(This post was published in slightly different form in Chill Subs.)
A selection, based on personal experience:
1. Since my story—which I will hereafter call my capital-ess Story—was probably the greatest story ever written, I decided to save myself the trouble of reading literary magazines—because who, really, reads literary magazines?—so I did the obvious and sensible thing and submitted Story to The New Yorker, along with a note basically saying “you’re welcome,” in anticipation of their effusive appreciation for submitting exclusively to their excellent journal and giving them the opportunity to “discover me,” etcetera. (I still have not heard from them; it’s been seven years; I am still hopeful.)
23. It occurred to me that the secret to finding literary journals for Story could perhaps be found in applying what I believe is called an acrostic to some of my favorite books. An acrostic, if that’s the term, involves taking every nth letter in a text and spelling a word (I’ve heard this nth letter thing called an “equidistant skip sequence,” or ESS, which sounds cool). For example, if my ESS is 1,972 (that is, if I take every 1,972nd letter (I was born in 1972)) in Joyce’s Ulysses (one of my favorite books), I get S-E-E-V-I-E-Y-U-Q-A-A-B . . . I stopped at this point, sensing incoherence in the result. Wrong book? Wrong ESS? Undaunted, I tried other books and other numbers. After several weeks (in truth, months) of doing this (and not much else), I finally got one! Proust’s In Search of Lost Time is another one of my favorite books. I grabbed all seven volumes (the Moncrieff and Kilmartin translations), tried an ESS of 90,034 (my zip code, if you care to know), and got the following letters: F-O-U-R-T-E-E-N-H-I-L-L-S. You can imagine my amazement. So, with a confidence bordering on cocky, I submitted Story to Fourteen Hills. (Story was rejected 165 days later.)
124. This morning I woke up to the sound of a bird, a titmouse, a tufted titmouse I believe (Baeolophus bicolor), a sound that went like this: WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef. It just kept singing these two syllables (a trochee, if you know your poetry terminology), over and over and over again: WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef. To be honest, it was starting to get annoying, what with it being so early and all, yes this bird just kept singing: WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef WIG-weef—if you, my most patient and steadfast reader, think this is irritating, imagine how I was feeling at the time—WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef, WIG-weef . . . it would not stop, as I lay there with a pillow over my head. And then on the sudden I threw the pillow enthusiastically across the room, for it became epiphanically clear that WIG-weef was bird language for Wigleaf. I jumped from my warm sheets, ran to my computer, and submitted Story to this fine publication. (Story was rejected 187 days later.)
275. Just my luck, I started dating a girl named Georgia, a friend of a friend of a friend of my mechanic (Kia and Hyundai (I drive a Veloster, I like it)). I took her out to dinner—coincidentally, Korean. She owned a cat. Etcetera. Anyway, I immediately submitted Story to The Georgia Review. (She broke up with me 23 days later. Her namesake, so to speak, broke up with me 186 days after that.)
418. One morning, as I was about to spread a dollop of almond butter on my seven-grain bread and sit down to breakfast with my undead infrared (imaginary) friend Ted, I noticed a growth of mold on said bread. I studied its shape. A head? A bed? My whilom invisible (ultramarine) friend Fred, now dead (replaced by Ted)? But no, it was none of these things. I did not eat said bread. Instead, I, unfed, took a closer look at the mold, which was kind of red. Ninety degrees, rotated I the bread. And then ninety degrees more, I addèd. Whoa! I said, looking at the upside-down bread. By Ged, you didn’t have to be in premed to see that the mold was in the exact shape of the state of Alaska! Still unfed, I sped, as if wingèd, and led my undead infrared friend Ted (in Fred’s stead) to my submission shed (he is always with me, is Ted), and opened my computer, whereupon I submitted Story to Alaska Quarterly Review, a journal, truth be told, I’ve not yet read. (Story was rejected 49 days later. I was misled.)
