It’s becoming a thing.
Literary magazines have blogs, bonus content that’s supposed to draw people to their pages. It’s all supplemental-like sausage when you already have bacon, but it’s still sausage, and if it has the right amount of sage, it’s worth your time and tongue. I can’t say this article has the metaphoric spice or the spongy texture of sausage, but you’re here, and in my Iowa where NAR and my parents live, you best clear your plate.
FIVE TIPS FOR WRITING A BLOG POST FOR A LITERARY MAGAZINE
1. Don’t give them your best stuff.
It’s important that what you write for the blog is not better than what you wrote for their magazine. This is a tough balance, of course. You want to write something that they want to put on their blog, but you also don’t want to give them something that’s good enough for their magazine or some other magazine (Don’t tell them this, of course; you could spoil the relationship). Don’t worry about the editors reading this: only interns deal with blog posts.
This essay is a great example of my second or third-tier work. I know it’s not an official essay—it’s another internet list—but I’m calling it an essay, so I can mention it when my Dean asks what I’ve been doing lately, and I need to say something more than “My artistic verve is still leading me to spend a lot of time considering my emotional connection to Tupperware.” I can’t quite say, “I’ve been writing blog posts.” On my CV, I will abbreviate the title of this list essay to “Walt Whitman’s Writing for Literary Magazines,” and I’ll say it was solicited by the North American Review. I won’t mention that an intern named John Intern asked for it.
2. Mention something that the literary magazine will want to print in a large bold font.
The internet likes bold fonts. For example, did you know that the NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW, THE OLDEST LITERARY MAGAZINE IN THE COUNTRY (the Morgan Freeman of literary magazines) BENEFITS FINANCIALLY EVERY TIME YOU CLICK ON THEIR MATERIALS IN JSTOR. HELP THEM OUT. CLICK ON JSTOR. Once a week or so, when I’m going through my daily Gary-Dop-Mild-Narcissist Google search, I look up work on JSTOR from the North American Review or Prairie Schooner or…I probably shouldn’t name any other competitors. Not that NAR has any competitors, Prairie Schooner is old and cool, but they’re no Morgan Freeman.
I click on the JSTOR links as a courtesy to the magazines I love. NAR makes a few ducats with each click. I also take each click as nonprofit contribution and a tax write-off. I’m not sure that’s legal, but my tax software hasn’t objected, and so I’ll take the risk.
3. In your blog, find a subtle way to mention a few hotshot writers.
Find ten or twelve scribes who have solid attention coming their way. For example, you might pick Kaveh Akbar, Jenn Givhan, Paul Muldoon, NoViolet Bulawayo, Sebastian Von Himmelberger, Alexis Fitzfitz, Rachel Kushner, Sandra Beasley, and von von knight.
I don’t even like two of these writers, okay three, and I’ve never met any of them, but I’m using this to get Google’s algorithms to link me with them. For example, I’ve never been in The New Yorker, but now, when you Google my name and New Yorker, Google [and maybe JSTOR—is NAR archiving these posts on JSTOR? I bet they would if Walt Whitman wrote a blog] will show this article as a match. And since nobody reads blog posts, I’m fairly sure Google will think I’ve been in The New Yorker, and within a few years, when The New Yorker is run by androids [I wonder if Paul Muldoon is still alive?], they’ll accept my work because they’ll think they’re republishing me. I’m not a computer geek, but this is next-gen technology—think drones and toaster ovens!
4. Use short paragraphs.
Everything online is in short paragraphs. It makes you seem hip or whatever word or emoji the kids are using these days. [Johnny Intern, please insert an emoji of a writer sitting alone at the AWP bar with a full moleskin journal that melts into a new book published by Norton.]
5. Say something about the work you wrote in the magazine.
For example, my most recent piece in NAR [see how I implied that I’ve had other work in the magazine—that’s also a good idea], a poem titled “The System Works,” began as a Facebook post by a theology professor. That sounds made up, but it’s not. My old friend Amy, a New Testament textual analysis scholar, posted about the seven tires someone left on her lawn. She unfolded a ridiculous story on social media, and I asked her if I could borrow the shell of her story for a poem. After she said no, I had her killed—I’m just messing with you, both of you who are still reading this [and you Johnny Intern, who will probably be fired for allowing me to mention a phony threat on a theology professor]—I let her event grow into the poem that JSTOR wants you to click on.
By the way, I never sent it to The New Yorker. Why would I? That’s such a young magazine. If NAR is the Morgan Freeman of actors, The New Yorker is Zac Efron—nice abs and all, but is there there there? That last bit is a quote from something.
6. Add something genuine.
When I say genuine, I don’t mean something that simply appears genuine—readers can smell something forced or artificial. I turned forty two months ago, and over this past Dear-Lord-I’m-leaving-my-30s year, I’ve come to realize that much of my professional career has been spent trying to meet and exceed the expectations of others. For better and worse, my writing also often reflects this problem. I’m overly invested in the audience, the editor, the critic [although most critics will tell you that this doesn’t show in my work]. Sometimes I hear the critical voice of some popular poet who waxes on about contemporary poetry and what matters or I’m plagued by the voice of my childhood pastor who wants me to fit in an old wineskin.
I hope this changes for me. I’m trying. I hope the same for you.
Of course, I hope much more for myself. I’d be lying if I said I was overly concerned about you figuring it all out—I’m really not terribly concerned about you, especially if you’re a lot younger [Johnny Intern, I’m thinking of you here, with your youthful idealism]. I don’t know you, and you are often only the faceless competition, I suppose, so it’s difficult for me to want much of anything for you.
Sometimes, I wish a bad sonnet upon you.
Sorry, that’s a level of honesty that one should probably avoid. Or maybe I shouldn’t—this is back to my original problem. I need more honesty.
My students are better at this than I am. This afternoon, I attended a symposium of artists and scholars at Randolph College [that’s me name-dropping my employer—they like this sort of thing], and one of my students wrote about her longing to return to China to better connect with her grandmother. Another student wrote of coming to grips with generations of violence in his family. Honesty.
When I write, I’m looking for honest moments, silly or serious, like the ones my students try to work out. They teach me. I teach them. And we find our way to the page, blog, or some version of life’s symposiums, or Facebook posts about tires left on a lawn or Paul Muldoon, editor of The New Yorker, until the machines kill him. [Johnny Intern, hip and in the know, just informed me that Kevin Young is the new editor of The New Yorker’s poetry, which means that my preordered monthly gift basket is not going to make any sense when it arrives with my usual note: “Dearest Paul, please accept these fruits, my cycle of sonnets, and two new Irish animal pelts.”]
7. Is Morgan Freeman still alive? If he’s not alive, the previous metaphors break down, and it’s probably offensive to NAR and somehow Zac Efron. [My apologies in advance, Johnny Intern, for the hate mail. And, no, Johnny Intern, I didn’t understand that I was simply supposed to comment on my poem.]
8. Finally, if you have something smart to say, do that too.