n this month’s column, we double down on fun as we sit down with Editor Diane Gottlieb to discuss an online literary journal “and” an exciting small press dedicated to elevating emerging writers for more than ten years. What does emerging mean? Here’s how the small press, ELJ Editions, and its affiliated journal, Emerge Literary Journal, define it:
Emerging doesn’t necessarily mean new to writing, but a jumping off point to publishing or sharing work with a broader audience; emerging is writers figuring out their voices, experimenting with style, exposing work that is raw and vulnerable.
Emerge Literary Journal was founded in 2011 and seeks poetry and flash prose (both fiction and CNF) full of passion, voice, and place. They love succinct images and dialogue that linger, with ideas used in magnificent ways. As the journal says: “Bring us your castles.”
ELJ Editions was founded as a small press in 2013 to support diversity and inclusion through publishing and amplifying content that is more equitable and representative of the evolving community it serves.
In addition to her masthead role as Prose and CNF Editor for Emerge Literary Journal, Diane curated an anthology project for ELJ Editions that was published in October 2023, just as this column was going to print. I had the pleasure to get to know Diane over the summer after she chose one of my creative nonfiction pieces to be included. We’ll chat more about this exciting anthology later in our interview, but let’s kick things off with the online literary journal.
WOW: Welcome, Diane! Thanks for joining us!
Diane: Hi, Ann! So great to talk with you and with the wonderful WOW! readers! Thanks for having me!
WOW: I love that both the literary journal, Emerge, and the small press operate under the motto: Be Well. Write Well. Read Well. How does this philosophy shape the editorial vision for both? And what does it mean to you, personally?
Diane: Our foremost wish for our readers, contributors, submitters is for them to be well—physically, emotionally, psychologically. There is so much stress and pressure out there, and we hope everyone we are connected to and reach makes some space for themselves to breathe and take good care. Of course, we also wish them the opportunities to write well, to explore, experiment, and grow in their craft. Nothing inspires us more than reading beautiful, powerful prose and poetry, so we wish others to likewise find inspiration from the words they read.
WOW: A beautiful and empowering philosophy, Diane. Thanks for sharing! How long have you been Prose and CNF Editor with Emerge Literary Journal, and how did you come to join the masthead? What do you most enjoy about it? What perspective do you bring to the editorial table?
Diane: My first editorial experience with a literary journal was at the wonderful Lunch Ticket, where I started as a reader on the CNF team and later served as Lead CNF Editor, while I was an MFA student at Antioch, LA. I loved everything about it—and learned so much there—but because it was a student-run publication, I had to leave upon graduation. About a year passed before I first became familiar with Emerge Literary Journal. I had recently begun writing fiction and looked to Emerge, which welcomes writers who are spreading their wings. I was thrilled when one of my first published fiction pieces found its home there.
At the same time, I missed being on the editorial side of things, so when I saw Ariana’s call on Twitter for a Prose/CNF Editor, I sent her a DM, expressing my interest. We set up a phone interview and immediately hit it off! And that was that! Working for Ariana over the past two years as Emerge’s Prose/CNF Editor and, more recently, as the editor for the anthology Awakenings: Stories of Body & Consciousness, has been my great joy! I adore the flash genre. (Our word-count limit is 750.) I love reading the subs. At Emerge, we receive submissions from a wide diversity of voices and lived experiences. I am always learning and growing from the pieces I read—and from making some of the hard decisions editors are tasked with.
WOW: For the benefit of our readers, Ariana Den Bleyker is ELJ Editions’ publisher. I believe Emerge publishes online, bi-monthly. About how many submissions come in each year, and what is Emerge’s acceptance rate? What can our readers expect for an average response time?
Diane: We actually publish four times a year. From January of this year through the first week of September, we’ve received 1,120 submissions. Our acceptance rate is around 4%. Response time is often within 30 days. If the wait is a bit longer, chances are we are seriously considering publishing the piece.
WOW: As stated here, submissions are always free “and” the journal pays $10 for each accepted piece! Fabulous! Aside from your guidelines, what else should prose writers and poets keep in mind to help their work stand out? What, for example, makes a prose piece jump out as a Yes for you? What does your colleague in the poetry section like to see?
Diane: That is the million-dollar question, right? What makes a prose piece jump out as a YES? I know this may be frustrating for submitters, but I am grateful that there is no formula to follow, that there will always be a certain level of mystery in the process. I can say that I love pieces that move me. If you make me laugh, tug at my heart (without too much sentimentality), if you make me think or feel deeply, you’re on the right track. I like the new, the experimental, the different, but also the familiar, that comfortable pair of slippers. I trust writers. If the piece feels like it’s working really well and you love it, send it to us! As far as poetry goes, I know Alisha and Ariana love image, voice, emotion. They love reading a poem that elicits a visceral response. And Ariana always says that she loves reading poems she wishes she had written.
