Our guidelines intend to inspire, not restrict.
Do your thing, just keep the word count sane.
What is Unlikely Stories Mark V?
Unlikely Stories Mark V is the new incarnation of the electronic magazine, Unlikely Stories, which has been published on the Web, more-or-less continually, since 1998. We publish poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction, including firsthand accounts of sociopolitical activism. We publish galleries of visual art, music, spoken word, other forms of aural art, and audiovisual presentations, by which we usually mean short movies, but we might mean something else. We publish criticism of all these art forms, when that criticism engages with the reader and aspires to art itself.
Unlikely Stories Mark V is an electronic magazine of literature, art, and culture that attempts a direct engagement with society and sociopolitical issues. We believe that art and philosophy are synonymous, and that they are the appropriate source of all social activism and political thought. By tracing our social work back to this source, we are able to explore sociopolitical concepts freely, and hope to do so in an engaging way. We strive to avoid both snobbery and populism and simply publish cool shit.
We are activist and transgressive (and describe our thoughts on both terms, below). We are unapologetically antifascist, however you want to define that. We are notnecessarily a collection of politically-themed art. We publish a lot of politically-themed art, but also are interested in any art that strives to interact with, and possibly even expound on, social realities, be they obviously political or uncomfortably personal.
We emphasize poetry, but have no patience for simple political opinions expressed with line breaks and rhyme. In fact, we are not interested in simple opinions, at all. Unlikely Stories Mark V is a magazine of artistic and social experimentalism. We do not simplify artistic expression for the purpose of literal political thought. Rather, our goal is to elevate sociopolitical discourse to the beauty and madness of art.
Our definition of “transgressive” is proprietary, idiosyncratic, and possibly delusional, but we believe that when literature legitimately challenges the assumptions of the reader, it has the power to create pragmatic change. We believe that the creation and curation of art is as immediately and politically valid as street activism, and a great deal more valid than sending checks to whichever Political Action Committee promises to halt or restart public horsefucking this week. We believe in aggressively occupying the PAC’s offices and forcing them to listen to us recite our poetry, instead.
What the hell did any of that mean? The guidelines for the other activist literary sites are a lot clearer.
That's because they're new.1 We've been doing it since 1998. In practical terms, they are limited2 and we are insane.
OK, whatever, it's not like I'm really reading this. How do I submit fiction or creative non-fiction?
We assume a base level of writing skill. We do not assume you know how to spell, but we assume you know how to work a spellchecker. We assume a basic familiarity with the rules of English grammar, but are very open to grammatical experimentation.
We judge fiction and creative non-fiction by how much it makes us think. We particularly love fiction when it expresses the opinions of people who do not exist. Be your opinions fictional or otherwise, we do not expect to agree with them. We seek opinions that stimulate us.
If you use mathematical concepts in your story, we’ll run it by a mathematician. If you use engineering jargon, we’ll run it by an engineer. But if you use drug references or any other kind of illegal references, rest assured that you’ll be able to slip anything by us, because we have no idea what you’re talking about, no experience, no friends with experience, and certainly no connections to any illegal activities whatsoever.
We are particularly interested in first-hand accounts of attempts to bring about sociopolitical change. We understand that we might not agree with the change you are trying to bring about, given a basic assumption: we are interested in activism that promotes the rights of humans. Humans aren’t states, they aren’t borders, and they aren’t corporations, and we would gleefully tear down a dozen nations to save one human soul. You can argue that with us, if you like, except we aren’t listening and you should really just take every single flag and fuck away instead.
That established, there are a number of different ways to approach this, and we don’t want to limit you. A story of why you felt motivated to take action? Good stuff. Facts and figures to support your case? Fantastic. Simply an account of your experience, striving to be a force for social change? Also good.
Please understand that you will be published for a worldwide English-speaking audience. Does your language assume a local audience? For example, if you live in the United States, are you using a two-letter postal abbreviation to refer to your state, which might be arcane outside of the US? It’s easy enough for us to correct something like that, but what other assumptions are you making about your audience?
Please send no more than three stories, or no more than 8,000 words, at a time. If you would like to send a single story longer than 8,000 words, please query us first. All fiction and creative non-fiction submissions go to jonathan AT unlikelystories DOT org.
How do I submit poetry?
