Recently, CNN published an article on the state of literary magazines in the US. The piece noted the issues facing magazines and the challenges in operating them. These are difficult times, and it’s been alarming to see so many well-respected magazines fold. It’s not all bad news, though. I’m happy to report that Atticus Review has been going for over ten years, and we’re proud this year to take the journal into new, exciting territory. Next month will be the first of our triannual issues, and we’re thrilled to be sharing a host of terrific work with you. Sometimes, Atticus Review is the first publication for writers, and we’re elated when this happens.
Journals are a vital place for experimentation, for trying out work that might not be for a wide audience. Acceptance builds confidence and often spurs writers on to greater things.
Many years ago, I submitted—through the mail—the first short story I was proud of writing. I’d scoured one of those books listing literary magazines and sent off the story to just three journals. Months later, I’d had two rejections, and when I saw the envelope from the Denver Quarterly, I thought it was another. I opened the envelope and skimmed the letter. I saw something about money, a subscription, and so I dejectedly stuffed the letter in my pocket. When I got home, I took out the letter and went to the trash can. I read the letter one last time, to see if I might take them up on the subscription offer. I realized then that there were paying me and including a subscription for accepting my story. My confidence soared in the months that followed, and I wrote with new, ferocious intent. I never looked back.
I opened up the topic of first publications to the staff of Attic Review. Below, they reflect on what those acceptances meant to them.
Michael Meyerhofer, Poetry Editor
If memory serves, my first acceptance was in a journal called Chiron Review. They accepted a whole batch of my poems, which did wonders for my ego (little did I know there would be hundreds if not thousands of journal rejections to follow), and even requested an author photo. So I put on a dorky white turtleneck, went out with some friends, and tried to take artistic B&W photographs of me brooding in a park in downtown Iowa City. When I eventually received my copy, it was the size of a newspaper, brimming with intimidatingly good literature. Beyond the thrill of seeing my name in print (shaded by just a tinge of imposter syndrome), I felt like I’d finally been let into a club after years of pressing my face to the glass and wondering what the hell went on in here. The answer, it seems, is: everything.
Marissa Hoffman, Associate Fiction Editor
My first publication came into being because I entered the UK-based international competition, The Bath Flash Fiction Award. My flash story, entitled “The Chalk Line” was shortlisted by the judge—the British writer, David Gaffney. The story is just 300 words and appears in the 2018 print anthology. Today, that anthology rests on a shelf among a cluster of ten anthologies containing my stories, and that first submission success gave me the confidence to seek out online journals, read more widely, join an online writing community on Twitter, win writing competitions, become a reader for Atticus, and grow my publication list.
Joe Kapitan, Creative Nonfiction Reader
Years ago, as a self-taught writer with absolutely no credentials, I wondered if I was on a fool’s errand—I was craving a little validation. When I received my first acceptance from a revered journal like Wigleaf, my relief turned to happiness, and the happiness turned to fuel for new writing. First pubs are magical.
Fallon Chiasson, Associate Fiction Editor
Literary magazines are my main source of personal development as a writer. I’m not currently enrolled in any writing programs, but because of the accessibility of literary magazines, I’m able to study form, style, and trends; because of the ease of sharing, I learn from my peers’ discourses on Twitter.
My first publication—a final project turned into a publication only because my professor gave me the confidence to let someone other than a teacher read my work—introduced me to a world unlike any other where one can be a writer without connections to the big guys and oftentimes without a fee, too.
Ashley Lewin, Creative Nonfiction Reader
My first publication was a new point on a map to help direct my way forward with writing. Before that first acceptance I felt like I was fumbling hopelessly through a dark landscape.
Amber Shockley, Assistant Poetry Editor
My first publication was 10 years ago, in vol. 65 of Reed Magazine. I’d recently read and fallen in love with Kim Addonizio’s work. She was to select the winner of Reed’s Edward Markham Prize in Poetry that year. The chance to have Kim Addonizio read and possibly select my work was well worth the risk of rejection. I didn’t win the prize, but being selected for publication was a thrill, and made me think I might be worth something as a poet.
Ronita Sinha, Fiction Reader
My first creative publication was in a women’s magazine in 1985—needless to say there is no online version of it. My second submission to the same magazine was declined, and this took the wind out of my sails. I did not send my work out for almost three decades.