WOW: Your point about trusting writers is key, because belief in one’s own piece is essential. We all must be invested in what we send out into the world, and our own guts will tell us when a piece is ready. I noticed that the journal’s submissions page lists sections called “Esperanza” as well as “#LitBlitz” and “Kill Your Darlings” that seem to be separate from the rolling calls for prose and poetry submissions. Can you shed more light on how these sections work into each issue? Are they tied to pop-up calls on social?
Diane: Emerge Literary Journal is firmly committed to raising awareness and ending the stigma surrounding mental health challenges and illness. We publish “Esperanza Corner,” which features writing about mental health challenges/illness, in every issue. From our submissions page: “We believe in the necessity of sharing our mental illness stories to facilitate writing through illness and create broader awareness.”
“Kill Your Darlings” is a special category of submissions and our only category that requires a submission fee. If the piece is accepted for publication, the fee will be refunded. If we pass on the piece, the “decline” email will include a 50- to 100-word paragraph of constructive feedback from the editors.
#LitBlitz is our version of a lightning round! Ariana will randomly put out calls on social media for LitBlitz submissions, which will receive a response within 24 hours!
“If you make me laugh, tug at my heart, if you make me think or feel deeply, you’re on the right track. I like the new, the experimental, the different, but also the familiar, that comfortable pair of slippers. I trust writers. If the piece feels like it’s working really well and you love it, send it to us!”
WOW: Emerge Literary Journal also puts out occasional calls for contests. How does the team decide contest themes and choose guest editors? Is there a fee to enter? How often are contests announced?
Diane: Yes, Emerge runs contests, though infrequently. Ariana decides to run them on a whim! If she gets an idea for a contest theme, she will reach out to a potential judge. Sometimes people will approach her with a theme. There is never a fee to enter, and all winning entries are published in the issue immediately following the contest.
WOW: We love to promote writers. In this spirit, what are some of your favorite pieces published in Emerge that our readers might enjoy?
Diane: This is a tough one, as I love all the pieces we accept! Here are several that immediately come to mind.
When Winter Comes is a quiet, yet powerful, piece of nonfiction by Janet Murie, a woman in her 60s. It was her first published work!
I was also very deeply moved by Lisa Alletson’s CNF Locating the Body in Space, a multi-layered piece on grief and loss.
Eliot Li’s flash fiction Asian American Battle Royale masterfully brings awareness to the rise in anti-Asian sentiment—and violence—in our current political climate, through the metaphor of a video game.
And from our recent double issue, your readers might want to take a look at Sumitra Singam’s CNF, The Way You Changed How I See Things, and Coleman Bigalow’s Polar Plunge on the fiction side. Our poetry is terrific too, but since I don’t curate for our poetry section, I suggest that readers just dive in anywhere!
WOW: These selections are all wonderful. We’re thrilled to see Sumitra Singam’s name, too! Her story, “The Garden of The Masseuse Noi Is Fed on The Sorrows and Resentments of Her Clients” won 1st Place in WOW’s Winter ’22 Flash Fiction Contest.
We also like to share with our readers how journals differentiate themselves. What do you think sets Emerge Literary Journal apart?
Diane: I think the heart of our difference lies in the way we encourage writers to risk stepping out of their comfort zones. We provide a safe space to share what emerges, and our readers have the opportunity to witness the growth that results.
WOW: Turning now to ELJ Editions, you were guest editor at the helm of an exciting anthology that the press just published called Awakenings: Stories of Body & Consciousness. How did the idea for this project start? Did you approach ELJ Editions, or did they reach out to you to edit the anthology?
Diane: When Ariana put out a call on social media for anthology pitches, she and I discussed the theme of body stories. I expressed my great interest in curating an anthology on the topic. I’ve written quite a bit about my own body issues and have received some really powerful responses to those essays. I knew that we would get amazing subs and that the anthology could be an important addition to the body conversation. I wanted, very much, to give the project a shot, and Ariana gave me the go ahead.
WOW: On a personal note, I was thrilled when you emailed me to say that my CNF essay “Outlasting Angie”—excerpted from my memoir that I’m currently querying—would be included. I can’t wait to hold the anthology in my hands! What was your vision as you curated this collection? How did you want each of the pieces to talk to each other?
Diane: On a personal note, I am thrilled that you submitted your wonderful “Outlasting Angie” and am very grateful to have your words included in the book! Honestly, I don’t think I had any specific vision for the anthology. I knew it would be a beautiful and moving collection of stories from diverse voices about different aspects of living in a body. But I could never have imagined the range of body experiences and the stunning honesty and courage of the contributors. I am incredibly grateful to all who submitted for trusting me and ELJ Editions with their words. While I didn’t know how I wanted the pieces to speak to each other, I was confident that they would. And they do! They are in conversation with each other within and across the various sections of the book, and that is one of my favorite things about the anthology! The stories are so varied and yet the common physicality and humanity are what hold them together so powerfully.
