Tag Archives: Literary magazines

Show and Tell

Anyone who has ever read anything about writing or editing knows that there are two universal truths: 1) Show everything, tell nothing, and 2) Avoid adverbs like the plague.

The problem in writing a novel, is that by definition you are telling a story. Television, picture books and comics literally SHOW much of the story, but in the printed word everything is telling. So really, rule 1 is a fallacy. There are, however, degrees of telling, and the purpose of this rule is to nudge us towards the show-y end of the spectrum. For example:

Sarah felt embarrassed

Is more tell-y than

Sarah blushed

Is more tell-y than

Sarah’s face filled with an unmistakable tint of red

All these examples say the same thing, and since none is accompanied by a picture, they all do it by telling us what happens. The difference is that the second two paint verbal pictures.

If you’re editing a draft, you can do worse than to search for the word “felt” and check around it. Emotions are generally easy to fall into the trap of telling rather than showing. Although, “Sarah felt a prickling warmth in her cheeks” would be a decent way to deliver this sentence, because it’s using “felt” in a physical sense and not an emotional one.

Adverbs (and to some extent adjectives) are also often markers of telling, handily linking rule 2 in with rule 1. “He squeezed tightly through the hole”, the adverb tightly is arguably redundant because of squeezed, but it is also at the telling end of the spectrum. Instead, we could replace the sentence with something like

The skin on his arms grazed against the panelling; the hole was no wider than his shoulders.

Telling is often a shortcut. Showing almost always takes more words. As such, sometimes telling can be useful. “He slept soundly” could be replaced with “He lay in bed, unmoving, his breathing shallow and regular, his eyelids flickering only occasionally as a dream crossed his mind’s eye without disturbing his body’s rest”. But imagine if it was important for the reader to know that this continued for the whole night. I think most readers would vote to be told that, and not to have to read a minute-by-minute account of it.

However, if it’s not important for the reader to know the exact time period, it’s worth considering whether the reader could be left to infer that this state of affairs continued until the next scene, where we see the character awake and alert the following morning.


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Submissions – Ploughshares

One of the places I have submitted in the past, but now decided may not be the best for my work, is Ploughshares. It’s a serious literary magazine, with a strong pedigree in bringing newcomers to American literature and is guest-edited for each edition by some pretty big names. The magazine (really more like a paperback book) is published three times a year, and mailed out in hard copy to subscribers, who pay $30 per year for the privilege.

There are three ways to submit to Ploughshares.

Open Submissions

Fiction, poetry and certain types of non-fiction manuscripts are accepted unsolicited between 1 June and 15 January. Up to five poems can be submitted together, prose pieces should be submitted individually and be no more than 6,000 words long (5,000 is prefered).

There are no submissions fees for mail-in submissions, but a $3 charge is levied to submit online. Payment is $25 per page (Min $50, Max $250) together with two copies of the title published and a year’s subscription to the magazine.

Pshares Singles

The magazine has recently launched a new series, publishing one longer fiction piece (6,000-25,000 words) in electronic format once a month. The submission criteria are the same as above, and I believe so is the payment scheme.

Emerging Writers’ Contest

Finally, Ploughshares runs an annual contest for up-and-coming writers. This is defined as anyone who has yet to publish a book, including chapbooks and self-published works, in any genre. The contest is currently CLOSED and runs from February to April each year, with the winning entry published in their “Fall Edition”.

Entries should be no more than 5,000 words (or 3-5 poems) and the entry fee of $20 includes a year’s subscription to the magazine. Winners in each genre (fiction, non-fiction and poetry) are awarded $1,000 prize.


So, why won’t I be submitting any more?

Last year, I entered the Emerging Writers’ Contest. I didn’t win, or indeed receive any response to my entry, but this decision is not sour grapes on my part. It is proof of the lesson which is drilled into us time and again by books and articles and anything else giving advice on writing and publishing, and that is to know your market and choose wisely when submitting. My entry into the EWC gave me a year’s subscription to the magazine (for less than a year’s subscription would have cost, I hasten to add!). I’ve now read a couple of their publications in a lot more detail than the free excerpts online allowed me to do and I’ve come to the conclusion that it isn’t the place for my writing.

I write mainstream, some might even call it “literary”, fiction. I don’t write genre pieces, so Ploughshares ought to be a decent fit in that regard. However, what I don’t write is Literary Fiction in the sense that Ploughshares publishes it. Poems are usually incomprehensible to me, and even the short stories in their publications have a hint of poetry to them. I like a story to have a beginning, a middle and an end – a satisfying balance and a reason behind the words. I like likeable characters, or at least ones that I can be moved by, and I can’t handle even 6,000 words inside the head of a character who is clearly weird.

All of which is a poor attempt at describing the pieces I find in my latest copy of Ploughshares. The writing is good, by some definitions, but if a friend sent it to me and asked for critique, I’d rip it apart. I think most of my critiqueing friends would too.