About the time Covid reared its ugly head, I retired early from the Canadian insurance industry, and devoted a large part of my day to writing and sending my work to various magazines. My research into the world of publication led me to Erika Krouse’s website where she lists the top 500 North American literary magazines dividing them into eight tiers. At first, I shied away from the top tiers and started midway. My story, “Leaving Behind,” about aging and early dementia, was placed fourth in Sixfold‘s all-writer-voted fiction contest and published online as well as in a print anthology. Buoyed by confidence, I targeted Krouse’s upper tiers, and The Paris Review, although declining my piece, sent me a letter appreciating my work and asking for more submissions. They are now deliberating on another story of mine. Since I started writing, I have learned that if the editors are taking longer it’s a good sign, and to achieve success one has to be patient and persevere.
Nick Sweeney, Editor for Atticus Books
My first publication was in the campus literary magazine, the Mosaic. I remember being excited when I got the news and then immediately grew terrified that people I actually knew would be able to read my story. But the most important thing to come from that story was an interest in the art of publishing. Later, I would go on to co-edit that very magazine and loved every minute of it. And it led to me creating a career out of helping others get published. I volunteered as a manuscript reader for literary journals, proofread novels for freelance jobs, and joined a managing editorial department with a children’s books publishing house. Eventually, it led me to Atticus Books. All because I wrote a silly story about a food fight and titled it “Graceful Lasagna.”
Keene Short, Managing Editor
The first creative nonfiction essay I had published was the third essay I’d written. It was a lyric essay that wound around my hometown and its history and my relationships there, published in a journal of place-based CNF called Away. It was validating not just as a publication, but also to have my interest in experimental CNF recognized. My writing may have become less experimental over the years, but it set a precedent for what boundaries I knew I could already break, and led me to see how far I can go.
Rachel Laverdiere, Creative Nonfiction Editor
My first prose publication appeared in untethered, a Canadian print journal in February 2016—about 10 months after my then-18-year-old son challenged me to “do something I actually wanted to do with my life.” The care the editor took coaching me through her proposed edits and her invitation to read for the journal allowed me to see the strengths in my writing. I could never have predicted that my son’s challenge and a kindhearted editor would change the trajectory of my life, but it made me the writer and editor that I am today.
Michelle Ross, Fiction Editor
My first publication was in Gulf Coast. My story “If My Mother Was the Final Girl” was chosen by Roxana Robinson as the winner of Gulf Coast‘s annual fiction contest. I won $1000. The money was nice (I was a graduate student at the time and living on a very fixed income), but the real thrill was that writers and editors had chosen my story among so many others, and that my story would be arriving in so many other potential readers’ mailboxes. That publication reassured me that I was at least a little bit good at this thing I’d been working hard at getting better at for some time. One of the benefits of literary magazines for writers is they’re a kind of testing ground. When I receive more than a few rejections for a story, those rejections prompt me to interrogate the story—to ask myself whether I still believe in the story, whether I have done the best I can with it. Of course, I try to ask myself these questions before I submit a story, but sometimes rejections from journals yield insights I struggled to arrive at on my own. I realize that a story needs more revision. I realize that my confidence in it has crumbled. Those rejections are valuable in that regard. They push me to do better. Then there are stories for which rejections cannot crumble my confidence, stories I believe in so passionately that I keep sending them out after twenty rejections, thirty. These rejections are valuable, too. They teach me to trust my instincts, to persevere. One such story, “Keeper Four,” which is in my recent collection Shapeshifting, was rejected over thirty times before being picked up by Emrys Journal, and winning their Sue Lile Inman Fiction Prize.
Eleanor Gallagher, Assistant Fiction Editor
My first publication in a real literary magazine was my story “How They Lost Us,” which Jersey Devil Press accepted within days of my submission. I’d chosen them because I liked the name and they said they liked humor. This acceptance, like each one since, sent me to the moon! I literally jumped up and down and smiled as big as I ever had for days afterwards. Especially satisfying was the speediness of the acceptance—I’d been prepared to wait for months. This gave me a surge of confidence in my writing that I’ve never recovered from. Even as other stories have languished in multiple slush piles or gotten rejection after rejection, I have this kernel of faith to return to. This is why my bio will always include Jersey Devil Press, no matter how many other magazines publish my stories.
Dan Cafaro, Founder
“I’m a River poet.” In the spring and summer of 1998 and again in the summer and fall of 1999, I got to lay claim to that unique moniker. I was a used bookseller living and working in Doylestown, Pa., when I met the poet and artist, Elaine S. Restifo. Elaine was a firecracker and the mother of many poets including myself. She founded The River in Lambertville, N.J., in 1969. Its circulation reached 18 states and four countries. She called it an experiment based on the message contained in the following Confucian poem:
There was presented to me a papaya,
And I returned for it a beautiful chu-gem;
Not as a return for it,
But that our friendship might be lasting.
Thank you, Elaine, for believing in my work and publishing two poems of mine, each written in memory of Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997), reflecting on his life and death.
Photo by Sean Loyless, used and adapted under CC.