Real World: Editors - Episode 1
Welcome to Real World: Editors, where we find out what happens when editors stay polite, but also start getting real.
Over the next couple months, we will explore four key topics in the literary journals wolrd: the submission and editorial process, paying in exposure, submission pet peeves, and why a piece might get rejected.
Each of these topics will be explored in one post by Split Lip editors and then in another post by some peer editors at other literary journals, to widen the conversation.
Episode 1 - The Submission Process What's the submission process like for your genre at Split Lip? Are Submittable statuses an accurate reflection of where the piece is? How many readers does a piece go through? How far in advance do you accept stories? How do you approach editorial work with accepted writers? Do you read blind?
Kaitlyn Andrews-Rice, Split Lip Editor-in-Chief:
One thing that really amazed me when I started working on literary magazines in the age of the internet is how much stock writers put into Submittable. While Submittable is wonderful for streamlining the submission process, I would encourage writers not to read into the Submittable tea leaves. I personally assign every submission that comes in to Split Lip. When you see a submission marked as “In Progress” it simply means I’ve assigned your submission to a reader or editor for its first read through. “In Progress” isn’t an indication that we’ve read your submission or that we’re about to (though it can be).
All submissions are read at least once until the end. If a submission receives a maybe or yes vote from a first reader or editor, the piece is read again. We often read submissions several times before making a final decision. If we’re on the fence, we’ll have editors outside the genre weigh in. Although we don’t read blind, we try to be as fair and objective as possible, particularly if we know the writer or have had a working relationship with them in the past. In cases where we are close to a writer and feel like the relationship could be clouding our judgment, we’ll have another editor read the submission blind.
It’s important for writers to know that Split Lip rarely solicits work. I’m not saying we don’t ever solicit and publish solicited work, but I want potential submitters to know that their work has a chance at Split Lip. We read everything in our slush pile and are actively looking for underrepresented and/or unknown diverse voices. Our emphasis on voice-driven work allows us to give new writers a chance.
Marianne Chan, Split Lip Poetry Editor:
We have seven amazing poetry readers: Denise Weber, Charnell Peters, Michelle Lewis, Shea Stripling, Bob Sykora, and Lily Bowen. Submissions go to readers first, and each submission is read by one reader. Then, all the submissions are assigned to me. I pay special attention to the poems the readers liked. We don’t read blind.
Expedited poems are assigned to me directly. For expedited submissions, we have to respond within two weeks. I try to read those as soon as possible so that I have enough time to think about the poems and reread them before deciding. Before I send acceptance notifications, Kaitlyn, our editor-in-chief, gives the poems a read to make sure they are, indeed, amazing enough for Split Lip.
We accept poems 6 months to 1 year in advance. We are accepting pieces for both our online and 2019 print issue, which will be released next year in early spring. I’ve learned that it’s important to plan ahead and accept work early for the print issue, so that we’re not pressed to find strong work toward the end of the year.
Regarding editing: While evaluating submissions, we look for pieces that are clean and ready for publication. So, for the most part, I find that the poems we accept need minimal editing. However, occasionally, we’ll accept a poem that has strong concepts/images, but is filled with grammatical errors or style problems that seem unintentional. In that case, we will suggest edits to the writer before they sign the contract.
Ray Shea, Split Lip Memoir Editor:
For Memoir, there are no readers other than myself. Once a piece is marked In Progress, it's in my queue and it will stay In Progress until we make a decision on it. I read every piece at least once from beginning to end. For most rejected pieces I send the rejection myself, but when something is close or I need a second opinion, I'll get Kaitlyn's take on it too, and Kaitlyn always reads and agrees on everything we accept.
