Announcing The Prose Press
Over the past 12 months, members of our community have expressed their desire to publish a book but lack of traction with agents or publishers. Our mission is to see members of our community succeed and fulfill their dreams of becoming published authors.
Enter, The Prose Press:
In collaboration with one of the fastest-growing educational companies, we started The Prose Press to give up-and-coming authors the platform to successfully write and publish their work.
Over the next few months, we will be inviting aspiring authors to submit their work and start their publishing journey with The Prose Press and share key pieces of their journey with you – their learnings, conversations, milestones, and excerpts.
If you are interested in turning your working manuscript into a real book, reach out to us.
Thank you to our supporters and community members for making this possible.
i come back once every 4 months to write about the same damn thing
She had the face of a wax model made for someone else, the second draft that was almost there but missing something crucial. Was it emotion? Imperfection? She had the face of something otherworldly, one that you couldn’t fault but couldn’t love, no matter how long you looked.
The sky was overcast as she made her way down to the mailbox. It looked like it should’ve been humid and warm, but it was cold: the aesthetics of June set in the reality of a Long Island February. She had grown up in this weather, having stomped and galloped and trudged on this same path to the mailbox every day for the better half of seventeen years. She supposed it felt different today because she knew she wasn’t coming back tomorrow. Sure, there was winter break and next summer and next year’s winter break, but that was different. This was only home for a few more hours.
All her life, she had blamed her unloveable face on the eyes that perceived, on the size of her hometown and the fact that the boys here had colorblindness to anything that wasn’t blonde or blue. She had worked herself to the bone, excelling in every sector that wasn’t romantic attention, all with the steadfast conviction that it would pay off, that someday she would feel worthy. But standing at the mailbox, staring into its emptiness, she felt the first trickle of doubt that the world was small, that the same eyes existed in every face, and that hers would always only look that way. It was Sunday. She was leaving tomorrow.
The Forgotten Fantasy of the Friendly Friendless
Some say I'm the friendliest girl they've ever met.
The sweetest person in the world.
I love to spread kindness in person and online.
I'm always surrounded by so many people who know me or know of me.
I know people or know of them, too, but, do I truly have a friend?
For 24 years, 11 months, and 2 days, I've been a friendly person, but my only true friends are my parents, my siblings, and God. I tell myself that I don't need anyone else, but deep down, there's a longing.
Two has always been my favorite number. Perhaps, it's the whisper of a forgotten fantasy.
My fantasy doesn't have to be romantic at all (though I'm not opposed to that type of friendship possibly manifesting eventually). At the moment, I simply desire true friends. I know I may be considered 'popular', but that's not what I mean. There are people who like my posts and follow me on social media. There are folks in several online communities who frequently converse with me. I have acquaintances and individuals around town I see on the regular basis. Like neighbors, we nod and bid each other 'good day'. They tell me how it's a joy to see me, how I'm always so nice and pleasant. Still, there is a distance. A strange distance that makes me feel like I'm a friendly friendless.
You may wonder how it's possible for someone who is so friendly not to actually, you know, have friends. I wonder this myself. I call myself a friend to all, but then don't many say 'a friend to all is a friend to none'? How can this be helped?
My fantasy is for a like-minded someone to reciprocate what I've projected. Someone to chat with about fun things and even deeper subjects. Someone to connect souls with, to pour my heart into and let pour into me. Someone to laugh with and cry with and play with and love. It doesn't have to be every single day. Just someone somewhere who reaches a hand out every now and again...
...or takes hold of the one that's been held out into the void for 24 years, 11 months, and 2 days.
I don't need to be held while I cry
I don't want you to hear me when I scream
I don't pull my hair out when I stress
I just don't want to be the only one to live in this reality
I just want you to listen while I speak
Cause I may be more sensitive then I'd like to be
But I've never needed to be coddled
Getting Published in a Literary Journal – A Beginner’s How-To Guide
A wise friend once told me, “A writer is one who writes.” No one needs a special qualification, degree, or resumé to be a writer. Certainly, one does not need publication to be a writer. Not every needs to seek publication in a journal or should: writing can be its own reward, and there are many wonderful ways to share work with others (including Prose). Personally, though, I sought publication of short stories and poems in literary journals and have met with a small amount of success, and in this post, I will offer what advice I can for similarly-minded individuals—with a couple of significant disclaimers.
