Writer Interview: Michael Lee Johnson

Welcome to the first Writer Interview on the Peeking Cat blog! We’re starting off this new series of interviews with some words from the man who inspired me to start this. Michael Lee Johnson is a prolific writer who has been published in Peeking Cat Poetry Magazine several times and has had hundreds of poems published over the years. Learning about how widely published he is, I wondered what his process is when it comes to submitting his work to literary magazines. I thought an interview would be the best way to find out and share this knowledge with Peeking Cat readers, and so the first interview was born. And then I thought how interesting it would be to hear from lots of different writers and find out what motivates them, how they feel about writing, and what their writing dreams are. So every week we will be posting an interview with a different writer.

With no further ado, here is the interview with Michael Lee Johnson!

How many publications do you submit to, and how often does your work get accepted?
Number one, I’m a prolific poet with over 450 published poems and likely another 300 or so starter poems so far not gotten back to. I submit to approximately 150-250 publishers per month. I have over 2,500 poetry editors/publishers in my spreadsheet forever changing adding and dropping.  Experts claim the acceptance ratio is roughly 1-3% if you are good. I keep monthly records as much as time allows. Though it varies, at times I get accepted as high as 17%-20%, sometimes as low as 7-9%, an average of 12-14% acceptance. I am well above the norm. What you have to take into consideration, so not to get discouraged, is all the reasons you do not get published. This list is nearly endless:  the editor simply doesn’t like your style, you submit too often and get ignored, you submitted at the wrong time of year or month, you didn’t realize the publication was theme oriented, the publication changed from email to submission manager and you get ignored, the publication is dead and gone but no one notifies you, they only publish once a year, you didn’t follow guidelines, the editor is busy with his real job or his own writing efforts and simply is behind. Many of these reasons for rejection or no response has little to do with the quality of your work.
When you’re submitting your writing to a literary magazine, how do you decide which ones to submit to?
I make no prejudgment about any editor or publication or type of publication or how long it has been around etc. Getting your work published is number 1. I’m a poet’s editor – I believe a poet owns his own poetry, and while some publications don’t want to see published work, I consider it a sign of accomplishment that others have found my work good enough to want to republish it. I would say 96% of publishers are good people and likely poets or writers themselves. When you run across the small percentage you do not get along with or have conflicts with, delete them and move on, add new publishing opportunities and sites. I have some editors who accept my poetry over and over again, I have some who never do, then again the “never do” surprises me on occasion and accepts a poem out of the blue.
What motivates you to keep writing?
In one word-LEGACY, the hope to have some part of me show purpose to myself, my God and others for being on this earth at one time. I let no one stand in my way or tell me I’m no good. I invite completion, I don’t run from it.

I started writing in 1967, way before the internet in the days of typewriters, torn out pages, send submissions by mail, no photocopies, with return envelope and stamps and original typewritten pages of each poem and no responses or seldom-acceptances or a photocopied rejection slip. I started out like many writing about love and love lost, but have diversified to nature, history, storytelling, mental illness, and street life.
What advice would you have for a writer who is just starting to submit their work to magazines and journals?
Number one, never give up, editors put their pants on the same way you do. Never take another rejection that makes you feel like rejecting yourself. Cancel doubters out of your mind and move on.  Critics are not writers, they never show their own work. Have hope and faith in someone other than you who embodies the spirit within you; call it God.
What writing achievement or piece of work are you most proud of?
Very difficult question. While in exile, Vietnam War, I wanted to write a novel called “The Lost American” but it never materialized. It turned in time to establish who I really am – a poet. “The Lost American: From Exile to Freedom” turned out to be a full-blown poetry book. Few people even know where to find it and it certainly needs revisions since I’m always revising errors in my poetry to the next version number.
What are your writing plans for the future?


In the last year or two I have spent a lot of time with my successful Facebook poetry group with over 11,000 members by the time this gets published. I have published a very successful poetry anthology called “Moonlight Dreamers of Yellow Haze (on Amazon.comand CreateSpace). I’m working on the second poetry anthology for this group to be released in March 2017 called Dandelion in a Vase of Roses. After this I plan to relax and focus on 6-8 chapbooks of poetry of my own which will hopefully end up in a complete book of poems by Michael Lee Johnson up to that date. I’m thinking of continuing with select books that are much shorter, with selected poets I consider of merit.


Michael Lee Johnson lived ten years in Canada during the Vietnam era. He is a Canadian and USA citizen. Today he is a poet, editor, publisher, freelance writer, amateur photographer, small business owner in Itasca, Illinois. He has been published in more than 935 small press magazines in 29 countries, and he edits 10 poetry sites. Author’s website: http://poetryman.mysite.com. Michael is the author of The Lost American: From Exile to Freedom (136 page book) ISBN:  978-0-595-46091-5, several chapbooks of poetry, including “From Which Place the Morning Rises” and “Challenge of Night and Day”, and “Chicago Poems”. He also has over 116 poetry videos on YouTubeas of 2015.   Michael Lee Johnson, Itasca, IL, nominated for 2 Pushcart Prize awards for poetry 2015 & Best of the Net 2016. Visit his Facebook Poetry Group and join. He is also the editor/publisher of anthology, “Moonlight Dreamers of Yellow Haze”. A second poetry anthology, Dandelion in a Vase of Roses, editor Michael Lee Johnson, is due for a February or March 2017 release.

Would you like to take part in an interview for the Peeking Cat blog? Email editor@peekingcatliterary.co.uk

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