It’s Not a Job: It’s My Life
There are a million things no one can explain to you about being a writer–and similarly a million things no one can explain to you about being a literary journal editor. Everyone has advice for each, and we’ve heard all the “you should write about…” clichés before. Even those of us that are close with our parents, if they aren’t writers themselves, explaining what we do can be impossible. The same goes for friends or even spouses. And the same goes for being an editor.
Folks outside of the small press world often suggest I try to monetize Gigantic Sequins, frustrated that I put so much time into something that makes me zero dollars, sometimes less. I try to explain how it doesn’t work like that, how I’m happy that our subscription model, pre-orders, contest fees, and donations help the journal pay for itself most of the time. All kinds of people offer ideas, how to make it more desirable to a wider populace, how to start earning from it. “Sell ads!” (…did that with issue 1.1–wound up giving away the ad space pretty much–and, technically, you can’t send merchandise as media mail through the USPS if it contains ads–) “Publish a really small percentage of submissions!” (…we already do, so I hear from Duotrope users and so I can see via Submittable stats, and not on purpose– and I’m not sure making this percentage any smaller would make GS more desirable to buy–perhaps more desirable to be published in, but still then only perhaps–) “Use this job to get one with a magazine that will pay you!” (…entirely missing the point of why I do this.) I mean, don’t get me wrong, there are websites out there explaining how you can make money off of your literary journal (–kind of the opposite of sites that tell you how you’re never going to make money off of your novel. This one advises: “marry rich.”) But again, that’s not the point. The point is that being an editor, being a writer, is my life. Not my job.
It’s funny, when people ask me “What do you do?” I always tell them I teach college. That’s my job. But what I *do* is more than that. I’m the leader of a small, semi-organized group of people across the country who help produce a print literary arts journal biannually. I’m a manipulator of words and a listener for music in language. I’m an envelope-stuffing, handwritten-addresser of hundreds of packages of mail–and I am every post office clerk’s worst nightmare during a busy shift. I’m a beggar–subscribe! submit! can we get this up on the website today? I really need to know what you think! donate! smile! I’m a reader of signs and symbols and characters and skies and pages and puzzles and stars and books. I’m a hawk, a curator–I will scoop in after a reading and ask someone I’ve never met before, “has that piece been published somewhere already?” or cold email you to say, “I really love your art–I run this magazine thing. can you send me something for us to consider printing?” etc. And I do this all because it’s my life, it’s who I am, it’s what I love doing, it’s what I do.
I don’t think anyone trying to monetize any aspect of the small press world from an editorial position is doing something wrong. That’s definitely not what I’m saying. With different resources and more time, maybe I would read and take seriously the advice within that guide to monetizing a journal. In fact, I would love for GS to be able at least to pay its contributors– but as it barely sustains itself, that’s still a pipedream for now. I would love to pay our Production Team and our Guest Designers and our editors for all their hard work. I would love to put together a conference/website/residency program something, anything, that would make funding GS easier and allow me to pay everyone I think deserves to be paid. But then I step back and it all gets silly. I already spend so much time on this thing that matters and what matters is that it matters to me and to other people and we make it happen– not that it pays me or anyone else dollars. The value in being a part of what a literary journal like GS does, from any angle, is not financial.
We had a Post-Publication meeting, a video chat with most of the Production Team for issue 7.1 (that just dropped last Tuesday!) During the meeting, Shereen Adel, GS Production Editor, asked meg willing, her lovely assistant, if she had any thoughts on improving the process for upcoming summer issue. meg kind of laughed and said something to the effect of, “I’m just always impressed—with all these moving parts—that it actually happens.” We laughed, but Shereen pointed out that I’m kind of the one that makes sure it happens. And I don’t do it because I’m getting paid or hope to someday get paid or any other reason except I love doing it. “I nag a lot,” I said in reply, after we finished laughing.
I hate that I used such a gendered word to describe what I do, now that I look back at it, so in rethinking this, I realized the reason GS always happens is not because I bug everyone who graciously volunteers or sends over their time and effort and talents to make this thing happen, but because it’s a part of my life–and a part of their lives too. Being at the helm again and again for various consecutive voyages, some smooth sailing and others through rocky waters, means realizing that every next time we can do better, every mistake is one that shouldn’t happen again, and there’s always something we can improve on. And that’s okay. It’s okay because part of life is realizing that every day, we can do a little better, be a little better, than we were the day before.
Being an editor has taught me so much about my own strengths and weaknesses and limits. And I probably do too much already, but the “too much” I do feels so important: emailing venues about reading spaces for contributors and listening to their podcasts and being thrilled by their latest work in a different journal and reading articles about diversity and publishing and motivating those I need to make GS happen to do things, uncompensated. I spend so much of my time, when I’m not working or reading or doing GS work, trying to give back to the community a little of what it gives me. We sustain each other. We hold each other up. Literary journals are homes for writers whose voices need homes. We keep each other under shelter, inside.