June 3rd, 2011 / 2:00 pm
Behind the Scenes

Q & A #6

If you have questions about writing or publishing or whatever, leave them in the comments or e-mail them to roxane at roxanegay dot com and we will find you some answers.

How formal should I be when submitting work to a place where I’ve been accepted before? It doesn’t seem like I should be totally laid back about it, but it also feels weird to send a “Dear Ms./Mr. [Editor]:” type thing to someone who I’ve personally corresponded with before.

Ryan Call

I’ve done this once before, but the situation was unique in that I had a collaborative story that was two files, so I wrote to just ask if he’d be interested in reading it. He said yes, so I sent it. It was all pretty informal. I plan to send a story to another editor who accepted a story of mine a few months ago, and asked to see another one. I’ll most likely email him to ask how he would like me to send it: something like “Hey [First Name], I’ve got that second story ready for you; how should I send it to you?” As with most things submissions-related, I tend to feel pretty relaxed about how I try to interact with editors. I think it’s important to get a sense of each relationship, and go with what feels best. To me, “Dear Mr./Mrs. Editor” feels too formal, but “Dear [First Name]” is fine. I don’t know.

Roxane Gay

I think it depends on how well you know the editorial staff. Dear John seems like it would be appropriate if you’ve established an editorial relationship. The chances are, at most magazines, that editor John won’t see your submission initially but he will eventually. I find that Dear First Name always works well with editors who have published me while I use Dear First Name Last Name for magazines where I am submitting unsolicited work and with which I have no previous relationship.

Do any HTMLGIANT contributors think that the work of language writers have influenced their practice or those of some of the writers regularly loved here. I’m thinking Ever, I guess.

Mike Kitchell

I can only speak for myself, but I’m heavily influenced by the French “écriture” writers of the 70s & 80s, and these writers certainly had correspondence with the language writers. As for the actual language writers I can only claim to have drawn any influence from Craig Watson, but I assume that is due more to the fact that I haven’t actually read many of the language writers than any particularly attachment to Watson (though I will insist that in my meager experience with the language writers, Watson has more in common with the Frenchies than his American brethren).

So, as someone who hasn’t been published yet (but has a story forthcoming), my question is, how do you know when it’s worth it to submit to a publication that doesn’t pay and when it’s not?

Kyle Minor

Two questions: (1) Is the publication in a magazine or website you respect, where your story will be published alongside stories with which you’d be proud to keep company?; and (2) Is the story a story you’ll be proud to have published five years from now, when the heat and happiness of acceptance has faded and you’re stuck with its continued presence in the world? If the answer to both of those questions is yes, then of course you should submit your story to the magazine or website, whether or not it pays. Let’s face it: There’s hardly any money in writing short stories anyway, or not much. And the notable exceptions — The New Yorker, Esquire, The Atlantic, Harper’s, The Georgia Review, The Gettysburg Review, The Missouri Review, The Southern Review, Zoetrope, etc. — are more valuable for the audience they offer and the prestige they confer than the money they offer. Where there’s real money (a dwindling thing in the age of ebooks), it’s in writing commercial-ish novels or screenplays or works of narrative nonfiction, and that only for the fortunate few. So money’s not why you’re doing it. You’re doing it for love, and if you’re like me, you’re also hoping you’ll find and cultivate an audience of readers. The best you can do is to do right by yourself and by those readers, by making something worth your time and theirs, and publishing it in a place that will likewise do right by the work, whether it pays or not.

Ryan Call

Money is nice, sure. I’ve submitted to editors that seem to pay well. But I also don’t often think about how I can get money from a story. I guess I’m saying it doesn’t drive how I choose to send a story to an editor who pays or an editor who doesn’t or can’t pay. Other things, I think, should influence my decision too.

Mike Kitchell

More than worrying about whether or not a publication pays, I’d aim for worrying about whether or not you actually like or respect the publication that you’re submitting to. Money shouldn’t enter into it. If you like a mag & you’ve got a story that you think would fit really well into the mag, then submit it. From what I can figure out, the real reason to get published, particularly in a magazine that fits your specific aesthetic, is that it will result in people who already appreciate (some approximation of) your aesthetic reading your story.

Does it make more sense to have stories derived from a novel come out closer to the publication date of that novel?

Ryan Call

If the stories are derived from the novel, then it would be cool to have them appear around the publication date. But I don’t know enough about the situation, I guess, to make a judgement. The coordinating it would take between different editors and your publisher to try to time the release might create a bit of a headache, but it’s worth asking your publisher, as getting more readers to be aware of your stories and the novel is cool.

Roxane Gay

It’s so hard to time something like that. Publication schedules are strange. Many magazines are accepting work now for 2012 and 2013 so it would take a lot of coordination to time the publication of excerpts and the release of a novel. I find that excerpts from to-be-published work are a nice pre-cursor, even if they are published well in advance. I wouldn’t worry so much about trying to create a confluence of your writing dropping into the world at once.


  1. Frank Tas, the Raptor

      How can I get Norm MacDonald to retweet me on his Twitter?

  2. postitbreakup

      Do editors pay big attention to gaps with no activity, the way I’ve heard employers do with resumes?  Like if you had 3 things published 4 years ago and now nothing and you’re wanting to get back into it.

  3. Roxane

      Humor or black magic.

  4. Roxane

      Good question. I will get you some answers. 

