Replacing Irreantum: Generating Submissions

Wm discusses how to generate submissions to a lit mag, specifically: exposure, prestige, editing, contributor copies, cash prizes, token payment, pro payment and revenue share.

This is a continuation of my analysis of the barriers involved in replacing Irreantum, the now defunct literary journal of the Association for Mormon Letters. Other installments:

Scope/Positioning | Staffing/Production | Generating Submissions | Financial Models | Starting Up


You would think that with so few outlets for Mormon short fiction that submissions wouldn’t be a problem for any successor to Irreantum. My understanding is that that’s not necessarily the case. Very few Mormons fiction writers write Mormon fiction that shows the craft and maturity and potential appeal to readership that one would want in a lit mag that publishes more than four or five stories a year. A key reason for that, of course, is that there is little incentive to do so.

Any potential successor to Irreantum is going to have figure out how to increase both the number of submissions and the overall quality of them. That’s may be difficult, but I don’t see why one would even bother to launch a Mormon lit mag if you’re not going to aim to increase the number of stories written, submitted and published. If all the field needs are 8 or so short stories a year and a dozen to two dozen poems then that’s already covered between Dialogue, Sunstone and BYU Studies. So what can/do lit mags offer submitters?

Exposure: exposure, as in producing work for free for a publication, has become a hiss and a byword among writers. The gaping content maw of the internet (minus solid financial models for getting consumers to pay for work) runs around sucking up creative work and promises the empty reward of exposure in return. Empty especially since it’s just as easy for creators themselves to publish their own work online and try to find an audience. That being said, exposure can be an incentive that leads to submissions (especially when paired with prestige [see below]). However, especially for short fiction, the function of exposure is to lead to book contracts (as in something that can actually put food on the table). Considering there is virtually no market for book length Mormon fiction (other than the LDS fiction/Deseret Book market and a few self-publishing/small publisher successes), it seems unlikely that any successor to Irreantum can generate submissions with the promise of exposure.

Prestige: in a world where anyone can publish their own work, this may seem no more , but some literary magazines continue to have enough juice that the prestige of appearing in their pages is perceived as enough of a reward to generate a steady (overwhelming) flow of submissions. The problem with any successor to Irreantum (even if one were able to carry on with the same name) is that it doesn’t have the history and influential readership to generate submissions based on prestige alone. I’ll be honest: even if Irreantum hadn’t gone defunct, with me writing so little Mormon fiction these days, I had intended to solely submit to Dialogue going forward because of a) their editing and b) their audience.

Editing: this is one that isn’t often mentioned, but the chance to work with a great/known editor can be incentive for some authors to submit to a particular publication. I’d work with Nicole and James Goldberg again in a heart beat (and, no, they aren’t the solution to a successor to Irreantum — they have children to raise and classes to teach and day jobs to attend to). The only reason why I might consider submitting to Sunstone is so that I could work with Lisa Torcasso Downing.

Contributor Copies: this is a nice add in, and it’s what the Mormon journals have typically offered, but I don’t know that it does anything to increase submissions. This is doubly true if the successor to Irreantum focuses on electronic publication (and I don’t see how a print-only/print-centric version is viable).

Cash Prizes: In its later years, Irreantum was able to shorten its reading window and generate a decent amount of submissions (I believe between 70 and 120, depending on the year) by funneling all work into the Irreantum Fiction Contest, which offered cash prizes to first, second and third place winners. It was a very good system for them and one that deserves consideration by any successor. Although, the issue with cash prizes is that they need to be substantial (more than $100) to generate interest and then you only reward a limited number of contributors. It doesn’t exactly seem fair to me that the top 3 get cash and then those who place get nothing, especially if you’re going to publish more than four or five stories a year (which I think you would need to).

Token Payment: this usually takes the form of either a flat fee per piece (typically $5, $10, $25 or $50) or 1-3 cents a word. With a sea of internet publications that offer no payment, token payment can be a viable way to and can be a starting place from which to grow into a market that can offer pro payment.

Pro Payment: five cents a word. Usually more in the six to nine cents a word range in the genre mags world. More for the top tier publications (like The New Yorker). Actually just as I’m posting this, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) has raised the rate (starting July 1, 2014) on the markets it qualifies as pro markets to six cents a word. Pro payment pretty much ensures a steady flow of good publications and would possibly even cause some of the Mormon short story writers who have abandoned the field to take up the pen again.

Revenue Share: I’m not aware of any literary magazine or journal that does this, but I’m wondering if potential contributors would find incentive in shares of a year’s worth of revenue (however that revenue comes in). Technically this would also give them incentive to help build an audience (whatever that means for the particular financial model). I think this would require a unique set of circumstances to pull off, but I’m trying to be thorough here.

Next up: Financial Models (how to pay for whatever it is you’re going to pay for).