So the truth is, I won’t be submitting to Ploughshares again unless my writing style changes. But if you think Literary suits the way you write (and for some people it really does), then it’s a fantastic place to try your work. The rates are decent, the lack of submission fees is a bonus and it’s definitely a publication with kudos behind the name. And if you’re not sure, enter next year’s EWC and try a year’s subscription for yourself. It might just be the springboard to great things.

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Submissions Options – Glimmer Train

Glimmer Train is one of the most famous and respected of online writing magazines I’ve found. They publish a range of fiction, promise to read everything that’s submitted, and pay for publication. They also run contests and publish a companion “Writers Ask” magazine, which includes interviews and reviews and some articles about writing and publication.

So far they haven’t had the taste and good sense to accept anything I’ve submitted, but I don’t hold that against them!


Entry page: http://www.glimmertrain.com/writguid1.html

Glimmer Train runs a different contest each month, each with an entry fee and a prize or series of prizes:


Entry page: http://glimmertrain.com/standard.html

In addition to the contests, there are four periods for Standard Submissions. These are a lot more open and have no reading fees. Payment is $700 for any story published, together with 10 copies of the issue.

  • January.Results by April 30.
  • April.Results by July 31.
  • July.Results by October 31.
  • October. Results by January 31


A Glimmer Train publication looks great on your writing CV. They focus entirely on unsolicited submissions and most of their work comes direct from writers, rather than through agents.

Contest entries include a free subscription to the Writers Ask magazine, although my personal view of that publication is it’s not incredibly useful. I have learned a lot more from proper writing mags and certainly wouldn’t pay for this one in its own right. The entry fee can also get your story submitted into the relevant “standard submissions” period, so you get extra cover. To begin with, though, I would consider just a standard submission – the rewards aren’t as great, but entry is free and it’s a good way to get a feel for whether you can produce what they are after.

To check it out in more detail, you need to log into the Glimmer Train site with a username and password. It’s free and easy and they don’t produce a lot of spam emails – just a few reminders about contest deadlines etc, so if any of this interests you, sign up and see what you can find.

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Updates and bragging and shout outs!

A Link-Back

First things first, for those who read last week’s post about Children’s Stories, I posted my attempt on Thursday, and I’d love to hear what you think about it. Please take a look and let me know.

Even if you saw Thursday’s post when it first popped up, I would strongly recommend you nip back and look at it again. My friend, Sam Agro, heard about the story and created some original artwork to bring Sally to life. He’s very modest, but this picture was knocked together in less than 10 minutes and I personally think it’s fantastic! You can get a link to Sam’s blog from the post, and see more of his artwork and illustrations too.

Publication – success and failure

In Canada, Reader’s Digest’s August edition has hit the shelves, complete with the “Quick Fix” article, which features two of my Friday Fiction stories. I’m so excited to see my name in print.

And I’ve had two more rejections – both of them personal and ending with encouragement to submit again. Little Fiction said: “Your story was close to making our shortlist, if that’s any consolation — our decision was more or less based on how it was fitting with the rest of the pieces making up the compilation.”

Narrative Magazine commented: “We found many strengths to recommend your work and, overall, much to admire. We
regret, however, that [your story] is not quite right for us.”

Although I’m aware that a rejection is ultimately not a success, emails like that go a long way to making me feel like I’m getting somewhere with my writing and hopefully someday will have more acceptances to brag about.

Booker’s Seven – Progress report

I’ve once again knuckled down to editing the great Booker’s Seven project. I’m working on Brothers at the moment, a story of adventure and discovery. It’s off to my wonderful writing group, Moosemeat on Thursday to see what they think. Wish me luck!


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Submitting to WD

This week’s submission spotlight falls on Writer’s Digest. WD is one of those online magazines which makes no bones about its intended readership – writers. There are pros and cons to this – if you want help or inspiration, hints and tips on writing or publishing, or just to know that there are others out there like you, then WD is the place to be. Their blog and advice pages are full of all of the above, and if you subscribe to the forums, you’ll find a community out there dying to discuss whatever aspect of writing comes to hand that day! On the other hand, it’s kind of scary to think how many “amateur” writers there are out there feeding magazines like WD and never really getting anywhere. One wonders if the great writing success stories of our time subscribed to writing magazines.

Still, a contest is a contest, and a win is a win (complete with prizes, publication, reassurance, kudos etc). And WD can offer a fair number of options for both contests and wins.

Short Short Story Competition <1,500 words of fiction, deadline 15 November, entry fee $20. 25 top entries published with a top prize of $3,000, a trip to the annual WD Writers’ Conference and a couple of useful textbooks.

Popular Fiction Awards <4,000 words of genre fiction (6 categories to choose from), deadline 15 September, entry fee isn’t clear from the site. Top entry in each genre wins $500, top overall gets $2,500 and a trip to the WD Conference.

