Letter From The Editor

Letter from the Editor

It’s been quite an eventful year! Who knew we’d be releasing yet another fantastic issue virtually from the comfort of our homes? It’s sad to think that not long ago, the team and I would meet together, once per week, at the haven of Mighty Writers West. Despite the challenges of editing this issue remotely, similar to our last issue, the transition has gone smoothly, and I’m happy to say that the safe space that Mighty Writers encompasses has made a positively impactful adaption to our virtual setting. 

Since September 2020, the team and I have been hard at work on this pandemic issue. This issue, for me, has been the most unique and bizarre than any other we’ve worked on. We had to persevere, seeking out artists and writers who’ve yet to be discovered, as well as working with students who already submitted through our platform. The team and I value each submitter near and dear to our hearts. If it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t have had an issue this year. For that, again, I am so grateful for our team of editors and group of now published student writers and artists. 

Sadly, this is the last partnership issue I’ll be working on with Mighty Writers and Philadelphia Stories as I head off to college in the Fall. I’ve been working with both organizations for three years, which has been such an incredible and memorable experience. Having the opportunity to read the adventures and impressive narratives students submitted is heartwarming and inspiring. I look forward to continuing to read the imaginative works of students who seek to be heard through Mighty Writers programs and Philadelphia Stories magazine, to become artists, writers, wordsmiths, and changemakers.

I want to thank Christine Weiser of Philadelphia Stories for recognizing and offering me this incredible opportunity, for inspiring me to become a better writer and leader. I also want to thank Christina Rissell of Mighty Writers for giving me helpful guidance and advice on how to run a team of fantastic, hardworking editors who brought joy to a hard and daunting period of our lives.

Enjoy the issue!

Eric-Ross McLaren, Lead Editor

Philadelphia Stories Junior

 

Writing for Social Justice: At Your Mother’s Knee

The idea of instituting Governments is to secure people’s rights to life, liberty, and property. When John Locke stole this nugget of ancient Egyptian wisdom from the goddess Maat, I wonder if he had any idea folks like Thomas Jefferson would bastardize the wisdom and completely change the language, replacing property with pursuit of happiness.

Today, we see the consequences of this theft in American society. The colonialist mindset of manifest destiny was created without the contextual principles of truth, balance, order, harmony, law, morality, and justice that Maat represented thousands and thousands of years before this country’s inception.

If America had been built on these principles, the humans, the animals, the oceans, and the airs would yield better results for all life forms. But alas, Maat’s bastard child, the United States, was birthed without a legitimate connection to its mother. Stealing from her while trying to mimic her at the same time.

No respect for the true mother of American principles has been shown. This is evidenced as women who built this country were shamed, granted no property rights, and barred from the pursuit of happiness. And of course, out of pure hate, the founders captured Black women, and not only denied them property or a pursuit of happiness, but also inflicted inexplicable atrocities on them.

This sordid, inequitable history has left many Black women behind their peers when it comes to ownership in this country. And by ownership, I really mean guardianship, because as Maat will tell you, no one “owns owns” this land.

So how do we begin to reckon with this wretched history and restore the order? Well, look around and see that I, like so many Black women business owners in Philadelphia, are running businesses out of buildings and off of land that we have very little rights to or ownership over.

This modern form of sharecropping, working the land that someone else benefits from, limits our ability to leave the legitimate legacy of our businesses to our lineage and poses a serious impediment to our lives, our liberties, and our pursuits of happiness/property.

For the new year, I wish more folks, especially Black women in Philadelphia, and around the world, owned (not leased or borrowed) our own land and maintained complete and total autonomy over the direction of our futures on this land. This is the only way to begin to rectify the bastardization of Maat’s ancient wisdom. This is the only way to begin to repair the damage inflicted on us through forced labor in a measurable, sustainable way—because simply posting Black Lives Matter on Twitter or kneeling at a protest or reading antiracist literature is not enough.

