Brian Oliu is the kind of writer who defies definition. Does he write poetry or flash fiction or non-fiction? It all depends on who you ask. He’s from New Jersey, but is enthusiastic about his adopted home of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He writes lyric pieces which happen to sometimes be about Nintendo games, missed connections on Craigslist, and professional wrestling.
Here’s what he had to say when I asked him recently about his submitting strategies as a writer.
How do you know when a piece is ready to send out?
I’m the type of writer who likes to get things submitted as soon as I’m finished with the piece—it’s hard for me to exactly pin-point when I perceive a piece to be ‘finished,’ although a lot of times it comes hand-in-hand with when I’m able to read something out loud without stumbling over anything.
What’s your process for picking which literary magazines to submit to? Do you make a list? What resources do you use to choose where to submit (websites, fellow writers)?
Social media is huge—if the magazine has a really excellent online presence or a lot of twitter followers, I’d be more apt to sending to that magazine, as I know there is a built-in audience. When I was first submitting my work, I’d find writers that I admired & I would check out their website to see where they had their work published. I still do this to an extent; if a friend of mine is in a magazine & posts a link to their work & I appreciate the aesthetic of the journal, I will most often send something their way.
As your work hangs out on the experimental end of the spectrum, does that affect your submitting strategy at all? Is it an advantage, disadvantage, a wash?
I think that the fact that the work is experimental works both ways: there are certain journals that I absolutely love, but I’m aware that my work is way too far on the lyric end for it to be considered (though it doesn’t prevent me from submitting–you never know what will strike the right editor!). It can be a little unnerving in regards to classifying a genre, because perhaps the poetry editor is more experimental than the nonfiction editor, & so it’d be served better to have the work viewed under a poetic eye. However, the fact that the work is a bit more fluid in terms of genre means that there are more chances to place work: say, I can send a piece to a journal that only accepts poetry, as well as a journal that is only looking for fiction.
Do you have favorite magazines that you go back to over and over again, even though you’ve been rejected, and what makes them your favorites?
Friends & I have referred to this phenomenon as ‘The Nemesis Journal,’ meaning that they are the journal where everyone says ‘Oh, have you sent your work to *insert journal name here*? I know they’d absolutely love it!’ & you’re like ‘They’ve rejected me thirty times.’ I’m fortunate enough to have crossed a few nemesis journals off my list, but I still am seeking out AGNI, Hayden’s Ferry Review, & Indiana Review. Those are some beautiful journals with some amazing work & fascinating pedigrees. I love to read them & would love to be a part.
Are there certain types of magazines you avoid and why?
Ugly ones? Seriously—I had a moment where I decided that I would only send to journals that looked good & had competent design. No one wants to read an ugly journal that looks like it was cobbled together last minute. I also tend to shy away from journals that don’t have a good online presence, simply because I want to make sure that my work reaches as many people as possible. Great journals champion their contributor’s work.
How do you feel about contests?
I rarely submit to them, but I have nothing against them as a principle.
How do you feel about non-contest submitting fees?
I have no problem with this, as long as the prices are within reason. Brevity Magazine started charging for submissions, & they had an excellent reasoning behind it: in the past, authors had to shell out money for postage as well as printing, which cost about three dollars or so. If authors were willing to do that back then, they shouldn’t be too upset about doing it now, especially when they know that the money is going towards the magazine itself, instead of towards postage.
Do you re-submit to magazines that have already published your work? Why or why not?
I do it every once in a while—a lot of my “re-publications” are solicitations, & I have never turned down a solicitation (I’m one to say yes to everyone & everything). I think a lot of people regard submitting as a type of game: we get into a journal & we can cross it off our checklist or put it in our bio. I think we’re all guilty of this at some level (I know I am). But if a journal does a really nice job with your work & has a nice outreach, one should feel good about submitting to them again.
Will you edit a piece while you’re sending it out?
Typically, no. I’m usually done with a piece when it is sent out. If an editor has suggestions or edits, I’ll often change my master copy, however—it’s easy to forget to do this, but it really does make your life easier when it comes time to putting pieces together in a book form.
Would you say you have an overall, long-term strategy to how you submit, or is it more just fly-by-night, make it up as you go along?
I definitely make it up as I go along. However, I’m extremely organized when I’m submitting—I have a large spreadsheet (titled failurepile.xls) which has all of my submission info, including when I sent it, what magazines each piece is at, etc.
How do you know when a piece should just be put to rest?
Never! Keep hustling. It’ll find a place somewhere.
What’s the record for the most rejections you’ve gotten on a piece that was eventually accepted somewhere?
I don’t simultaneously submit, so my number might be pretty low, but I was at six for a particular piece that was picked up about a month ago.
Brian Oliu is originally from New Jersey & has taught at the University of Alabama since receiving his M.F.A. in 2009. His work has been anthologized in Best Creative Nonfiction Volume 2, 30 Under 30: An Anthology of Innovative Fiction, & has been twice selected as a Notable Essay in the Best American Essays series. He is the author of So You Know It’s Me, a collection of Craigslist Missed Connections, & Level End, a series of lyric essays about videogame Boss Battles. His newest book, Leave Luck To Heaven, an ode to 8-bit videogames, will be released in 2014.
Robyn Ryle spends much more time than is probably healthy checking Submittable. She has short stories in Bartleby Snopes, Cease, Cows and Pea River Journal among others. You can find her on Twitter, @RobynRyle.
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Another perspective on submitting from Brian Oliu