Archive for the ‘Submission Trends and Tips’ Category

CR Sampler

Wednesday, August 19th, 2015

samplerHey, everybody. The term starts next week, the winter issue is with the typesetter, and we’re already back to considering and reading submissions for our upcoming spring 2016 number. Actually we never stopped. It has taken us all summer to . . . almost . . . catch up. (Only thirty more to go from last term!)

For those unfamiliar with the journal, we urge you to give us a read before submitting. Sample back issues are seven bucks. There’s no fee to submit to CR, but our system prevents you from submitting another piece (or packet) before you’ve heard from us on the last one you sent. With a response time of (usually) three or four months, that means you’ll only get a couple of shots at it in a given reading period. In other words, choose carefully. In other, other words, send us your best stuff.

For a few samples of material that has been published in our pages—and commented upon by our staff and contributors—check out our blog:


The latter story, a marvelous piece by Tom Paine, is included in his new collection, A Boy’s Book of Nervous Breakdowns, just reviewed by Publisher’s Weekly.

Submission Trends and Tips

Monday, March 10th, 2014

Brian Trapp: I have an announcement: Sex is back. I know what you’re thinking: Turn on the television; it didn’t go anywhere. And that’s my point. In a culture that doesn’t really hold back on what happens in the bedroom (or car . . . or office), sex should be less interesting as material for literary fiction.

Well . . . I don’t know what happened, but lately these CR submissions are making me blush. I am no Puritan, but I’m slightly uncomfortable with the amount of prostitution stories we’ve been getting. We’re talking fortyish fallen-housewife prostitutes. Chinese-village prostitutes. Indian-child prostitutes. Some of these stories are comic or tragic or in between, but they’re all about the ancient transaction. This is not a bad thing. Literary fiction has no boundaries or borders. But I will say this: Even when writing about sex and prostitutes (and sex with prostitutes), restraint and style are still very much appreciated.

Carnal acts are part of human experience, but when represented in fiction, they often become mired by overwrought and purple prose or else fall into uninspired, pornographic stereotype. If sex is back, then so be it, but let’s not have literary fiction compete with the dark corners of the internet or the latest incarnation of Fifty Shades of Grey. Sex in fiction should be as weird or beautiful or awkward as life itself.

Submissions Trends and Tips

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

We receive about 1,500 poems, stories, and essays a month through our online submission manager, and many of those submissions get read by our staff, who have noticed the following trends. . . .

Becky Adnot-Haynes: Maybe it has to do with the current popularity of Gotye’s musical version, but I feel like we’ve been seeing a lot of the Somebody that I Used to Know story: Sensitive, articulate, twenty- or thirty-something man wanders about a major city (often—though not always—New York), spots a woman that he used to date/sleep with/watch from afar, has his interest reinvigorated, begins/thinks about beginning a conversation. The stories unvaryingly, and maybe inevitably, end in disappointment, and they are always highly meditative, often in first person, and heavily detailed, often on the matter of how the woman’s hair/manner of dressing/looks in general have changed. The stories often aren’t bad. There just seem to be an awful lot of them making the rounds.

Lisa Ampleman: Lately, many of the creative nonfiction pieces I read include a certain amount of research—a good thing. However, the writers also seem determined to emphasize how much research they did and what methods they used. I trust the author a little less when I see phrases like, “A quick Google search pulls up thousands of webpages about cocoons,” or “I typed ‘bloviator’ into an Internet search engine and discovered . . . ,” or “I read a book about rare European coins to find out why my uncle had saved so many.” A more seamless use of research includes the valuable information discovered without emphasizing the method, like Joshua Harmon’s “The Annotated Mix-Tape #17” in Issue 8.2 (appreciated here) or either of the personal essays forthcoming in Issue 9.1 (Vladimir Vulovic’s “Why Chess?” and Tracy Burkholder’s “Touch”). So rather than telling us you spent sixteen hours poring over Google search results and Wikipedia pages to find the forty different facts you discovered about the history of Mardi Gras, just help us imagine eighteenth-century Louisiana by creating a well-researched scene.

Submission Trends and Tips

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

One trend we’ve noticed here at CR is how many pieces we receive that are set in foreign countries. Not a problem in and of itself, but all too often what we get, instead of an affecting narrative or poem, is a travelogue, a Rick Steves-esque report of where characters or speakers went and what they ate, peppered with the five foreign words they learned while interacting with charming locals. We hear all about what the light looks like from their hostel in Prague or the consistency and aroma of the coffee at the café on the plaza de insert-romantic-word-here. Though place can play a meaningful role in a piece (indeed, probably the only reason anyone watched the Drew Carey show was because it was set in Cleveland), we caution you not to make it the point of the piece. If you went to Rome last summer, we’re happy for you. Friend us on Facebook, and we’ll gladly look at your pictures. But please, don’t send us a story that demonstrates your familiarity with every apostolic nook and red-capped cranny of the Eternal City.

