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Ask The Paris Review

Dear Paris Review, Where Do I Publish?

July 20, 2012 | by

Dear Editors:

Have made writing full time. Have novel and short essays. Attended NYU’s Summer Writer program last year. Would you have a good list of places for submissions beyond The Paris Review, The New Yorker and The New York Times? Thank you for reaching out via Twitter and offering some of us (hopefully lovable) newbies some guidance.

Dear Newbie,

We get asked this a lot. It’s a reasonable question, but it always makes our hearts sink.

Here’s the thing: no matter how many classes you take, no matter how much time you spend at the keyboard, you cannot write seriously unless you read. And that means, partly, reading your contemporaries. Their problems are your problems; you can’t write—that is, you can’t write for serious readers—until you know what the problems are. I could give you the names of some good journals, but—supposing they take your work—what’s the point of publishing in a magazine that you don’t already read?

I know it’s hard to discover good little magazines online (though our readers may be able to suggest favorites of their own). The best thing is to go to a good bookstore—or a big enough Barnes & Noble—and take stuff off the shelves. If you don’t have access to a bookstore, find a good library. If you don’t have access to a library, read the acknowledgments in the story collections that mean most to you. Then take out a couple of subscriptions.

Whatever its defenders say, the M.F.A. system has created a surplus of would-be writers and a deficit of habitual readers—and I’m afraid it shows in the work submitted to us here at the Review. This trend is easy to reverse, at least in your own life. Join the writing community for real: become a reader.

Dear Editors:

I’m looking for American novels with age-discrepant/age-heterogeneous relationships—themes like Nabokov’s Lolita. I unsuccessfully tried What Should I Read Next?, but it appears that the site’s algorithm is based on the author and not the theme.

My short list includes:

Breakfast at Tiffany’s/Capote
Tropic of Cancer and Capricorn/Miller
Pretty Little Liars/ Shepard
Teach Me/R.A. Nelson
Gossip Girl/von Ziegesar
On the Road/Kerouac

Thanks in advance!


Dear MI,

If you want a dose of harsh reality about “age-discrepant” relationships, read Margaux Fragoso’s memoir Tiger, Tiger. The writing is painfully vivid and emotionally subtle. I confess I couldn’t finish the book. But it captures the confusions of a neglected girl who, starting at the age of seven, finds herself loved and desired by a middle-aged neighbor. Another writer who has written beautifully about age-discrepant attraction—from the child’s point of view—is Harold Brodkey, for instance in The World is the Home of Love and Death. Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Mary Gaitskill’s Two Girls, Fat and Thin also come to mind. And you may be interested in Tamara Faith Berger’s new novel Maidenhead—an erotic fantasy about a Canadian girl who falls under the spell of a couple whom she meets during a family vacation in Key West.

There is no shortage of stories about grownups (usually men) in love with young people, told from the grownup’s point of view. It is one of the staples of Western literature, from Boaz and David in the Bible, to Plato’s dialogues, to Maupassant’s Fort Comme la Mort, to Stefan Zweig’s Confusion, to Colette’s Cheri, to Death in Venice, to Henry Green’s Loving and Doting. In contemporary American fiction we have—apart from the books you mention—John Cheever’s story “The Country Husband,” Yiyun Li’s recent story “A Man Like Him,” Todd Solondz’s movie Happiness, and Woody Allen’s Manhattan. Really the list is endless. For novels try Updike or Oates or, if you’re still in a Nabakovian mood, John Hawkes’s Travesty.

No doubt our readers can suggest more titles than these.


Have a question for the editors of The Paris Review? E-mail us.





  1. mclicious | July 20, 2012 at 9:00 pm

    To your second letter: Goodreads has a much better algorithm (more like Netflix’s, where it’s about content, plot, genre, actor, etc). But also:
    The Adults by Alison Espach
    Anthropology of an American Girl by Hilary Thayer Hamann (unbelievably similar, those two)
    I also had some fun on goodreads and found four lists (you might have to be a member to see them; I’m not sure) of books that users have designated as “May-December.”

