On the Subject of Online Submissions

A few days ago I received an e-mail from Meridian, the Semi-Annual from the University of Virginia, announcing that the journal is now accepting electronic submissions of poetry, fiction, and essays. This is good news if you like to submit your work online, not necessarily via e-mail, but by using a journal’s specific online submission system.

Using such a system typically requires you to come up with yet another password, and you’ll have yet another e-account to keep track of. But there are benefits: you don’t need to print out a copy of your work and prepare an entire submission package; you don’t need to spend postage on the submission (or the SASE); you don’t need to leave your chair to get your work “out.” It’s less likely that the work will get “lost in the mail” and you can log in and confirm manuscript receipt and find out if the editors have rendered a decision yet.

But some people may wonder: is this convenience worth paying a reading fee that one can forego by sticking to the old snail mail system?

Meridian is charging a $2 reading fee for work submitted online (apparently one prose submission or up to 4 poems). The editors’ e-mail explained that this fee is necessary for two reasons. First, using the online database software raises their operation costs. And second, they’d like authors “to hesitate, a little, before just clicking a ‘send’ button.”

Two dollars isn’t outrageous, and as the editors point out, it’s possible that postage costs would end up “about the same,” anyway (and don’t forget the money saved along with the toner and paper). Still, plenty of journals (One Story and Kenyon Review are two examples that come to mind) accept online submissions through their own database systems without charging a penny.

Yes, these also tend to be journals that don’t accept snail mail submissions at all. Still, if they can run an online submissions system without charging writers money to use it, it seems that others should be able to, too.

Homebound, and news for Rhode Island Writers

Well, my travel plans (and those of many others who’d intended to rendez-vous and talk books in South Florida) have changed. I think we’re all much more wary about impending hurricanes these days, no matter where we live.

In other news, Rhode Island writers should take note of this opportunity: The Robert & Margaret MacColl Johnson Fellowship provides up to three $25,000 artist fellowships annually. This year the fellowships are open to writers (the opportunity rotates among composers, writers, and visual artists). Eligible genres include prose fiction (“including poetry for the page and stage”), novels, short stories, scriptwriting (“for the stage and screen”), and “experimental forms.” Applicants must be Rhode Island residents at time of application and during the fellowship. Applications are due at the Rhode Island Foundation by 5PM on November 30, 2005. No application fee. For more information and the application, visit the website.

Playwriting for Beginners

More than once I’ve heard this comment about one (or more) of my short stories: “This would make a great play.” Maybe. Trouble is, I don’t have any training as a playwright.

So of course this morning’s “Playing Around” post on the MBToolbox caught my interest. All kinds of tips and suggestions for the aspiring playwright. Check it out.

(I’ll be offline for a few days–off to a conference. Check back next week!

Are you a writer in New Jersey, New York, or Pennsylvania?

Attention, writers resident in New Jersey, New York, or Pennsylvania. The Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation’s Artists & Communities program “offers support to partnerships between visiting artists and non-profit organizations engaged in community-based projects.”

The partnerships must take place with organizations within the Foundation’s service area (which comprises Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Virginia, and West Virginia). Artists (defined as “choreographers, composers, poets, writers, filmmakers, media and visual artists”) receive support “in collaborative partnerships outside their home community with arts and/or community organizations. These projects serve to motivate and encourage people to examine issues of importance to them, thereby increasing appreciation of the role of the arts in community life. The projects must involve active participation by members of the host community.”

Eligible projects run between 1-6 months. Grants “will usually range between $5,000 and $20,000” and are administered by the host organization. Application deadline: December 2, 2005. See very extensive guidelines and information at the website.

Applying to (and Choosing) MFA Programs

I see a lot of posts on various sites/blogs about MFA programs. Frequently, people want to know how to evaluate programs, how to select programs to apply to and, ultimately, how to choose a program to attend.

As anyone who has read my Primer on Low-Residency MFA Programs already knows, I’m a big fan of figuring out one’s own goals, strengths, weaknesses, etc. and matching one’s individual experience and ambitions with a given program and its offerings. That’s a first step, anyway. And I’m also in favor of really getting to know the nuts-and-bolts of how a program is organized and run and matching that up with your own aforementioned goals, strengths, weaknesses, etc. Only you can really figure out what’s a “good match” for you.

So maybe it’s not such a big surprise that unlike some others, I’m far less enthusiastic about relying on what current/past students have to say about a program. First, what seems wonderful (or terrible) to one person is likely to look very different to someone else (again) depending on the past academic, professional, and personal experiences each person brings to the table and what his or her goals or expectations may be.

And again, particularly in larger programs with lots of faculty and students, each person’s experience is going to be quite different. Among past/current students you may very well find those who entered the program at the same time who never encountered each other in workshop, never worked with the same set of faculty, never worked with faculty outside their own genre (which may not be yours), and so forth. So depending on whom you happen to talk to (and you can pretty much count on any program administrator referring you to only the most satisfied students if you ask for references), you are going to get highly, highly tailored comments.

So how can you go about evaluating how a program is organized and run? How can you figure out if it’s a good match for you? Again, readers of the primer know that I recommend a range of things to think about. But there are other helpful guides, too.

One is the set of Hallmarks of a Successful Graduate Program in Creative Writing compiled by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP). After you’ve read and digested this guide you can approach the information, advertising, and references offered by individual programs with a sense of some things to look for and analyze on your own. Or you can use the guide to develop questions more specific to your own situation/concerns when you communicate with any of the program’s representatives.

And another, which I’ve only discovered this week, may be particularly helpful to those considering the low-residency option. The Spalding University MFA program now offers a set of Questions to Ask When Seeking an MFA Program that I’m frankly happy to see in many respects complements my own advice in the primer. (You can click on each of the questions to read answers relating to the Spalding program’s own policies.)

So don’t just depend on what others have to say–especially people you’ve never met and may simply talk to on the phone or via e-mail because a program sent you to them. Take the time to do more (guided) reflection and research on your own.