Disclaimer #1 – I have absolutely no idea how to make money at this. I’ve gotten four short stories and three poems published in various small journals, for which I have received a grand total of $20. Writing is not a career or even a side gig for me. If you want to know how to make a living with writing, read Finder’s post for this challenge – she’s done it. From what I understand, there are far more paid writers of advertising copy/website text/technical manuals than there are creative writers, and if you want to pay your bills with writing, that’s the path to follow. I’m also given to understand that the majority of creative writers out there don’t actually make a living with it: most have other jobs (notably teaching, which is most of the reason people seek creative writing MFAs). I’m a high school teacher who writes, rather than the other way around.
Disclaimer #2 – The "beginner" in the title of this post is me. I am seriously small potatoes. Odds are, dear reader, that you have never heard of a single journal where I’ve been published. In other words, I lack any real qualification to be writing this post, but perhaps the scraps of knowledge I’ve gleaned can get someone else started. (Thanks to Finder for nudging me to write this.) If anyone reading knows something that I don’t, please, please share in the comments. I will be grateful for the advice.
Alrighty – steps, as best as I know them.
1. Improve your writing. I started submitting pieces to journals when I thought I was ready; the reality was, I had more learning to do. How vivid are your settings, how clean is your dialogue, how condensed are your sentences? Sentences in published pieces are certainly not short, but they almost never contain extra words: each letter in a piece serves a purpose. This is a post of submission advice and not writing advice, so I’ll stop there, but growth in writing is a process that never really stops, and if you tell yourself “I’m there!” you’re probably cutting your journey short.
2. Wait to submit – you want to revise your piece again. Finishing a piece brings a rush of pride, but that is the wrong moment to dash off a submission to a journal. This should go without saying, but when you’re seeking to be viewed as a professional, “minor grammatical error” is an oxymoron. Never send out anything that could have so much as a single misplaced apostrophe. (Most common error on Prose, btw? it’s vs its.)
Good revision means more than proofreading. Revision requires time and perspective, and rushing your piece will only slow you down in the long run. Finding an editor—that is, someone whose skills you respect who is unafraid to slather red ink on your crap—is a godsend.
When I decided I was ready to submit to publications, I wrote a flash piece called “Inheritance” of which I was very proud: it was based on a story my father told me of my grandfather, but fictionalized in that the narrator-son felt confused about the tale’s meaning. It started at 750 words, and the ending was lackluster; an editor-friend helped me trim it to under 500 words, and a long-running dialogue with him helped move the ending closer to right, and I sent it off to some places. Several months and rejections later (a couple of them extremely helpful rejections – more on that later), I revisited, and I couldn’t believe I had overlooked its flaws. For one, the story was too sentimental. Here’s the original ending:
Tonight, a decade later, the brother I hadn’t seen for eight years dialed me with the one phone call the law gave him. I realized, when I clenched my teeth, what was passed to me, and what Grandpap fought in those flames.
I got my coat.
I kind of like that first line as a sentence, but as an ending to a story, it’s a forced a-ha moment: “And then the narrator discovered the meaning of brotherly love.” The Hallmark story has its place, but I was not submitting stories to Hallmark; I also did not want to write for Hallmark. My editor friend had tried to tell me of that risk – and he had indeed gotten me to improve the ending – but I was too close to the subject matter to see its sentimentalism until I had distance. The intervening months and writing growth revealed a second fatal flaw: it was still far too long. I edited “Inheritance” down to 300 words, less than half the original length.
3. Find where to submit your piece. There’s really two phases here: understanding where one discovers journals, and determining whether a particular journal might be receptive to your work.
Lists of journals: As far as the where, there’s a big ol’ ranked list here: http://www.erikakrousewriter.com/erika-krouses-ocd-ranking-of-483-literary-magazines-for-short-fictionThat list is geared toward short fiction, but many journals would also take poetry or creative non-fiction (CNF).
Here’s a place I check regularly where some journals advertise their calls for submissions: https://www.newpages.com/classifieds/calls-for-submissions
Most journals will expect you to submit using Submittable (www.submittable.com) – signing up for an account is free, and if you click on the “Discover” tab, you can see submission calls listed by end date.
