The Beauty of the Byline

Our humble little blog rolls along…

Today, Oyez Review reader/editor Phyllis Lodge offers notes about bylines and publishing.

You recently completed a piece of creative nonfiction, poetry, fiction, or artwork that you’d love to showcase. You do some online research and browse through various literary marketplaces.

One way your creative spark is fanned into a flame is through readers. You’ve been published, or you want to be published. Identifying quality reviews and journals, places that are proper fits for your work, is the ticket. For the writers who travel through the self-publishing route, you’re paying for readership. That’s fine in some cases. Yet you may soon discover this option is painstaking and frustrating. Yes, you can pay organizations to print and bind your work. Or, you can keep honing your craft and find the right editor and publisher to give you a home. There are editors and publishers seeking you, the artist, as eagerly as you’re seeking them. If what you have produced is unique, well-written, and captivating, a journal will want to showcase you. This is a point of pride for the editors of Oyez Review.

Oyez Review is gearing up for its newest submission period (starting August 1st). Seek out our guidelines. Whichever journal or periodical you consider demands that you adhere and read their guidelines. By not doing this, you’re all but assuring that your work won’t be accepted. We love submissions, but we’re no exception to this rule.

You want to have your work out there in the world. You want the beauty of the byline. Keep reading, keep editing, keep crafting, and perhaps Oyez Review can be your future home.

Phyllis Lodge is an MFA Candidate at Roosevelt University, and served as an editor/reader for Oyez Review 41.

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Terrible Cover Letters: A List of Do’s and Don’ts

You may glance at this title and think “C’mon, really? With writing, editing, reading, submitting, and so on, what’s the big deal about a cover letter?” Brendan Delaney is back to provide some sound advice. Cover letters matter. Seriously, take heed. 

 1.) Don’t make your bio a lyrical essay. If you’ve never been published before, just tell us. 

2.) Do address a specific editor if you haven’t met him/her in person and have been encouraged to submit. 

3.) Don’t include bumper sticker slogans like “Art isn’t competition.” We’ve seen them all. Everyone’s seen them all. 

4.) Do provide ALL relevant contact information. This includes your full name, address, telephone number, and e-mail address. We would like to reach you as soon as we accept your piece. Having this information up front makes it easier for everyone. You want to be notified ASAP, right? 

5.) Don’t use first-person in your bio. 

6.) Do use first-person in your cover letter, though. “Brendan is very excited to submit to your magazine” just sounds weird. 

7.) Don’t skip the cover letter. C’mon now. 

8.) Don’t use double negatives in your cover letter. If we’re judging your grammar in your letter, we won’t have high hopes for your actual submission.

9.) Don’t list every single publication you’ve had. Do tell us the main journals you’ve been featured in, though, or the ones you’re most proud of, or your most recent ones. 

10.) Don’t write your cover letter by hand on personalized stationary if you’re submitting via snail mail. We appreciate lovely handwriting and cat-themed letterheads, but be professional. Type. 

11.) Don’t describe your work as “anything-esque.” We all have our inspirations. But we want to read your work for what it is, and we won’t be swayed if it’s “Bukowski-esque” or “Alice Munroe-esque.” Let us be the judge. 

12.) In fact, don’t describe your work at all. We’re writers. We’re readers. Trust us to figure out what your work is doing.

13.) Don’t include blurbs about your work from other writers. Even if it’s Stephen King. 

14.) Do submit your work early and often, and if you are rejected, remember that tastes differ. A different set of eyes at a different publication may see your work in ways we don’t. Everyone is human, and tastes aren’t uniform throughout the literary world. 

Brendan Delaney is an MFA Candidate in Creative Writing at Roosevelt University. He served as a reader/editor for Issue 41 of Oyez Review, and will serve as the student editor/intern this fall for Issue 42. 

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The New Angst

Today, Oyez Review 41 reader/forthcoming fall intern Brendan Delaney explores common tropes in submissions and how to make one’s polished work stand out. Brendan will have another post here next week; stay tuned.