Speaking of reading antiracist literature, my job as the shopkeeper at Harriett’s Bookshop is to curate and recommend books. This month I am recommending Ida B. The Queen: The Extraordinary Life and Legacy of Ida B. Wells which will be released on January 21st. It examines the life of Ida B. Wells—the mother, the writer, the advocate, the activist. Ida B. Wells exemplifies a crusader intent on restoring order and enlisting the principles of Maat even in the face of the lynching of her friends, the destruction of her newspaper, and the insults on her name. In her day, Ida B. Wells galvanized small civic groups across the globe to work in tiny cells on measurable community actions. Think big tree, small axe.

Consider, not only reading Ida B. The Queen, but also using her great granddaughter Michelle Duster’s text as a catalyst for starting your own small civic group that moves into action on the topic of life, liberty, and property. Because only the people can restore the order. It is also time to start partnering with like-minded folks and securing guardianship over land in ways that align with principle over profit. And while I am asserting large institutions should listen to this conversation and take action by offering land and resources to the people, I assure you this is going to happen either way. Because as the Great Mother Maat reminds us, balance is necessary and life, liberty, and property are a birthright. Ase.


For the last 10 years, Jeannine Cook has worked as a trusted writer for several startups, corporations, non-profits, and influencers. In addition to a holding a master’s degree from The University of the Arts, Jeannine is a Leeway Art & Transformation Grantee and a winner of the South Philly Review Difference Maker Award. Jeannine’s work has been recognized by several news outlets including Vogue Magazine, INC, MSNBC, The Strategist, and the Washington Post. She recently returned from Nairobi, Kenya facilitating social justice creative writing with youth from 15 countries around the world. She writes about the complex intersections of motherhood, activism, and community. Her pieces are featured in several publications including the Philadelphia Inquirer, Root Quarterly, Printworks, and midnight & indigo. She is the proud new owner of Harriett’s Bookshop in the Fishtown section of Philadelphia.

Letter From the Guest Editor

Hello,

My name is Lori.

I am a Black woman. I am a writer. And I have always known that Black lives matter. As an avid reader since early childhood, I have also known that Black stories matter, but I didn’t grow up seeing myself or others who looked like me in the pages of the books I so eagerly consumed. So, when I picked up a pen to write my first stories, I didn’t write about little girls who looked like me. I wrote about people who looked like Anne of Green Gables and Laura Ingalls Wilder. I didn’t know that I could write stories with Black people in the starring roles.

That is why it was such an honor to serve as guest editor for this special Black Lives Matter edition of Philadelphia Stories, where the mission was to tell Black stories, where Black people could have the starring roles.

So, what are Black stories? First of all, they are not stories filled with trauma, terror, and references to slavery. Except when they are. They also aren’t stories situated in urban centers and populated with senseless violence. Except when they are. Black stories aren’t repositories for stereotypes, but it would be perfectly reasonable to find references to fried chicken and southern living in a Black story. It would also be reasonable to find love, laughter, and joy as well. There also might be spaceships, dragons, and unicorns. In other words, Black stories span the entirety of the Black experience and imagination. Black stories are universal stories, written by Black people.

So, the essays, stories, and poems included in this issue are as varied as Black people themselves. There is love and laughter, sadness and pain. There is pride and despair. And yes, there is mention of fried chicken. The only thing that all of these stories have in common is that they were written by Black writers. And that’s what makes them Black stories. And yet, they are universal stories. Stories that can be appreciated and enjoyed by all people. Especially, Philadelphians, as most of the selections here have an obvious connection to the city of Brotherly Love.

In this issue, there are one non-fiction essay, two short stories, and five poems written by talented Black writers from different walks of life. These selections were chosen not only because they were well written and offered evocative expressions of life, both real and imagined, but because together, they offer a glimpse into the highs and lows of Blackness in America right now. From the front lines of the fight against Covid, to the bustling kitchen of a Black church, the prose offers compelling characters and complex stories. The poetry crackles with rhythm and life.

I hope you enjoy reading this issue of Philadelphia Stories as much as we enjoyed putting it together. I hope it whets your appetite to read more Black stories by Black writers, from Philadelphia and beyond. I hope more Black writers submit their work to be considered for this publication and many others. Because we need more Black stories. We need Black stories to matter to everyone, not just Black people. We need Black lives to matter to everyone as well. Please keep writing. Please keep reading. Please keep sharing. It all matters.