Speaking of Submittable, you’ll see that most publications on it require a small fee ($3-4); that’s normal. I won’t say I’ve never paid a larger fee, but generally speaking, I don’t think it makes sense to pay more than the nominal $3-4, and regardless, they add up. (Note that earlier I said I had “received” $20, and not that I had “made” $20, because the latter would be a lie; I am very much in the red thanks to fees.) If you’re looking to avoid submission fees, it will restrict your submission possibilities, but it can be done: a lot of journals offer free reading periods, and some never charge (particularly those that operate through email alone and thus don’t have to pay a submission management platform). I would also urge you never to fall prey to “publishers” who send enthusiastic acceptance notices offering to sell you a copy of their “anthology” for the low low price of $40+. Legit print publications usually offer contributor copies even if there’s no other payment.
Picking journals: Sending your work blindly will likely waste your time: you need to do some scouting. Every single journal will advise you to read their past issues; as a practical matter, you probably don’t have time to read that much. I always look for the “About Us” or “Mission” tab on a homepage for starters. For my own part, I never send work to publications seeking “experimental” or “cutting edge” pieces, as what I write does not qualify; other publications specifically seek work from women, or teenagers, or people of color, or LGBTQ+ individuals, of which I am none. Some journals are genre-specific.
I generally do read a piece or so from the journal before submitting, attempting to judge whether my general style and approach are in keeping or at odds with what they publish.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with submitting a piece to multiple journals at the same time, and most journals explicitly state that they “accept simultaneous submissions.” (A handful don’t, and you should respect that.)
Another word of warning: the overwhelming majority of literary journals state that they want “unpublished work,” and pieces posted on social media or elsewhere on the web almost always count as published. A piece you have posted to Prose is therefore ineligible for most journals.
4. Format your piece. Follow the directions the publication gives. Whatever information they want, or don’t want, or font or spacing or lack of italics or pasted in the body of an email or RTF format or cover page or anything, just do it. You’re asking the editors to do you a solid by reading your work: respect their wishes. Almost every journal wants something slightly different in the formatting, which means the process of submitting will take far longer than you expect it will, but give them what they want.
In the absence of specific formatting guidelines, double-space prose using size 12 Times New Roman; include a header on every page but the first with name, title, page. Here’s the one I used: (Love – “Inheritance” – 2). For better and more precise guidance, click on “Standard Format” here: http://www.erikakrousewriter.com/other-author-tools-and-resources Poetry is often requested to be single-spaced. Many journals permit submission of 3-5 poems at a time. Again, your submission format should be whatever the hell the journal specifies, but here’s a general example of a submission of multiple poems: https://www.shunn.net/format/poetry/
5. Write your cover letter. Cover letters for literary journals should not be long or fancy. As always, follow all directions. Be polite and direct: they usually need your name, the genre of your submission, the length, and a third-person bio. If the piece is a simultaneous submission, tell them and assure them you’ll notify them of acceptance elsewhere. On the rare occasion when I’ve submitted something previously posted on Prose because the journal did not rule such pieces out, I’ve identified the writing as having “previously appeared on my personal page at Prose, a site for aspiring authors to share their work with one another.”
If you know a specific editor or two who will be reading your work, address the letter to them rather than the general “Dear Editors.” When I submitted “Inheritance” to The Blue Mountain Review, it fell under their microfiction category by word count. I found the name of the microfiction editor, then googled him to ensure I could have his proper title or pronoun – it turned out that he taught at a university. Here’s the full text of my cover letter, which I pasted into the proper field in Submittable:
Dear Professor _____:
Thank you for taking the time to read my microfiction “Inheritance,” which is 300 words long. A childhood memory my father described inspired the story. It is a simultaneous submission; I will notify you immediately if the story is accepted elsewhere.
Here is my bio:
Ryan F. Love teaches high school English in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, where he earned a degree from Alfred University. He lives with his wife in a Victorian with pairs of daughters, beagles, and guinea pigs. His work has been published in Blue Lake Review, The Copperfield Review, Sleet Magazine, and Blueline.
Thank you very much. I look forward to hearing from you.
