Well, pals, this is it! We're capping off our monthlong Lit Mag Crash Course with some advice from our editors, and a peek behind the curtain at what the editorial process looks like for Lammergeier. Hopefully this will answer the last of your nagging questions and make you feel brave enough to submit before we close at the end of the month!
What does the typical process of reading submissions look like for you? Walk us through a typical submission.
Jacque: For poetry, I’ll typically batch read submissions at a time where I know that I have a good few hours to dedicate to it without being distracted. I’ll read through submissions in the order I receive them, then separate them out into respective categories. Submissions that I know right away aren’t a good fit for the magazine will go in a folder, and submissions that I’m either excited or on the fence about will be starred to get a second opinion from another editor. When we have time to get together, we’ll talk about our respective thoughts on the piece, then decide whether we should accept it or give it a personal rejection. If it’s the latter, I’ll draft the personal rejection (usually a list of things that struck me about the piece) while it’s still fresh in my mind.
Ethan: Mine is pretty similar. Batch read, start from the earliest submissions, move submissions that I’m confident aren’t a good fit into a separate folder. I keep stories I’m on the fence or hopeful about in the queue until the next time I go through the queue, or even a third time. I might even call in Ashely if I’m torn and need a second opinion. Once I know I want a story, however, I send out the acceptance ASAP.
I then do rejections in separate batch runs, during which I reread the first paragraph or more of each story to make sure I’m confident in my vote. While I use a form message for standard rejections, positive rejections are usually written from scratch, so they take more time. If a fiction rejection takes a while to reach an author, it may be because I was busy, but it could also be because I was intrigued by their work and needed to mull it over. That’s always, always the case if I send a positive rejection.
Ashely: I think my process is a little different in that nonfiction/hybrid doesn’t tend to get nearly as much as poetry and fiction. (There’s a peek behind the curtain, nonfiction tends to get the least amount of submission at journals unless it’s kind of specialized for nonfiction). I tend to do acceptances and rejections at the same time in bursts of when I have free time. I will consult with other editors if I’m on the fence about a piece. Honestly, this is my favorite part of editing, when I get to talk it over with someone else and discuss what is working or what isn’t.
A thing to note is that I’ve probably, by percentage, had the most solicited work. This doesn’t change the process too much, though there can be more a bit more back and forth about edits before coming to a final decision. That said, solicitation doesn’t necessarily guarantee acceptance or that your work will be automatically accepted without edits. Also, please submit more nonfiction to me.
How quickly into a submission do you typically know whether you want to keep reading?
Jacque: I’ll typically know pretty quickly whether a poem isn’t a good fit, and the biggest sign that a piece is compelling is if I want to read all the way through to the end. Because poetry is so short, and there are multiple pieces in a packet, it’s important to make sure that I’m reading each piece in a packet as though it’s a fresh piece of work. Sometimes the first piece in the packet isn’t the strongest, and there are some real gems hiding in the middle.
Ethan: Sometimes I know almost right away, especially with language-driven pieces that show their intricacy with each sentence, but usually it takes me a bit. Sometimes I’ll find myself thinking about a piece even after I’ve read it, worrying over what makes it tick and what its flaws might be. There was one piece we’ve published that I was originally hesitant about, but I couldn’t get some of the language out of my head, and as I reread it again and again, I realized there was far more under the hood than meets the eye. If I can’t escape a story even days after I read it, it’s almost certainly a keeper.
Ashely: Like Jacque, I usually know if I’m going to pass on a piece pretty quickly, within the first page (or first few lines if it’s a micro/flash). The method I employ for long pieces is to read the first page or two, and if my attention isn’t captured, then skip to the end to see if the ending offers anything surprising or compelling. If that’s the case, I may revisit and see if it’s possible to suggest edits. That’s one of the interesting parts of editing, when you decide to edit and how much. I want to strike the balance between making the piece stronger but respecting the integrity of the writer’s voice and intentions.
What are some things that can turn a submission into an instant no for you?
Ethan: Beyond the stuff mentioned on our About page like writing that promotes bigotry, I don’t know if anything is an instant ‘no’ for me. Even when an author makes what looks like a bad choice, I hope a good reason for it will become apparent. I can think of a few things that rarely end well: a story that’s mostly dialogue, an overabundance of swearing (it happens a lot in stories that try too hard to be edgy), and especially poorly crafted sentences. Not every character or narrator is going to use sentences with an obvious beauty, but even seemingly crude sentences can have a rhythm and flow to them, and if that isn’t there, the piece isn’t a fit for us.
Ashely: Like Ethan, I’m not interested in outright bigoted content. Another thing that turns me off is appropriation of victims and marginalized people’s stories, especially with the intention of profit. That isn’t to say I think people shouldn’t write outside of their experiences or about others, but I think people who write creative nonfiction (and really any genre) need to ask themselves, “Why are you writing about these people?” So yeah, I’m probably not going to take a story about how a narrator worked with some disenfranchised group and really learned a lot about love and life or whatever.
It’s not an instant no, but I do get annoyed when non-human organisms are reduced to a metaphor and a reader doesn’t really care or do research. Respect your subjects of exploration.
Jacque: Stepping beyond the language and content issues that Ashely and Ethan discussed, a lot of the things that will turn me off about a piece have to do with the power dynamics between the speaker and the subject. For example: there’s a subgenre of poetry that deals heavily in speaking about women in a certain way that’s hard for me to get on board with. It typically has a lot to do with flattening images of women into their breasts (pendulous and matronly or pert and straining, always a hypothetical savior for a male speaker) over a cigarette and a whiskey. Even stepping beyond the misogyny that’s at play in those pieces, there’s very little about them that I find compelling or new, which makes them a hard sell for the magazine.
