Editor Q&A with Karna Converse of Literary Mama

In Editor Interviews by Susan Maccarelli | |

Editor Q&A with Karna Converse of Literary Mama

Editor Q&A with Karna Converse of Literary Mama

Please welcome to the Editor’s Q&A corner Literary Mama Editor-in-Chief, Karna Converse. Karna does a stellar job of bringing us up to speed on everything we need to know to write for Literary Mama. Don’t miss the details about specific topics they are interested in (with a specific shout out to grandparents and parent of older kids), how individuals can benefit from all-volunteer staff and writing positions, specific qualities they love to see in submissions, special issues and open volunteer staff positions.

Q: Many of my readers will be familiar with Literary Mama. For those who may not be, tell us about your publication and the type of work you love to publish.

A: Our tagline—writing about the many faces of motherhood—probably says it best for the social media hashtags, but we take the word “faces” seriously. We recognize that motherhood is a lifelong process–our founding editors called it a birthing process—and that, in addition to the physical act of giving birth or completing an adoption, motherhood is psychological, intellectual, and spiritual. Literary Mama offers a venue for the exploration and contemplation of all these faces.

We remain true to the type of work our founding editors began publishing in 2003: that of superior craft and fresh voice. Our goal is to share stories that move readers from the outside to the inside, from observation to empathy, and we love it when our readers have the same take-your-breath-away reaction to a piece that we did.


We publish 10 issues a year (September through June). In each issue, we strive to publish one or two pieces in Columns, Creative Nonfiction, Fiction, Literary Reflections, Profiles, and Reviews, and five poems in Poetry. For our special themed issues–Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Desiring Motherhood–we might include a maximum of three pieces per department and six poems in Poetry.

We also publish one or two blog posts every week. Here, we promote all things Literary Mama, including the writing and contributors that make up each monthly issue and news about the organization and the staff. We also publish personal narratives from guest contributors, calls for submissions, and discussions related to the craft of writing.

Karna Converse

Karna Converse – Editor-in-Chief, Literary Mama

Q: As Editor-in-Chief, what does a day in your Literary Mama life look like?

A: Much like yours, I suspect! Part administration, part review and approval, part responding to public inquiries, part communicating with staff. I’m a volunteer, just like the rest of our staff, so some days are less Literary Mama-oriented than others.

The beauty of working with Literary Mama is its flexibility; because all work is conducted remotely, I can sit at my desk in my sweatpants any hour of the day, any day of the week. But this also means that each staff member’s schedule is flexible. Discussions among staff members about submissions, pieces for publication, and queries from the public literally take place seven days a week. Our goal is to respond to another’s email within three days, and I’m proud that our staff takes this seriously—it speaks to the respect we have for each other and for the writers who are submitting work to us.

Q: I am guessing that you will tell me a lot of moms read Literary Mama. What else can you tell us about your readers?

A: We know that our readers are worldwide. In fact, our last report revealed readers in 51 distinct countries. Our readership resides, by far, in the United States, but each month we gain readers throughout the world and particularly, in Canada and the United Kingdom. We added a photo editor to our staff about a year ago and she’s reached out to several artists and photographers outside the United States. Their responses have re-affirmed that motherhood, indeed, is a universal space for creativity.

We also know that our readers are journal writers, published writers, aspiring-to-published writers, and writing coaches and instructors. Many have teenagers and adult children—and some of them are grandmas! (Note to grandmas and moms of teenagers and adult children: we’d love to see more of your voices on our pages!)

Q: Literary Mama publishes a wide range of writing formats under multiple departments. Writers can find more info about submitting to each department on your site, but maybe you can tell us about any news or special calls/needs within each department. 

A: At the present time, we’re especially interested in reading creative nonfiction pieces and literary reflections essays to meet our needs for the upcoming monthly issues. We’re also looking for more personal narratives to carry our After Page One blog series through the summer.

On another note, we’re looking for qualified individuals to fill our open staff positions.  These are volunteer positions and a great way to gain experience with a literary magazine. Because all work is conducted remotely, via internet technologies, we look for editors who are especially detail- and deadline-oriented. These positions may be filled by the time this interview is published, but I encourage anyone who may be interested in working with us to send a cover letter and resume to literarymamainfo (at) gmail (dot) com.  I’d love to get to know you and keep your information on file for future consideration!