Ryan F. Love
6. Bring on the rejections – and read them. If you’re seeking publication, you will receive rejections. You will receive so, so many rejections. It’s normal. Rejections mean you're trying. I read a blog post by a writer whose stuff has appeared in journals I only dream about, and she said her acceptance rate was about five percent. I make a ritual of it: before I open any email from a journal, I say the word “rejection.” A rejection could mean that your piece wasn’t really ready, but it could also mean that they published something else similar recently, or that it didn’t quite suit the journal’s style, or it just couldn’t quite fit in the issue. Exact words from a rejection email I received: “Though I won't be taking this piece, it is lovely.” I deeply appreciated the encouragement.
There’s no need to keep feverishly refresh your email or Submittable page to see if you’ve heard anything yet. The Submission Grinder (https://thegrinder.diabolicalplots.com/) gives quality estimates of response times (more accurate than the journals give themselves, in my experience). If you see a light blue “In Progress” flag in Submittable, it means precisely diddly squat: you still might not hear anything for six months. You might also get a rejection (or acceptance!) without the flag ever having moved from “Received” to the pointless “In Progress.”
Keep track of your submissions and rejections: Submittable will do this for you on a basic level, but you should note when you get some kind of tiered rejection that’s more encouraging. If you’re told to send more work, you should try to do so and mention the previous interaction in your cover letter. (If you’re not sure whether you got a standard rejection or a higher tier, check out the journal’s samples on the Rejection Wiki - https://www.rejectionwiki.com/).
A rejection with personal note from an editor is a high compliment. It can also be extremely helpful. An editor rejecting one story of mine wrote, “We love the humor and the sense of place, but flash fiction has to start quickly. This one just didn’t grab us.” I didn’t yet realize how much it meant to get a personal note, and that one felt discouraging when I read it; it was actually exactly what I needed to hear. I was taking too long to get my flash fiction started. The criticism rang around in my head a few months before I processed it, and then that advice prompted me to take an axe to the beginning of “Inheritance.” The finished result was a vast improvement: it still got rejected twice, but that 300-word version is the one that got published. Finished version here, if you want to read it: https://issuu.com/collectivemedia/docs/bluemountainreviewjune2021/286
7. Keep writing. This is the part where I say things about improvement, practice makes progress, etc., but writing is inherently valuable in and of itself, whether a journal accepts it or not. Don’t let the quest for publication, or the inevitable rejections, stop you.
I first submitted to a journal way back in 2014. The essay was the best thing I had written up to that point. I made a lot of mistakes with the piece itself and with my submission process, but the dumbest mistake of all is easy to identify now: when that essay got four rejections, I stopped writing essays, stories or poems for five years.
Don’t do that.
When I’m working away at a draft of something that I’ve already revised three times, I quite frequently pull up a Prose challenge and post. There’s joy in writing; there’s joy in sharing writing; there’s joy in a writing community. If you choose to pursue publication in a literary journal, I wish you all the best, but publication is not purpose. You have reasons why you write; remember them, always, and keep at it.
You know what inspires shame? A random college playlist of songs illegally downloaded from Kazaa (remember P2P, old folks)? And I do not mean because of the intellectual property theft, because fuck the man - I feel younger just saying that, seeing as I sort of am the man now - but because Nickelback just started playing. For my penance, I am writing till the song ends.
The thing is, "Leader of Man," "Breathe," and "How You Remind Me" are not inherently terrible songs; it's just that once the latter was released, they never wrote another song again that wasn't a clone. I fondly remember paying $10 to see them in concert at the college across the street.
There ain't no shame like nostalgia shame.
And now onto "Popular" by Nada Surf... and my pile of grading...
Well, all the cool kids are doing it...
...and also, I've got some very important procrastinating to do, so hi everybody. The "R" in my name is for "Ryan," and I've been teaching high school English in the part of New York with cows for 16+ years. I joined Prose in October 2019 because I hadn't written anything for a very long time but wanted to. The community here kept me inspired and motivated so that I actually stuck with writing and worked on it for real. Through all the practice and experimentation, I improved.