Meaning is more important than Cadence is more important that Rhyme. This formula will not guarantee a good poem, but failure to consider it will guarantee a bad one. We appreciate cadence and rhyme but by no means require them.
We are interested in the socially relevant and the radically experimental. We are interested in those poetic works that comment on society in some way. However, we believe that art which pushes the boundaries of form or content inherently comments on society. We have read an enormous amount of poetry in a wide variety of genres. What do you have, either in form or content, that we’ve never seen? Send that.
We expect our poets to be more skilled with language than our storytellers. Because of our focus on sociopolitical content, we have published many English-language essays by authors who are not native English speakers. We respectfully remind people that very few poets achieve excellence writing in multiple languages. We are regretfully obliged to reject a large number of poems because the authors do not know English as well as they think they do. Of course, we are always open to translations, and we have published poems in Spanglish and Hawaiian Pidgin—all English-adjacent patois are welcome.
Please send no more than six poems or no more than ten pages at a time. If you have a single poem that is longer than ten pages, drop us a line first and let us know. Visual poetry is very welcome: see our instructions for visual art. All poetry submissions go to jonathan AT unlikelystories DOT org.
What about spoken word?
We are most interested in spoken word videos (please see our section on movies). We occasionally publish audio tracks as accompaniments to published poetry.
We know that “slams” are an event, not a genre, and that the statement “I like poetry but not slam poetry” doesn’t make sense, because the phrase “slam poetry” doesn’t make sense. We condemn the ethnocentric publishers and academics who have declared war on slams. We believe that it is possible for individual poems to work both as spoken-word presentations and page poems, and are very interested in such pieces. Spoken word goes to jonathan AT unlikelystories DOT org—check out our instructions on sending .mp3s or .mp4s.
Beatles or Elvis?
How do I submit my visual art?
We are interested in displaying visual art that pushes convention and alters how we perceive any given form. We are interested in new techniques and new messages of any stripe. We will consider art that makes us feel good, but will not consider art that makes us feel comfortable. We want our perceptions, priorities, and aesthetic questioned.
This doesn’t mean we are fascinated by the lurid. We’ve seen lots of lurid. Drawings of scantily-clad vampires do not alter our perceptions a whit. We are fascinated, not by art that proposes to give answers, but art that insists on asking questions. We believe that good art has inherent social relevance, and in the best art, the social relevance is clear and identifiable. That said, we are not automatically interested in pictures of roughed-up sex workers or starving children. A photo that merely conveys the shittiness of existence is not making social commentary. We know life is shitty. Is there some aspect of life’s shittiness that you’ve thought of that we haven’t? Probably not, but is there at least some way to convey life’s shittiness that no one else has attempted before? Show us that.
We rarely present single works of visual art. We prefer to present virtual galleries of work by an artist or artistic team. To facilitate that, please send six to nine .jpg files to leona AT unlikelystories DOT org. (Remember that this is for screen viewing, rather than print, so medium-resolution should be fine; screens are typically 72 dots per inch.) If you have visual art that cannot be expressed by a .jpg file, please write to us and let us know because we are hell of curious now.
How do I get my music or aural art promoted on Unlikely?
We are interested in showcasing and promoting the works of musicians who are working to change the definition of musical genres. All artists crave recognition, but if you’re hoping to become a Top 40 band, you’re not our thing. If you think you’re a rebel because you’re churning out music that strictly conforms to a rebellious genre, you’re even less our thing. We’re looking for people who push the boundaries. We’re looking for people who use counterpoint in industrial music and wah-wah pedals in their interpretation of Peter & the Wolf. We’re hoping you will subvert our expectations from a specific type of music, or better yet, subvert our expectations about what music is entirely. Genres are the artificial constructs of critics desperate to leave their mark on the uncontrollable force of music. That said, your copy of FruityLoops does not make you a composer.
Should your music have lyrics, we’ll be taking them seriously. You might want to read our comments on poetry, although we’re less dogmatic about lyrics. We particularly like to see the blending of the political and the personal. We find that song lyrics aren’t generally the best place to introduce truly new concepts, though we’d be delighted if you prove us wrong. Music itself is the perfect place, and truly new concepts are what we’re looking for.