It seems, too, that the people who write these poems all keep traveling to the same countries, usually France, Greece, Italy, and Spain. The problem is that we “know” these countries. They have been presented to us countless times (for example, who wasn’t moved to tears by Meg Ryan’s 1995 vehicle French Kiss or Billy Crystal’s Forget Paris of the same year). This is not to say that excellent works can’t take place in these countries. Richard Hugo’s Good Luck in Cracked Italian is an amazing book. We’ve heard the Sun Also Rises is a good read. We just want to make sure that when authors are describing the how moved they were by dark, attenuated alleyways Venice, they don’t forget that places are not nearly as interesting as the lives that take place in them.

Submission Trends and Tips

Monday, October 24th, 2011

Though the work we receive here at CR is always widely varied, we do notice, on rare occasions, certain trends among the submissions. Here are some of our latest.

A Pre-Story Death: Sometimes a death that occurs before the narrative begins—especially when it’s the loss of a loved one—creates a poignant sense of present absence, giving even mundane actions a kind of emotional echo, like in the 1990 film Ghost Dad. However, when handled poorly, the device can be a cop out, lend false weight to a story, like in the final episode of Lost when you learn that the weird parallel universe is actually like a kind of limbo-type place and everyone’s actually dead. I mean, really? I watch a show for six seasons and the “reveal” is that they are all dead?! We live in a post–Jacob’s Ladder world. You just can’t drop a “surprise” death on us anymore; it’s like playing tic-tac-toe with anyone over the age of four.


2,400 Thirsty Souls

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

Little known fact: We regularly receive submissions from inmates. Oddly—and interestingly—they are never about prison life. We have not yet published any of these submissions, which often bear the marks of a struggle to communicate without adequate tools, physical and educational (sometimes they are handwritten; sometimes the sentences are either difficult to parse—i.e., confusing—or use a very limited lexicon). However, we have great hopes for future submissions from one particular prison. Here’s the story.

Our department received a letter from an inmate. It somehow ended up in our office, though the inmate was requesting not copies of our magazine (which sometimes happens) but rather textbooks on grammar, manuals giving guidance and tips on how to write both expository prose as well as poetry and fiction. The inmates, he wrote, want to learn. We headed to the department lounge, where professors and students alike stock the shelves with all kinds of no-longer-needed books for others to pick through and peruse. There were lots of books on writing. We packaged them up and shipped them off. A few weeks later, we received the following (abridged) letter:

I want to thank you for your kind act. For you see, our library is shared by 2,400 inmates, of whom, all will have access to your books. This is a great thing you have done for us. You answered a request from an obscure prison. . . . You cared enough for your fellow man to assist his love for the craft of writing. . . . If we could we would exclaim our gratitude loudly and proudly. But of course we are prevented from such outbursts. Nonetheless, please know we hold you in the highest regard. You did something very nice today. And for that, I say well done.
With creative sincerity,
[name of prisoner] and 2,399 other thirsty souls

Officially Closed, Officially Open: Submit to the Schiff Prize!

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

First, the bad news: The end is nigh! Apocalypses may fail to materialize, but the end of our regular reading period has arrived with a vengeance. Any manuscript postmarked after today will be burned, eaten, excreted, and then burned again by the four horsemen of late-submission annihilation. Maybe they are actually deadline-driven copy editors on rented scooters, but no matter—get thee to a post office quickly! We look forward to reading your in-the-nick-of-time poems and stories.

Now for the good news: The Robert and Adele Schiff Prizes in Poetry and Prose are officially open for submissions tomorrow! We promise to keep our more destructive staff members away from your contest manuscripts, but if you don’t send us an entry, the four fearsome scooter-persons may may well arrive to putter around on your lawn while ominously sharpening blue pencils. You’ve been warned.

Here’s all the official Schiff Prize information:

One winning poem and prose piece (fiction or creative nonfiction) will be chosen for publication in our 2012 prize issue, and winning authors will receive $300 each. All entries will be considered for publication in The Cincinnati Review.


Writers may submit up to 8 pages of poetry or 40 pages of prose, per entry. Previously published manuscripts, including works that have appeared online (in any form), will not be considered. There are no restrictions as to form, style, or content; all entries will be considered for publication. Simultaneous submissions are acceptable under the condition that you notify us if your manuscript is accepted elsewhere.


Entry fee is your choice of either: $15 contest only or $25, which includes a one-year subscription to The Cincinnati Review. All entries will receive equal consideration. Checks should be made payable to University of Cincinnati.


Submissions will be accepted by mail in June and July (postmarked). Entries must include a cover letter with the writer’s name, mailing address, telephone number, email, and the title(s) of the work(s) submitted. Please do not include the writer’s contact info on the manuscript, as submissions will be judged blindly.


Schiff [Poetry or Prose] Prize

The Cincinnati Review

P.O. Box 210069

Cincinnati, OH 45221-0069

Winners will be notified October 1, and an announcement will appear on our website and in the Winter 2012 issue.

Submission Trends and Tips

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

While we always receive a lot of varied, high-quality work here at CR, we do, on occasion, notice trends in our submissions. Here are two of the latest.

