scholars (this very brief poem was my first publication outside of Antigua-it even got me a mention in the paper)
The Missing Slate
Moko: Caribbean Arts and Letters
Munyori (an African journal)
Mythium: the Journal of Contemporary Literature
The PEN America Journal
The PEN World Voices Online Anthology (this was to coincide with me participating in the literary safari of the PEN World Voices festival)
Poui (the UWI Cave Hill lit journal)
The Sea Breeze Journal (a Liberian-American journal)
St. Somewhere
The Sunday Observer Literary Arts in Jamaica
Susumba’s Book Bag
SX Salon (this was poetry but I’ve also had two pieces of fiction short listed for the Small Axe Fiction Prize)
Theorizing Homophobias in the Caribbean: Complexities of Place, Desire, and Belonging
Tongues of the Ocean (I was later invited to edit a special Antigua & Barbuda issue of this online journal of Bahamian origin)

The University of the Virgin Island’s Caribbean Writer (which has also awarded me the David Hough Literary Prize for a writer working in the Caribbean and the CW Flash Fiction Prize)
Women Writers ezine (on the subject of regrets, contributors to this particular issue had the opportunity to present at a conference in New Orleans – I wish I’d found a way to go – though thankfully I’ve since been to the city who knows what other doors may have been opened)
& a story I submitted to the Desi Writers’ Lounge Short Story Contest (a story which earned honourable mention, my first attempt at a faerie tale) was selected for publication as a children’s picture book (coming soon!)
Links to published fiction and published poetry.

I’ve also been published in the following anthologies:
A River Of Stories Flyer 2016-1A River of Stories (Volume 4 – Fire)
For Women: in Tribute to Nina Simone
In the Black coverIn the Black: New African Canadian Literature
Pepperpot1-524x800Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean (after a story I submitted to the Commonwealth Prize, a story that was also short listed for the Small Axe Prize was selected for the collection; most recently I was contacted by a student at La Guardia Community College who is now studying that story as part of her course)
Round My Christmas Tree
She Sex, Prose and Poetry, Sex and the Caribbean Woman
So the Nailhead Bend, So the Story End: an Anthology of Antiguan and Barbudan Writing
Book, including anthology, listings.

N.B. a lot of my journalled and anthologized stories and poems have been collected in Dancing Nude in the Moonlight: 10th Anniversary Edition and Other Writings.Dancing Nude

N.B. as well while some of these publications are by request, most are a result of submitting and crossing my fingers; some, like the Caribbean Writer, I’ve been published in several times…after several years of rejections; yep, for every accepted poem or story, there are countless more that have been rejected over the years.

N.B. well well well submitting to journals will not make you rich, I repeat it will not make you rich, but for my money, it’s still worth it if you’re a writer looking to not only cop a cheque but be a part of the canon (the literary canon). But don’t get me wrong, writers – all artistes – still need to live (so deserve and should push to be paid) but money (alone) is not what gets us up in the morning. Is it?

Some things to consider (knowledge paid for by hard earned experience):

Ideally, we don’t want give away all our rights, including the right to publish that work in future. When we’ve been trying for a long time, we become so eager when we finally get noticed, we don’t take the time to read the fine print or feel we have no choice but to accept. But we always have a choice. Including the choice to say “no, thanks” and walk away. The onus is on us before submitting to read the submission criteria and terms of use – several journals have these posted online – and decide if what they’re asking for is something we can live with if accepted. Sometimes what they’re asking for isn’t clear up front, however. So, if and when a contract is offered, we need to remember that we can ask questions, make counter proposals, and should pay attention to the tone of the negotiations, their willingness to hear and respond to our concerns.

We want to be paid for our work (I firmly believe we ought to be paid; everybody else is). However, especially in instances where payment is nothing more than a contributor copy (and even that can sometimes be hard to get), we need to consider if the publishing credit is one with some other currency behind its name. Is it respected, does it have a reach into areas you have not been able to get to before, are literary prizes or consideration for literary prizes and critical engagement attached; that sort of thing. Only we can decide if the trade-off is worth it but to do so we need to do our research.

Being active in online groups dedicated to writing is one way I’ve found to stay informed about new contests and journal submission deadlines (and you can too by for instance following Wadadli Pen where I regularly update re Opportunities). Then there are sites like Poets and Writers that have a handy submission schedule for your convenience. We can also look up where writers we like and/or respect have been published or ask other writers for ideas on places to submit.

Aim beyond the moon. By which I mean, let’s not limit ourselves. We should take advantage of the accessibility of niche publications.  The niche ones may make it possible for us to get our foot wedged in the publishing door due to us/our work fitting the publication’s gender, race, cultural, or geographical niche, but let’s not mistake them for inferior – the best ones have standards just as exacting as our so-called dream publications. But the dream publications are so called because their status (and market reach) is such that they can really open up the world of possibilities. Plus, unlike some of the smaller publications, the prestige they bring may come with a sizable payday. I say try for both, all the time, and let’s submit as many days a week as we can to as many (targeted) publications as we can: dream and find the niches. Besides, given the response time of most publications, it’s best not to limit ourselves or put all our eggs in one basket; we can grow old waiting.

