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The Sub(mission): Building a Community: Interview with Becky Tuch, Founding Editor of The Review Review

   
   

W

riting isn’t the most social of activities. In fact, it’s usually a one-player game. You versus The Computer. Although I can multi-task like a champ1, I’ve never been able to socialize while writing. Keeping track of the words in my head and the words that actually make it to the page is difficult enough. Throwing in a group conversation about who did what with whom and where and when and why are too many of the writers’ 5Ws for me to keep track of—let alone understand.

Chelsey multitasking like a champ.

What I’m trying to say here is that writers, at times, can feel a little lonely.

“Loneliness is solitude with a problem.”—Maggie Nelson

True. But whatever.

Feeling isolated in our writing brains is why we seek out writing groups. Not only do you get feedback on your work, but you get to be around other people who also obsess over words and punctuation, and therefore understand what it feels like to be a writer isolated in her own gray matter. In the context of your writing, another avenue of connection with at least one human being is when you submit your work for publication.

But that can be an awkward act if you’re trying to gain a sense of community. I mean, these strangers who you reach out to by sharing your work with them might end up rejecting you.

End of community.

Writers need resources. It’s why I do the submission consultations. I know things. I share with other writers those things I know, which makes me feel helpful and engaged. Like part of a community. Writers need guidance. So here I am, guiding you to an awesome writing community that can give you a lot of support because of its uber-resourceful characteristic: The Review Review.

“I desperately wanted a place that would bring readers, writers, and editors together in a way that provided writers with as much in-depth information about literary journals as possible.” ~ Becky Tuch

Now say hello to Becky Tuch, the woman who continues to bring writers together through the impressively resourceful website she founded.

Chelsey Clammer: What’s the history behind The Review Review? Why did you decide to start it?

Becky Tuch: I created the site in 2008 when I was beginning to get serious about sending my writing out to magazines. The most widely used reference for this was the Writer’s Market guide, which is incredibly comprehensive, but which does not go into great depth about the specific aesthetics of each magazine. I desperately wanted a place that would bring readers, writers, and editors together in a way that provided writers with as much in-depth information about literary journals as possible. I also wanted writers to have a way (and maybe an excuse!) to engage more deeply with literary magazines, to read them carefully and thoughtfully, and to share with others what they were finding.

Indeed. One superior aspect of a community is its inherent resourcefulness. Village. Child. You know that quote. Sharing knowledge and resources and providing encouragement is what a community does. It’s like a hippie type of networking.

Being able to share our successes, our published work, creates a type of positivity that is key when it comes to submitting our writing. Why focus on what sucks rather than on what’s working? Reading literary journals is a way to understand “what’s working.” But there are so many lit journals and websites out there that it can be difficult to know which Google result to click on first.

There are more than enough resources on the all-mighty internet for writers to use when searching for a home for their writing. From databases to blogs, Facebook pages and classifieds, it’s super-easy to find some basic info on all-things-submissions guidelines: word count, deadline, vague description of what the editors are looking for, format, structure, etc. But as Tuch notes, reading a sentence or two won’t really give you any insight on what the journal is all about. Similar to how reading CliffsNotes will only give you the surface-level information about a novel, when you actually read the journal, you will totally know what it’s all about.

There are only a handful of websites that publish reviews of literary journals. Of these few, The Review Review is the one that exudes comprehension, intelligence, and resourcefulness. Most important, it’s easy as hell to navigate.

The Review Review

CC: For first-time visitors of The Review Review, what page/where on the website do you suggest they go first?

BT: I would encourage them to read as many pieces in our blog, “Views on Publishing” as possible. There, we have great advice from dozens of writers (including you, Chelsey!), on everything from how to narrow down your search for lit mags, whether you should seek publication in print or online magazines, what it means when lit mags are ranked by tiers, what editors want in submissions, and so much more. Many of these pieces also include lists—magazines for women writers; magazines for bilingual writers; magazines from Brooklyn, from Texas, from Florida; magazines seeking food writing, funny writing, crime writing, etc. From these lists, writers looking for places to submit can begin to make a mental map of potential magazines, and from there, they can read reviews and interviews with journal editors.

Now would be a good time to say that if you want to be published in literary journals, then you should read literary journals. In the same way that mechanics need to know how to drive a car, writers need to know how writing works—and reading is one of the best ways to do this. If you wanted to write a historical novel about Pakistan, you wouldn’t want to study Irish limericks. I mean, you could. You can read whatever you want. As a writer of pieces for lit mags, though, what you should want to read are literary magazines.

Confession: I used to never read literary journals. I just didn’t think they had any value to them. As if books were the only place where good writing lived. Um, Chelsey? The stuff in books is usually just an iteration of writing that first appeared in a literary journal. Now, though, I read literary journals all the time. What changed? I met Becky Tuch at a writer’s conference and chatted with her about writing reviews for The Review Review. My work with the website taught me all the things one would expect to learn from writing reviews—what’s being published, what trends are starting to appear, discovering new authors, reading new work by your favorite authors, etc.

But the main benefit I got from reviewing literary journals was that I could see how amazing writing doesn’t just live in books. It lives in literary journals. And—get ready for this shocker—much of this flippin’ fantastic writing can be found online!

CC: What is your opinion on people thinking a print journal is more of a “real” form of publication than an online one?

BT: I’m certainly sympathetic to that view. Many of today’s best anthologies still seem to prioritize print over online magazines, and the prestige of many of these magazines is certainly well-earned. However, I personally love publishing online, and there are hundreds of outstanding online magazines to submit to. Print may feel more “real” in some sense, but there are great benefits to publishing online, the biggest of which is that people are simply more likely to read your work. Online publications are easy to share. Also, interested readers, such as editors and agents, can find you if you have material published online, which is a wonderful thing. So while print magazines might feel more “real” in the sense that they exist in, well, the “real world,” online journals are no less important, relevant, fun, and/or useful for growing one’s career.