The breakthrough came when I wrote a story titled "Rideshare": it was the best thing I'd written to that point, and when readers told me so, I moved from the maybe-someday phase of writing to the going-for-it phase of writing. Eighteen months later, I have a handful of small-outlet publications under my belt and 60,000 words of a novel. I'm a teacher--it's who I am and I love it--but regardless of how far my writing goes or doesn't, it no longer feels silly to think of myself as a writer. As a friend once told me, "A writer is one who writes," nothing more, nothing less, and I knew that, but Prose helped me to feel that. It's home.
(Longtime readers might remember "Rideshare," but if anyone is curious to read it, I'm happy to say the story got picked up by Sleet Magazine: https://www.sleetmagazine.com/selected/love_v13n2.html)
Cheers, everyone. Glad to be Prosing with you.
lessons, around the block
big enough to hold the leash now,
she asks, “is that one apartments?” so
I explain counting mailboxes,
and that one’s a single family – you always
like their Halloween candy - but count this
one, four boxes affixed to the green
Victorian, two Direct TV dishes;
they built big back then, and
many in town were broken up
“like our neighbors” she says, “but not ours,”
and I say yes, like our neighbors,
like Miss Jeanne who gardens and
lets you pick peppers, or
Mrs. Johnson walking Bernie the
Dachshund, or Tom who repaired that
old red truck and moved when
his brother’s health failed;
I do not bring up the apartments across
the street where flashing red and blue
came for the stabbing and dealing last summer,
but she’s focused on our dog now anyway
because we’ve come to the porch where
that old woman smokes and keeps a sleeping
bag for her son, and she always steps down
to rub our beagle’s belly and floppy ears
“Where were you when the world stopped turning...”
I was in my fifth year teaching high school Spanish. My son had just begun third grade.
It was first period still, Spanish III. My sophomores. The custodian came to my classroom, frantic, and said turn on the television.
I don’t have one.
Go to my room.
I can’t leave my students.
I’ll stay here.
I went. I watched as the second tower was hit.
And then, they seemed to implode. No crumbling. Just there one second, gone the next. Dust and ash.
Along with so many souls that day and as a result of that day.
For some reason, we had a fire drill. I stood a little apart from my students to call my son’s school. (I had a cell phone! It was my first one. How fortunate we were. Are.) I needed to confirm that they were staying open. They were. But, my son watched as so many frightened parents picked up their children as he remained behind, wondering why his Mommy didn’t come early to get him. It broke my heart when he told me that. I hated that I was keeping someone else’s children safe and secure while my own felt, albeit briefly I’m sure it felt like forever, abandoned.
I called my husband who was in India at the time. I wished him home and close and not two plane rides away.
I tried to call his brother who worked in the area of the World Trade Center.
All systems are busy. Please try your call again later.
I called my mother.
All systems are busy. Please try your call again later.
We went back to class. We didn’t even try to continue as if nothing had happened. I actually have no memory of how we got through the rest of the school day. There were a lot of tears. Although no one’s parents were lost that day, many were left wondering for hours.
Some students went home, but most stayed. We, the faculty and staff, stayed with them. We talked a lot. We hugged a lot.
The next day and for months to come, there were so many stories about how lucky my mom/dad/husband/sister/brother/wife/ uncle/cousin/neighbor/friend/friend of a friend was that she/he missed the train/bus and arrived to mayhem, black smoke and no place of work.
Or, left home late and got stuck in traffic and watched from some highway across the river as his/her place of work became a cloud of black smoke.
Or, did manage to escape and then found themselves covered in soot and surrounded by hysteria as people tried to run away from the epicenter of death.
There but for the grace of God.
Never forget became a rallying cry that immediately made me wonder if that is the same mantra of all peoples around the world subjected to foreign bombs and bullets.
It was my last year teaching full time.
At the end of the school year, a teacher shot a bullet through his head.
I resigned my full time position and became a part time teacher.
The following year, a student hung himself.
The year after that, a student took enough drugs to satisfy a roomful of addicts.
My tenth year as a Spanish teacher was my last. After crying every day to and from school, I turned my focus to the administrative side of foreign language test and curriculum development, particularly for various arms of the US government: defense, foreign service and Peace Corps.
Use your words.
It is only as I write this that I see the thread that links these events and a series of my life decisions to that September day.