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Q: Potential contributors can find full submission guidelines HERE. Tell us about the writing qualities you and your editors look for in a piece that is a perfect fit for Literary Mama.

A: Often, the first questions we ask when we read a new submission concerns whether it’s a good fit for Literary Mama and whether we’re the right publication to publish it. Over the past several years, we’ve tried to answer these questions in a series of blog posts. These tips come directly from some of our editors: blog, columns, creative nonfiction, fiction, literary reflections, poetry, profiles, submitting work, formatting work. Writers interested in submitting work should, of course, refer to the guidelines as you’ve noted.

We recognize that writing is a subjective business, but do find that those “perfect fit” qualities emerge during the process of shepherding a piece to publication. Here are some comments the department editors share with me and the senior editors; I think they offer unique insight about what we consider a perfect fit.

“This is a clear-eyed look at a difficult night in the life of a mother of a teen with special needs. We liked the fact that she doesn’t sugar coat any of it, or look for particular meaning, but just brings readers right into the dark with her.” (Creative Nonfiction)

“This flash piece has everything I look for in a shorter piece – a strong sense of setting, great characterization, smart pacing, and just enough reflection.” (Fiction)

“I love the author’s voice in this piece, the way she succinctly but lyrically sums up each year of her teenage diaries, and how she ties it to her experience as a mother today—and her musings on what role a diary plays and why she doesn’t need that in her life today.” (Literary Reflections)

“All of these poems have an intriguing energy and perspective, with varying degrees of polish.” (Poetry)

“This is an intriguing idea and roadmap for a column, one which has the potential to raise lots of issues our readers will be interested in.” (Column)

“It is well written, engaging, with strong emotional impact. What a tribute to foster parents and their emotions; grounded in scene and great detail. The themes of love, loss, letting go, and moving on are so subtly captured.”(Creative Nonfiction)

“The language is poetic and graceful, the tone is measured and unsure, and the end hits just the right note. While it’s not a purely unique take, it is a very well written piece that gets better each time I revisit it.” (Creative Nonfiction)

“I love the narrative voice–relatable but not the least bit artificial–and I’m charmed by her unusual twist on the all-too-familiar theme of mothers trying to reclaim a lost literary life.” (Literary Reflections)

“This story pulled me in immediately and filled me with dread. It’s one of those “what If” stories—what if you got what you wished for? I had a dream similar to this when my oldest was a toddler, and it has always haunted me. This writer does the same with this piece.” (Fiction)

“I felt full after reading every one of these poems.” (Poetry)

Q: Can you give us a few links to pieces that potential contributors can read for a taste of writing that has really resonated with your readers?

A: We don’t publish a “best of the year” roundup, so I’m hesitant to list any pieces here that might give that impression. Those interested in contributing would be best served to read a year’s worth of the pieces we’ve published in their chosen genre. Doing so will emphasize the style and tone that’s made an impression on our current staff. I’m not saying we want exact replicas of the past year’s pieces; I’m just encouraging potential contributors to look to these pieces as guidelines about our literary voice.

Q: Under what circumstances will you consider a reprint?

A: We prefer pieces be unpublished, but we will consider reprints if the writer has retained rights to the piece and if the work is not currently available online. We also consider the length of time that’s passed since the piece was published and the size of the market where it was published.

Q: Your guidelines indicated that writers will hear back about their submissions in 3-12 weeks. Do editors respond to every submission with a yes or no, or should the writer move on if they have not heard after 12 weeks?

A: Every submission receives an automated response upon receipt. Department editors send personal letters of acceptance or rejection within 3 to 12 weeks, but writers should inquire as to the status of their submission if they’ve not received a personal response within that time period.

Submissions are often read by five or six editors throughout the review process. We recognize the amount of time this takes (and know writers are anxious for our response) but I’m proud our editors take their responsibilities seriously. Our editors read each submission with the reader in mind and with the goal of helping the writer present the best possible piece to that reader.

Q: Tell us about your special issues and the timeframe for submissions on those.

A: We continue to support the three special issues our founding editors created: Mother’s Day (May); Father’s Day (June); and Desiring Motherhood (October).

Our Mother’s Day and Father’s Day issues are pretty self-explanatory—writing about mothers and fathers from the child’s perspective—but some of your readers may not realize that these issues are also opportunities to showcase the male perspective. Here, we invite work from fathers, self-defined fathers, partners, or other family members about the mothers and fathers they love.

