By Zoe Grace Marquedant
Don’t You Want Me, Baby asks: what is rejection? How do you phrase it? How do you take it? What makes it past the sensors? Is there a long German word for refreshing your email on decision day? Each installment, we’ll hear from different sides of the literary magazine submission process. From writers, editors, readers, volunteers. Maybe we’ll learn the secret ingredients, the rituals, the rules that need to be broken. Maybe we’ll all just agree to retitle our PDFs and try again.
Name: Monica Benevides
Job/Title: Writer; Prose Editor at Talk Vomit
Location: Central Massachusetts
Publication(s): Talk Vomit
Without using the word “yes,” describe what it feels like to read something you want without question to publish.
It sounds corny but often times there is an energy, a feeling of connection. Usually, this happens immediately. Sometimes, more rarely, it takes a day or two for me to think about a piece, after which that buzzing feeling might start creeping its way into my thoughts.
How does your publication deliver the good news? Would you change that?
Email. Enthusiastically, I hope. I typically try to point to a specific reason we’ve accepted a piece. Hopefully not!
How far do you read before you settle on a “no”?
This varies. If I’m reading a short story that’s immediately wrought with, like, misogynist stereotypes, I close out pretty quickly. Sometimes, I really like a piece and then it ends in some way I’m deeply uncomfortable with, which is always disappointing.
In sending a rejection, is there anything you feel you cannot say?
In general, I try not to invite discussion. That isn’t helpful for either party and I don’t want the submission process to feel like a negotiation. That may sound harsh, but I think it’s a necessary boundary.
How does your editorial body break ties when there is a disagreement on a submission?
Mary and I don’t often disagree here, I don’t think. I tend to take the lead on prose, but if ever I’m unsure or if one of us feels strongly about one piece, it’s usually a discussion. But generally speaking, if one of us really like something, the other is able to understand why and comes around to it fairly easily.
Do you ever regret rejections? Second-guess acceptances?
No and not that I can recall.
What do you include beyond the necessary information, like page limit and pay, in your Submission Guide? Has that changed over time? Why?
We try to make clear that we’re as open to new writers as we are to experienced writers, as well as a diversity of perspectives. We decided to say those things explicitly because, honestly, the lit mag world is a bit stodgy and unwelcoming.
If you are also a writer when does being one affect your work as an editor?
I am also a writer. It gives me insight, I think, into what a submitting writer is trying to do with their work. I can tell if it’s polished or not, pretty much right off. I can tell if they actually want to work with us or if publishing with Talk Vomit is just another feather in their cap, in large part because I’ve been submitting work for upward of a decade, myself. It matters to us that our writers want to work with us, for what it’s worth. We like building relationships and I think it gives our zine a sense of, I’m sorry to say this, authenticity.
Has your experience editing changed how you view the submission process?
It’s given me a hell of a lot more empathy for those fielding submissions, and it’s made rejections hurt a lot less when I send my own work out, because I recognize it’s pretty much never personal.
If you work outside the industry, does your outside life inform how you tackle the submission pile?
I work in journalism so I’m not sure it’s enough out of the industry to count.
What have you learned from reading submissions that you’ve applied to your own creative process?
To take my time. To be concerned with writing a strong hook. To recognize that what I think is implied rarely ever is.
Whether it’s misspelling the name of an editor or forgetting to actually attach your piece, what’s one time you fumbled a submission?
I misspelled a publication’s name to an editor once. He promptly corrected me. It haunts me.
Where does the submission process still need refining?
Ours? I think it’s simple: send it to email@example.com, and note what form you’re submitting. (Fiction, nonfiction, poetry.)
Maybe I’m not being creative, but I think it’s a workable system as is. It takes time to decide whether to give a piece a home, it takes time to filter through submissions. I think patience and grace on both sides is needed.
What do you do when you’re supposed to be writing?
Look at Instagram.
Favorite font/pen/paper/word processor?
Google docs. Georgia. Anything smooth on the page.
Most common mistake you see in submissions?
Not addressing us by name or publication. It sounds corny, but it does count.
Do you have perfect grammar?
No, but I used to believe I did. I’ve got a pretty good grasp on the language, but I’m also a fan of writing in the vernacular, as long as it’s coherent. (Uses commas, etc.)
Zoe Grace Marquedant (she/her/hers) is a queer writer. She earned her B.A. from Sarah Lawrence and her M.F.A. from Columbia University. Her work has been featured in Olney Magazine, the Cool Rock Repository, Schuylkill Valley Journal, and the School of Commons.