WOW: I love the reviews coming in, like this one from author Ana Maria Spagna: “These essays astonish with tales of teeth, arms, hips, gallbladders, lungs, toes and hair. And hearts, too. These are deeply moving stories about how we move through life and make sense of it all.”
And this one, from author Rebecca Evans: “Awakenings is more than an anthology. This collection is an offering, a chorus of voices carefully orchestrated, singing and howling, sometimes in harmony, other moments in acapella or hushed string ensemble.”
Such a beautiful comparison to singing. Can you tell us more about the choice for title: “Awakenings”?
Diane: The title was actually Ariana’s idea—a brilliant one! I truly believe there is a new awakening occurring in our culture and being expressed in the literary world. People are more freely sharing difficult stories they have previously kept under wraps, many of which involve the body and the experiences of living in our bodies. People are saying NO to shame and to silence and awakening to beauty in the very parts of themselves they had found so difficult to accept and appreciate in the past. Awakenings: Stories of Body & Consciousness does sing! It’s filled with beautiful and powerful song, and I’m so very proud to have played a role in bringing this music—these diverse voices (including yours!)—together on the page.
WOW: With the holiday season kicking off in another four weeks, Awakenings would make a wonderful gift for the readers in our lives! The anthology can be ordered for $16.00, using this link. Diane, are there plans for you to guest edit another anthology for ELJ Editions in the future?
Diane: Thank you for sharing that link, and I totally agree that Awakenings would make a wonderful holiday gift! I truly LOVED editing this anthology. While there are no immediate plans for another one, my brain is already coming up with new possibilities. I’ll keep you posted!
“People are saying NO to shame and to silence and awakening to beauty in the very parts of themselves they had found so difficult to accept and appreciate in the past. Awakenings ... is filled with beautiful and powerful song, and I’m so very proud to have played a role in bringing this music—these diverse voices (including yours!)—together on the page.”
WOW: From the submissions page, it appears that writers can submit to ELJ Editions without an agent. Is there a fee? Does the press also accept agented writers and if so, does the team consider the work differently, depending on which channel it comes through?
Diane: ELJ Editions does not accept agented writers. There is a $15 fee for manuscript submissions which goes towards paying advances to our contracted authors beginning in 2025, per our CFO.
WOW: On average, how many queries does ELJ Editions receive in a year?
Diane: ELJ Editions receives over a dozen queries a month, both inside and outside of our reading periods.
WOW: As we wrap our interview, I’d love to hear about your own first publication, as those are always memorable. With which journal were you first published? Share a link if you have it!
Diane: Aside from blog posts in Lunch Ticket, my first publication was called Mother and was inspired by a Grace Paley story of the same name. It’s a flash piece about the deaths of my father and my first husband, and about how my dear mother dealt with both. Many thanks to Panoply for picking it up! It has a special place in my heart to this day.
WOW: Oh, Diane, your mother’s response: “Why couldn’t it have been me?” So devastating. What keeps you busy when you’re not guest editing a project like the Awakenings anthology or reviewing submissions for Emerge Literary Journal? What brings you joy?
Diane: I LOVE walking in the hot Florida sun and seeing all the lizards and birds and interesting trees! Hanging with my newly retired husband—but that only happens after he plays four hours in the morning of pickleball (what IS it about pickleball?!?), connecting with other writers and supporting their work, and FaceTiming with my kids and delicious grandson—who is 19 months!
WOW: One of my nephews is a big pickleball fan. He’s 18, and last I heard, he was searching for intramural pickleball at his new college. It’s a trend, for sure! Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about either Emerge Literary Journal or the small press ELJ Editions before we close?
Diane: I just love the journal and the press, and believe so strongly in what ends up on their pages. To writers out there: keep sending us “your castles.” And, as always, “be well, write well, read well.”
Thank you so much, Ann, for taking the time to interview me! This was a great pleasure!
My thanks to Prose and CNF Editor for Emerge Literary Journal, Diane Gottlieb. I want to wish both Diane (and myself!) a happy pub week for the Awakenings anthology, out this week! Readers, remember that submissions to Emerge Literary Journal are accepted on a rolling basis, and keep ELJ Editions in mind as a potential home if you have a completed manuscript.
Until next time!
Ann Kathryn Kelly writes from New Hampshire’s Seacoast region. She’s an editor with Barren Magazine, a columnist with WOW! Women on Writing, and she works in the technology sector. Ann leads writing workshops for a nonprofit that offers therapeutic arts programming to people living with brain injury. Her writing has appeared in a number of literary journals. https://annkkelly.com/.