507. And then one night, it might have been early morning, someone in a blog-chatroom or whatever said, you don’t actually have to read lit mags; just check out The Best American Short Stories, and submit to the journals represented therein. A great idea! So that’s what I did. I, all jubilant and agog, flipped through a recent issue of the anthology, and, before the sun came up, submitted to The New Yorker, The New Yorker, Granta, The New Yorker, The Iowa Review, The New Yorker, The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, The New Yorker, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, etcetera. (Story was rejected between 72 and infinity days later.)
644. So I was sitting on a stool at the Culver Hotel’s little upstairs bar, where I’ve been known to dent a pint or two, the kind of bar you have to know about to know about, just sitting there, and I was unsolicitedly telling someone on the stool adjacent to mine about the challenge of finding literary journals for Story, and this person—female, cute, not interested, it turned out—told me that the whole thing sounded to her like throwing darts, unquote. True, I said, already sensing her lack of enthusiasm (for both me and this topic). But just as my stout began to sink in, her words began to sink in, and the next day, I excursioned to the Big 5 on Sepulveda, bought myself a dartboard and some darts, got home, cut twenty triangularesque shapes out of construction paper, the shapes representing twenty of my favorite literary journals, plus a circle for the bull’s-eye (The New Yorker), pasted accordingly (sure I could have simply let the numbers represent the journals and skipped the cut & paste, but whatever—you do you, I’ll do me), nailed the board to a tree (linden) in my yard, stood back (seven feet plus nine and one-quarter inches (I looked it up)), cocked my arm, took careful aim, and threw. Just one dart. That’s what I allowed myself. Let the universe speak in its concise eloquence. But I missed. I missed the whole expletive-deleted dartboard. The dart sailed right past the tree like a blind bird missing the nest. It was gone. Gone to the lawn. But wait a minute, cried my inner voice (or the universe’s voice?). There’s a journal, a pretty good journal, called Gone Lawn (est. 2010, active with anthologies). The universe works in mysterious ways. So I ran inside and submitted Story. (Story was rejected 20 days later.)
789. A wonderful journal personally rejected one of my past stories, and I hope the reader will excuse my braggadocio in this affair if I quote in full: “Thank you for giving us a chance to read your work. While we are not able to accept it at this time, we hope you’ll continue to submit to literary journals.” Well, if that’s not a glowing endorsement, I don’t know what! Be still my heart! So I sent Story to this excellent institution. This should be a slam dunk, a foddle’s doddle, a walk in a creek. (I, sadly and much to my infinitudinal surprise, received the following rejection 165 days later: “Thank you for giving us a chance to read your work. While we are not able to accept it at this time, we hope you’ll continue to submit to literary journals.”)
803. Okay let’s not be ridiculous. Of course it’s possible—and this is hard for me to admit—it’s possible I should actually read a few of these literary journals. But no one said how much of these literary journals I should read. Which is to say: how much of each story? So let’s keep things easy and efficient and see what happens if I read a single word—the first word—from each story. For example, here are the first words from a recent issue of Narrative Magazine: “A,” “All,” “A,” “I,” “The,” “The,” “Human,” “There,” “I,” and “The.” Hmmm. A bit repetitive at times. Not terribly imaginative. A little egocentric if you ask me. Probably not the best fit for Story, which is the opposite of repetitive, unimaginative, or egocentric. Let’s try a recent issue of another high quality journal: Conjunctions: “Even,” “The,” “Send,” “The,” “When,” “Quisa,” “Four,” “After,” “When,” “Coworkers,” “As,” and “Things.” That is pretty good, we all agree. Clearly, Conjunctions is a better match for Story, so submit Story I did. (Story was rejected 70 days later.)
