I’m a busy writer. Not too long ago (two years to be precise) I decided that if I wanted to be a writer, I had to get busy and write some things. That’s what being a writer means, right? But I also committed myself to community. I committed to submitting. I’m going to share with you a few things I’ve found as a part of this process.
This fall, I stumbled upon a neat little site called Sixfold. Sixfold is an online literary journal where selections for publication are chosen by submitters. There are no editors involved, just writers reading the work of other writers. Sounds interesting right?
The way it works is this: You pay $5, along with several hundred other writers (the full number is unknown) and you vote on a series of manuscripts in three rounds. Each round you vote on 6 manuscripts. The highest voted manuscript gets $1,000. The top 30 poem manuscripts get published. (More about the process is available here.)
I’m in the second round of voting right now, and I have to say I’m enjoying the process. It is challenging to rank manuscripts – Which read slightly better than the last? Or slightly worse? It reminds me of working at a literary journal in college. Except, I can give feedback to my fellow writers! This is my favorite feature of the website.
I don’t know whether my manuscript will get very far in the voting process, but even if it doesn’t the fun of getting to rate poems and receive feedback from other writers hooked me. With NaNoWriMo on, I panicked this week because I realized it was the second round of voting, but I got my vote in.
The voting process is pretty easy. I enjoy reading which poems were picked. The top poems get voted on by a total of 390 writers. This differs greatly from a normal literary journal, which might have 1-2 slush readers, then an editorial board or one editor reading second tier submissions. The economic model makes more sense too. Writers have to pay to play, but they are guaranteed feedback. It is rare (read: doubtful) for a literary journal to offer feedback, especially on poetry. Yet most journals charge for submissions, expecting writers to be happy to pay and receive nothing in return but a rejection letter.
I’m not saying it’s perfect. Sixfold just underwent a serious funding campaign (which it met) to stay alive. No options exist for genre writers. But the model calls into question the traditional literary journal format, and suggests that in our digital world, there are other ways literature can thrive.
What does it mean that literary journals are increasingly crossing into the digital realm? Print is certainly not dead yet, but the space that Sixfold inhabits is one of both democracy (user-generated, user-voted content) and digital community. These two ideas coming together may mean something for the future of literary journals, or they may just be a passing fad.
Let’s just say, it’s another way I’m keeping myself busy.
I just got back from the Texas Book Fest last weekend, where I was promoting Writefest, a new literary journal fair and writer’s workshop in Houston, Texas, hosted by Writespace, the local grassroots literary center I work with. I spent the weekend on a whirlwind meet and greet with a fellow writer friend, and I think we may never recover. We hung out with other writers, met remarkable authors, and got some serious Writefest inspiration.
Here’s a few highlights from the trip, as if you needed more proof that Austin is a city of magical unicorns.
1. We met Margaret Atwood. She was overwhelming, forcefully devoted to the craft, and it was like standing next to the literary equivalent of some kind of really sweet, tolerant norse god. Or something.
2. We met a slew of other new writers I hadn’t heard of but now am obsessed with, including Amelia Gray and Edward Carey, who both write wonderfully weird things that I now must go read. (And Edward Carey doodled in his signature. Who doesn’t love that?) By the way, Carey is reading at Brazos Bookstore Nov. 16th, so make sure you check him out.
3. We met Kelly Link, and took an uber with her, and saved her wallet. How does this even happen? Oh yeah, and her panel with Edward Carey was delightful.
5. We met Daniel Handler, a.k.a. Lemony Snicket, and told him we skipped a second beer at the bar (Did I mention Shiner Cheer is back out again? It’s enchanted, and I think it may have contributed to the magic of the weekend) just to come to his panel, which I think he was slightly bemused by, however, he is hilarious.
6. We met several people interested in Writefest, and got to share the good word about our mission to embolden new writers to submit submit submit! Austin – you are one rad city and I miss you always.
Now my TBR pile is a massive highland crag and I have to go read for a while to assure my husband I am not a crazy book hoarder. Oh let’s admit it, I am a crazy book hoarder.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away (Austin, Texas) I was a secret poet. As an undergrad, I wrote piles of poems, most of which never got finished. Then I went out into the real world and had to survive, so I worked shitty jobs. I put my husband through grad school with those shitty jobs, so I can’t harp on them too much. But in the last few years, I finally got to dedicate myself to writing.
Now, I’m writing more and more short fiction. I started with flash, which seemed like an easy jump from poetry. My goal is to get published, to be able to make it with my writing. For now, editing pays the bills (and don’t get me wrong, I love it), but being a full-time writer is the end-game.
The first advice anyone offers a new writer on getting published is to read more. I’ve been following that advice, focusing on finding new journals and new (to me) authors. Here's my current TBR pile.
Comics & Arts:
Tales of Honor by Matt Hawkins: I picked this up at last year's Comicpalooza and have just now gotten a chance to check it out. I also got Wildfire, which is a very well thought-out sci-fi premise about plants taking over the world and made me wish I was a comic book writer! (Its pretty awesome that I got both signed too. Nice perk of attending cons.)
Saga by Brian K. Vaughan: I'm not sure where I picked this up, but the first few pages are a rough ride (The character is in the middle of giving birth in the first page)! Talk about starting in medias res. The artwork is pretty rad, too.
SubTerrain: I've got a new penchant for Canadian lit mags, which seem to have it all figured out. This one is beautiful, the inside pages read like a watercolor painting. I'd love to have my work in a journal like this.
I've been trying to read more lit journals with major circulation. I prefer small press and small lit mags, but you have to read what's popular, right? Or rather, what puts the quo in status quo. These are a good selection of different lit fiction/poetry journals - Ploughshares, Southern Poetry Review, Fields, New England Review, and Zoetrope. Fields is a new one - they are based out of my home town, Austin, and I picked it up over at Brazos. I like the design of the mag, but I wanted a bit more meat out of the creative writing. I give them props for including such distinctive local arts coverage.
Asimov's Science Fiction: Asimov's is a standard in the sci fi world. I was surprised by how accessible the work in this volume was. I also like the pocket-sized feel of it. It's a bit nostalgic.
Interzone: A UK-based mag with beautiful layout and visuals. I particularly enjoyed Chris Butler's "The Deep of Winter," (Gripping tale of an underground city changed forever by a time traveling researcher) and Catherine Tobler's "Silencer - Head Like a Hole Remix" (A unique take on school shootings that utilizes voice and POV in ways that make me wish I were a better writer.)
Fantasy & Science Fiction: Another standard. Can you believe I found all of these at my local Barnes & Noble? I was surprised to see that they had such a great literary journal selection.
This is only a selection of the poetry books I've been reading lately. I was always a poetry writer, but I found it hard to find poets I liked. I've found I prefer those that are most accessible. I enjoy playing with structure, and appreciate artists who can make it work, but I find it's often not done well.
Phyla of Joy by Karen An-Hwei Lee: Karen was my workshop leader at this year's Glen West Workshop. She's a delightful leader and lovely person, and her poetry reflects that. My favorites have to be poems about bees, which made me want to write my own bee poems.
Application for Release From the Dream by Tony Hoagland: If you like funny, irreverent poems, Tony's your man. A local Houston poet with an accessible voice.
Gulf Music by Robert Pinsky: If you're a poet, you should probably read the works by former Poet Laureates, right? Pinksy was in town recently but I missed the chance to see him read.
I'm off to the Texas Book Festival this weekend, so I'll bring back more to share! What literary journals have you added to your TBR pile lately?
Holly Lyn Walrath is a freelance editor and author of poetry, flash fiction, and short fiction. Find her on Twitter @HollyLynWalrath
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