The Bright Wall/Dark Room Guide to Pitching & Submitting
So What Is Bright Wall/Dark Room?
Thanks for asking! We’re an online journal devoted to long-form critical discussion of the intersection between film/TV and the business of being alive. The site was founded in 2009 with a goal of pushing the boundaries of typical online film writing—we look for essays not just from critics and film scholars but from poets, playwrights, novelists, comedians, and creative types of all stripes interested in experimenting with what film analysis can be.
For the first 50 issues, we operated as a monthly magazine, but in 2017 we switched to our current model: publishing three essays per week, mostly centering on a monthly theme. Typically announced the second week of the month at our submissions page and on Twitter with a three-week submission window, these themes range from the hyper-specific (Elaine May; Los Angeles) to the more abstract (Resilience; Home) to the high-concept (Second Time Around; Survival Kit). We also publish a few “Extras” per month, including off-theme essays, festival coverage, and interviews (more on those last two in the next section).
What Kind of Stuff Do You Publish?
We know, everyone says it—and who has the time to read through every site on the internet, honestly—but given how we value idiosyncrasy, we do strongly recommend familiarizing yourself with the sort of work we publish. To make things convenient, here are some examples emblematic of the range of what “a Bright Wall/Dark Room piece” might look like:
We do publish coverage from somemajorfilm festivals, but typically only by writers we already have a strong working relationship with, so reaching out in hopes of citing us in your accreditation application is not likely to be a good use of time.
OK, What Kind of Stuff Don’t You Publish?
– Traditional reviews (typical criticism is an art, and one we love, but as we publish only about 12 pieces per month, we just don’t have space)
– Traditional features (i.e. this is not the place for your 1,200-word 20th-anniversary retrospective on Meet the Parents—again, those are often valuable and a lot of fun, but see above re: limited space)
– Hit pieces (i.e. this is not the place to shred a movie that infuriated you. We certainly appreciate a thoughtful exploration of a movie’s flaws, but we’d like it to demonstrate generosity of spirit rather than bitterness)
Fantastic! There are two methods to have your work considered, so feel free to consult the one most appropriate to you:
Can I Pitch?
Writers with significant portfolios of long-form writing are welcome to send a pitch to [email protected]. Please include a few links to published works at outlets of note—i.e. links to pieces at your blog or the indie site you and your friends run will likely not be quite enough to demonstrate an ability to skip the submission process.
What we look for in a pitch:
– A projected word count
– A sense of why this piece belongs specifically at BW/DR—i.e. there’s an unusual depth, specificity, personal significance, or some other element that puts it off the beaten path (if you’re not actually familiar with the site, we can usually tell)
What we prefer not to see in a pitch:
– Language that feels clearly copy-pasted from pitches sent to other sites (at the bare minimum, try not to accidentally refer to us by another site’s name)
– Excessive snark, sarcasm, or eye-rolling without an accompanying sense of playful self-awareness
– “Pegs” to current events are perfectly fine, but not a particularly significant selling-point—we like our essays to be as relevant five years from now as five days
Please be advised that we may ask for a follow-up pitch with a more extensive outline or a few spec paragraphs; as we look for work that falls outside the norm, it’s sometimes hard to gauge how successful a piece might be just based on a traditional pitch, even from a writer with a strong portfolio.
If you don’t hear back on your pitch within a week, please feel free to send a courteous follow-up—we’re a small staff and we receive a high volume of interest, so some messages do slip through the cracks, and if yours is one of them, please accept our sincere apologies.
Or Should I Submit?
We love discovering new voices and seeing writers experiment with a new form, but that willingness to walk out on a limb with someone does mean we need to ask writers without significant professional experience to submit a first draft on spec—this does not mean an incomplete draft, which are typically rejected out of hand, and while ensuring us you’re aware of rough spots is appreciated, do try to put your best foot forward as we can’t take it on faith that an iffy first draft can be revised into something publishable.
What we look for in a submission:
– A confident voice that’s willing to risk vulnerability
– A strong command of craft—clear sentence structure, lack of grammatical errors/typos, etc.
