Breaking One of the Sacred Cows of Publishing Etiquette

One of the most important messages that I attempt to convey through the material on The Literary Game is that if you want to be a successful writer, one whose work is published in well-respected literary journals or independent publishers, it is critical to conduct yourself like a professional. It is essential to address publishers respectfully, and on the terms laid out by their submissions guidelines. This is an excellent rule to follow, but like all rules, there are times when this one must be broken. 

Although I hate the idea of labeling any writer’s work, much less my own, for those who are inclined to put everything into neat boxes, it can be said that my poetry and fiction is “alt lit.” Much of my writing draws from the sex, drugs, and rock and roll lifestyle, having grown up associating with some wild friends. Naturally, writers write what they know, and I am no exception.

The alternative literature community has its own values, ones that offer many parallels to the punk community. There is an emphasis on DIY (do it yourself), challenging expectations, some shock tactics, and a “hardcore” approach. Whereas the traditional literary world can be seen as fairly conservative in its manner, these alternative writers who are building their own literary magazines operate as a sort of counterculture.

I do not recommend doing this, especially if you are not writing material with similar themes, but I am compelled to share the story of how I approached Brian Fugett, publisher of Zygote in My Coffee, one of the leading journals of poetry in this milieu. I wanted Brian to publish a poem of mine, “You Fuck Like You’re on Antidepressants,” but I had never previously communicated with him before. In a stroke of boldness, I sent him a rather untraditional cover letter, essentially cursing him out and not so subtly telling him that he would be a fool not to publish my poem. When he responded with his decision, the first part of his email was him returning the favor and cursing me out, and the second was him accepting the poem for publication. I knew that Brian, and his journal Zygote in My Coffee, did not want to associate with unprovocative writers, and so, I chose not only to submit a poem that was an appropriate fit, but a cover letter, as well.

So, what is the takeaway from this anecdote? While there are rules that should be followed to increase your chance of success in anything, including publishing your writing, sometimes breaking those rules can lead to amazing results. 

Cheers,
Alfonso

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