Write It Your Way <1,500 words of fiction or non-fiction based on the theme of summer. This is a monthly contest, where the theme or prompt changes each month. Deadline is 15 July. Entry fee $5. Top 5 are exhibited online with the winner awarded $25 to spend in the WD shop and promotion of their story.

Screenwriting I’m not even going to try to summarise this one, but if you’re interested in Screenwriting, Films or getting into that industry, click on the link to find out more.

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Tales of Submission (or Submission of Tales) #2

Time for another place to place your stories, for the writers out there. This time, an online magazine recommended to me by a friend recently as not only producing quality work, but also a wide range of different formats.  Even if you’re not a writer or you’ve got nothing to submit right now, I’d recommend taking a look at the magazine.

Narrative Magazine (click on the logo above to make your way over there) publishes online, completely free and open to anyone who wants to read it. They have poetry, fiction and non-fiction sections and all make for great reading.  If you enjoy what you find, they encourage a donation of $10 to help cover their costs but that’s entirely optional. There are submission fees for writers, but they pay pretty well for accepted work.

Their diversity is one of their strengths for submissions too. These are all categories for which they accept submissions, along with brief details for each. I entered a few 6-word stories a few weeks ago, but I’m thinking I might take a crack at one of the longer options soon too. as ever, if you submit (and especially if you are successful) do share your news!

General Submissions (pretty much anything!)

Spring 2012 Story Contest (Up to 15,000 words, fiction or non-fiction in pretty much any style. Deadline 31 July. Entry fee $22, 13 prizes up to $2500 first prize)

Fourth Annual Poetry Contest (Any length, up to 5 poems per submission. Deadline 17 July. Entry fee $20, 13 prizes up to $1500 first prize)

Book-length Works for The Narrative Library (Full length books for publication in whatever format they decide, including hardback and e-book. Accepted all year round. Reading fee of $45)

Story of the Week (Up to 10,000 words, fiction or non-fiction. All year round. Submission fee $22. $150 paid upon publication, plus top billing and a chance to be one of the top 5 Stories of the week chosen each year for an extra $400.)

Poem of the Week (Enter up to 5 poems per submission, any length and style. All year round. Submission fee $16. $25-50 paid upon publication, plus as above for Story of the week at $200 for top 5)

iStory (Up to 150 words, fiction or nonfiction. All year round. Submission fee $22. $250 paid for chosen stories.)

Six-Word Stories (The ultimate in short story! Up to 5 stories per submission. All year round. Submission fee $15. $50 paid for each story selected)

iPoem (Up to 150 words each, although prefered at less than 40. Up to 4 per submission. All year round. Submission fee $20. $50 paid for each poem selected)

Cartoons and Graphic Stories (Up to 20 cartoons or a graphic story of any length per submission. All year round. Submission fee $20. Payment varies by size and style)

Photography (Photo essays and portfolios of up to 20 photos. All year round. Submission fee $20. Payment varies by length and nature)

Readers’ Narratives (Essays up to 1500 words on the environment in which readers find themselves. Open all year round. There is no submission fee and no payment upon publication, but it’s another way to get your work published and your name known, so check it out.

They also have an annual $4,000 prize awarded for the best thing they’ve published that year from a new and emerging writer, called the Narrative Prize.

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Reading to Write

Every writers’ guide in the world says you can’t write without reading. We should read widely to learn what we like, read the good stuff to learn what works, read the popular stuff to learn what sells and read drivel to learn what does neither. We should not be afraid to mimic (whilst avoiding copying). We should read literary magazines to choose where to send our work, and because it is only fair to read other people’s work if we expect them to read ours. We should read novels and pay close attention to the publishers / agents who took them on, so that in due course we know who best to approach. And of course, we should continue reading for fun, because there aren’t many writers in the world who didn’t love reading first.

And while we’re devouring all these written words, we should ensure that we are not skim-reading but are closely studying the text for every literary device, every style choice and a million other things that I haven’t got space to list here.

All this while we are living on the meagre profits of not being able to sell our work; or trying to fit in writing as a second or third job whilst working to put a roof over our heads and food on our tables.

I don’t disagree with the advice, I am just aware of the difficulties it creates. If I subscribed to every literary magazine I was thinking about submitting to, I’d be broke. So, I am beginning to look at alternatives, like sharing subscriptions with one or two friends. Books (not so much magazines) are available through lending libraries and second-hand shops.  And there is always Christmas – perhaps I will just ask for subscriptions as presents this year.

As for mimicry, I agree that it has its benefits, but there are drawbacks. I recently read over a longish manuscript I had written during a school summer holiday. You could tell from the text when I had been reading Pride and Prejudice and when To Kill A Mockingbird. I think a bit of Douglas Adams might have crept in there too. It was imaginative, in places even good, but consistent it was not!

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