Colleen Kearney Rich serves as fiction editor for the online journal Literary Mama, a monthly publication focused on motherhood. A seasoned writer as well, Colleen has been on both sides of the publishing desk, and has plenty of insights about how literary journals work, what they’re looking for, and how hard it can be to reject writers. She’s a founding editor of the literary magazine So To Speak: A Feminist Journal of Language and Art, and her writing has been published in the Washington Post, Phoebe, Virginia Tech magazine, LiveScience, Minerva Rising, Smokelong Quarterly, and the anthology Amazing Graces: Yet Another Collection of Fiction by Washington Area Women, among others. Please welcome Colleen to Write Despite!
When did you begin working as fiction editor at Literary Mama and what are your duties there?
I started working as a fiction editor in December. Prior to that I was a book reviews editor for almost three years. All the departments have multiple editors. My co-editor Suzanne Kamata lives in Japan, but we share a mailbox.
We both read the submissions that come in. If we like something, we send it to the other editor. Sometimes it is an immediate thumbs up. Other times we might have suggestions for the writer. When it is ready to move forward, we have to get approval from two senior editors. They sometimes also have suggestions. Then the stories go into the site. We also have an editorial assistant who proofreads everything before it goes live.
How much time does it take each week, and how hard is it to fit that into your schedule?
It varies. Three or four hours a week at the most. Sometimes I would rather just read a bunch at one time and get something done so those days are longer.
Why did you want to be a part of this journal?
When my kids were younger, I had submitted a few nonfiction pieces to the journal. At first I received some thoughtful rejections. Then I got an acceptance. I worked with the Shari MacDonald Strong, one of the founding editors. It was such an amazing experience, and Shari helped make my essay so much stronger. Then I saw an ad online about openings at Literary Mama. When I was in graduate school, I helped start the feminist journal So To Speak. I really enjoyed doing that kind of work and missed it. Literary Mama seemed like a good fit for me, and I was so happy when they offered me the book review editor job.
Obviously you look for writing centered on motherhood, but what else do you look for in a good piece of fiction?
I look for a writer trying to do something a little different in the storytelling or offer a new perspective. Voice is important too. Because we are an online journal, length is a factor. I think shorter pieces work better and seem to have more impact.
What immediately turns you off in a manuscript?
Overall, how do you feel about the quality of submissions you receive?
I’m always impressed with the quality of writing out there, and the number of women trying to juggle families and creative pursuits.
Any big surprises/challenges since you started the job?
Yes, I’ve been surprised at how hard it is to send rejections. Some pieces are obviously not for us so that is easy. But the ones that are based on personal experience, that’s hard. I am always touched by what they’ve experienced—and sometimes it is tragic—and that they’ve chosen to, sometimes courageously, put words to that experience and share it. How do you judge that? How do you say no to that? That’s the biggest challenge for me.
What type of writing do you do yourself?
I am a magazine editor by day in real life. I edit the university magazine of George Mason University. In my off hours I write fiction. I enjoy writing flash because of the brevity of it, and I’ve dabbled a bit with screenwriting. I’ve also written two novels that I work on in fits and starts.
Do you feel your own writing informs what you select for the journal?
I’m sure it does it some way, but I am also a big reader. I think that has more of an effect on me. I love a good story and a clever approach to narrative.
What are you working on now?
I committed to finishing one of my novels this year. Finish to the point that I would be able to shop it around.