Elaborate presentation: Recently we’ve received a number of  spiral-bound submissions. We’ve received submissions on watermarked, stationery-grade stock, on parchment, and on glossy paper with accompanying photographs. We’ve also received quite a few in those see-through folders with that long-plastic-clip-binder thing. You know what we’re talking about. While these submissions did bring a smiles to our faces because they reminded us of that time we forgot to read A Separate Peace for English class and forced our parents to drive us to Office Depot the night before our reports were due  to purchase the most expensive report cover so that maybe, just maybe, our teachers would see the clear effort that went in to our reports, as evidenced by their highly polished appearance, and know, without reading, that they were holding “A” papers; they also made us a bit sad since our English teachers were not sympathetic, had in fact not even taken the professional-looking folios into consideration AT ALL, even though each cost almost a DOLLAR  (a dollar in the mid-80s no less!), and our parents had refused to pay that dollar even though the plastic folio WAS FOR A SCHOOL PROJECT! Anyway . . . what were we talking about . . . ?

“Priority” submissions: Some trends just make sense. For example, those shoes that are shaped like feet. Some, however, are completely nonsensical, like lead-free paint. Overnighting submissions falls into the latter category. We could understand if these submissions we’re coming in under the wire at the close of our reading period, but they aren’t. While we appreciate the urgency authors feel in getting us their work as fast as possible, we unfortunately can’t reciprocate by reading the submissions any faster, and then we just feel bad that somebody paid $20 to get us a story or set of poems the very next day when we won’t be able to read it for a few weeks. We don’t feel “I-just-stepped-on-my-friend’s-new-puppy-and-now-I’m-worried-there’s-something-wrong,-like-medically-wrong,-with-the-puppy bad,” but we do hate to see fellow writers waste their money.

Ultimately, however, we take every submission seriously, so if you feel the need to overnight us your poems, which have been handwritten using a quill on dried leaves, then laminated and spiral bound, we’d love to see them.

Submission Trends

Friday, December 10th, 2010

by Matt McBride

Though the work we receive here at Cincinnati Review is always eclectic, we do occasionally notice odd trends in what comes over the transom. Here are two that have cropped up lately.

Poems, including a sestina, about Lady Gaga: This is, we suppose, not surprising. It’s just the way the world is headed. In fact, there’s a proposal in Congress right now to do away with the outdated practice of putting the stern, gnarled faces of dead presidents on our currency and replace them with  covers from Lady Gaga albums.  “Could I get four The Fame’s for a The Fame Monster?” we’ll ask shopkeepers. A new epoch will be born. 1986, the year of Gaga’s birth, will become year 0, and every subsequent year will be followed by AG, or “After Gaga.” Soon we’ll have an inability to read anything BUT stories and poems about Lady Gaga. “This character isn’t very believable,” we’ll say in workshops. “Instead of being an elderly Cuban fisherman pulled out to sea by a large marlin, could he be, say, a twenty-something pop star wearing a dress made out of Kermit the Frog dolls?”

Ekphrastic poems: Now this trend is a bit harder to understand. Don’t get us wrong, an ekphrastic poem, when pulled off, can make both the referenced artwork and the poem resonate, like in a Lady Gaga/ Elton John duo. However, the writer also runs the risk of the two being awkwardly juxtaposed, merely existing in the same space without really illuminating each other, like in an Elton John/ Shania Twain duo. Ekphrasic poetry “works” when art is the lens as opposed to what’s observed.  Keat’s “Ode on Grecian Urn” excels not because it gives us a lifeless description of an urn but because the urn leads to a description of life.

Of course, all this isn’t to discourage you from sending us your “Ode on Lady Gaga’s ‘Bad Romance’”; it’s just a reminder to writers that for all the expensive stages and iambic baselines, it’s what Gaga sees through those rhinestone sunglasses that’s poetry.

Covering Cover Letters

Friday, November 19th, 2010

by Nicola Mason

I started out in journal work twenty years ago—as a grad assistant at Southern Review—so needless to say I’ve seen a lot of cover letters. When I’m asked about them, my line is, “A cover letter can’t help you.” People react as though I’ve said something ominous (I sort of enjoy this), but really it’s just a way of saying that our decision on whether to publish a particular piece is based on the piece itself. We know when something is or isn’t for us because, well, we read it. We’ve accepted work by people who have not a single publication credit to list, and we’ve turned down work by people who have a long, spooling paragraph of impressive pubs.

Actually, the only things I look for in cover letters are danger signs—hints, or outright shouts, that the writer is a difficult personality, someone who’d be hard to work with, someone . . . insane. Okay I’m kidding about that, but I do get annoyed when someone tries to sell me on his/her submission in the cover letter, especially when words like universal, cosmic, magic, and synergy are used. Or when the writer tries really hard to be hilarious. I once read a cover letter in which the writer pledged to pack himself in fire ants if we rejected him. In another, a writer urged me not to heed any of the ugly rumors about her. What rumors?

These were distractions, and distractions are, generally speaking, a poor idea. Don’t paste in flattering photos. Don’t include the names of pets. We don’t want a press packet or a business card that declares the writer . . . a writer. Let the work do the talking. The best cover letters don’t distinguish themselves. They get in; they get out—which conveys an understanding of the formalities, that there is a human heart beating at the return address (nice to be reminded), and that professionalism is valued—whether or not there are splashy credentials involved.