We’re also excited about our Desiring Motherhood special issue because we believe it offers a unique reading experience. In this issue, we invite writers to explore the issues of primary and secondary infertility; the effects on the human soul of reproductive technologies; concerns about having more children or not having any at all; and the relationship of caregivers to the mothering role and their desires for mothering.

The deadline for submissions specific to these issues is three months prior to the publication date (mid-February for Mother’s Day issue, mid-March for Father’s Day issue, mid-July for Desiring Motherhood issue).

Q: Literary Mama does not currently pay writers. What are some of the non-monetary reasons you find contributors like to submit writing to your platform? 

A: You’re correct that we don’t pay our writers, and I know this is a hot-button issue in the industry. We don’t pay our staff either. We’d like to do both and do, indeed, wrestle with these issues and the wide variety of business models currently being employed.

We pride ourselves on working with new and emerging writers and believe we’ve earned a reputation for fair, responsive, and thoughtful editing that supports the writer and her message. Our current team hails from 25 locations throughout the world and includes communications professionals, university professors, MFA students, writers, editors, copyeditors, photographers, and moms. They’re passionate about motherhood, the written word, and the community that brings the two together; they truly want to embrace and nurture as many submissions as possible to publication—and I think our readers and our writers can sense that.

Additionally, I think writers see that our marketing folks are an integral part of the community and dedicated to their roles. I see their hard work reflected in steady increases in the number of newsletter subscribers and the reach of our social media platforms; writers see their work promoted in a personal and timely fashion. (You’ll find us most active on Facebook and Twitter, but we also have a presence on Pinterest, Goodreads, and Instagram. Connect with us here.) And finally, I think writers appreciate receiving a contributor badge to add to their blogs or websites. The visual recognition won’t buy a cup of coffee, but it will help them promote their work to their readers.

Q: Personally, you’ve written everything from technical documentation and price proposals to newsletter articles, devotionals, personal profiles and essays. What is your favorite type of writing to write? And to read?

A: I appreciate your interest in my personal publications—and yes, I’ve published in a variety of forms. As you can imagine, different periods in my life produced different types of writing.  I’ve come to appreciate each type and the lessons I learned in each of those periods of my life, so can really pick a favorite; each type of writing challenged me to communicate a specific message to a specific type of reader. That may sound simplistic, but I did, and still do, simply enjoy the challenge of putting words to paper to share a message, whether that message is informative, educational, or inspirational.

I’d also like to highlight the entire Literary Mama staff here. Four times a year, our blog editors post “Kudos!“, a summary of staff publications that’s grown dramatically in both number and variety since its inception. I’m excited to see our staff find success with their own essays, stories, poems, and books and think this only adds to what they bring to the organization as editors.

My reading life is about as varied as my writing life. I’m slowly assuming the role of family historian so find myself interested in Scandinavian and German history, historical fiction set in the mid-1800’s, and general immigration stories, past and present.

Q: What’s next for Literary Mama

A: This is an exciting time for Literary Mama! Our staff is engaged and invested in moving the organization forward—that’s not always the case in an all-volunteer organization and I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the 25 people who make that happen every day.

Literary Mama Staff

Literary Mama Staff

I experienced this commitment first-hand earlier this year when a family emergency required that I scale back my commitment for a couple of months.  I’m proud of the systems we’ve set in place and that the publication of our January and February didn’t hinge solely on the role of the editor-in-chief.

I don’t have any specifics to share about what “move the organization forward” means, but our energy level is high: In the past three years, we’ve revamped the website, logo, and newsletter; transitioned to a monthly magazine “issue” format; incorporated images into both the magazine and the blog; and expanded our social media platforms. Writers can rest assured that we’ll be here for a while longer.

Thanks for introducing us to your community!

About the Author

Susan Maccarelli

Susan Maccarelli is the creator of Beyond Your Blog, a site helping bloggers successfully submit their writing for publishing opportunities beyond their personal blogs. She also offers online training and consulting to new bloggers looking for direction on submitting their writing for publication. Susan has interviewed dozens of editors from publications like The New York Times, Huffington Post, Brain, Child, Chicken Soup For The Soul, The Washington Post, and speaks at many respected writing and blogging conferences.