Other than expedited subs, which we always answer within two weeks, we try to respond within 4-6 weeks, but if a piece sits In Progress for more than 3 months, it's worth sending a query to make sure it didn't fall through the cracks. To give you a snapshot into a typical day, right now we've got 53 memoir subs with status In Progress back to February 1 (which I haven't read yet), and a handful of older ones which we are still considering. We have enough memoir to fill every issue until October 2018 (!), so the bar for new acceptances is currently very high. We are having to reject a lot of great writing, which is never fun.
We used to work a lot with writers to edit a story into shape for publication, but these days we are getting more very polished writing so that's not as necessary. Still, sometimes a piece will have something truly unique about it: voice, or a story from a writer in an underrepresented group, where we want to work with them on whatever the story needs (usually a tighter ending).
I don't read blind. I don't look too closely at cover letters before I read the piece, but I do come back to them afterwards. Personally I don't think reading blind is a solution to diversity in publishing. Everyone brings a certain perspective, an aesthetic, to what they like and don't like based on their background, and everyone has blinders on. I try to stay aware of my blinders as a working/middle class middle-aged (not straight) white male, and so when the cover letter gives clues that the writer's background is different than mine, sometimes I will take a another look at a piece that I was inclined to reject on first read. (Often this is where Kaitlyn's second opinion helps.) And if our recent issues have been lacking in women, or people of color, or queer writers, I will definitely be on the lookout for work from those writers.
The worst part about not reading blind is rejecting work from your friends. I've rejected way more friends than I've accepted. It always sucks. Always.
Katie Flynn, Split Lip Fiction Editor:
Submissions go to our awesome team of fiction readers first. Stories that get a positive reaction are sent up to me. I send all stories I’m considering to Kaitlyn, our EIC, to make sure I’m not crazy. If we need another read before we make a decision, we share it with Amy, our managing editor.
We tend to publish stories 3 to 6 months after acceptance.
Not many stories are published at SL without at least some minor edits. Occasionally, if we believe in a story that needs a bit heavier edit, we’ll reach out to see if the writer is open. Our editorial process is collaborative—if a writer has a good reason for rejecting a recommended edit, we are more than open to it.
Maureen Langloss, Split Lip Flash Fiction Editor:
Most of our flash goes into process quickly when it is assigned to a reader. Our AMAZING readers, Lori Sambol Brody and Sally Burnette, review the story before I get it. It usually takes them anywhere from a week to a month. Lori and Sally write a comment on each story: what works & what doesn’t. They vote YES, NO, or MAYBE. Then I read the story. I read ALL the stories, even ones that have been marked NO by readers. In fact, last year, we published a story that both readers said NO to, but I loved.
If I like a story on an initial read, I usually put it aside for a few days. Later, if I am still swept away by its voice or humor or details or unique structure or language or characters, I will send it to our EIC Kaitlyn. With, some stories, like Christopher Gonzalez’s “Dress Yourself,” I fall in love so hard and so fast that I run to Kaitlyn right away. If Kaitlyn also loves a story, a back and forth begins between us about whether we should accept, have we published similar work recently, what edits it might require, if the author seems like someone who would be easy to work with in editing, etc.
We are actively looking to publish diverse work by diverse authors. We do not read blind. But, if we do not feel that we can be objective on a piece (because the author is someone we know or is famous or is an editor at another lit mag), we ask another editor or two to read it blind. Managing editor Amy Rossi is usually our go-to for all tie-breakers.
We are currently accepting work for fall 2018 on the web and for 2019 print. Generally, if we accept your flash, it will not run for 6-7 months. We do ask authors to edit pieces based on our suggestions—sometimes a lot, sometimes a little. Some authors are surprised by this, but most seem appreciative. We all have the same goal: making the story the best it can be. We want to stay true to the author’s voice/intent and we want the author to be 100% happy with any changes. If we request a substantial change, like to the title or ending, we let authors know up front before they sign a contract. Usually the editing phase involves some back and forth and takes about a month. All authors see a final proof before the piece goes live.
TO BE CONTINUED...
Stay tuned to hear editors at other journals weigh in on this question.