Lori L. Tharps is a writer whose work meets at the intersection of race and real life. She is an author, journalist, educator, podcast host, and popular speaker. She is inspired by the collision of culture and color. She is fueled by creativity and passion.

Originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Lori attended Smith College, where she had the opportunity to spend her junior year studying abroad in Salamanca, Spain. After graduating from Smith, Lori spent two years working on Madison Avenue at one of New York City’s top-ten public relations agencies. Soon after, she entered Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and has been writing her way through the world ever since.

Lori began her journalism career as a staff reporter at Vibe magazine and then as a correspondent for Entertainment Weekly. She has served as writer and/or editor for magazines including, Ms., Glamour, Suede, Zora.com, Parents, and Essence. She has also written for The Columbia Journalism Review, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The New York Times, The Root.com and The Washington Post. 

Tharps is the award-winning author of three critically-acclaimed nonfiction books including, Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America (St. Martin’s) Kinky Gazpacho: Life, Love & Spain (Atria), and Same Family, Different Colors: Confronting Colorism in America’s Diverse Families (Beacon) She also penned the novel, Substitute Me (Atria).

Lori is the mother of three, is (almost) fluent in Spanish, and can say I love you in seven languages. She has a labradoodle named after James Baldwin.

 

 

Poetry Prompt: Write, Replace, Repeat

By Grant Clauser

In his Journal of the of Fictive Life (1965), former US Poet Laureate Howard Nemerov writes in one section about the struggle of getting started on a new work, but concludes “What a great weight one adds to the heart by simply writing ‘It was a fine summer morning.’”

While I can’t remember the whole passage (I stumbled upon the above sentence online), it strikes me as good advice to offset what Maxine Kumin calls “the terror of the first line.” I and many other poets have spent innumerable hours staring at an empty page (paper or pixels) waiting for the first words to squirm awkwardly from the ooze. Sometimes that happens. Often it doesn’t, which is why we need to try some other tricks to push through the inertia. I’m thinking of kayaking right now (daydreaming actually). The first dip of the paddle can be the hardest one because you’re not moving. You need to fight the water’s grip on the boat, and physic’s grip on reality, before one motion becomes forward movement. Dip and repeat. Dip and repeat.

So, back to Nemerov’s summer morning. Here’s a first dip that’s worked for me.

Simply write out the simplest, easy, statement you can, much like the above.

It was a fine summer morning.

Then, write it again, replacing one word for another, but to force the mind into movement substitute a verb for a noun, an object for a person, or turn it into a simile… until you feel the boat gliding across the surface. Don’t be afraid to get weird. Only then can you let go, point the bow somewhere and keep paddling.

She was a fine summer morning.

She laughed like a fine summer morning.

She laughed like the summer rain

against the tent, mosquitos bursting

between our bodies while down

in the valley the river rose over

the road making an island of us

Etc. You get the idea. The point being that the mind, the part that takes one experience and transforms it into another, sometimes needs a push, like a friend on the shore giving your kayak a shove before you figure out the stroke that will keep you moving. Dip and repeat. Dip and repeat.

Grant Clauser is the author of five books including Muddy Dragon on the Road to Heaven (winner of the Codhill Press Poetry Prize), Reckless Constellations, and The Magicians Handbook. His poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, Cortland Review, Tar River Poetry, The Literary Review and others. He works as an editor and teaches at Rosemont College.

Writing Prompt: The Three-Part Poem

In Carolyn Kizer’s introduction to Theodore Roethke’s essay collection, On Poetry and Craft, she notes that Roethke often described his favorite kind of poems as three-act plays.

“You move from one impulse to the next, and then there is a final breath, which is the summation of the action as a whole,” she writes. In a lyric poem of this sort, she says, the action is emotional or mental, rather than physical, but it still follows this dramatic structure.