21 thoughts on “Replacing Irreantum: Generating Submissions”

  1. Some factors that influence the question of submissions:
    – Genre/balance/focus: What is required in order to be published? Does it need to have an explicit Mormon focus? Does it need to qualify as literary fiction? Is the magazine actively looking for sf&f? YA stories? Romance stories (if they exist in short form)? Inspirational? Personal narratives? Drama? And so forth and so on… Note that a choice to publish more broadly can increase submissions, but can also create issues of its own: if you have an sf&f “slot,” that can become one more hole you need to try to fill each time.

    – Active recruitment: It seems to me that a lot of the most important fiction that gets published in magazines is recruited through direct contacts: an editor talking to a writer he/she knows and saying, “Do you have anything along the lines…”

    – On a related note: themed story collections/challenges have had some success in generating interest and new submissions among writers, including within a Mormon context (see Monsters and Mormons).

    – Reprints: Acceptable, or not?

    – Mormon focus/audience: This is one big potential plus. How many places are actually interested in writing that is about the Mormon experience? How many venues are read by people who specifically are interested in that kind of thing? This could be an appeal for writers who are particularly interested in writing about the Mormon experience — or who have that one oddball story that is too Mormon to ever be sold mainstream, *but*…

  2. I think you missed one that is very important for magazines of this type; community. Whatever kind of stories are needed, there is usually a core group of writers who can be counted on to contribute. They will then go out and follow the recruitment requirements for successful growth.

    Yet, a closed community can quickly fade when the core writers lose interest. This is, in a nutshell, what I think happened. The magazine felt more like a bunch of close friends than a serious project. As an outsider perspective, it seemed not so much hostile as indifferent to new writers and work. Its downfall wasn’t the writing or interest, but stagnation.

    Suggestion to anyone who is thinking of starting another magazine of this type; focus. Each issue should have a theme of some sort picked out well in advance. Perhaps set out a memo to would be writers, both core and new, about a year in advance of what type or theme of a story that the magazine would like. Considering the small audience that a project like this seemed to generate, open up to genre even if the main connection is Mormonism. You don’t have to present a variety of genre each issue, but like Mormons and Monsters there can be single issues devoted to literary, science fiction, fantasy, romance, experimental, etc. Variety is the spice of life and the salvation of tiny magazines.

    For perspective, I know a few writers (me included) who really wished that Mormons and Monsters was an ongoing project where their work could be showcased. When the names did show up for inclusion, most of them were recognizable in the Mormon writer community. Just a handful of the bulk seemed to come from those who have not had exposure. Such is the nature of competitions. My guess, and again as an outsider, is that there were enough entries of good quality that weren’t included to form a small side issue.

    For the record, I am all in as a writer if anyone want to try and start another Mormon magazine project. I even know a small group of writers who aren’t part of the “in group” who would jump at the chance to contribute. Open is the key. Even to bad writing. Think in terms of growth and not prestige and it will get big on its own.

  3. You’re absolutely right. Creating and maintaining community is difficult, but necessary.

    And I agree: themed issues is a good way to increase scope and get diverse groups of writers involved.

  4. For many, perhaps most working LDS writers, submission choices come down to this: If the piece has a Mormon tie-in are the themes both sufficiently universalized yet culturally particularized to the point that a non-Mormon audience can understand and appreciate what you’re trying to say? In my own work I have found that if the answer is NO, I then lean toward submitting to an LDS-related pub ““ but what I’m usually looking at is a failure somewhere in the writing.
    Additionally, under the best of circumstances there are literally no upsides to publishing in LDS-related journals ““ no significant exposure, no “prestige,” and no cash beyond winning a Sunstone prize (and even that’s paltry). What a writer of short fiction, LDS or otherwise, expects out of a story is not available in an LDS context: arousing the interest of an agent or national/international publishing house for a book of short stories, or an advance on a work of long fiction; arousing the interest of a producer of theatre or film or television (HBO) for a work of adaptation; a fellowship or writer-in-residence position somewhere that will provide previously unavailable time and resources for writing; connection world-wide with the community of writers and artists, many doing good work in fields other than their chosen specialty, in other disciplines or in the causes of social justice or environmental stewardship.
    I will also say that I have found etiquette among editors of ALL Mormon-related journals, especially Irreantum, to be extraordinarily, inexplicably, poor. Acknowledging manuscript receipt, for instance, is basic (especially web-submission), as is timely acceptance/rejection. When you submit simultaneously, as most of us do, but hear nothing from the LDS editors you know are NOT being overwhelmed with floods of submissions, there’s a problem. Mormon writers deal with too many negatives to put up with bad manners at the publishing end.
    My advice to LDS writers: Think big. Forget the LDS pubs until they grow up.