846. Perhaps you’ve heard of AI? It stands for Articulate Integument or something like that. It’s complicated. Anyway, since I’ve been working on my own AI program (I dabbled in computer science in college, was pretty good at it if I myself do say so), I decided to put it to the test. First, I asked it to read Story (I requested no notes or other feedback, being that I was already certain of Story’s perfection). Then I asked my AI program—I named it Winnie, for the bear—I asked it how I might find literary journals for Story without actually having to read them. Winnie immediately wrote me an essay—a really great essay in my opinion: thoughtful, funny, intelligent, useful. The essay was titled “One Thousand and One Ways to Find Literary Journals for Your Story (Without Actually Having to Read Them).” It began as follows:
A selection, based on personal experience:
1. Since my story—which I will hereafter call my capital-ess Story—was probably the greatest story ever written, I decided to save myself the trouble of reading literary magazi—
And then sadly, before I was able to get anything of use from this essay, Winnie fell into an endless loop. Poo(h)! Alas, as with lost love and dropped ice cream cones, one must carry on.
933. Well now here is a coincidence. It all started when I decided to run (literally (that is, on foot)) to the nursery down on Obama to pick up some carrot seeds to sprinkle on my garden, and there in line I met a nice lady with a big gardening hat who, I mean whom, I whimly told about the challenges of finding literary journals for Story, to which she (married, unfortunately) replied, “Don’t be a lamb with your submissions, be a lion”—apparently her mantra for everything in life, maybe good advice (although not, apparently, in terms of asking a married woman in a big gardening hat out on a date). Anyhow, the mention of the word lion—and I’m not really sure why my brain does these things—immediately made me think of a book my dad had on the shelf when I was a kid, called Paper Lion, written by someone called—just a minute, just a minute, ah yes—George Plimpton, and then this name bounced around in my head for a while, like a ball floating in one of those forced-air bingo chambers you see in old folks’ homes, until it hit me that George Plimpton, in addition to writing books about sports (Paper Lion is about the author’s experience joining the training camp of the 1963 Detroit Lions), is also one of the founders of The Paris Review (!). So I ran home (accidentally sprinkling carrot seeds along the way), and submitted Story to this prestigious and long-lived journal. (115 days later, just as several dozen carrots began to poke their beautiful heads up from the grass around the intersection of Venice and La Cienega, Story was rejected.)
1,001. But then I read about the recent amazing discovery that our universe is actually a computerized hologram created by a programmer from another universe. (This disappoints both the atheists (because it turns out there really is a creator) and the theists (because our creator is a zitty, agendered, pubescent fifteen-year-old named Q*gpïś).) Anyhow, since most physicists and philosophers agree that there’s no theoretical way that Q*gpïś can communicate directly with his human creations, Q*gpïś would have to communicate indirectly, using the numerical physical parameters—the “scientific constants”—of Q*gpïś’s self-created universe itself. Which got me wondering: what if Q*gpïś knows where I should submit Story, and what if Q*gpïś coded this information into a number like, for example, pi? So I did what any sane-minded person would do: I assigned each letter of the English alphabet a number in the obvious manner, and then explored the digits in pi, looking for patterns. (In case you’re wondering, something like 2-3 could be either B-C (the 2nd and 3rd letters of the alphabet) or W (the 23rd letter)—I considered both options.) It took me a while but the first match showed up at position 145,826, where the number string 17149 gave me A-G-N-I. I got another match at position 254,297,258,123, where the string 16125914519 gave me P-L-E-I-A-D-E-S. Finally (I decided to stop at three journals, because this could literally be an ad infinitum situation), I got a third match at position 32,284,527,006,951,354, where the string 11514251514185229523 gave me K-E-N-Y-O-N-R-E-V-I-E-W. A miracle! Or really three miracles! (Actually, it’s just science.) I submitted accordingly. (Story was rejected 92, 82, and 124 days later, respectively.)
And that was that. I gave up. Threw in the towel. Cried auntie. No one will say I didn’t try. Now I read these things called literary journals. But while it’s too late for me, I’m happy to say that you—yes you my gentle reader—can now find literary journals for your story without reading a doggone one of them, not a one! Click me.
Erik Harper Klass is the founder of Submitit, the WORLD’S FIRST full-service submissions and editing company. He has published stories and essays in a variety of journals, including New England Review, Yemassee, Blood Orange Review, Slippery Elm, Summerset Review, and many others, and he has been nominated for multiple Pushcart Prizes. He has a novella forthcoming from Buttonhook Press.
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