Around the time I was getting ready to graduate with my BA in English, I made the decision not to pursue an MFA. Although I knew I had made the right decision for myself, I still didn’t know how I could be part of a writing community without going back to school for it (cue some panicking on my end).
Luckily, around that same time, I found a post online about volunteer positions at Carve (a literary magazine named after the great storyteller Raymond Carver). The best part about the posting? I didn’t need to have an MFA to volunteer! Just a passion for words and a good sense of the magazine’s style.
Fast forward two years later and I’m still volunteering for Carve. I’ve had the opportunity to read through and evaluate hundreds of submissions and was even able to conduct my very first author interview not too long ago. All while finishing up my Bachelor’s degree and joining the workforce.
If you’re still on the fence about volunteering for a literary magazine, here are five reasons why you absolutely should (no MFA required).
1) Improve Your Writing
Sounds a little counter-intuitive, right? How are you supposed to improve your own writing by reading through hundreds of submissions from other people? Well, wading through the slush pile is a lot like attending a creative writing workshop. You read each piece and evaluate them, highlighting their strengths and weaknesses.
If you believe a piece is strong enough for publication in a magazine, you have to explain why to the editors. Same thing if you believe a piece is not suitable for publication.When you apply this technique to every submission, you begin to learn what works and what doesn’t work in a story; you might even begin to see the same mistakes over and over again.
The best part of all that close reading? You can take what you learn and use it to strengthen your own writing.
2) Gain Valuable Industry Experience
Ever wonder how literary magazines operate behind-the-scenes? I’ve got good news: you don’t have to move to New York City and work for some huge press to find out.
While I can’t speak for every magazine out there, I know Carve allows a lot of its volunteers to work remotely. That means I can learn about the publishing industry, help review submissions and interview authors all without changing out of my pajamas. Awesome, right?
Volunteering gives you the opportunity to learn about what goes into the process of publishing a magazine, from reviewing submissions to editing and printing. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and get involved!
3) Be Part Of A Community
One of my biggest fears about graduating and deciding not to pursue an MFA involved feeling isolated from the writing community. How would I be able to connect with other readers and writers in a way that felt authentic? Would I be doomed to stalk people on Facebook?
Volunteering for Carve has helped me move past that fear. I feel like part of a great community and, although most of us live in different parts of the country, us volunteers are still connected.
By actively engaging with the submissions we receive, we are both honing our crafts and helping build an amazing magazine that readers will love. And let me tell you, it’s super satisfying to see all your hard work pay off in the form of a beautiful literary magazine filled with awesome stories.
4) Make Connections With Authors
Some literary magazines feature author interviews in each issue. I think this is great, because it gives volunteers the opportunity to interview authors and learn more about their writing process and journey.
I remember the first author interview I did…I was so nervous. I mean, I was about to talk to a real, live published writer! What if I made a fool out of myself? What if I ran out of questions to ask? Turns out, I had nothing to worry about.
Authors are people, too, and I think sometimes us starstruck readers can forget that. That’s why I’m a huge fan of volunteering to conduct author interviews. Not only do I get to work on my interview skills, but I also get to learn more about how another person writes, where they get their ideas from, and how far they’ve come in their writing journey
5) Streamline Your Own Submission Process
There’s something about reading through other people’s cover letters and submissions that makes me a bit more aware of how I’m submitting my own work. For example, I’ve learned that proper formatting is extremely important, especially if you don’t want to annoy whoever happens to be reading your work on the other end of the submission process.
I’ve also learned that, in the grand scheme of things, what you put in your submission cover letter doesn’t matter as much as, well…your actual submission. Simply put, don’t sweat too much about capturing your entire writing career in your cover letter. Just focus on submitting an amazing story that fits in with the literary magazine’s aesthetic. The editors will thank you!
So, have I convinced you to volunteer for a literary magazine yet?
If you’re interested in searching for opportunities, I found some volunteer opportunities on Indeed, surprisingly enough. Just use the search terms “volunteer” and “literary magazine” and see what pops up. Additionally, if you find a literary magazine that you want to volunteer for, you can always reach out to the editors with a friendly email. I am sure that some would welcome the help!