Archive for the ‘Submission Trends and Tips’ Category

Petty Yawp: Submission Trends and Tips

Tuesday, March 28th, 2017

Flannel Moth Caterpillar

Assistant Editor James Ellenberger: The Trump submissions have arrived. Droves of flaxen-haired poems and stories bask in the submission queue like flaccid porcupines, bristling at the cool, liberal wind that whistles atop our heads here at the CR office. Things to keep in mind: Trump is, yes, a total goon, an irregular Cheeto that shouldn’t have made it through quality control. But alas. The Electoral College, with some help from the people, has chosen.

It’s rough. No bones about it. Even in a post about reining ourselves in as writers, I can’t help but take pot shots. It’s hard not to be frustrated with this presidency, let alone with the fissures in our political and social consciousness that the election brought into the light. The air in office breakrooms and at family dinners is thick, as if with gasoline fumes. Everyone has talking points heavy as flint in their pockets. Internet forums, too, invite the incendiary; laid out like coal quarries, they burn endlessly underneath like Centralia, PA. It’s a difficult time. But even so, our writing, the stuff that we’re showing others and trying to publish, doesn’t have to become dismissive, petty, and aggressive.

In the many, many submissions that I’ve read over the past few months, I’ve seen every known subspecies of ad hominem argument. Authors have demonized large swaths of individuals for their education, political affiliation, geographical location, financial situation, race, and gender. There have been assassination fantasies, absurd caricatures, and parodied elections. Rural characters have struggled to distinguish their orifices from holes in the ground while academics build castles of glass and stock up on stones.

There’s catharsis in skewering a known enemy, feeling as though the page alone remains the bastion of total personal expression. Before you send a Trump submission–or that story about a working-class hero who’s easily manipulated, all heart and no brains–out for publication, perhaps consider how “on the nose” it is. What conversation is it entering? What kind of belief system is it perpetuating? In other words, is the work doing more than yawping in the echo chamber of what’s already been said? Is it work that’s doing more than venting, berating, or inciting anger? Is it giving folks a fair shake or relying heavily on the unfair dogmas we’ve adopted as Truth?

That isn’t to say that we don’t want your politically-minded work. We love submissions that grapple with difficult situations and our current political climate. Susann Cokal’s “Fourteen Shakes the Baby,” which appeared in issue 13.1, is a great example of this brand of work. It’s shocking and brutal, yet beneath its surface we can see a political and social system deeply ingrained with misogyny, one that exists well beyond one young woman’s experiences. The text’s relentless focus on the body manages to cross the liminal space between abstract policy and how we really live our lives. We ought to use our writing as an opportunity to embrace complexity rather than reification of the binaries that got us here in the first place.

A Sabermetric Note from Your Submission Manager Manager

Friday, March 3rd, 2017


As we ease into March (and Spring Training), we find ourselves in the final stretch of our reading period, which ends March 15th. Here’s Senior Associate Editor Matt O’Keefe offering up some play-by-play on submissions patterns he’s noticed over the years.

Matt O’Keefe: Six to three to one. What is that? A somewhat decisive community council vote? One of your rarer and more exciting double plays (shortstop to first base to pitcher)? The outcome of consecutive games of HORSE (or a single game of HORSEHORSE) between three players, one of whom is significantly better/luckier than the others? Sure, could be. But at The Cincinnati Review, and maybe lit mags the world over [It would be interesting to know–Ed.], it is also a ratio that persists with the force of natural law: for every ten submissions we get, six are fiction, three are poetry, and one is nonfiction.

Of course, like nearly everything one says or writes, this is not literally true. Sometimes in my Submission Manager queue I see things like twelve stories in a row, or combinations that go fiction-poetry-fiction-poetry-nonfiction-nonfiction-fiction-poetry-poetry-fiction, and there was that one day when the next five submissions were all nonfiction, and I just had to get up from my chair, smiling inwardly, and walk around a little. But over time, and usually not much time, a couple weeks at most, nature reasserts itself and leaves us with that classic 6-3-1 distribution. I guess it’s just the frequency with which you guys write the stuff [It would be interesting to know–Ed.]!

Be sure to get your submissions in by March 15th!

CR on YouTube

Tuesday, October 18th, 2016

tubeeweUnveiling . . . our YouTube channel! If you were one of those folks who attended the launch of Acre Books at Books by the Banks this past weekend, you saw an extended trailer that included a snippet of an author interview, a visualized poem (voem? pideo?), insight into our process of submission assessment, and a teaser for the live musical performance of one of our art songs. Today, we offer the first episode in a series we call Words Likely to Be Misused or Confused. Though the clip light in tone, we aim to inform as well as to entertain. And hey, there’s a lot more to come: look for a new video every Friday and Tuesday. Huge thanks to Ben Dudley, who made this channel possible by way of both his technical know-how and his comic genius!

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.