  5. alan

      Does anyone here want to read my manuscript?

  6. Frank Tas, the Raptor

      Alan: any interest in a manuscript trade-off?

  7. Frank Tas, the Raptor

      Seriously, though, just to go off on a temporary aside — you know he started a book club via twitter, right? Really excited to see how that goes, it’d be great to have a mainstream guy like him discussing literature.

  8. Frank Tas, the Raptor

      Seriously, though, just to go off on a temporary aside — you know he started a book club via twitter, right? Really excited to see how that goes, it’d be great to have a mainstream guy like him discussing literature.

  9. Trey

      hooray! thought I’d never see this. answer to my question was really helpful, thanks guys.

  10. Trey

      hooray! thought I’d never see this. answer to my question was really helpful, thanks guys.

  11. postitbreakup


  12. postitbreakup


  13. Roxane

      Sorry it took so long. I’m going to get on a more regular schedule with these. This somehow ended up stuck in my e-mail Inbox drafts folder and then I was cleaning it out and realized just how much time had passed. 

  14. Daniel Bailey

      can dogs run backwards?

  15. MFBomb

      Magazine editors? I can’t see why they would care, but that’s just my perspective as one person who has worked as a fiction editor/reader for several years.  I don’t have time to do research on your publication timeline, nor do I really care.  Now, having credits in well-regarded journals does help a little–not going to lie–but then again, there are so many writers today who can put together publishable stories, writers with MFA’s, writers with prior credits, that the most difficult task of an editor or reader is now saying “no” to competent/good/publishable stories.  The awful stuff is easy to reject.  Today, I rejected several stories that were “publishable”; there is only so much room.

      If I can interject a tangent: the one thing I see missing from a lot of submissions is soul/passion.  Just stories that were written to be written. “Competent–boringly competent.” You don’t get the sense that the writer needed to write the story, or couldn’t imagine his or her life without writing the story.  It’s like the writer just took a few workshops, learned the basic techniques, and decided to throw a story on the page that follows all the rules but lacks any real fire, vision, urgency, worldliness, or authentic voice.

  16. postitbreakup

      Hey, thanks.  That’s a good point about editors not having time to research, I’m so stuck in resume/job-finding mode that I’m all paranoid about that stuff and shouldn’t be.

      Your tangent was wonderful.  That’s really why I have had several years off from writing, I lost that feeling of “fire, vision, urgency.”  Been trying to get it back.

  17. Frank Tas, the Raptor

      “You don’t get the sense that the writer needed to write the story, or couldn’t imagine his or her life without writing the story.”
      Yes this, and I mean, this is sort of the whole problem with having a writing community and graduate problems and stuff, isn’t it? It deceives writers into believing they should be writing for someone else, when everything they write should be for themselves.

  18. M. Kitchell

      i can when i turn into a dog but that only happens when the moon is completely obscured by blood

  19. MFBomb

      Yes, it’s definitely a symptom of the writing program cottage industry, and I’m in academia, within the so-called “field” of creative writing; the whole thing needs to be reinvigorated and blown-up, as far as I’m concerned, but there are simply too many cowards in MFA/AWP Land for that to ever occur; too many people who have lived lives of privilege; but yes, the workshop model, regardless of its intentions, fosters the need for group “acceptance.” It happens all the time: a student with a quirky, unique, fresh, and original way of seeing the world is remolded in the image of the teacher, often someone from the upper-middle or upper class with an Ivy BA and an MFA from Iowa.  The student is made to feel guilty for his or her quirkiness, and the teacher throws some Amy Hempel or Ray Carver or Lorrie Moore his or her way. “This is serious literature” (even if it’s really someone else’s serious literature, that they had the privilege to write in their own voice).  The student wastes years trying to write in a way that will please his or her mentors (or their ghosts, standing-over-the-shoulder) and peers who have all been similarly duped.  The student spends years after graduation submitting lifeless, okay, dull, and boringly competent stories to lit mags, but eventually gives up because s/he realizes that her stories sound like all of the other bland, look-alike MFA stories out there and thinks (wrongly) that the voice s/he always wanted to write in isn’t acceptable.  Luckily for us, there are always a few MFA survivors who eventually learn to tell the detractors to go to hell; these, of course, are the same writers that make it and are held up by MFA apologists as examples of writers from MFA Land with “diverse styles.”

      So yeah, you can just see the origins of this sort of passionless in the stories themselves, like the MFA-grad writer approached his or her submitted story like eating a plate of broccoli to satisfy her parents, teachers, and pastor. 

  20. MFBomb


  21. Darby Larson

      can your back run dogwards?

  22. Daniel Bailey

      if i had a dog i’d put forth extreme effort to find out.

  23. Frank Tas, the Raptor

      MFBomb, if you’re ever in Chicago we should grab a beer.

  24. MFBomb

      Okay, I will be in Chicago for next year’s AWP Conference; you’ll find me asleep at some useless panel about the history of micro-fiction or something like that.

  25. deadgod

      In what we usually call ‘space’ or in time?

      I know some Republicans who run ass-frontwards; half-credit?

  26. Lincoln Michel

      Magazine editors? I doubt they’d even know about it unless you explicitly mentioned it in your cover letter (I don’t think many are tracking down your publication history.)

      Book editors? Different story I’d assume.  

  27. Anonymous


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  30. Anonymous