A staggering number of submissions use technology as a casual theme for a loss of humanity. “Technology is killing us” is a new trope. Of course, there are valuable things to be said about disillusionment and depression related to an ultra-connected digital culture, but creative works that have substance and subtlety on this topic are harder to find. We pride ourselves as editors to look dispassionately and wholeheartedly at an individual poem or story, yet we read hundreds of pieces in a very short time, and it’s impossible not to be affected by the sheer volume of what we read.

So when the first twenty poems I review are all about how no one goes to the library anymore and kids would rather fiddle with video games than play outside, my reaction becomes “so what?” I become hostile to the work I’m reading. We all know it’s important to set yourself apart in language and structure in whatever creative piece you’re submitting. It’s even more important to have something unique to say. Think about your topics. No, really think about it. Too often, creative works feature surface-level meditations on given subjects.

We crave submissions with fresh perspectives. Write a poem about a couple at a romantic dinner, their faces buried in their phones, not talking to each other or making any eye contact. Instead of leaving it at this voyeuristic perspective, take the reader closer. Show the couple texting each other from across the table, a private language that connects rather than alienates. It is this last part, where technology and humanity are complicated by their relationship, and harsh conclusions are not drawn. Don’t be afraid to be funny, wacky, or happy in your submissions. I would jump out of my chair if I read a polished work about the positive effects of technology and our connected culture.

Literary journals like Oyez Review need and want to stand out. There are many ways in which we strive to do this, but the biggest factor is unique content. Most submissions seem to be about depression and angst. If you want to stand out, dare your work to smile.

Brendan Delaney is an MFA Candidate in Creative Writing at Roosevelt University. He served as a reader/editor for Issue 41 of Oyez Review, and will serve as the student editor/intern this fall for Issue 42. He hails from Baltimore, loves basketball, and appreciates a rousing discourse about Jimmy Butler’s defense.

 

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Finding Your Audience as a Minority Writer

In today’s post, Oyez Review 41 reader/editor N’Kyenge Ayanna Brown examines the issues and realities of being a minority artist. When submissions for Oyez Review 42 open this August, we want submissions from everyone! We want to see creative writing from female, black, and LGBT artists. 

I am a woman! I am a writer! I am a minority! I am a woman minority writer looking for the right audience. As a minority writer, I have found that I am often unable to access the majority. Within academia, this can be extremely challenging, but not impossible.

So what does one do when he/she is “the only” in a workshop course? What if you have to submit a story to ten or more individuals who may not have any understanding of your background or story concepts?

My advice is to first stay true to yourself as a writer because your creativity is stimulated from within. Also, when working on a given piece, consider the workshop as a source of feedback to assist in the final editing stages. I have been in the position of “the other” the majority of the time as an MFA candidate, and this is what I’ve learned.

Your Audience is Out There: Command Their Attention!

While differences in age, gender, and ethnicity may be present, the focal point must always be on the intended audience, not necessarily the immediate audience. Study your genre, familiarize yourself with the best writers who work within the same mentalities. You should reach out to professors and ask them to share their vast knowledge of authors, but if this isn’t an option or their information is limited, you can always use a variety of resources: libraries, bookstores, mentors, the internet. The list goes on.

This is How I Found My Audience

I made a list. Lists work well for me. I listed the genres I focus on: poetry, short stories, and novels. Then, I created a file and notebook for each to keep track of authors I was already familiar with, as well as potential authors suggested to me by friends, classmates, and professors. Once I had this list, I was able to move forward. I also considered the subjects, language, and characters of the works I created to help me categorize each piece into sub categories. I was able to decipher which work fit specific audiences. While much of my research stemmed from outside sources, I still find assurance in knowing that I first used my immediate resources in the MFA program, information I was able to gain via networking, research, attending creative events, and talking with friends and family.

Finally, the easiest way to find an audience is to identify who you are as a writer and look for others who share your outlook and values. Get out there, attend readings, participate, share your work. The literary circles have so much to offer. This is a sure way to get closer to an established audience.