That reminded me of a poetry exercise I created years ago and have presented to several classes. Sometimes I ask people to write it in class, as fast as they can. Other times it’s a take-home assignment for discussion the next week. Either way, it almost always results in good poems, ones with a structure that just seems to work. Depending on the workshop, I’ve called it different things with slight modification: The Three-Part Nature Poem, The Three-Part Person Poem, The Three-Part Nostalgia Poem. Here’s the place poem version.

Part 1
Select a specific scene or place from your memory where you have a strong emotional attachment (the front porch of your ancestral home, a place you’ve vacationed, the bar where you wasted your 20s, a boat dock you where you broke up with your lover, the paddock you used to raise hoses as a kid, the street in front of your grandfather’s house, the place you used to go when you skipped school…) and write one stanza on that. Try to keep people out of this stanza and make the imagery vivid and a little metaphorical.

Part 2
Write a stanza about your family or someone in your family connected to that place—any subject or situation relating to your family, but it must be in essentially the same style/format as the first stanza. Where there’s an emotional situation, describe the circumstances of the emotions or feelings, rather than the emotion itself (the sound of the fight, but not the fight itself).

Part 3
Write a stanza about yourself that returns to the place and imagery of the first stanza.

Now, refine these three parts to make them form one three-stanza poem. Look for connections within the stanzas. Do images or references create echoes or loops? How can you make the scene metaphoric or reflective for something in the other stanzas?

What would happen if you change the order of the stanzas (you may do that if you think the poem works better that way).

 

Grant Clauser is the author of five books including Muddy Dragon on the Road to Heaven (winner of the Coghill Press Poetry Prize), Reckless Constellations, and The Magicians Handbook. His poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, Cortland Review, Tar River Poetry, The Literary Review and others. He works as an editor and teaches at Rosemont College.

Writing for Social Justice: The Devil in Society

My Auntie Lilith is a storyteller adorned with all the histrionics a 5-foot Trinidadian woman can muster. As a child, visiting her home meant witnessing random flares of dramatic scares where, without warning, she’d turn out all of the lights, lock all of the doors, and provoke spirits as my sister, cousin, and me ran alongside her fighting evil in complete dread.

That eight-year-old me hid under her table in a puddle of my pee while my thirteen-year-old sister with tears on her cheeks locked herself in the closet and my cousins yelled in terror as my auntie’s unbridled jumbies and soucouyant and dwens chased us down the stairs and into varying corners of the house.

After a full night of panic, Auntie Lilith gathered us all at her feet for story time. Heaving breathlessly in the darkness of the house, she said, when she was my age, she fought off a mischievous haint that embodied a little boy named Seth. In her classroom, he’d walk past her desk and pull at her ponytails and call her a pickaninny, daily and without fail. Aunt Lilith knew that Seth was filled with an evil that only she could fend off. The notes she wrote to her teacher warning that a wicked energy dwelled in the classroom were unheeded and even mocked.

One day, as the wild and unchecked power hypnotized Seth, lil’ Aunt Lilith sharpened her pencil, fully intending to use it to pen yet another poetic prose of precaution. However, when Seth pulled his hand from her hair, placed it on her desk, and then bent down to whisper pickaninny inches from her lips, she knew it was her duty to exorcise the demon that ran rampant in Seth’s body. She stabbed her pencil straight through his skin, his nerves, his blood—scaring the hell out of him quite literally.

The metonymic adage, the pen is mightier than the sword, assuages the egos of writers who use our words to pen poetic prose of precaution about impending doom or a euphoric past. But, perhaps the pen is only mightier than the sword because it has the dual ability to both communicate brilliant essays and defend brilliant lives.

Today marks 147 days since Breonna Taylor was brutally murdered by her city (officers and officials), her state (her governor and her attorney general), and her country (her president and his administration). We, as taxpayers, play a part in her murder because we continue to pay the salaries of the people who murdered her. We also pay the salaries of the people who conspire to cover it up.

A good many of us have written think pieces and social media posts demanding justice, but, like my Aunt Lilith’s, our warnings are unheeded and even mocked. There is a wild and unchecked power that is running loose in our society. It continues, like Seth, to victimize and brutalize young, Black girls because it is drunk with power.

