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Canadian literary magazine PRISM international aims to publish the best contemporary fiction, creative non-fiction, translation, drama, and poetry from around the world. While its pages have featured such luminaries as Margaret Atwood, Jorge Luis Borges, Raymond Carver and Seamus Heaney, most of the work it publishes is unsolicited, and many writers whose first publication appeared in PRISM international have gone on to critical acclaim. PRISM’s Prose Editor Christopher Evans explains how your cover letter can play a role in you being published or not.
Writers often ask if a good cover letter can improve a piece’s chances of getting published, and the short answer is: sort of. Of the thousands of submissions PRISM receives in a year, a minuscule percentage – well under one percent – arrive flawlessly executed and ready to be published without any editorial effort on our end. A slightly larger percent of work submitted is very close, and needs only a few small edits to lift it to exceptional. There’s another ten to fifteen percent at the other end of the spectrum that never make it past our first readers – work that doesn’t even come close to our guidelines, is riddled with typos or unintentional tense shifts, or is basically porn. This leaves a substantial volume of submissions in the middle, and this is where a cover letter can help or hinder a piece’s chance of being given a second, third, or fourth read-through.
A post by Maya Sapiurka, University of California, San Diego
One of the most interesting and entertaining parts of following my favourite authors on Twitter is witnessing a little bit of the writing process.
Getting a peek into how my favourite books are written is like watching a real-time behind-the-scenes DVD featurette. But not every update is a positive one. There’s something that haunts all writers, be they professional or amateur: writer’s block.
Writer’s block can be difficult to define, because no two people share the same experience of it. Probably the simplest and most straightforward definition comes from Dr. Patricia Huston:
a distinctly uncomfortable inability to write.
But what could be the cause of this vaguely described problem? Has a writer’s Muse simply deserted them, or can we find an explanation hidden somewhere in the brain?
While there haven’t been any published scientific studies on people with writer’s block, we can take a few different avenues to try and determine what parts of the brain may be affected. One of those is looking at where words come from in the first place.
Pelorus Press is a new literary magazine based in New York City. The magazine asks contributors to submit their work in a unique way. We got in touch with editor Cahaley Markman to find out more.
Why did you want to establish your own literary magazine?
I started this magazine with my friend and co-founding editor Dylan Debelis. We both really love poetry and wanted to play a role in getting more poetry out into the world; however, it was very important to both of us that this magazine bring something different to the table. There are already so many great literary journals out there, I wanted to make sure that if we were going to enter the publication world it would be because we were doing something different than a standard journal. I thought it would be interesting to bring the focus to the writing process.
What makes Pelorus Press unique?
Our focus on the writing process rather than the product sets us apart from most literary magazines. We do this by publishing several drafts of each poem along with the final draft. The reader gets to see where the poem started, and how it grew over time. It’s also really cool because some of the poems we published have hand written revisions and notes. It feels very intimate to read. As if you get a sneak peek into the poet’s thought process.
The Masters Review is a publication that focuses entirely on new and emerging writers, offering a quality platform for readers, agents, and editors to discover new voices. In addition to our printed anthology, we have submission opportunities year round including a short story award for new writers, workshops, and a fiction contest running throughout September and October with guest judge Jeff VanderMeer. Nearly all the stories we publish are unsolicited, which means most of our work comes from the slush pile. So how do you make your story stand out? Here’s what we look for when reading stories.
Especially at the beginning of a piece. Assume any story you submit is being read by editors who are also reading many other stories that week, day, or even hour. A difficult beginning is disastrous because it informs the reader’s opinion on the rest of the story, making her less forgiving of small errors or lulls later. The start of your story should read clearly on the sentence level and avoid too much exposition or throat clearing. Our favorite pieces show intention, finesse, and clarity from the start, and introduce the story in a way that is easy to understand, even if the piece is experimenting with structure or other style.
The opening line in this year’s anthology is: “Almost everyone agreed that the death of Rodrigo Bradley had been an accident.” This is a great example of a piece that begins in the action of the story. When reading a large number of submissions, it helps to begin with a plot element that immediately draws readers into the world and has them wondering: “What will happen next?”
We all have, within our memories, a treasure trove of characters. Maybe it was that quirky childhood friend or the mysterious neighbors next door. Perhaps it was that mean old lady down the hill or that big brother who (almost) always tried to protect you. Or maybe it was that strong, kind father who guided you through life’s hardest lessons. Sound familiar? These are all beloved characters in Harper Lee’s classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird.
It’s always gratifying to delve into your own treasure trove to discover those characters who speak to you. Many characters in To Kill a Mockingbird were people from Harper Lee’s life. Her childhood friend Truman Capote was the template for Dill Harris. Her father was the backbone of Atticus Finch. How can you go into your memory and find those “characters” who motivate you to write? Maybe no one seems as memorable of Boo Radley or Dill Harris, or maybe you simply have to take a closer look.
Examine intensely those characters who speak to you, as Harper Lee did: “Dill was a curiosity. He wore blue linen shorts that buttoned to his shirt, his hair was snow white and stuck to his head like duckfluff; he was a year my senior but I towered over him… his laugh was sudden and happy; he habitually pulled at a cowlick in the center of his forehead.” Imagine if Harper Lee had ended this description at “Dill was a curiosity.” She doesn’t make us discern what she means; she shows us that he was a curiosity. She makes him curious to us by showing him through appearance, sounds, and habits.
The problem with being a writer is the act of writing is boring. Look here I am at my laptop, writing. Oh again, I’m at my laptop, writing. I’m drinking a long black coffee out of an aqua blue cup. I’m typing on my laptop. I’ve had three coffees already today, so I’m drinking a black tea. I’m at a cafe. Writing. Fingers, keys, laptop. I’ve got crumbs on my keyboard. The act of writing is repetitive and not very Instagram-worthy.
So when I came across #bookstagram I was like, finally, this is something I can contribute to! Type #bookstagram or #bookphoto or #bookphotography into Instagram and drool at some of the great photos #booklovers have been taking!
Instagram is a great way to connect with other #booklovers. People are like happy on Instagram – so if you want to feel some love, it’s the place to be! The use of hasthtags also mean that your posts have a wider reach and a longer life-span than they do on other social media sites. Hashtag a book #ItaloCalvino and it’s likely another Calvino lover will discover it two months down the track! That’s the beauty of Instagram.