Riya M. Cyriac is the founder and Executive Director of the Young Writers Initiative and the editor-in-chief of Juven Magazine. She has been writing seriously for eight years and has worked on many novels and anthologies. You can find her work on the Ambient Heights Anthology, Inside of Me Anthology, and Misplaced Devotion anthology. She also runs a writing blog, which you can find at riyamcyriac.home.blog.
The world of literary magazine submissions can often feel overwhelming to emerging writers; there’s a dizzying amount of wonderful opportunities to explore. What advice would you have for emerging writers trying to orient themselves within the publishing world?
Something I tell everyone at The Young Writers Initiative when they want to start submitting is to never compromise your style, vision, or voice for a publication. There are a plethora of amazing publishers out there, all with a unique vision, taste, and purpose, so instead of trying to write to fit their aesthetic, find publications that fit yours. Submitting can be addicting–there is a serotonin surge that overrides you when you get that acceptance, but also that drop in your gut when you get the inevitable rejection. We’ll chase the euphoria of acceptances to the point that we (or at least I) compromise how we write. But at least in my experience, that stopped as soon as I lost my voice. As I tried to fit the standard, I got more rejections, while when I wrote in my natural voice, I got more acceptances. Be yourself and realize that acceptances are so subjective, and rejection doesn’t mean your piece is necessarily bad, but just not a fit.
As Editor-In-Chief for Juven Magazine, you get the very fun opportunity to read a lot of awesome work from emerging writers. What does your ideal submission look like?
Reading submissions is one of my favorite things to do! I try to read every submission, so I have a decent grasp of what an ideal Juven submission looks like. Juven is a magazine that always looks to warp perspectives. We want that juvenile curiosity that makes us all expand our worldview. That could mean telling a story from an unconventional perspective or adding a message that isn’t as common. We want stories that make us sit and think “wow, I never thought of this that way.”
First and foremost, does it follow submission guidelines? For us, anonymity is very important, so even if the piece is excellent, if it doesn’t follow the guidelines, it’s automatically out of consideration. Then, we are looking to see if the piece fits our vision for the issue. That is something that’s hard for submitters to know about, which is why we have themed submissions every other cycle. Then, we look at the quality of the piece: does it fit our publishing standards, aka have good grammar, rhythm, flow, plot, characters, etc. To get a grasp of that, just read our previous issues. Then, we look at the “wow” factor. How much does this piece shock us or tell us something we don’t consider often? When it has that factor, it’s easy for us to root for the piece. Finally, we look at the balance of the issue. Do we already have enough of this type of story or perspective? Is it something that will add depth to the issue? These factors are largely out of the submitter’s control, but when we feel like we’re missing something in our Issue during sub-periods, we’ll tweet about it, so keep a lookout for that!
They say the best writers are the best readers. If you had to make one piece of writing “required reading” for any writer, what would it be and why?
Hands down, Ilya Kaminsky’s “What We Cannot Hear.” I read this poem back when I was ardently a fiction writer and didn’t even step into poetry, but this poem changed my entire perspective on not only poetry, but storytelling, war, love, and life. It’s one that I’ll have printed in my dorm room and one that I’ll carry with me when I need inspiration. This poem is so simple, yet so haunting, and it tells an aching story without telling us anything at all. The simple imagery of the pianos at the bridge and the metaphor it represents personally resonates with me. It’s a large reason why I started writing poetry. Before, I didn’t consider that poetry could be narrative, but it opened a world for me.
The work of starting any organization is often formidably frontloaded. As somebody who’s managing a very successful writing nonprofit, what advice do you have for those attempting to start up their own community organizing projects?
Thank you! The Young Writers Initiative is my heart, but it took work for it to grow to where it is now. I think the best piece of advice I have is to get a great team. TYWI would not be where it is if it weren’t for the amazing people that helped kicked it off the ground and those who still grow and maintain it. When you find your “why” or purpose of your nonprofit, people will start to gravitate to it if they align with the mission. When you pick the right people. your organization will have the support that it needs to get on it’s feet. You can’t do it alone, and it took me a long time to learn that.
For many, one of the hardest parts about writing is fitting it into their already busy schedules. How do you juggle your outside obligations with making space to sit down and write?
Truthfully, I do have a hard time with my balance, but that’s because I consider writing as my hobby rather than something that defines my purpose. Rather, I find organizing and running TYWI and our adjacent projects is my passion, and no matter how busy I am, I always try to make time for it. However, I believe that consistency is essential to those pursuing writing as a career or major passion. Additionally, I’ve realized that it’s not that I don’t have enough time, but that I’m not optimizing my time to do everything I want (and need) to do. My advice would be to follow the five-second rule. A lot of times, our brain actively resists things it knows will be work, but once you sit down for five seconds and actually start doing it, that procrastination slightly fades away. So not to be generic, but just do it.
What’s next for TYWI? Or just for you personally? Any projects or work that you’re excited about?
I love this question! TYWI has had such an eventful summer, but we’re probably going to do even more in the fall! We have a podcast, High School Chapters Program, and Book Club coming up, plus preparation for our next big event and summer programs, so we’re super excited! As for me, I’ll be starting my freshman year at UT Austin which I’m super excited about!
If you’re a young writer who is looking for opportunities, volunteer hours, or so many other things, check out TYWI! We’d love to welcome you to our little family 🙂
Christian Butterfield is an 18-year-old poet/essayist/totebag-enthusiast from Bowling Green, Kentucky. In 2019, he served as the National Student Poet of the Southeast, and his work has since been published/recognized by Best Teen Writing, the YoungArts Foundation and The Adroit Journal. He reads for EX/POST Magazine and was a 2020 Adroit Mentee in Creative Nonfiction.