How many people are involved in rejecting or accepting submissions?
Jacque: Usually two.
Ethan: Just me for standard rejections, but sometimes two or even three for positive rejections and acceptances.
Ashely: It depends! A lot of times it’ll just be me, but I’ve definitely had my other editors step in to help me make a decision.
How many times should you submit to a journal before deciding they're just not interested in your work? How often should you submit a piece before editing it or stop submitting it altogether?
Jacque: There are journals I’ve been sending work to once per submission period for five years now, and I’m not showing any signs of slowing down. This is important, because statistically speaking, women are less likely to resubmit to a magazine after having been rejected (for what it’s worth, Kelli Russell Agodon wrote some great advice about this). If you care about being published someplace, keep trying. Also, I know I mentioned in The Wildebeest and the Watchmaker that I’ve got versions of poems floating around hither and yon, so I’m probably not the best person to give advice about when it’s time to edit before resubmitting.
Ethan: Yeah, I don’t think there’s a magic number. If you get a few rejections from a publication, it may be worth a closer inspection the magazine in question to make sure you’re submitting work they might be interested in. However, it could also be that your work isn’t quite up to where they want it, or there could be outside factors influencing the editors’ decisions, or maybe your piece was solid but just didn’t click. The point is that while multiple rejections from one place should make you consider if your work is a good fit for a publication, that doesn’t mean you need to stop submitting by any means. Personally, I don’t care how many times someone submits to Lammergeier as long as they take the time to familiarize themselves with what we do.
As for when to resume edits, I don’t think there’s a hard rule to follow for the first. Sometimes great work receive dozens of rejections before being accepted, but other times, edits really can make a difference. I’d say ten rejections isn’t unusual, but if you haven’t reread the piece recently, I’d at least do that much then, and if it seems like it needs edits, get to it.
Finally, I’d say the time to stop submitting a piece is when you no longer feel it represents your capabilities as a writer. Generally speaking, an author’s writing usually improves with time, so there is a point where it makes more sense to focus on your stronger current work than the stuff you wrote years ago.
Ashely: I think I’m in agreement with the others when I say there’s lots of variables. One real life example for me where I submitted multiple times to a journal—I’ve been submitting to Cotton Xenomorph since they started, got a few rejections and then finally got accepted. So, it happens! And there’s definitely journals I’ve been submitting to I haven’t heard back from yet, but just think are cool and I want my work there. On the other hand, I’ve had lots of times where I submitted to a place once and never did again for whatever reason. As an editor, I definitely don’t mind at all if someone we rejected on good terms decides to submit again. People grow and change as writers. Some writers write in lots of different styles depending on genre and the piece. I can’t say what the next submission from a person may be like!
As for when to revise, again, it’s kind of up to you. There are pieces I will submit and can definitely feel there may need to be some more work. There are some pieces I think are largely where they need to be and will keep submitting until they get an acceptance. I would say if you’re unsure, submit a few times before doing major revisions, just because accumulating some rejections even on a polished piece isn’t unusual.
If you could give any one piece of advice to submitters who want to be published in Lammergeier, what would it be?
Jacque: The thing that excites me the most, THE MOST, in poems is beauty and weirdness at the line level. I’ll take that over a cohesive narrative any day of the week. In fact, I’m happy to go with you on a ride and not totally know where I’m going. As long as the imagery that gets me there is good, and I’m given just enough pieces of the puzzle to keep me interested, I’ll follow you just about anywhere.
Ethan: I feel the same way. Send me a poem that’s successfully disguised itself as fiction, and I’ll be very happy. The thing about a language-driven story is that it shows the writer knows what they’re doing right from the beginning. And while it’s true that fiction requires strong characters and plot to function, well-wrought sentences can take any narrative and make it better.
Ashely: Like Jacque and Ethan, I love experimentation! Nonfiction is a weird genre that everyone defines by what it’s “not,” so there’s a lot of room to play. I also love when I can tell someone is really passionate about what they talk about and have done a lot of research. It definitely shows in the work.
What’s one thing you wish that people knew about the editorial/submission process?
Jacque: If an editor sends you a personalized rejection, or even asks you to send more, they mean it! Typically, I send out 4-5 personal rejections per issue, and it’s always to people whose work I loved but couldn’t quite find a place for. As soon as I do, I’m always thinking “man, I hope they send more, because that was rad.” This goes along with the idea of resubmitting to a journal. If I sent you a personal rejection, then chances are I'm crossing my fingers that you'll send me something stellar for the next issue, so a quick turnaround is always welcome. Editors everywhere I've worked have expressed similar feelings.
Ethan: Just because it’s a form rejection doesn’t mean the words in it aren’t sincere. I spent a lot of time perfecting our standard fiction rejection so that it would convey what I genuinely want a writer to know when we decline their work. Unless the author wrote something blatantly gross or that’s an obviously poor fit for the magazine, I do appreciate the effort they spent on writing and submitting their story, and I hope they do find success in the future, either with that piece or another one, at Lammergeier or elsewhere. I think I speak for a lot of editors when I say I am always hoping to be amazed when I read a story, and I don’t hold it against the author when that doesn’t work out for me.
Ashely: Don’t be scared of the process. It seems like a lot starting out, but once you make a habit of it, it gets pretty easy! A lot of editors are also writers and know the struggle, and I imagine very few of them go into a piece looking for something to hate. I think it’s also good to remember that the worst thing that will happen most of the time during the submission process is an editor will go “Not for me” and pass on it.
This concludes our Lit Mag Crash Course! We hope that this resource has been helpful for you as you begin to navigate the waters of submitting your work for publication. If there were questions that we missed, fear not! We're still available via email and @LammergeierMag, and we're here to help.