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The Believer submissions guide
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Updated 11/5/21. Contact daniel.gumbiner@unlv.edu with queries, concerns, and compliments.

HOW TO WRITE FOR THE BELIEVER

Hello! We’re very happy that you’re interested in writing for The Believer. We created this submissions guide to demystify our assigning process and to invite in writers who feel they are on the outside of our editorial gate. Please review the contacts below; it will help us and you if your stories are directed to the right editor. Please know that we are a small publication with a largely part-time staff, so responses may take time.

We consider submissions for every part of the magazine.

*note that this email address has been recently changed

>> see the FEATURES guide

>> see the INTERVIEWS guide

>> see the REVIEWS guide

>> see the DEPARTMENTS guide

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FEATURES

Note: Feature submissions are currently closed.

An attempt to describe our feature stories and what they do

We publish essays and longform journalism with a literary and philosophical bent. The stories we publish in the magazine can’t generally be described as “timely” and don’t have a “peg”—instead, we like writing on topics that might initially seem marginal or even useless but that, to the writer, feel urgent and necessary. Another way to put it is that our stories offer serious investigation into subjects not typically thought worthy of serious investigation. Or: they offer an unfamiliar way of looking at a familiar topic. If your story is surprising, that’s a good start. If it’s fun, that’s even better.

Writers should know that we often receive pitches for personal essays, but tend not to publish pieces that hew closely to that form. In some cases—not all—our stories do have a personal element to them, in that the writer has a personal relationship to the subject of inquiry. We’re particularly interested in work that matches reportage with a distinct, original voice. In all cases, a story for The Believer should ignite our curiosity and be a delight to read.

A field guide to some recent and non-recent stories, and why we published them

Good Shepherds, by Meghan O'Gieblyn, offers a meticulously researched and original critique of AI.

Las Marthas, by Jordan Kisner, is a work of first-person reportage that opens a window into larger questions about American identity.

Ben Mauk collected oral histories from Xinjiang that are deeply reported, moving, and impressive in scope.

Under the Weather, by Ash Sanders, articulated what it was like to feel climate grief before many people had a name for it.

If He Hollers Let Him Go, by Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, is a Believer classic: a non-profile of Dave Chappelle and a meditation on Black celebrity.

The Sentence is a Lonely Place, by Gary Lutz, is a language nerd deep-dive—a recurring form in the magazine.

Remote Control, by Sarah Marshall, was the first longform piece to provide a counternarrative to what Americans thought they knew about Tonya Harding.

Jeannie Vanasco’s What’s in a Necronym is a unique, unpredictable, and deeply personal story that only she could have told.

Theodore McDermott’s The Lights Go On and You Reach for Your Hat is a critical appreciation of Bobcat Goldthwait that no one asked for and no one needed—but here it is.

Our features are long

Most features we publish range from 4,000 to 8,000 words, but we’re open to other proposals.

Successful pitches generally include these things

Pitches that catch our eye will demonstrate that you’ve identified the contours of your story and thought deeply about it, and that you’ve done some early legwork of reporting or research. Pitches that contain a topic or a question but that lack a story or an argument are unlikely to proceed. We are a literary publication, so please do give us a sample of your intended writing voice.

Feel free to include links to past work that is relevant or that you’re proud of, but please don’t be daunted if you haven’t been published much, or even at all—a good pitch always speaks for itself. We welcome writers who aren’t yet on our radar. 

We will never ask for writing on spec, but we can consider already completed manuscripts. If you have a full draft, then please also include a synopsis in the form of a pitch.

The process of submitting

Please send to editors@believermag.com. You will receive a response within 14 days. If you don’t, please follow up! We are fine with simultaneous submissions; if you don’t get a reply within a timeframe that suits your story, take it elsewhere. Please know that we’re a small magazine with a long lead time, and we move slowly.

What to expect for payment

We pay a flat rate of $1,000 for feature articles. We realize that this fee is inadequate support for reported articles; if we agree on such a story we will work with you to try to find outside funding. Contributors are paid upon publication.

What to expect from your editor

Editors who work on this section include Daniel Levin Becker, Hayden Bennett, Susana Ferreira, and Daniel Gumbiner—we all respond to pitches based on interest and availability. Upon assignment of your story, you will receive a contract and your editor will have a conversation with you about expectations and a timeline for revisions. We see the editing process as a collaboration to benefit the story, and it will receive our best care and attention—depending on the story, this may require four or five or six rounds of editing. Before publication, your story will go through a top read, a copy read, and fact checking. In general, you can expect your editor to act in the best interest of the story, and to be your advocate.

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INTERVIEWS

Note: Interview submissions are currently closed.

Believer interviews are usually long, not very timely, and thorough. We don’t publish interviews that are promotional or pegged to anything but the writer’s curiosity and deep interest in the subject(s) they’ve chosen. We try not to run more than one interview with the same subject, so if we’ve already featured them, we won’t likely assign a second talk. We don’t publish interviews with debut novelists, unless that person has another body of work to refer to besides their book; we tend to prefer mid- and late-career cultural figures who we haven’t yet devoted space to in the magazine. We like writers (of course), artists, philosophers, freestyle rappers, choreographers, activists, experts on fermented foods, oboe players, visionary filmmakers, stand-up geniuses, B-movie stalwarts, celebrities who have receded out of the spotlight, inimitable radio hosts, chefs who source rare spices, specialists in extraterrestrial communication, rock-and-roll pioneers, iconic pattern designers, people who know a lot about both crystals and municipal infrastructure, and anyone else who has something thoughtful and edifying to say. We like our interviews to feel, for readers, like being clued into the most interesting back-and-forth at a book party run by a small but influential press; or overhearing a really good conversation on a bus; or witnessing a riveting exchange between stand-ups at the comics’ table near the back of the club; or a thoughtful dialogue between a curious interlocutor and someone described as being a “rockstar scientist” but who is really just a down-to-earth smart person; or receiving bits and pieces of a coffee meeting between a mentor and student who haven’t spoken in a long time. (The meeting is happening inside a really tiny cafe, so you can hear everything.)

