Name: Gretchen Gales
College & Majors/Minors: B.A. in English and History, minor in Creative Writing
Current Location: Richmond, Virginia
Current Form of Employment: Freelance Writer and Marketing Intern at Legacy Navigator
Where do you work and what is your current position?
As a freelancer, I put my eggs in so many baskets, the Easter Bunny is angry with me. Independently, I have had bylines in Ms., The Establishment, Bustle, and more. I’m currently the managing editor of Quail Bell Magazine, an online and occasional print publication exploring the magic and beauty of culture, history, feminism, folklore, and much more. Christine Stoddard and I work together with the other (volunteer, I should add) editors and staff writers to produce the best possible experience for our readers. We recently created more narrowed-down editor roles. We promoted Ren Martinez as the fiction editor, and if you take a peek at some of her work—especially her short stories—it was an easy choice. Archita Mittra is our poetry editor. She’s achieved a lot at a young age as well, including producing haunting, aesthetically pleasing written and art work. Lashelle Johnson is our essay editor and curates essays from diverse voices. She also brings her own voice into the mix, tackling topics about race, gender and more. Erynn Porter, Ghia Vitale, Amy Joyce, Julian Drury, and Melanie Bikowski are our hard-working assistant editors. Quail Bell wouldn’t be the same without our dedicated volunteers.
I am also an intern at Legacy Navigator, a real estate liquidator specializing in grief. It is a very compassionate company. Everyone values your input and we all have fabulous rapport. You see a lot of companies try and cultivate a “family” relationship to improve the company’s morale, but I would say this is the first job where I feel I could be upfront and communicate exactly what I’m feeling at all times. They value their employee’s mental health and respect your limits. I don’t feel the normal urge to be a “yes woman” and agree to do absolutely everything to get on anyone’s good side. In other words, I have had a great internship experience.
Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).
My first true writing job was working with Christine Stoddard as managing editor of Quail Bell Magazine. I found out about Quail Bell by walking around during an Art Walk and purchased our two anthologies. I read them and immediately fell in love, determined that I would place my work in the magazine someday. Before I was promoted to managing editor, I was brought on board as a volunteer staff writer, then an assistant editor, and finally to where I am today. I essentially help sort through submissions for quality work that speaks to our mission as well as curating pieces for special projects. We love beautiful and haunting pieces. I’m always excited to give the go-ahead to editors about which pieces to accept. We have also been taking the initiative to make more original artwork to pair with submissions so that every piece is unique. The real moral of the story is to spend your last $20 on books, specifically small indie publishers.
What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?
Being mentored by Christine Stoddard was an amazing opportunity. After a summer internship I had initially signed up for went sour—always investigate a magazine AND their editors before accepting an opportunity—Christine generously offered to be my mentor for the summer and teach me all about how to find work and refine my pitches for larger chances of success. She is a superstar, but still makes time to share her own knowledge with fledgling writers. Finding someone who is willing to be a mentor to you is a remarkable experience. I had admired Quail Bell early in my undergraduate career, so getting a poem published in the publication was already surreal. I never would have imagined I would get this far.
What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?
I sought out internship opportunities and jumped at interesting opportunities I saw on social media. There are groups for submission calls on Facebook all over the place. Join them and see what you can find. I also went to my first AWP conference this year in Washington, D.C. I had a blast, and hope I can attend again in the near future. It is a writer’s absolute dream. The book fair alone was like trick-or-treating for bookworm adults.
What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?
Actively look for opportunities to submit your writing. Just because you’re in college (or fresh out of college) doesn’t mean you shouldn’t already be looking out for submission and pitching opportunities. Yes, that includes your “dream” magazines. Aim big! Most of my bigger bylines were snatched up after I submitted a pitch or draft just to see what would happen. If you don’t know where to start, Submittable just added a Discover feature with filters, so you can find the perfect opportunity for you.
You should also follow a variety of literary magazines—small and large—on various social media outlets. Some people believe that all writers are recluses and anti-social, but that is farther from the truth. I don’t think something like the AWP conference could exist if writers didn’t have a desire to talk to one another about their ideas and projects.
Oh, don’t forget to read. I know time is limited in college and you’re really only focusing on readings assigned by your professors, but I promise it is manageable. Take a moment every day to read a short article or piece that pertains to your writing interests. It can be a source of motivation, inspiration, and a distraction from the normal college-related stress. Plus, you’ll get a sense of what you want your own writing style to be like.
Finally, balance the work you need to do for day to day living with creative work. It is true that you probably will not make a sustainable living on your creative works right after college, and it is an incredibly hard journey to get there. But if you are persistent and work hard, you can find career opportunities that are enjoyable and stable. That means you can more time to focus on your creative endeavors, like that could-be bestseller!