So continue writing your think pieces, telling your stories, and saying her name. But today, right now, sharpen your pencils and prepare to act boldly because this is an evil that we must fend off.

*The Writing for Social Justice column will appear quarterly in Philadelphia Stories. 


For the last 10 years, Jeannine Cook has worked as a trusted writer for several startups, corporations, non-profits, and influencers. In addition to a holding a master’s degree from The University of the Arts, Jeannine is a Leeway Art & Transformation Grantee and a winner of the South Philly Review Difference Maker Award. Jeannine’s work has been recognized by several news outlets including Vogue Magazine, INC, MSNBC, The Strategist, and the Washington Post. She recently returned from Nairobi, Kenya facilitating social justice creative writing with youth from 15 countries around the world. She writes about the complex intersections of motherhood, activism, and community. Her pieces are featured in several publications including the Philadelphia Inquirer, Root Quarterly, Printworks, and midnight & indigo. She is the proud new owner of Harriett’s Bookshop in the Fishtown section of Philadelphia.

Letter From the Editor

For the past 11 years it has been the honor of Philadelphia Stories to host the fiction prize named for our friend and supporter, Marguerite McGlinn. I first got to know Marguerite in a local writer’s group – the same place I met Christine Weiser, and so many other incredible Philadelphia writers. Like Christine, Marguerite was more than just a writing acquaintance. She was a friend and confidant, someone who supported me, and my work, unconditionally, but also told me the truth. She and her husband Tom lived, quite literally, down the road from Rosemont College, where I eventually enrolled to earn my MFA and where I am now the MFA program director. Even after she got sick, she would invite me over for dinner before class and we would talk about writing, about her family, about our dreams of becoming novelists. It was at these dinners that I got to know her husband Tom and learned more about her family – now the generous supporters of this prize. Marguerite was a champion of the underdog. I’d like to think that supporting short story writers, like we’re able to do, and to do it in her honor, would make her very happy.

Each year I have two jobs related to the contest. I choose the judge and I choose the finalists. My criteria for choosing a judge is simple. I invite authors whose work I admire and who I’d really like to meet. Most of the time I get lucky and they say yes. This year’s judge, Karen Dionne, was just such an author. When it comes to choosing the finalists, things are not as simple. Our fiction editor, Trish Rodriguez and a host of other screeners, read all the submissions. This year there were over 270. They did a great job of narrowing down the group to 39. From those I’m supposed to pick no more than 10. With Trish’s help, this year we chose seven. The stories ranged from satire to psychological thriller to traditional literary fiction.

Winners

with comments from judge Karen Dionne, author of The Marsh King’s Daughter and The Wicked Sister

 

First Place “Young Americans” by A.C. Koch from Denver, CO

This short story ticked all the boxes for me. A nuanced, pitch-perfect father-daughter road trip told with an economy of language and an easy rhythm and flow that sucked me right in. Clearly plotted, well-drawn characters, along with just the right mix of atmosphere and insight make this story a winner!

 

Second Place “The Dead Women” by Allie Mariano from Little Rock, AR

A character at a crossroads is always intriguing; how did they come to this place and what will they do going forward? I love stories that focus on undoing the consequences of bad choices. That this story is also beautifully written is a bonus.

 

Third Place “Feral Wives” by David L. Updike, Philadelphia, PA

This short story begins with an irresistible premise: women all over the country are leaving their families to live in groups in the forest, constantly on the move, building temporary shelters while they hunt and fish and forage. An engaging and thoughtful commentary on what it means to shed the labels of “wife” and “mother.”

 

Finalists

“Almost Happy” by Charlie Watts from Freedom, NH

“Almost There” by Holly Pekowsky from New York, NY

“The Women in the Club” by P. Jo Anne Burgh from Glastonbury, CT

“Magic Hair” by Shanteé Felix from Baltimore, MD

 

Push to Publish 2020 Interview: Alison Lewis

Alison Lewis

This year’s virtual Push to Publish Conference will include all of the great tips, trends, and connections that writers have gotten from this popular, in-person event—but now from the comfort of your home. Below, we talk with Alison Lewis, the editor-in-chief and publisher of Frayed Edge Press. Alison will be participating in Push to Publish as a speed date editor.