  5. In response to PD: while I agree with much of your analysis, I can also think of two or three other *potential* reasons to publish in Mormon-themed periodicals:
    – If you want to speak primarily to an audience of Mormon readers. This, in my view, is a perfectly legitimate artistic choice, and need not necessarily represent a lack of literary craft. Unfortunately, even with publication in one of these journals, you still won’t reach a very wide audience of Mormon readers — possibly smaller than publication in a national literary magazine.
    – The editorial experience. I have not personally had a short story published in any Mormon periodical (I’m not a short story writer), but I have heard good things about working with many of the editors — once the story gets accepted.
    – To help build the community. It’s easy to say, “Let’s walk until they get their act together,” and maybe that’s even the right thing to do in many cases. For some of us, though, there is no “they,” but rather an all-too-limited “we.”

    Which suggests a more fundamental question: is it worthwhile to even try to create a Mormon “specialty” literary community, with its own publication venues? Many, I suspect, would argue not, on the grounds that if Mormon literature can’t compete on the national literary stage, we shouldn’t try to grow it in a hothouse. I tend toward a different point of view, primarily because I see writing as situated in communities, which work to develop writers, readers, and critics. The question is whether there’s a sufficient critical mass (in both numbers and quality) to make that work.

  6. pd: response times are definitely a concern. It takes a well-oiled editorial machine to provide quick response rates. At the same time, is there evidence that thinking big pays off for anyone except the Mormon who will write to the edgy edge of the national lit fic idiom?

    J: Agreed on the reasons for, but the more I get into this analysis the more I’m leaning towards not so much a ‘no’ as: if yes, then it’s gotta be very different from what now exists/has existed.

    Th: I would imagine it’s because of the fear that readers will see it as lazy and not of value.

  7. Wm, for the writer, LDS or otherwise, who writes “truly,” in the sense Hemingway used that term, there is no “edgy edge” or forbidden zone or boundary (especially the externally-imposed “moral” boundaries we see so often in LDS fiction). There’s only the writing. That said, it is also the case that LDS fiction is a literature of restraint and circumspection, but that’s far from a deal-breaker with most national/international journals and reviews, especially the good ones. Here’s the germane Hemingway quote, which touches both issues: “If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.”

  8. There are writers who like to write, and to see the words printed in ANY kind of magazine is a thrilling experience. How many or what kind of person reads it is of secondary importance. Growing up has nothing to do with it. My own perspective is that Mormon fiction, if it wasn’t filled with pd types, should fashion itself like the “golden age” of pulp fiction. Forget what can be defined as good or bad. Publish, publish, publish, and then let the cream rise to the top on its own power.

  9. Why the hostility, jettboy?

    Do you write?

    Do you write LDS-style “pulp.”

    Where can I find some of this intriguing literature, especially the “cream” that has risen to the top “on its own power”?

  10. Mormon fiction isn’t filled with anything at the moment — that’s precisely why losing Irreantum (or any venue that publishes work by/for) Mormon readers is a loss.

    And, unfortunately, having internalized various modes of fiction from broader American strains, we all find ourselves in different camps — or at the very least with different interests and tastes. Which makes me wonder if a broader scope than Irreantum is possible or whether any successor will end up being just as narrow but in a slightly different way. Perhaps we need more than one successor, although, in my experience, one of the major problems in Mormon culture is that efforts are fragmented and tend to be located in one or two individuals and when they lost interest or capacity, the effort goes away.

    A brief note on Monsters & Mormons: by my count, at the time we accepted their stories, about half of the authors had been previously published less than 1-4 times or not at all. I could be wrong — I didn’t check everyone’s publication history when reviewing the submissions, but I would say that M&M had more work by new/newish fiction writers than most anthologies. And we were happy about that fact even though, frankly, it meant more editing work for me and Th. And I still remain amazed at how well the authors responded to our suggestions. I would imagine that it’s a different experience running an ongoing publication than a one-off anthology that everyone understands is a labor of love (and oddness).

  11. “Why the hostility, jettboy?”

    Because, as Wm Morris said, “Mormon fiction isn’t filled with anything at the moment.” That is why I can’t show anyone the cream of the crop. How can a child grow up to become great if it can’t even be born? You ask if I’m a writer of LDS style pulp? No I’m not, but only because even if I was there would be almost nowhere to have a chance to print my stuff. Kind of takes away the whole point of writing in the first place. To say , “under the best of circumstances there are literally no upsides to publishing in LDS-related journals,” is to ignore and insult those who are non-professionals. Pulps had “absolutely no upsides” to the traditional publish world at the time, and there is no argument really bad writing came from them. Yet, some of the writes became great and even a few magazines gained respect. Without that option the world would have missed a few literary gems. Historically newspapers printed novel chapters as serials before they became bound into the classics we know today. The upside is that there is a reason to write because there can be outlets for the work to be read by someone, anyone. Voices can be tested and perhaps found where only select whispers existed.