Interview Types, Lengths, and Rates

We run feature interviews that are wide-ranging and long. Feature talks are typically 3,000-5,000 words in length, but have sometimes been longer. We pay $550 for those. Process interviews concern the making of a particular work of art (joke, skateboard trick, painting, short film, dessert, review, etc.), range between 2,000 and 3,000 words, and pay $350. Microinterviews run interstitially throughout the magazine in bursts, and concern various topics of conversation with one very compelling person. They are typically 1,500-2,000 words, and pay $250. Payment for all interview types is issued upon publication.

Pitches

Please send a paragraph or so about the person or people you’d like to interview for the magazine to r_simonini@yahoo.com. Pitches that are tied to a particular book/movie/art exhibition are sometimes OK, but, again, we prefer for our interviews to be untethered from the promotional machine or anything particularly topical or timely. We’d like our talks to be expansive and cover the subject’s entire life and career. Ideally, we’d like to receive pitches for people who have not yet appeared in The Believer, so please make sure to check our archives before pitching us. Full drafts of interviews that have a Believer sensibility are acceptable to send with a note, but we prefer to shape the course of the interview from pitch to publication.

Timeline

The magazine has a four-month lead time for print, so pieces that we want to run in the Dec/Jan issue, for instance, should be finalized by June. We publish five print issues per year (Feb/Mar, Apr/May, Summer, Oct/Nov, and Dec/Jan), and our last issue is usually a themed issue.

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REVIEWS / THE FIELD

Note: Review submissions are currently closed.

Believer reviews are timely and tardy dispatches from the culture. We are interested in writing that considers upcoming, neglected, underappreciated, and/or misunderstood works—books, films, TV, art, music, performance, and so forth. Of particular interest is how these works may be in conversation with other works (contemporary and historical) and how they relate to broader cultural, societal, and political trends. If there’s a personal element, that can help (though not always).

Types of reviews we run

Essays that survey works around a specific theme. Occasionally, even often, these are topics that have been misrepresented or misunderstood by others. “The Last Black Stage,” by Harmony Holiday, examines backstage as a sacred space for Black performers. “Art by Women About Women Making Art About Women,” by Melissa Febos, is a personal history of films shorn from the male gaze. Kyle Paoletta’s “News of Life,” about the literature of the City Southwest, is another example, though it’s technically feature length.

Reviews that put two works in conversation, one contemporary and one less contemporary. Sharon Marcus’s essay Unfortunately, I Like It Too,” which pairs Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends with its forebear Françoise Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse, is an intelligent and fluid example of this. Niela Orr’s “Long Time Woman,” exploring questions of aging and visibility in Jackie Brown and Better Things, is an outstanding feature-length example.

Reviews that primarily focus on a single work. Ideally these would employ an uncommon approach or convey a deeply informed perspective. Hayden Bennett’s recommendation of Samuel Delany’s autobiography, The Motion of Light in Water, exists in a space, at 470 words, between review and microreview length. But more importantly, it’s a stylish weaving of thematic elements, biographical detail, and general overview of the work.

Microreviews of works around a theme. Ismail Muhammad’s suite of microreviews about works that made him feel less lonely is both focused and expansive. Like all reviews, they’re springboards to curiosities, desires, and deeper thoughts.

Rates and pitching

Our reviews tend to run in the 1200–2500-word range. Reviews pay $150–300, depending on length. Microreviews pay $50 a piece.

When pitching please include a few paragraphs about why this work is personally compelling to you, what makes it distinctive from other works like it, and why it’s something that should demand our attention now. It would be helpful, too, if you are able to give a sense of how your own particular approach and/or experience would make the essay original and lasting. Links to a few previous clips are encouraged, when possible, but the most important thing is the pitch itself.

Finally, please don’t scattershot multiple pitches in one email. Instead, we would prefer you to focus on the story you are most compelled to write.


Pitches for reviews can be directed to
james@believermag.com. 

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DEPARTMENTS

Note: Department submissions are currently closed.

Believer departments are raves and recommendations of items typically deemed beneath serious literary consideration. They are meant to be artful, engaging, and light (which isn’t to say slight), and the ones that please us the most often include elements that are surprising, freewheeling, and/or unorthodox. Past departments have taken the form of reviews of household objects, reports from mundane places, definitions of words, and instructions on how to do inessential tasks.

Some recent departments

Alejandro Zambra’s review of his son’s trilingual toy octopus is a puckish, unexpectedly thorough, and wonderfully imaginative analysis of a child’s toy.

Eileen Myles’s dispatch from Houston’s Hobby Airport is a nimble, engaging, and hilarious tour of a space that is both commonplace and utterly American.

Eugene Lim’s guide on how to make a “French” exit is a wonderfully elliptical wolf in sheep’s clothing: a prose poem and a Kafkaesque conundrum cloaked in the innocuous format of a how-to guide.

Lauren Oyler’s review of the phenomenon known as “table season” strikes a wonderful balance between the ordinary and the curious.

Jenny Odell’s field guide to birdsong

Dawn Lundy Martin’s guide to removing a lost tampon

Lucy Ives’s review of the fisher cat

Bryan Washington’s dispatch from The Loop

Mallika Rao’s history of the word jugaad

The sweet spot for these tends to be around 1000–1200 words, but some have turned out longer, or shorter, and worked nicely. The standard fee for departments is $300. Pitches for departments can be directed to james.yeh@unlv.edu.