When we feature a musician, we expect to be able to present free music, either embedded or as a download. YouTube and Bandcamp embeds are great. Spotify requires that everyone download Spotify. We hate downloading Spotify.
Please don’t send music directly through email. If your music is currently on the web, that would be great, as would be physical media. You can also use a service like WeTransfer.com to send .mp3s. All music submissions go to jonathan AT unlikelystories DOT org.
How do I get my movie presented on Unlikely?
Our comments on visual art and storytelling should give you a pretty good idea of what we look for in a scripted movie, and we’re also very interested in music and spoken word videos that are consistent with the Unlikely aesthetic.
We love humor. We find Andy Kaufman to be the funniest and most relevant comic for our era. We find experiments funny, the funny experimental, and find both to inherently include social commentary. We’d love to hear from those who agree.
We’re happy to embed YouTube or Vimeo videos. We’re also happy to embed .mp4s directly, but please don’t go emailing us with those things; give us a link where we can download and check ’em out. Please send the relevant link to leona AT unlikelystories DOT org.
Do you sometimes publish full-length manuscripts or chapbooks?
I have foolishly had a book or project published by someone other than Unlikely Books. Might you be willing to review it, or interview me about it?
dan raphael is our staff reviewer. His time is finite, and the list of books being published isn't, but he might nonetheless be interested in reviewing your work. Drop him a line dan AT unlikelystories DOT org.
I've written some criticism of someone's art/ someone's written some criticism of my art. Can it be published on Unlikely?
We love reviews of small press books, as well as reviews and criticism of more mainstream works.
We believe that it is high time art critics took the path of Gonzo journalism. We aren’t horribly interested in whether you like a particular piece of art, or whether you think we’d like it, although you should feel free to share this information. We are more interested in how a piece of art has impacted (or will impact, or could impact) culture, pop culture, or you personally. Tell us what it meant when Lauren Bacall came out of hiding to do The Mirror Has Two Faces. Tell us why Digimon: The Movie scared you or Invasion of the Body Snatchers made you horny. If we want facts on the artwork or artist, there are many sites where we can find them: send us opinions and navel-gazing, not plot summaries. Please send all reviews to jonathan AT unlikelystories DOT org.
Do you do live events?
Frequently! Our Editor and Art Director both create and curate a wide variety of live events throughout North America: sometimes as Unlikely, sometimes under other names or as members of other organizations. Our events are usually free and open to the public. We generally select our performers, then invite them privately, though you're welcome to query.
Is this a paying market?
Honey, we can't even find the market.
Who built this site?
Jonathan Penton using Drupal, with a banner by K.R. Copeland. The banner art is based on the façade of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, D.C., designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
I didn’t read any of that! It was a lot of pretentious philosophical nonsense, and all I wanted to know is whether I should be formatting my work in Times New Roman or Garamond. Don’t you have guidelines like that?
We don’t care what font you send your work in. We don’t care if you attach it or paste it in the body of an email. We disrecommend including your full address and phone number when writing to some people on the Internet you don’t know, but feel free to do that if you think you’re supposed to.
We accept simultaneous submissions. We expect you to let us know if they are accepted elsewhere; we will congratulate you. If, on the other hand, we accept your work, and you claim that it was just accepted elsewhere minutes ago and that’s why you couldn’t inform us, we will respectfully disbelieve you. If you tell us that you can no longer offer your work for publication after we’ve published it, we will sever ties with you.
Our policy on previously-published work is flexible. We don’t want work that our readers might have read. If it was published on the web in the past couple of years, especially in a similar journal, or if it was published in a very widely-distributed print journal within the past few years, we don’t want it. If it was published in a 500-copy ’zine ten years ago, please send it. If it was published online, but the publisher has disappeared from the web, please send it. We will assume full transparency and make decisions on a case-by-case basis.
We attempt to answer all submissions within six to eight weeks. If you've been waiting longer than eight weeks, please feel free to query. We might have lost it! We might just be running behind! We do both those things, some times.
Please feel free to send a bio of up to 100 words, and/or a headshot of yourself, which might be resized upon publication.
If this is your first time submitting to a literary journal, you might want to invest in a (not necessarily current) copy of Writer’s Market from Writers’ Digest—not for the magazine listings, but for the articles on professional letter writing. They’re a lot more formal than we are, but they will teach you the social norms of the weird little world of literature.