I won’t lie. When I first found out that my essay “Mother Tongue” was going to be published online and not in the hard copy of Black Warrior Review, I was a little let down. As if BWR is only “real” when you can physically hold it. As if each piece in a printed journal is “better” than anything online because it’s printed, because time and resources and whatnot went into making that hold-in-your-hands writing. If someone’s putting in the effort, then it must be worth reading. But print vs online isn’t an indicator of good writing.

Because visuals are always fun, let’s distill the online vs print feud to a pro/con list:

Publishing Pros and Cons: Print vs. Online

Now let me really blow your mind for a second.

Which would you rather do?

  1. Electronically submit a piece of writing via an online submissions website/send an email
  2. Print out your submission, stuff it in an envelope with a SASE, find a stamp, write directions for the postal person as to where its final destination is (aka, the address), find a mailbox, put in said mailbox, and hope it doesn’t get lost

Not all things printed are superior.

CC: Briefly, what’s the process from start to finish for a journal being reviewed?

BT: I receive all print magazines and mail them to reviewers who ideally read and review the magazine within one month. For online magazines, I have an editorial assistant who assigns the journals to reviewers. We have a set of guidelines that we give to reviewers, so they know how to frame their reviews in ways that will be most helpful to writers wanting to learn about the magazines. In general, we try to be positive, constructive, and specific in each review.

CC: Follow-up question: What qualities and qualifications do you look for in a reviewer?

BT: Reviewers should be open-minded, curious, intellectually engaged, and reliable. To me, it doesn’t matter whether a reviewer has an MFA, a PhD, or never graduated college (we’ve had reviewers who were high school students). Nor do I care whether a reviewer has read thousands of lit mags, or none. I simply want our reviewers to be passionate about learning more about literary magazines, and committed to the task of reading them thoughtfully and writing about them in a way that is interesting and helpful to others.

“Know what the journal wants by knowing what it doesn’t want.”

Back in 2012, when I started to fling the heck out of my essays towards numerous publications, I unknowingly had begun to create a mental map of the landscape of the literary journal world. For each piece that was accepted, I had a frame of reference for what kind of writing that journal published. Same was true for rejections—in a negative theory sort of way. Know what the journal wants by knowing what it doesn’t want. This is the way I started to form my mental map of what each literary journal likes.

CC: How has running the website and becoming super-involved in the literary journal world changed your own writing practice?

BT: I’ve gotten more serious about—and excited about—submitting to the many beautiful literary magazines out there. I’ve also begun working much harder on my writing before sending it out for publication, demanding excellence of my work (or as close as I can get to that!), because I’ve come to understand how tough the competition can be, and I’ve come to respect the work that editors put into their magazines more. Apart from that, when it comes to the actual craft itself, I’m not sure what has changed exactly. I only hope reading the great work getting published in lit mags by today’s writers has helped me become better.

Regardless of your approach to writing, there is one constant and inherent, if not vital, aspect of writing—reading. You must read to write. This isn’t about karma. A journal or website won’t know if you read something they published, and therefore, they owe you nothing. Harsh reality, huh? But reading journals, and especially reading reviews of journals, welcomes you into an enlivening community. I’ve always considered reading as a long-distance type of communication between the author and me. When I read, I am able to get inside the author’s head and see what it’s filled with. But when I read reviews of literary journals, I feel like I’m not only having a conversation with someone, but also becoming a part of a community. Reviewers, then, can be considered as part of a buddy system. One person reads and thinks; the other person reads what her buddy thinks and then acts accordingly. Together, the literary journal community is strengthened by this bond as more readers engage in each issue, further expanding the ways that writing can create a connection. A community.

***

Becky Tuch is the founding editor of The Review Review, a site a site that has been listed for the past six years in Writer’s Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers. Her fiction has received awards from Briar Cliff Review, Glimmer Train, and Moment Magazine, and literature fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and the Somerville Arts Council. Other writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Barrelhouse, Day One, Hobart, Literary Mama, Post Road, Salon, Salt Hill, Summerset Review, Virginia Quarterly Review Online, and included in Sundress Press’s 2017 Best of the Net anthology. She lives in Pittsburgh, PA. Find her at www.BeckyTuch.com.

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Chelsey Clammer

Chelsey Clammer is the author of BodyHome and won the 2016 Red Hen Press Nonfiction Manuscript Award for her essay collection, Circadian. Her work has appeared in The Rumpus, Essay Daily, McSweeney’s, and Black Warrior Review, among many others. She’s the essays editor for The Nervous Breakdown. @ChelseyClammer www.chelseyclammer.com.

Chelsey is also an instructor for WOW! Women On Writing. She’s offering column readers a Submissions Consultation of up to 12 pages (4,500 words). Find out more.

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Previous columns:

Choices, Choices

What to Expect When Expecting to Work with an Editor

Submissions Flowchart

Them Fightin’ Words

Writing Contests: You Have Nothing to Lose

Breathe and Proceed: Poet Tammy Robacker on How to Submit the Hard Stuff

How to Hold Your Horses

Caring About cover Letters (because nothing says “please reject me” like a terrible first impression)

Find or Fling? Figuring Out Where to Submit

Rejection Acceptance: Interview with author/editor Jac Jemc

Hard-Working Writer Seeks Widely-Read Journal

What My Submissions Spreadsheet Teaches Me

Submit ’Til You Make It


 

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