PS: Tell us a bit about your background and what you’re doing now.

AL: I’ve always been a voracious reader and have multiple English degrees. I’ve worked professionally as a librarian and a college professor, but I’m happy to be doing all publishing-related things now. At Parlew Associates, I help provide editorial and pre-press services for authors and publishers. I find it gratifying to fill in gaps for small presses that need extra help, and to aid authors in improving and professionalizing their work. As publisher and editor for literature at Frayed Edge Press, I’m excited to work directly with authors whose work we believe in, and to see their manuscripts grow into fully-formed books that they can be proud of.

PS: How did you get into publishing?

AL: I started out in publishing by helping out a friend who founded a small academic press. My background in English and attention to detail proved to be useful and I started getting paid for my work. In 2015, I co-founded a company to expand upon what I was already doing, and to provide services to other publishers and directly to authors. Three years later, we started Frayed Edge Press in order to publish the kinds of work we were most interested in.

PS: What trends are you seeing in the publishing industry?

AL: The dual trend of consolidation and expansion: fewer “big” publishers consolidated at the top, and more small presses, “indie” publishers, and self-publishing authors expanding at the bottom. The continued dominance of Amazon as a gatekeeper for publishing, while at the same time there is an increasing number of interesting alternatives to Amazon springing up. The saturation of the market and the ubiquity of electronic tools and the internet making pirating rampant both impact the ability of publishers and authors to be paid fairly for their work.

PS: How do you think the publishing industry has changed since the pandemic?

AL: We’re scrambling to find new ways of promoting books as in-person readings and author events are largely impossible right now. There has also been a negative impact in terms of bookstores and distributors losing business, or going out of business entirely. Many publishers have cut back on the number of titles published and/or slowed down their production schedules. On the more positive side, there’s still a healthy interest in reading and I’ve personally felt more of a need for reading as a means of “escape” these days. A lot of people stuck at home are in need of a good book!

PS: What do you think writers should avoid when approaching editors or agents?

AL: Avoid sending proposals for works that fall outside of our submission guidelines. When you send something that is in a genre we don’t publish, or that doesn’t meet the criteria for a particular series, you are wasting your time and ours. Avoid sending writing samples that haven’t been at least minimally proofread. No one expects a manuscript to be “perfect,” but multiple glaring errors show a lack of care and are a red flag for most editors and publishers.

PS: What other advice do you have for writers looking to get published?

AL: Be patient. Try to find the publisher that’s the right “fit” with your work. Know that rejection of your work is a necessary part of the business and often is reflective of factors other than its intrinsic merit. Keep writing, seek out helpful feedback, and continue to grow and improve as a writer.

 

Push to Publish 2020 Interview: Jackie Karneth

Jackie Karneth

This year’s virtual Push to Publish Conference will include all of the great tips, trends, and connections that writers have gotten from this popular, in-person event—but now from the comfort of your home. Below, we talk with Jackie Karneth, a literary publicist at Books Forward. Jackie will be speaking at the panel Marketing & Promotion for Authors.

PS: Tell us a bit about your background and what you’re doing now.

JK: I began working as a publicity assistant at JKS Communications, which has since rebranded as Books Forward to better reflect our company’s mission of elevating voices from a diverse community of authors. Now I’m working as a publicist, partnering directly with publishers and authors to promote books of all genres, including short stories and poetry.

PS: How did you get into publishing?

JK: I started my publishing journey early on, while in college. Originally, I’m from New Hampshire, and I always imagined going to a university in the Northeast before I discovered a unique publishing program for undergraduates being offered in Nashville. I joined the program and had the valuable opportunity to learn from industry professionals about every step in the publishing process, from writing a book to promoting it.

PS: What trends are you seeing in the publishing industry?

