Observations in reading submissions for a literary journal, by Marissa Landrigan

Ed. Note: Marissa Landrigan is guest-editing nonfiction in our upcoming issue. 

1. Way, way more dudes submit than women. Way more. And their writing is often very ... dude-ish. There's nothing wrong with either of these things, per se, but it does get overwhelming.

2. Even more rare than women are people of color, or at least, people of color whose pieces tip me off to their identity. There's a whole slew of my own assumptions and problematic thinking to unpack there. 

3. Points 1 & 2 lead me to point 3: the voice of the submitter isn't as varied as I would have expected. There are large segments of submissions that feel ... same.

4. Therefore, when a piece is different -- in voice, tone, perspective, subject matter, style, structure -- it REALLY stands out. It's surprisingly easy to see them, the ones that I like because they are new in some way.

5. I will not reject a submission for its cover letter, but a poorly-written, incomplete, self-aggrandizing, or rude (yes, rude!) cover letter sure does impact my reading of the submission.

6. Not nearly enough people actually familiarize themselves with journals or calls for submission. I mean, really. Some of the submissions are complete misses (as in, they've submitted fiction to a nonfiction call, or the theme / subject of the piece doesn't have anything to do with the journal's clearly-stated thematic focus).

7. Sign that I'm better suited to teaching than editing: for every really solid submission I reject, I feel a desire to recommend other potential venues for publication to the writer. (I don't. That feels weird.)

8. This is an exercise both subjective and objective. Objective in that some pieces are, without qualification, better than others. They just are: they have stronger voices, clearer thoughts, more complex or interesting aesthetics, compelling characters, etc. But it is also subjective in that I'm mostly likely to choose, from among the better submissions, those whose aesthetics please me. I could write a whole 'nother post about what this exercise is teaching me about my own taste and preferences, but the point is, I'm not rejecting badly-written pieces because of those tastes. I'm selecting from among the best those that speak to me. 

9. There are fewer truly great submissions than I would have expected. Maybe one out of every ten?

10. There are still enough truly great submissions that I will have to reject some of them. (I put this one last because it's the one I want students and submitters to hear most clearly.)


Marissa Landrigan's first book, The Vegetarian's Guide to Eating Meat, will be published by Greystone Books in 2017. Her work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, The Atlantic, Orion, Guernica, Diagram, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. An Assistant Professor of Writing at the University of Pittsburgh - Johnstown, she has never read submissions for a literary journal before, and is now fully convinced every writer should do it at some point. She is really not trying to give any writer who submitted work a complex, and she promises to send out acceptances soon.