  2. Helen DeWitt | July 21, 2012 at 5:33 am

    A to Q1. My agent sent some stories out last year to various magazines (including the Paris Review). I had already sent them to the New Yorker and to Harper’s (not on your list), so he did not resubmit. The rest were: Zoetrope, Electric Literature, AGNI, Tin House, A Public Space, Black Clock, Noon, One Story, and McSweeney’s. A few months ago I sent a story to Port, a British magazine, which I’m told pays commercial rates (they have published work by Martin Amis and Will Self). The Boston Review has always looked good to me, though I don’t think I have ever sent them anything. The Chicago Review recently asked to see some short fiction and liked a couple of the stories. I published a story in Puerto del Sol a few years ago (they had published DFW and Jenny Boully, which looked like good company). Vice magazine asked for a story a few years ago and liked it but it was too long.

    I don’t mean to single these out as more desirable than other magazines, but my agent, at least, presumably knows what he is doing.

    Blake Butler published a list of everything he submitted from 2006-2008: (MAN. Respect.) If you are in the habit of leaving unfinished stories stacking up in a drafts folder, this is the kind of thing that will shame you into action. Especially if one reason they languish unfinished is that you don’t know what to do with stories at the BB end of the spectrum.

    One word of caution. If you get an agent, one of the first things the agent asks is whether you have any stories s/he can send out. My penultimate agent, Bill Clegg, asked if I had any stories he could send the New Yorker – but I had thoughtlessly already submitted the handful that did not languish unfinished, so there was nothing in reserve. An agent likes to be wheeling and dealing, so you should not keep all the fun to yourself.

  3. Patrick Mehr | July 21, 2012 at 10:05 am

    Stefan Zweig’s non-fiction is now available in eBook form:

  4. L. | July 21, 2012 at 11:00 am

    Thanks for the lecture!

  5. Geoff Brock | July 22, 2012 at 6:03 pm

    “Whatever its defenders say, the M.F.A. system has created a surplus of would-be writers and a deficit of habitual readers…”

    What bullshit. And you can prove this, how? At least the 2nd part, really–Mr. Stein, how have MFA programs created a deficit of habitual readers?

    For the questioner:

    In particular, check out the review section and the new mags section, they do a nice job of describing the magazines

  6. Tom May | July 22, 2012 at 9:41 pm

    I think you are in the wrong class, Mr. Brock. Analytic philosophy is down the hall, room 316.

  7. Phil Inn | July 23, 2012 at 9:57 am

  8. GZ | July 23, 2012 at 10:35 am

    Lorin – We can all agree that a serious writer should be well read in classic and contemporary works. Your statement ‘what’s the point of publishing in a magazine that you don’t already read?’ strikes me as strange. First we must ask: What is the point of publishing?

  9. Arthur Owen | July 23, 2012 at 11:38 am

    Thank you for writing this. This new generation of writers seeking (and sadly often finding) instant gratification is an epidemic. A good time to start writing is when you’ve read everything. And most people will never come close to reading everything. Which is why most people aren’t writers. Besides, if you write to get published, then chances are you’re not a writer.

  10. Jon Smyth | July 23, 2012 at 12:18 pm

    I graduated from a creative writing program. Mr. Stein is pretty much accurate in his description of MFA graduates. I know this because I’m guilty of the very problem he talks about. I’m only realizing this now, years after I graduated. In reality, an MFA in creative writing is about as impressive as a degree from Phoenix University. It seems to me a broad swath of MFA programs – including the one I attended – do nothing more than sell degrees to mediocre “writers” who won’t even be able to come close to paying off their college loans with the money (if any) they make from writing. In all honesty, I certainly regret my degree. I could’ve learned just as much for free with a membership to the local library; instead, I dropped thirty grand on two years worth of unpublishable writing. For anyone who thinks that education is the next bubble – like the housing bubble – look no further than MFA creative writing degrees. I’d wager that people who graduate with these sorts of diplomas are often the ones who don’t end up paying off their student loans. I’m paying mine off, gradually; of course, I have a job that has absolutely nothing to do with creative writing. So, kids, if you want to be a writer when you grow up: read. Mr. Stein is entirely correct. You can’t expect to write well if you’re not well-read. It’s as simple as that, and you don’t need a fake degree from a money-grubbing university to clarify it.

