Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Nothing Journal

For fun and to gain a broader perspective on what sort of writing other new writers put out, I volunteered to work on the literary journal that my MFA program runs. Permafrost is an interesting project because, while it really does receive a lot of submissions, way more than we could possibly accept, nobody ever seems to buy the damn thing. We have shelves and shelves, boxes just full of back issues of the journal that nobody ever bothered to buy.

Part of the trouble is that the journal isn’t actually for sale anywhere besides the website, and the only people, as far as I can tell, who ever check out the website are not people interested in buying the journal, but people interested in submitting to it. It’s just one of those dilemmas that I imagine most literary journals, and certainly most run by MFA programs, have to deal with. But it’s interesting to realize, as a writer, that while you may be excited to get the news that some story you wrote is going to be published in print, it may not actually mean that anyone will actually read it.

This knowledge certainly put the damper on my excitement when I got my first real acceptance from Compass Rose, a small literary journal run by the English students at Chester College of New England. I realized that, while Compass Rose certainly is a high quality journal, packed full of beautifully written stories and poems, it’s not one that anybody, anywhere, for any reason is likely to actually stumble across, then purchase, then, likewise, read.

And yet, an acceptance still means something, means a lot, in fact. When I first started working for Permafrost I was actually quite surprised, and almost overwhelmed, with the high quality of most of the work submitted. We were small and unread, but we still got a ton of submissions and for every, I don’t know, let’s say ten stories I read, I would say nine of them were, in my opinion, good enough to be published. But we couldn’t publish nine out of ten, couldn’t even publish half that. And so our standards had to be impeccably high, ridiculously high, high enough that you could be the next Hemingway and still stand a good chance of getting rejected (well, you'd get rejected by me, anyway, because I don't like Hemingway. That's right, I said it).

I’ll tell you next time about the sort of writing that got submitted to Permafrost (and, for that matter, the sort of writing that gets submitted to MFA/MFYOU . . . good writing) and my struggles with realizing how much it really does just come down to luck.

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