I am an Afro-Caribbean female writer. I have found my audience, but I’m always looking for new outlets.

N’Kyenge Ayanna served as a reader and editor for Oyez Review 41. She lives in Chicago, blogs, and is a culinary rock star.

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Journey to Genre (Part Two)

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be featuring blog posts by current and former Oyez Review student editors. Today’s post is the second of a two-part entry by Ryan Michael Johnson. As we transition from celebrating Issue 41 to opening submissions for Issue 42 in August, more attention will be paid to creative nonfiction. In this post, Johnson closes with some technical thoughts about the creative nonfiction genre. 

Journey to Genre

Part Two: So What’s the Point?

The last sentiment from the first half of this post was that I have pieces that will be ready for publication. Therein lies the point, kiddos. Creative nonfiction is a relatively young genre and it is still searching for a bigger niche. Guess what that means? There isn’t enough out there, yet. So send out work!

As a creative nonfiction editor for Oyez Review, I helped sift through submissions, searching for gold within the sand so that our journal represented the best of each genre. Overall, our submissions for Volume 41 were 45% fiction, 40% poetry, and less than 5% creative nonfiction. Some submissions were great, some were good, and some weren’t ready, but the overall number is something we’d like to see increased this fall.

As editors, we were assigned to review and analyze other literary magazines, ones that we wanted to submit to in the future. With my new interest in the genre, I focused my search on journals that were standouts in creative nonfiction. As I perused the shelves of my local bookstore, I found that there was seldom an issue with a dominance of creative nonfiction. Why? While the genre is relatively new, a good deal of writers have published some stellar essay and nonfiction collections. So why don’t writers submit these pieces more often?

With regards to Oyez Review, we are always look for promising creative nonfiction. Our previous publications in the genre were captivating, honest stories, with ideas and subject matters that were unique yet very universal. One writer explored the development of her sexual identity; another wrote about a tragic childhood of abuse and neglect, but in a fashion that created universality.

Everyone has experienced something in his or her life that is worth of being told. The job of the writer is to take that experience and think about how to write it in a captivating, inventive way. When this task has been accomplished, it needs to be shared.

Ryan Michael Johnson is an MFA Candidate in Creative Writing at Roosevelt University. He served as a reader and editor for Issue 41 of Oyez Review, and his writing has been published in Chicago Quarterly Review.

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Journey to Genre (Part One)

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be featuring blog posts by current and former Oyez Review student editors. Today’s post is the first of a two-part entry by Ryan Michael Johnson. As we transition from celebrating Issue 41 to opening submissions for Issue 42 in August, more attention will be paid to creative nonfiction. In this post, Johnson explores his introduction to the genre, his appreciation, and how an understanding of its loose definition ultimately led him to progress in the genre, despite his preference for writing fiction.

Journey to Genre 

Part One: Introduction to Fear

After five years of teaching and really hating my life, I was elated to go back to school for an MFA in Creative Writing. I had spent a couple years writing a novel, but I needed outside help in the process of editing and (eventually) publication. My genre is fiction; I’m a fiction writer. However, my adviser recommended I take a creative nonfiction workshop in my first semester. I was terrified, mortified, and stupefied. Fiction’s in my wheelhouse, but creative nonfiction?

 My only experience with writing nonfiction came in college. It was also a requirement for my English minor. It was truly one of the most difficult classes that I took as an undergrad, but the course forced me to become a better writer. Why? It required me to shake off my safety blanket and focus on a given topic. I followed the advice that every writer gets: I wrote what I knew. But that was then. 

One of the most difficult aspects to this genre is that, because it’s relatively new, there is not a solid definition. I consulted the almighty Wikipedia to learn what the All-Seeing said about the subject: 

Creative nonfiction…is a genre of writing that uses literary styles and techniques to create factually accurate narratives. Creative nonfiction contrasts with other nonfiction, such as technical writing or journalism, which is also rooted in accurate fact, but is not primarily written in service to its craft. As a genre, creative nonfiction is still relatively young, and is only beginning to be scrutinized with the same critical analysis given to fiction and poetry. 