We can’t let rejection (soul crushing as it can be, creating all kinds of doubt and internal crises) slow us down. As much as we can stand to hear it, we need to remind ourselves that rejection does not necessarily mean not good, not worthy, you suck!!! It may mean that the submission needs more work, it may mean that it’s not the right market or maybe the right time for it – we’ve all had instances where just as we’re re-working a rejected piece another publication accepts it just as it was. Serendipity and Murphy like to dance a tango all over our hopes and dreams, hard work and try. So we should try, as much as possible, to use the rejections as incentive to keep trying (do you think that’s enough repetition of try to make it stick in our heads?); the moment when a piece finally gets accepted by that publication we’ve been trying (guess not) to get into forever will feel like orbiting the moon (or some other more accurate simile related to flying…and trying).  In the meantime, we do the best we can with the piece (we will not send our first effort); then let it fly.

Sometimes rejections aren’t particularly kind but where they take the time to give a detailed response – here’s why your story sucked or whatever – we should take the time to read it and maybe learn from it. Anything beyond a form rejection (of the your writing is too bad and/or bland to merit my personal scrutiny variety) is unusual. So when we send you edit notes after you make the Wadadli Pen short list, that’s a good thing. And as writers ourselves, we send it knowing it may be hard to hear. We  may not be able to read the feedback right away, or all at once (reading edit notes isn’t like ripping off a sticking plaster). But read it dammit! Have some bobby treats at our elbow if we need to to reward ourselves for being good writers swallowing bitter medicine (bobby makes everything better).

Getting an informed perspective can be illuminating; we may decide that they’re dead wrong and we may be perfectly right, or we may see something we hadn’t considered in their assessment, something that can only make the writing stronger. But how will we know if we don’t at least read it…as they took the time to do?

That said, if our writing is accepted but they propose changes to what’s written, consider it …with care. It’s never easy to edit (especially when those edit notes are coming from someone other than us), but maybe that last line does need strengthening or maybe that bit of character motivation is too ambiguous. So, while we should be willing to fight for the work if we need to, we shouldn’t enter the review process fighting, but listening. If, in the end, we’re not comfortable, if it feels like the changes are transforming the writing in to something other than it was (this is a tricky one because sometimes transformation is a good thing and sometimes it’s pandering), we may need to walk away to write and submit another day. We just need to make sure we’re doing so in the best interest of the work, and not because we’re all in our feelings about being asked to consider cutting an “and” when our writing is genius (genius!). We’ve all been that diva, if only in our minds, at some point or other – but it’s not about us, it’s about what best serves the story/poem and that can be a hard distinction to make sometimes.

Sometimes an editor will make a change without consulting us; I’m not talking minor proofing for punctuation (though where form is a part of the function this can be a big deal too). No, I’m talking dropping aspects of the narrative that they perhaps find offensive in some way (language, language).  As someone who’s had her voice muted (one of those credits above, for which the editor apologized profusely when confronted …but, still, print lives on), That’s a big no, no (oh, hell, no!) in my book. It’s their right to determine that the piece isn’t right for them, but it’s not their right to change it without our consent. To avoid this kind of conflict of the spirit, we should make sure we read the submission criteria carefully before submitting and consider the context – would an academic or religious journal appreciate us using the C word in making a bold point about gender politics? It would be nice if they could be so open-minded but chances are they’re not and we should be guided accordingly.  In the personal instance referenced however where they had requested the work as is but then published it with significant unapproved cuts, the only thing that could have helped is anticipating that and asking to see the proof before it went to print. Not always possible but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Finally, we shouldn’t not try because we’re afraid to. One of the biggest hurdles we’ll have to overcome time and again as writers, apart from the flagging of the spirit and the block, is the fear. A journal asks you to submit a piece for a special issue but you’ve never written about that or this or then (this happened to me with Sea Breeze), consider it a challenge, a prompt if you will, and give it a whirl (Friday Night Fish Fry , which I went on to read at Breadloaf and of which former Stanford Stegner fellow Austin Smith wrote, “it’s an absolutely beautiful piece of prose. The characters are so patiently and vividly and sympathetically wrought”, exists because I said yes, I’ll give it a whirl). We may not like it but we live to be pushed out of our comfort zone. On a related point, we should not let the potential of societal censure or assumptions – and you know people will make them – stop us from writing our truth, our characters’ truth, stop us from submitting. If we change our mind that’s one thing, but if we let someone else change our mind for us then we’re really giving them too much power. Write, let your spirit breathe, be as complex as you are (even if you’re mocked for not fitting the mold), dare – we may need to repeat this to ourselves everyday but that’s okay. Someday, we may not need to, and some day our breakthrough may come. Here’s a simple truth I continue to learn, however, there is no such thing as a single breakthrough. Rather a million opportunities to do what we do,  and if we stay alert to them, keep writing, keep believing, keep trying, stay ready, we will keep moving in the right direction – sometimes with a tired shuffle, sometimes with a flying leap. But moving.

As with all content on, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Musical Youth, Fish Outta Water, and Oh Gad!). All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on  WordPress and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about Wadadli Pen, my books and writing, and/or my writing-and-editing services. You can also subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks.

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