  12. What’s a Mormon writer? Do I need a current recommend to be considered a Mormon writer? Need I be orthodox, too, or is deep familiarity with the faith enough? How big is the Mormon writer tent? Are Brian Evenson and Neil LaBute Mormon writers, or others similarly disaffected but with deep roots in Mormonism? What if a writer emerged from one of the polygamist communities – would he/she be considered a Mormon writer? Does or can the term Mormon writer comprehend all aspects of human experience as a Latter-day Saint, the good, bad and ugly? The anti? Was Maurine Whipple a Mormon writer? Was Juanita Brooks or Bernard DeVoto? Is Brady Udall a Mormon writer?

    I think there are always lots of Mormon writers out there, many (most?) who have separated themselves from a church they see as anti-intellectual and anti-art. Nonetheless, they continue to employ a kind of Mormon sensibility in their writing even if they have developed low opinions of the faith. If by Mormon writing we’re only talking about work dealing specifically with the LDS Church and its members, we’re thinking too small.

    For what it’s worth, Wm. I think Mormon journals & reviews serve best as incubators, and in that role can provide a valuable function. There are LDS cultural hurdles to writing, not to mention publishing, literary fiction, and intermediate steps can help a writer navigate those.

    Jettboy, I don’t understand what you’re waiting for. Write! And while you’re writing, read. Avoid fantasy, science fiction, juvenilia. May I suggest three novels: THE SAVAGE DETECTIVES/Roberto Bolaño; NARCOPOLIS/Jeet Thayil; SOMETHING TO BE DESIRED/Thomas McGuane.

    Those gentiles set the bar pretty high – but have faith, brother, and go forward. It’s the only way.

  13. Here’s the thing: there’s plenty of support in the outside world for writers who are willing to write from the disaffected stance. I, personally, still consider such writers to be part of Mormon fiction, but I find that I’m less interested in their point of view because it’s an idiom that I’m familiar with from fiction writers who don’t have any connection to Mormonism. That doesn’t mean that I’m un-interested. But it does mean that in my own meager efforts I’m going to privilege writers who are actively engaged with the LDS Church.

    The Church as a church is no more anti-intellectual or anti-art than any large community. And much more supportive than some. Besides: going disaffected cosmopolitan is the easy stance to take. It’s the one artists always take. And it creates the same kind of art over and over. Very good art. Great art. But it’s a limited discourse.

    Also: you are totally wrong about genre fiction. And without pulp fiction, we don’t get Fritz Leiber. And that would be a tragedy.

  14. “Avoid fantasy, science fiction, juvenilia.” That in itself proves we have nothing else to say to each other. I don’t even know how to respond to that without ranting and raving.

  15. This is not directed at Jettboy (or pd, for that matter), but I also don’t have patience for genre fans who sneer at literary fiction. Or Mormons who demonize “challenging” Mormon fiction (although I also don’t condemn those who don’t want to engage).

  16. All this is moot unless you’re writing, jettboy. Read those novels, get on a scribbling schedule, THEN tell me what you think.

    Of course there’s wonderful genre work out there, I read it too. There’s also a surfeit of genre work by LDS writers. Not to oversimplify, but it seems to me that the heavy lifting in terms of cultural critique and life-as-art is accomplished by literary fiction.


    “The Church as a church is no more anti-intellectual or anti-art than any large community. And much more supportive than some.” – I disagree vehemently with this one as will any number of writers “called in” by the Brethren (yup, even little ol’ me).

    “Besides: going disaffected cosmopolitan is the easy stance to take. It’s the one artists always take. And it creates the same kind of art over and over. Very good art. Great art. But it’s a limited discourse.”

    Just so you know: Your delicious phrase “going disaffected cosmopolitan” is something I will steal somewhere down the road, so please don’t sue me. Will also say I agree with you completely – most post-LDS don’t understand the concept of “loyal opposition.” Apparently tossing the baby out with the bathwater is both gesture de rigueur and public exorcism all rolled into one. It makes for compelling public display and is thus irresistible to the exhibitionists who heavily populate the writing ranks (guilty as charged). Unfortunately, it also eliminates a source of insight/wisdom/experience most such writers are poorer for having lost.

    My point again is that Mormon writing at its core is writing informed by a certain sensibility. That sensibility, skillfully and spontaneously executed in prose, is both valued and recognized by the larger literary community. This holds whether (or not) Mormons per se are specifically central to the work. Safe to say, I think, that it represents a particular moral stance, and that’s OK, so long as this does not overwhelm and obscure the fantastic complexity of human life, or lead to facile solutions.

  17. Most literature is facile with the solutions — it does a much better job detailing the complexities. But that’s okay because I don’t think that literature needs to offer solutions.

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