If you are like me, you read this and thought, What? So, it’s…I still don’t get it. It is a sufficient definition, but not a great one. Reading further, however, Lee Gutkind helps us out with a quite from The Best Creative Nonfiction Vol. 1: “Ultimately, the primary goal of the creative nonfiction writer is to communicate information, just like a reporter, but to shape it in a way that reads like fiction.”

Creative nonfiction is the best of both worlds, I have found. You get to take what you know and shape it into a story. Like all styles of writing, there is a lot more to the genre than what a simple definition can provide. I find profound beauty in lyrical meditations, experimental work, and essays that challenge the mind and perspectives. The most powerful aspect of this is that the events have actually happened. Fiction is boundless, but it sometimes lacks the punch of knowledge that something happened for real. Sure, fiction can give us fantastical aliens, pandemics, and wars; but the Titanic, for example, really did go down in the deep blue. 

Now that we know what we’re talking about, what should someone do to begin writing it? That was where I was most perplexed. In class, our professor told us to meditate on an idea and then write it out. It was so simple, and yet the best advice for me to begin dabbling in the genre. All of the trite abstract nouns popped into my head: peace, hate, loyalty, religion, and love. Wait: love was my first inspiration. I wrote for several weeks about friendship, family, and romance. It was a start, and now I have three strong pieces that I am proud of and have submitted to publications. 

Ryan Michael Johnson is an MFA Candidate in Creative Writing at Roosevelt University. He served as a reader and editor for Issue 41 of Oyez Review, and his writing has been published in Chicago Quarterly Review.

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Oyez Review 41; Preparation for Oyez Review 42

 Greetings! Before we begin, look at issue 41 of Oyez Review. Look at it. Gaze. Imagine what delicious contents are contained within. The student editors, along with faculty advisor Janet Wondra, were thrilled to see this issue take shape, from its start as a daunting amount of great submissions to its final version as a printed and digital literary magazine. The artwork (both the cover and the inserts) was done by Dan Augustine; inside, we featured a variety of killer essays, stories, and poems, from writers like J. Weintraub, Julie Marie Wade, Chas Hoppe, and Cathy Warner, to name a few. 

 Do you want your own copy? Sure you do. Oyez Review 41 is available as an eBook, as well as in physical form. 

 As much as the staff is thrilled about this issue, it’s summertime. That means production for Oyez Review 42 is around the corner. Throughout the summer, we’ll be charting our progress, from events around Chicago to calls for submissions to posts on craft, submissions, and altogether valuable information about publishing, literary magazine development, baseball, and tacos. 

Wait. Those last two were just summertime daydreams. But we can work tacos into a discussion on essay submissions or something. 

Stay tuned. Until then, keep gazing at our newest baby. Or purchase a copy to call your very own, yeah? 

 Image

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Coming Soon: Oyez Review Volume 41

Coming Soon: Oyez Review Volume 41

Featuring “Icarus” by featured artist Dan Augustine, we couldn’t be more excited to share this sneak peek at Volume 41 with you. Want to know what else you can look forward to in this issue? Stay tuned!

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Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween! To get you in the spirit, check out Ben Percy’s reading of “Goodnight Moon,” courtesy of Graywolf Press. And be sure to check out Graywolf, an awesome press producing great books.

 

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From Folios and Signatures to ePubs and Mobis: Creating the Oyez Review eBook, Part 2

We recently discussed the motivation behind creating the Oyez Review eBook, but the story and method behind the effort definitely warrants an entry all of its own.

As with any technology, a lot of people believe that the work behind creating an eBook is hard, like you have to throw on your druid robes and take to a misty plain in the twilight for some intense chanting or become a half-human half-squid version of a programmer, typing away furiously into the dead of night and subsisting on a diet of Red Bull and cold pizza.

Neither of these are true, even though the latter comparison might describe my working habits. That’s totally unrelated to my eBook work, though. Continue reading

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