As part of our ongoing series, #LitMagLove, Room's Rachel Thompson spoke with The New Quarterly's Pamela Mulloy about their reading and submissions, and her advice for writers who want to publish in the magazine.
You have two reading periods each year at The New Quarterly (TNQ). Tell me about how the TNQ editorial board makes their selections. How much of your submissions are read by all your editorial board?
We have an editorial board that comprises three senior editors—including me, and one or two junior editors, usually interns. The first round of reading is done by senior editors. In this round we decide which stories will be put through to the next round. Generally, somewhere between 40-50% of the material goes forward and all the editors read the remaining material. We receive somewhere in the region of 160 to 180 stories per reading period.
You take paper submissions for fiction. Why does this method work best for TNQ?
We continue to accept paper submissions for fiction and poetry because otherwise the administrative cost of printing and processing the stories would be too great for us. Our editors don’t have e-readers so we have to circulate paper copies of stories and poetry. For our contests, however, we accept electronic submissions and we can do this because part of the contest fee covers the processing and printing of entries.
What percent of submissions are published in TNQ? And how many of your submissions are unsolicited?
Approximately 4-6% of the submissions received are published in the magazine. We tend not to solicit fiction as we have quite a lot coming in through our regular submission process, and through our Peter Hinchcliffe Fiction Contest. We do, however, solicit non-fiction work from writers whose work we’re familiar with, or from those writers who attend our Wild Writers Festival, usually on the topic discussed at the event.
What is the most common problem you find writers make in their submissions to TNQ?
A common problem is that many writers send in the material too soon, before it’s fully developed. Getting to the heart of the idea, taking risks in the telling, polishing the prose, solving the problems are all part of the editing process. When writers develop self-editing it shows. I suggest to writers that they write the story, put it aside to allow it to gestate, then tinker with it again and again, and have at least five people who don’t love them (or who love them enough) read and critique it. It will pay off, I promise. Also, paying attention to beginnings and endings is crucial. A slow or confusing start or an ending that trails off or depends on sensational impact can be ineffective, even jarring.
I know you often present to writing programs about submitting to the journal. What key pieces of advice do you give to writers?
The first thing I tell them is to read widely. Not just novels or collections, but literary journals especially, because this is the grassroots of publishing, the place where the writing itself is paramount, where risks are taken. The range of styles, voice and narrative content in literary journals should inspire, challenge and offer a sense of opportunity, of potential for emerging writers. On a practical level it will also give them an idea of the publications in which they want to see their work published.
The second thing is that editing the work is as important as the writing. It’s not unusual for professional writers to take their work through ten…fifteen, even more drafts—and these are people who have been doing it for a long time.
The final bit of advice I give them is to submit their work. Simple as that. This is the marketing part of the job, and it’s often the hardest. Once they get the hang of it, figure out where they’d like to be published, and set up a system for tracking submissions, it should be easy. That’s the theory, at least!
How do you look at rejection, knowing that so few submissions make it into your journal?
I tell writers not to think of it as rejection but as professional development. Rejection is the hard reality of a writer’s career. It may take several rounds before their work gets published but this process does two things: it gets their work seen by editors—and we do remember writers, even those we don’t publish. It also offers the opportunity for writers to re-consider their work and improve upon it, to see what’s working and what’s not. Either way, there is an opportunity for something good to come of it.
Tell me about the Wild Writer’s Festival? How does it enhance the relationships you have with writers?
When I became editor a few years ago, I knew I wanted to introduce some sort of regular author event or reading series alongside the publication. It so happened that we had a consultation at around the same time during which we were advised that a festival would be a great way to bring our magazine to a wider audience. With funding from our Regional Arts Council we launched the first festival eight months later. For us the success of the Wild Writers Festival means more people know about The New Quarterly, which was our initial aim, but the unexpected outcome has been more opportunities to reach out to writers we may not otherwise know about, and to strengthen the relationship with those we’ve published. Ours is a festival with more emphasis on conversations than on the readings. We like that it is a small, intimate festival with a great sense of community. The Festival has also allowed us the opportunity to solicit work, therefore creating a strong link between the festival and the magazine. Basically we’re lifting the conversation from the page to the stage, and back again. And it’s a really fun weekend. A literary love-in.
Why did you decide to have a diversity panel this year and what kind of questions did you hope it would answer (or raise)?
That’s an interesting question. We’ve been talking about the need for diversity but in truth we didn’t know where to start so the panel was really an opportunity to figure out what questions should be asked. The issue of whether we’re doing enough to attract a more diverse audience came to light when Susan Scott, our Non-Fiction Editor, visited a class and was told by a woman of colour that she didn’t think The New Quarterly would be interested in her work. This was an eye-opener for us, and given that we’d already put together a panel we began thinking of how to expand the discussion, which is what we’ll be doing in the coming months. Basically, we need to do our research and the panel was a good starting point.
What other literary journals are you reading lately? Any recent issues you read that you found exciting?
I don’t have a chance to read a lot of other literary journals, but I do dip into them as they come into our office, and I’m especially interested when there is a themed issue. I like to see how other editors pull together material under a specific idea. I think we’re very fortunate to have a rich industry of literary journals here in Canada, perhaps that's why we’re known for excellence in the short story form. We’re in good company!
I read something beautifully written by you on TNQ's blog:
There was a moment in the festival when I was sitting in on one of the panels amidst a roomful of people, many leaning forward as they listened to the writers, and I was overcome with the sense of being part of something vital, something that mattered, the reverence and seriousness in tone was striking. This was a crowd for whom literature made sense and I felt carried away and utterly grateful for that moment.
Do you have similar grateful moments when you’re reading contributions to TNQ? Any you’d like to describe?
There are times when I’m reading a submission and I feel a sort of settling in with the story, it’s almost visceral—a kind of full-body sigh—the feeling that I’m being transported through the beauty of the language, the particular journey of the characters, a setting or situation that is distinct and enriching. I read a lot of stories that are not quite ready so when I get to one that is so clearly the work of a writer who has talent and has worked hard to develop it, it’s bliss.
Is there anything else you would like writers to know about submitting to TNQ?
I’d like writers to know that we consider our relationship with writers to be just that, a relationship. That’s why it’s important to submit regularly, to read the magazine and see the work we publish, and to keep submitting. Very often we remember the writers who have submitted previously, sometimes we can even recall the story. For me, the relationship starts there, in that process of sending the work, and, of course, strengthened when we finally say “yes.”