  11. GZ | July 23, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    Arther Owen – Yes, writers must read widely and deeply. This can not be overstated… But which epidemic of instant gratification are you talking about? E-Books, illegal music downloads, or possibly ‘the drugs’?

    To amend your statement NOBODY BUT NOBODY will ever come close to reading everything. And some of the best read people do not have ambitions to write. Sure, if one writes primarily to get published they are probably not serious, but to suggest this motive is insignificant is ridiculous. Even Kafka didn’t REALLY want his unpublished work to be burned and I’ll bet that crazy old Henry Darger had some slim hope that one day his art would be seen.

  12. Brian A. Oard | July 23, 2012 at 3:02 pm

    Jon Smyth:

    Anyone considering applying to an MFA program should read your comment and then think long and hard before spending all that time and money on what really amounts to an academic con game. Thanks for writing.

  13. Darren Higgins | July 24, 2012 at 12:51 pm

    I am in an MFA program right now and it is certainly filled with mediocre writers. Who knows? I may well be one of them. But if it’s done anything at all, it’s made me a better and more catholic reader. My writing flows from my reading. They are entwined and inseparable.

    I too have my doubts about the MFA concept, but I recently came around to this awareness: What can possibly be wrong about sending more people out into the world who want to write, who want to make art, who want to learn and observe all that they can? Who cares if these writers are mediocre? Most writers, MFA or not, are mediocre.

    Jon Smyth appears to believe that the program he enrolled in should have made him a better writer. At best, MFA programs can make their students less awful writers, but whatever makes a writer great cannot be found there.

    I know I won’t get rich with my degree; in fact, it’s making me (financially) poorer. But I wouldn’t trade the excitement of collaborating with remarkable artists, discovering new writers, and expanding my own artistic vision for anything.

  14. Bruce Smith (not the poet) | July 24, 2012 at 6:24 pm

    It’s amazing that Mr. Stein can take time away from destroying the grand history of poetry publishing in the Paris Review to attack the source of most of his readers! So, Loren, let me get this straight–there are a bunch of habitual readers who go to Columbia’s MFA program and Professor Ben Marcus turns them into bad readers? Is that how it works? Plus, really? You read submissions? The slush pile? Really? Why? You don’t actually publish them, right? I mean, you publish what–25 poems a year? Maybe? Mostly solicited, right? I don’t know why anyone who who’s an original brilliant poet would even waste their time with PR. What’s hilarious, too, is every poet you publish (except for Thurston Howell Seidel) works in an MFA program! Grow some balls, Lo, tell Charles Simic he can’t teach. Tell Lucie B-B she’s raising a generation of bad readers.

  15. Lorin Stein | July 24, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    Dear Mr Smith and Mr Brock,

    Thanks for your helpful notes — my post should have been clearer. I didn’t mean to suggest that creative writing programs take good readers and turn them into bad ones — only that MFA programs tend to emphasize production over consumption. That’s been my experience, anyway, as a student and teacher in those programs. (And, yes, as an editor who spends a fair amount of the week reading submissions.)

    Mr Smith, the Review has been publishing the poets you have in mind — Frederick Seidel, Charles Simic, and Lucie Brock-Broido — since long before my tenure. In fact, Seidel and Simic are both former editors of the Review. Which is to say, our grand tradition contains many mansions. As it should.