JK: Certain genres will of course have their moment in the spotlight with libraries and readers each year, with some genres peaking in popularity at unlikely times. Library Journal recently reported how, interestingly, horror and dark fiction is in very high demand at the moment. Some Barnes & Noble stores that had ditched their “Horror” sections reported that they plan on bringing them back, and new genre-specific imprints are being created to fill the demand. And as someone who just finished reading Carmen Maria Machado’s horror-memoir mashup “In the Dream House,” I definitely agree that the genre seems oddly appropriate for the time, as we’re all coping with, and learning from, our sense of fear.

PS: How do you think the publishing industry has changed since the pandemic?

JK: Some challenges lie in the fact that this fall will be a fully-booked publishing season, and large, traditional media outlets won’t be able to cover more books in light of the exceptional number of releases. While the competition is strong in that regard, there are also a lot of opportunities unique to this moment that are exciting and worth pursuing! Now is a good time to promote ebooks and audiobooks especially. Working on your social media presence, and focusing on interaction is also key. Launch celebrations are taking place virtually, of course, and virtual events with two authors in conversation are quite popular. Libraries have also been making the shift to virtual, and many now offer readers’ advisory programs, book clubs, and special events with authors through Facebook Live and other platforms.

PS: What other advice do you have for writers looking to get published?

JK: My advice would be to begin thinking about publicity early on in your publishing process. Every book is unique, and I believe that every book requires a unique publicity plan. In order to determine which approach will work best for you, take the time to weigh out your options and goals – both short term for this release and long term for your author brand. You should aim to set yourself up with a strong foundation to grow your brand and readership not only for your book’s release, but also for the months (and years!) to come.

 

Push to Publish 2020 Interview: Kelly Andrews

Kelly Andrews

This year’s virtual Push to Publish Conference will include all of the great tips, trends, and connections that writers have gotten from this popular, in-person event—but now from the comfort of your home. Below, we talk with Kelly Andrews, the editor-in-chief of Pretty Owl Poetry. Kelly will be participating in Push to Publish as a speed date editor.

PS: Tell us a bit about your background and what you’re doing now.

KA: I’ve worked in academic publishing for the last 10 years in various roles, including as an Assistant Managing Editor, a freelance copy editor, and a writing coach. I founded Pretty Owl Poetry in 2013 with two other editors who have since left the journal, and in the years since then we’ve grown to a staff of 8. My role for Pretty Owl is that of Editor in Chief and I oversee all aspects of the journal production and staff. In 2016, I received my MFA in poetry from the University of Pittsburgh. I currently work as a consulting editor for a nonpartisan public policy research firm.

PS: How did you get into publishing?

KA: For my undergrad, I studied Journalism, and I was very interested in working for the media as a reporter or editor. I thought this was the most practical way I could use my writing and editing skills. Before college, though, I had been studying poetry with Susanna Fry, a writer who was based in Philly for many years. With her encouragement, I took creative writing classes and really started to identify as a poet. After college, I took the first publishing job I was offered as an editorial assistant for a nonprofit and continued pursuing poetry in my spare time. This led to me pursuing an MFA in poetry from the University of Pittsburgh and starting Pretty Owl Poetry. I love the publishing industry and hope to continue working in it for as long as possible.

PS: What trends are you seeing in the publishing industry?

KA: There seems to be more acknowledgment of the need for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the publishing industry and a lot of journals and presses are taking the right steps to make this happen. We’re constantly evaluating our practices and thinking about the need for change within our own publication and hope this trend continues in others.

PS: How do you think the publishing industry has changed since the pandemic?

KA: The obvious change is the move to online platforms for things like poetry readings and workshops that would traditionally take place in person. I welcome this change as it’s allowed us to have more opportunities to feature writers all over the U.S. in online readings and I’ve had the personal opportunity to take classes with writers who I wouldn’t otherwise.

PS: What do you think writers should avoid when approaching editors or agents?

KA: The quality and fit of a person’s work will be the most important factor when an editor decides to accept or reject your submission. I would avoid trying to sell yourself when approaching an editor. Focus on the quality of the work you’re creating and this will be what leads you to successful publication.

PS: What other advice do you have for writers looking to get published?

KA: Read past issues of a journal before submitting your work. So many journals vary in style in what they accept. You want to make sure your work would fit in with that style before taking the time to prepare and send your submission.