– A robust exploration of the topic (i.e. unless every word is gold, we rarely accept pieces running three pages or under)
– Ambitious and unusual forms
What we prefer not to see in a submission:
– An abundance of summary
– An excessively dry or academic tone
– An excessive focus on the specifics of your viewing circumstances unless it’s thematically essential to the piece
– Excessive snark, sarcasm, or eye-rolling without an accompanying sense of playful self-awareness
Though we would love to be able to provide individualized feedback after writers put their time and energy into a piece, we’re unfortunately not able to offer that service at this time.
Updated April 2021: In response to a very high volume of interest (what a wonderful problem to have!) and the severely limited time and energy of our editorial staff (a less-wonderful problem!), we have made the decision to close down our “Off-Theme Submissions” form. This means if you fall into the “Should I Submit?” category, the best way to establish a relationship with us is to submit under one of our monthly themes—which are often flexible enough that if you have a topic you’re dying to write about, there’s a good chance you’ll find an appropriate window within a few months. This also means we’ll no longer be able to offer the grace period for late submissions that we’ve offered since mid-2020. We know this might lead to some disappointment and frustration, so please accept our regrets on that—we’re a small staff, and we do what we can, which isn’t always as much as we’d like!
What Should I Put in My Cover Letter?
We get this one a lot, and the answer is: don’t overthink it! Just briefly introduce yourself and give us a sense of whose voice we’re about to experience. Courteous brevity is certainly appreciated, and trying too hard to be clever might backfire. Imagine meeting us in person and handing us a paper copy of your piece—you don’t want to shove it at us silently and storm away, but excessive flair and cuteness might raise an eyebrow.
What Can I Expect If I’m Accepted?
We believe in a collaborative editing process to ensure everyone feels comfortable with what ends up on the site. These notes can range from a few simple line edits to multiple rounds of energetic revision, and we ask that our writers be up for collaborating in this way. Our dual commitment to ambitious work and publishing emerging voices means sometimes accepting pieces in which we see room for improvement, and we believe in the writer’s right to make those changes and improvements themselves (though we do reserve the right to make minor cosmetic tweaks between editing and posting). For the most part, writers seem to enjoy the process as much as we do, and we frequently hear that the experience was significant to the development of their craft, which makes us very happy!
What Do You Pay?
We pay $100 per essay. Payment is remitted via PayPal (though we’re open to other methods if you prefer) within two weeks of publication upon receipt of a signed copy of our freelance contract. We do not require invoices, and though we do our best not to be one of those sites that need to be hounded to pay freelancers, if you don’t receive payment within two weeks, we encourage you to send a courteous nudge to [email protected]. We’re only human, and our best-laid plans can go awry.
We believe strongly in paying writers what they’re worth, so we’re always working to raise our rates closer to industry standards, but be assured that all proceeds from subscriptions and Patreon (minus site fees & overhead) go directly to our writers and artists with all editorial work done on a volunteer basis. As we’re fully reader-supported (no ads now, no ads ever) the best way to help raise our rates is to help spread the word about the site!
Anything Else I Should Know?
We have a zero-tolerance policy for hate speech or discrimination against any group. We believe in all individuals’ right to live and express themselves freely (to the point that it doesn’t violate that first policy), and work by any writer who openly questions or supports efforts to suppress that freedom—either in their submission or elsewhere—will not be considered. In the past few years we have used our platform to raise money for organizations supporting trans rights, abortion access, reuniting families separated at the border, bail funding, justice system reformation, anti-racism, Black Lives Matter, and more. If you don’t believe these pursuits are worthwhile, we encourage you to take your work elsewhere.
Our editor-in-chief only tried a croissant for the first time a couple of years ago and came to us very excited about the discovery only to realize we were all basically familiar with the ubiquitous pastry. That’s not really something you need to know, just a palate cleanser to balance out the seriousness of that last item.
Happy watching, happy writing, and we look forward to your pitches and submissions!