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Gigi Will Know: How Do I Counter Incarceration?

Dear Gigi, I am an incarcerated writer. I have no access to computers or the internet but am determined to begin submitting some short fiction, essays, and poetry to magazines and journals. I have a family member who would scan and email my work for submission, but everything is handwritten. Would my incarceration and/or handwritten manuscripts deter editors from taking my work seriously and seeing me as a valuable and viable contributor to their publications? —Hello from the Other Side

Dear Hello,

Oooooh, this question really makes me mad because the answer is yes. Some literary magazines will scoff at your submission. This is not your fault, and it is part of a system that keeps publishing in the hands of the resourced privileged. I am sorry.

I want to tell you to screw ‘em, submit anyway; I want to tell you to ignore everything and do what works for you because your work deserves to be read just as much as any person who has access to a computer. But this would not be good advice.

So here is some potentially useful advice:

  1. You can ask your relative to look into OCR (optical character recognition) apps for their phone. Google Lens is one, and it is free, and it will “read” your words using the camera on their smartphone and then turn them into text. On an iPhone, if your helper takes a picture of your submission, there is an option to have iPhotos read your text, too. Your helper will have to proofread the submission, though, and your handwriting should be legible.
  2. You can use a recorder (my friends who have taught in prisons tell me these are allowed, but your prison may be different) and ask your helper to transcribe your words.

I will also note some literary magazine editors will happily read your handwritten submission, especially if your relative mentions that you are incarcerated and have limited access to technology.

You also asked if the fact of your incarceration would turn editors off of reading your work. There really is only one answer there, and that is that you don’t want to publish with a publication that would discriminate based on a flawed system. I can’t, off the top of my head, think of a publication that would refuse to read your work purely due to your current situation.

I hope this is helpful. Yours in solidarity,

—Gigi