From Our Staff | January 27, 2014

By Michael Nye

Last week, our spring internship class met for the first time. Our weekly production meeting is every Tuesday at 2:30 pm (that’s central time, East Coasters …), which naturally rolls into our class time, which is at 3:30. This is the fourth semester I’ve taught the Internship in Publishing class, and each semester, I change or add a few things to my weekly schedule. But the core idea of my class remains the same: read widely, exposure to literary magazine and small press publishing beyond just TMR, and guidance for my students on whatever path they take, whether it’s a career path or an artistic path.

My sixteen students are quite a mixture. I have two PhD candidates in creative writing, one masters student of literature, one masters student of journalism, and twelve undergraduates with majors ranging from English to chemistry. Many of the students know they want to be writers. Others know they want to work in publishing. Others have no idea what they want to do but they hear TMR is “fun.” And, to keep up that “fun” reputation that we have (or that “fun” reputation I just gave us), I’m going to blog about the class for the next sixteen weeks and give our readers an inside look at TMR.

We also start with our production meeting. During the first fifteen minutes or so (sometimes much longer), the entire TMR team is together for the only time all week. This is when all our senior editors, graduate editors, internship class, and our office staff catchup on the business of the past week, and then discuss what is coming next.

While there are many areas that are critically important to what we do as a magazine, the big thing, obviously, is the status of the print edition. Evelyn Somers, our associate editor, gives us the 411 (does anyone say that anymore?)(editor’s note: no) on the issue that is in production and on the issue that is forthcoming. Currently, we’re pleased as punch: our winter issue, the final issue of 2013, has just been released, and all the pieces for the spring issue have been accepted and are being edited now. Which means we are currently reading for our summer issue and, over the course of the internship, almost certainly our fall issue too.

The first day of class is always a little off. We’re all back, and all the returning staff is thrilled to be there. Yes, really: many of our students will say that our internship was the best thing they did in their college career (honest). The new interns have one of two expressions: wide-eyed confusion or chin-lowered silence. This first meeting, with all the introductions and explanations, is often overwhelming, especially when I was as scatterbrained as I was last week. Their “what the great googlymoogly is going on here?” expressions are completely understandable.

After our production meeting, senior staff and graduate editors cleared out, and our first class began. We had to cover all the basics in syllabus: team assignments, weekly reading, class participation, etc. While I try to stick to the script, my thoughts tend to pinball during this initial meeting, trying to get everyone to relax and be excited at the same time, which mirrors my own feelings.

We next jumped into a basic but difficult question: what exactly is a literary magazine? I passed out a copy of several different magazines to the class. Everyone had something in front of them. Some looked like TMR: Kenyon Review and Georgia Review, with the magazine name clearly across the top and a size similar to our own. Indiana Review, however, was slimmer. What is this thing called Lo-Ball Magazine and how do they get so many good poets in their pages? Can you really be a literary magazine, like One Story, when your just one story and fit in the back pocket of your jeans? Why isn’t there a magazine name on the cover of Passages North? Wait: The Normal School is the size of a “regular” magazine? Why do some of bar codes and others don’t? Why isn’t there one uniform size to all these suckers?

What I hoped to emphasis is that there isn’t one right answer to this question. In some ways, a literary magazine is a literary magazine if it says it’s one. That might sound silly, but People Magazine or ESPN: The Magazine or Entertainment Weekly would never want to identify that way. A literary magazine also focuses, more than any other magazine, on the writing. That too is a bit presumptuous, I suppose, but most literary magazines have little to no advertising, and if that doesn’t scream an emphasis on the material, I don’t know what does.

Also, literary magazines are almost entirely dependent on unsolicited submissions from writers. There are not “contributing editors” or “contributing writers” who provide content for us. This relationship between editor/writer is often a contentious one, and a subject we’ll return to in the internship class throughout the semester. There are more ways to identify a literary magazine, but for the time being, keeping it simple was key.

The other big thing we covered was to handle submissions. Because I explain this once a year, and the other 364 days, I just do it, I skipped numerous steps that were critically important. Fortunately, I received several “What about this?” and “What about that?” questions. I also hammered home the point that, when in doubt, always, ask for clarification. That’s important!

There were many others missteps, errors, and confusing details that I made this week, and for the sake of brevity, I won’t detail them all here. But here’s a simple one: I meant to send all my interns three emails this week, and instead, I sent them 173 emails.

Yes, you read that correctly: 173 emails. Um, whoops! Anyway, that won’t happen again.

This past week, our class is reading the entire winter issue and getting started on reading manuscripts. Tomorrow will be our action-packed second day when we talk about the issue as a whole thing rather than just its individual pieces. I’ll try to keep my finger off the “send” button in Outlook …

Follow Michael on Twitter: @mpnye