If there was an Olympics for philosophical musings, Ireland’s Chat Team would surely win gold. Some get their deep thoughts down on paper, but how do you take the next step and get it in print? Lisa McInerney is editor of the Stinging Fly.
Aren’t literary magazines for people who write stuff that’s hard to read?
Absolutely not. Danielle McLaughlin says she credits the Stinging Fly with enabling her to be a writer today, “something that would once have seemed as remote a possibility as becoming an astronaut”, while Anne Enright says, when people ask her how to break into publishing, she tells them “try there first”.
I hear you, but that must mean it’s impossible
Good publications are always looking for good writers, and everyone loves a new voice. Find lists of literary magazines, including web links at writing.ie and creativewriting.ie. Each will have a different way of going about things, but the information is usually clearly presented online. Stinging Fly, which runs workshops, and information sessions via Zoom, has a submission period, during which you upload your detail, and your wonderful work.
My work is wonderful, but what are they actually looking for. What if I don’t fit in?
People “sending us something they think we want to read, rather than something they wanted to write”, is a common mistake, says McInerney. “Lack of passion or conviction is easily spotted.” Instead she says, “We’re keen to read new stories, novel extracts, poems and essays, but we have no restrictions on subject, theme or voice. Whatever excites you will excite us. I’m drawn to a beautifully-crafted sentence in a piece of work I couldn’t have written myself.”
Got it. I think… Be passionate, be myself, craft beautifully. Is there an ideal length?
“We always say a piece is as long or as short as it needs to be,” says McInerney, which isn’t as concrete a piece of advice as you might be looking for. “An unusually long piece might take up the same amount of pages as work from two or three other writers,” she continues. “So we’d need to be sure it’s worth the weight.”
Point taken. If I do all that, is publication assured?
Urmm, no. As McInerney says, “We have 240 pages in each issue, divided between fiction, creative non-fiction and poetry, though we have a particular passion for the short story. For our Summer 2023 issue we got about 1,600 stories, 1,000 poems, 200 essays and 200 novel extracts.” Within that, some pieces will also have been invited. As they say: do the math.
Would it help if I pester?
Definitely not. Everyone gets an answer, even if unsuccessful. “Getting in touch before four months are up isn’t ideal, as we’re still reading and assessing everyone’s work,” says McInerney, though she does add if much longer goes by, “we’d like to hear about that, so we can identify gremlins in our system”. You’re not going to get rich on it. Rates vary, depending on the magazine. Don’t be afraid to inquire, all artists – and that includes writers – should be paid for their work. Don’t give up. Your work may be perfect, just not perfect for a particular magazine at a particular time.
Lisa McInerney is interviewed as part of the International Literature Festival Dublin on May 20th, with a celebration of the Stinging Fly’s 25th anniversary also on that date. Tickets from €5 ilfdublin.com. The next Stinging Fly submission window is May 16th, until May 31th, stingingfly.org