Dispatches | November 26, 2012

A few weeks ago, I was invited to Georgia State University to give a talk about the relationship between literary magazine editors and writers. I’m terrible at coming up with titles, but I ended up calling it “War & Peace” because 1. You can’t go wrong ripping off Tolstoy and 2. the dynamic between editors and writers, the people who provide the content for the magazine, is often combative. With a mixture of anecdotes and some half-baked ideas, I spent forty-five minutes talking with Georgia State undergraduates, graduates, and faculty (who all come together to produce the terrific magazine, New South)  about how a lack of transparency and poor communication makes how what should be a fairly cooperative dynamic is often, instead, quite contentious. I did not use a flamethrower or my Al Pacino voice.

I stressed two things. The first is to simply acknowledge the writers and editors. With this magical site called Google, it’s very easy to look up any author or any editor. When you read a story, poem, or essay that really hit a chord, drop the author an email. Nothing fancy. Just a “thanks” or a “wow” or “you’re an idiot” (okay, maybe not this one …) lets the author know that someone has read the work, that it matters, that it has found an audience. It sounds like such a small thing, and it is, and yet those small things mean so much to a writer. Remember, we spend all our time writing our stories in silence, alone, isolated. To discover that all that toiling away has made an impact with an audience, strangers who really understood what we were trying to communicate, is a really wonderful thing.

Editors too, by the way, love knowing that we delivered you a great issue.

Second, I discussed the use of social media to reach, remind, and expand our audience. It’s easy to roll your eyes at the ubiquity of Facebook, but by using it—and this blog, and Twitter, and Tumblr—magazines are able to make the readership feel like a part of us because, well, they are. Good social media keeps us in touch with our readers, highlighting great pieces, fresh audio content, events here in Columbia, gives us (and you!) a chance to rave about books we love and films we hate (Did you see this stinker?) and makes our community feel complete.

But I forgot a third way of improving the editor/writer relationship: start your own magazine.

Which is exactly what writer Justin Allen did with The Cresote Journal. In this terrific blog post, Allen discusses how creating his own magazine has shaped the way he views literary magazines, particularly when it comes to submissions. The process:

has been much slower and more difficult than I expected. I haven’t given up, but I have been humbled by the project and delayed over and over. My collaborators and I are still, almost 2 years in, “starting” rather than “running” the journal, and still figuring out what it is and what it’s going to be.

And, really, what better way to learn about literary publishing than from the beginning? After all, The Missouri Review started somewhere (1977), and when we did, there was already Ploughshares (started in 1971) and Kenyon Review (1939) and Southern Review (1935) and so many others to numerous to name. And since we began, there have been a slew of new wonderful magazines—One Story, Tin House, Hobart, PANK, A Public Space, to name but a few.

Allen’s post focuses on rejection, and when it comes down to it, many of us are interested in literary magazines (both reading ’em and starting ’em) because we want to write work that gets published and, consequently, gets read. Simply publishing isn’t enough. You might as well call it “printing” if just seeing your name on a masthead is all you want. We recently discussed what happens to your manuscript when it arrives in our offices, and we feel (like every editor) that reading our magazine gives you the best sense of what it is we publish. And once we do, we use every medium we can to let the world know about your work.

None of these three suggestions are, of course, perfect. But it’s a start, and a good reminder to all of us—publishers and writers alike—that what we all do is meant to communicate, engage, and entertain. Recognizing that we’re all on the same side of the battle is something that is easy to forget. Here’s one small reminder that we’re all in this together.

Follow Michael on Twitter: @mpnye