Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Heron Tree & More Notes on the Literary Journal Landscape

26 deg ~ switched to an off-brand, ergonomic keyboard and it doesn't have the right shortcut for the degree sign...sigh...the sky is a mass of bruises, thick gray cloud cover, but no precipitation

Yesterday, Heron Tree launched "Last Night in the Chair Museum" by Leah Browning, and it's a stunner, if I do say so myself.  You can follow announcements on when poems are posted by adding us to your blog reader, liking us on Facebook, or following us on Twitter (@Heron_Tree).

We are rapidly finishing up with reading submissions and sending out our responses, so if you submitted and haven't heard from us yet, give us another week.  Our goal was to have everyone notified by today (1/15), and I'm pretty happy with how close we are to meeting that.  As we had no idea how many folks would submit or how long our process would take, we estimated fairly well.

All of this leads me to some added thoughts on the literary journal landscape, a conversation I started here.  Along with knowing a journal's affiliation and aesthetic, it can be important to figure out the process of reading submissions.

1.  A tiered system with one reader per submission.  In this case, a group of first-readers may divide up all of the submissions for the first-read.  At some journals that read a huge number of submissions, your work might only be seen by this one person, who may be a junior member of the staff or a graduate student.  I do not mean that in any kind of negative.  All it means is your work will need to click with one person, and it's often impossible to predict who will get your packet, before it gets passed up to multiple readers in the chain and gets seen/discussed by the editor(s).

2.  A tiered system with multiple readers per submission.  Here, you have a system much like that described in 1, except each submission gets read by multiple first-readers.  In this case, submissions might have to impress a certain number of first-readers before moving up the chain; however, given the increase in readers, there might be a better chance that the piece clicks with someone who will advocate for it and you get your shoe at least a little way in the door.

3.  A graduate program journal where all of the staff read the submissions and make recommendations, but the faculty-editors also read all of the submissions before making final decisions.  I love this model as it actually helps train the grad students in what it means to be an editor and helps shape the aesthetic of the journal more fully.  (I wish I had had access to this as a grad student, as much of my work with Heron Tree has involved a steep learning curve.)

4.  A journal where certain editors have the right to accept pieces without a consensus.  In this case, if you can connect with the right decision-maker, there may be a better chance of acceptance.

5.  A small-staff journal (like Heron Tree) where there are no tiers, no first readers, and no single person making decisions.  In this case, the entire staff must come to some consensus on each acceptance. 

Figuring out the process at a journal is not necessarily the easiest thing to do.  Some journals post about their editorial work on their blog, or an editor might blog about it on a personal site (such as this).  However, the best advice is still research, research, research.  First, READ back issues or samples before submitting.  This will save everyone a lot of time.  Second, go to the journal's website and find the MASTHEAD.  This is often under a link labeled "About" or "Who We Are" in the website's menu.  Find out how the editors/readers are organized.  If you see a familiar name, consider addressing your submission to that particular person.  It won't guarantee that your work winds up on his/her desk, but it betters the odds. And by all means, if you've met one of the editors in person (beyond having a book signed at a reading), address your submission to that person and mention your meeting in your cover letter.  Again, not a guarantee, and some journals don't read cover letters until after the piece has been read (as at HT), but it never hurts to try.

**If an editor asks you to send work to his/her journal, do so in a timely manner and definitely address the specific editor and mention the request.

At Heron Tree, I've learned so much about both sides of the table: writer and editor.  In the past, I've been curious and a little frustrated when I've gotten a rejection from a journal and a particular editor has singled out a poem or two but said that the group couldn't reach a consensus or something like that.  Now, I completely understand.  At HT, all three of us read every single poem submitted.  We do so "blind," meaning that after the submissions come in, one of us strips off the identification and creates a numbered packet of poems.  There are so many submissions that the person stripping the ID info really can't keep up with remembering the names.  We do not look back at the names of the poets until our decision on the pieces have been made.  As we began reading submissions, we quickly decided that we would not publish a poem unless all three of us agreed.  This doesn't mean that we all three have to agree to the same degree, but it does mean that we won't publish a poem if there is one of the three who wouldn't want to see it on the website or in print. 

What this means for me as an editor is that I've had to sharpen my skills at arguing for the pieces that I've chosen (and even if only one of us has "paused" on a certain poem, we talk about it).  It also means that each of us has had to sacrifice poems we've loved because we couldn't get a 'trifecta,' what I say when we all agree.  Through this process, we are establishing the voice of our journal, and it is not my voice or Chris' voice or Rebecca's; it is OUR voice. 

While I'm not sure any of this knowledge makes me more likely to be published in any particular journal, it does help me better understand the many different reasons a poem may be rejected (more on that in a later post).


Tawnysha Greene said...

Great advice! I learned so much during my years at Grist! Wouldn't trade them for anything!

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks, Tawnysha. It's amazing how much more there always is to learn.