15 November 2012

Q&A with Ron Capps, Veterans Writing Project

In terms of military writing, November 2012 exploded with the publication of multiple anthologies focused on themes of war, peace, service, and remembrance. Many of these journals have open calls for submission, and are working toward publishing new volumes in 2013.

These include:
Despite looming deadlines, the editors of these respective publications recently offered Red Bull Rising readers their insights into writing for, submitting to, and getting published in journals and anthologies.

This is Part II of a 3-part series of blog-posts resulting from those on-line interviews.


Ron Capps is a 25-year Army veteran and founder of the Veterans Writing Project. The Washington, D.C. based non-profit offers writing workshops for soldiers, veterans, and military families; helps research the use of writing as medically effective therapy for patients diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (P.T.S.D.) and/or Traumatic Brain Injury (T.B.I.); and publishes both online and print literary journals.

Capps is also author of "Writing War," a portable curriculum for teaching creative writing techniques to military audiences.

Why should writers consider submitting their works to journals and/or anthologies? How does it potentially benefit their output, development, and/or marketability?
Primarily, the value to submitting to and publishing in journals is in developing a portfolio of work. Very few writers get a book deal with their first work. Publishers love to see that a writer has been previously published, especially in established literary journals or magazines. It does a couple things for the editor or publisher: It shows that the writer has established a readership—this leads to increased sales—and it means that other editors have already seen the work, helped the writer get it ready for publication, and in a way validated the choice the publisher is making to purchase a collection of stories, poems, or essays, or a book-length work.

And writers who are trying to develop a deeper portfolio should probably not publish multiple pieces in the same journal—I mean, unless it’s The New Yorker or some place like that. Try to publish your work in as many different journals and on as many different platforms as possible.
What roles do journals/anthologies play in communicating military experiences to audiences? What types of audiences do they reach?
This varies wildly. Narrowly focused journals tend to have a narrowly focused readership. If a journal only publishes military-history essays for example, readers who want science fiction or fantasy are unlikely to subscribe. Even journals that publish a broad range of works can sometimes be too narrowly focused in their targeting of readers. If an editor or publisher is trying to help bridge the divide between the military and civilian communities, it’s important to put the journal into the hands of both groups. We give copies of our journal away to military units, ships, hospitals and veterans service organizations, but we also put copies in front of civilian readers, too, through book fairs, writers’ conferences and online marketing.
As both a writer and an editor, what success strategies would you suggest toward getting published in journals/anthologies? How do you select/craft works to submit? How do you choose markets to which to submit work?
From the writer’s standpoint there are two things that are critical first steps: Fit the conventions, and stand out from the crowd. This sounds a little contrary, but it’s not. You have to fit the conventions in that you have to submit to the journal in the format they expect and demand. You can’t just drop something over the transom in a manila envelope and expect to be published. You have to use the journal’s preferred method of submissions, put things into the proper format, attach an effective cover letter, and get it to the editors in the format they demand.

Plus, you have to make sure the manuscript is in the best possible condition. Spelling, grammar, and formatting errors are killers. But you also have to stand out from the crowd. Your writing has to be fresh and interesting. Don’t use stale metaphors or too much jargon. Make sure your characters’ dialogue sounds realistic and their actions are believable.

Once you’ve reached that point in developing your manuscript and are ready to submit, think a bit strategically. Go to the library or bookstore, or online, and read through copies of journals to make sure that what you’re submitting is what the editors want. Don’t submit a story about zombies to a journal that focuses on unicorns. Make a list of 10 journals that publish works like yours. Start by submitting to three. When you hear back from those three—either way—move to the next three and so on. It’s helpful to make a matrix to help you track this stuff, too. I have specifically and successfully targeted stories to journals just because I thought the story might be of interest to the editor. So make sure you read the editors’ bios, too.

And there is some etiquette here. Once you’ve submitted, be patient. Most journals will tell you right on their submissions page how long you should expect to wait. Part of your submissions matrix should a column that lists a date when you feel you should query. And if they’ve got one of your pieces, don’t send more until you’ve heard back about that one.
Capps was recently interviewed by National Public Radio here.

To be published four times annually, "O-Dark-Thirty" is available for $10 PayPal purchase here, and $30 annual subscription here. Gift subscriptions may also be funded for wounded and deployed service members.

For submissions guidelines, click here.


Disclaimer: This content regarding military writing is underwritten by Victor Ian LLC, a military media and gaming business. The business publishes Lanterloon, an eclectic lifestyle, technology, and military blog; has a physical retail storefront called "Dragons and Dragoons" located in Colorado Springs, Colo.; and hosts military-writing workshops and other events under the "Sangria Summit" brand name.

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