    Thanks to all commenters for their openness. No one can read everything, it’s true, and it may be a good thing to encourage the act of writing as such. In future — if you want to write in to this site — please bear in mind that it’s not a place for personal attacks.


  16. Jon Smyth | July 24, 2012 at 8:49 pm

    To Mr. Higgins: If you’re interested, I would gladly give you my email address, and you can send me some of your writing, and I can assign you forty or so books (however many you read in your program) based on what I see in your writing, and based on what I might think will help your craft, and in response, you can write me some annotations, or some critical papers, or essays, or theses, or any of the other critical work that most MFA programs assign to make themselves look serious. To clarify: there are quality creative writing programs out there to be sure; perhaps, you are one of those talented few who go to Iowa or UVA or wherever, and if so, congratulations, and I hope sincerely you prove me wrong with your ability. On the other hand, if you’re someone who enrolled in a program simply to become a person “who wants to write, who wants to make art, who wants to learn and observe all that they can,” as you say, I counter plainly with this: you ain’t gotta spend all that money to do it. The point of my earlier post can be summed up in the line about going to your local library. You can get into the habit of becoming a writer without the diploma; simply write and read everyday, so that it becomes a habit, and voila. I didn’t assume the MFA would make me a better writer, as you state. In truth, my prose was never a problem. It’s been one of the few constants in my writing since whenever. It’s what got me into literature and the art form in the first place. Why did I go out for an MFA? I’ll tell you: call me naive, but I got it out of some ridiculous misconception about practicality, like an MFA would lead to a teaching job at the college level. Silly me. Even with publications, the jobs are few and far between, and as I said: the degree just isn’t that impressive. I don’t want others to make the same mistake. With that said, good luck with your program.

  17. katie hoffman | July 25, 2012 at 6:40 pm

    I agree that too many students get caught up in wanting to publish all the time, but, on the other hand, universities seem to hold potential employees to a standard that says the more things published, the better.

  18. Darren Higgins | July 26, 2012 at 10:35 am

    Mr. Smyth, thanks for your response. People enroll in MFA programs for many reasons. I do think you are correct to warn away those who would spend all that money in the hopes of landing a teaching job. Further, I would agree with you that an MFA is completely impractical, perhaps even illogical. To my mind, though, this is part of the point.

    I certainly do not have money to throw away, and I don’t mean to be flippant about financial considerations, especially not in these recession-riddled years. But I’m so sick of the practical and the logical. I’ve been writing since first grade (my opus Godzilla vs. Killer was a best-seller among classmates), going to libraries (as you suggest) and bookstores. But I had stalled out. I got a regular job, got married, had a kid, and I stalled out. In my situation, going to grad school for writing was very possibly the least practical thing I could choose to do. Yet my wife and my family supported me, and I consider the money well spent. Why? Because my excellent teachers have shown me things that I never would have found on my own. I have never had a more exciting and rich creative experience in my entire life. Though I work full time (I attend a low-residency program), am helping raise a child, am expecting another, and can only get to my MFA work when everyone else is asleep or otherwise deeply occupied, I have never been happier.

    Of course, this is all personal choice, and I wouldn’t be so arrogant as to claim that others should travel the same path. I will, though, say this: MFA programs do far less damage to the world than those paragons of practicality, business and law schools. A bad poem or an awful story can only do so much damage to the body or the soul.

  19. news christian louboutin shoes | July 27, 2012 at 11:15 am

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  20. Alda | August 3, 2012 at 11:17 am

    There are several consistencies among those who attack MFA programs:

    1) They’re male
    2) They’re white
    3) They’re established–professors, editors, well-published

    Another weird consistency is that their success often owes something to MFA programs–books sales, readings, student enrollment and subscriptions to the mags they edit.

    Of course, the arguments against (like those for) are full of gusto, and unprovable. Guy arguments.

    I’m curious–is there such venom toward MFA art programs? Do the editors of MODERN PAINTING and ART FORUM mock Yale graduate? What about music?

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