A Day in the Life of a Literary Arts Journal Editor
It’s the inaugural post of the column you’ve decided to write about running a lit mag, and you’re trying to think of the best possible way to start. Here’s your first idea:
WHAT TO KNOW WHEN DECIDING TO START YOUR OWN LIT MAG
You run with this in your head for a while, plotting what you might say, and then you look up other similar columns. There’s one up at The Review Review that catches your eye. It seems to be the standard format, though of “here’s a few reasons why not to start lit mag, and then if you’re still interested, here’s the rest.” There’s another up at Hazel and Wren, and even The New Yorker has a recent article about the proliferation of lit mags. You think, this article already exists. Why write it?
Here’s your second idea:
HOW AND WHY I STARTED MY OWN LITERARY ARTS JOURNAL
Now we’re getting personal, now your audience is getting to know you, but would *you* want to read that article? Maybe. Maybe if it were from a prolific journal with decades of longevity that somehow managed to stay funded and relevant, yes. Gigantic Sequins isn’t there quite yet, though, so you go on to idea number three, and four, and you don’t even get to five before you have to call your Production Editor about final edits on your latest issue and it takes an hour and a half, after which you field a Facebook message from a fellow editor who booked a space where your journal can read at this year’s AWP conference in Los Angeles in conjunction with the journal he edits, but now you’re having second thoughts about it because you also found a space, you’re just waiting to hear back from the venue’s owner to confirm, and you’re negotiating that with him and thinking about contacting the other editor who runs a press who’s interested in co-hosting the event.
In the midst of this, you have it, you’re there, your column:
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A LITERARY ARTS JOURNAL EDITOR
You wish you had more time to read. That’s every day, and also specifically, today.
But you’re in the middle of production. You run a print literary arts journal, and you try to always call it that instead of a “lit mag” because you value the art you publish equally with the writing and revel in careful attention to detail. You think this is part of what makes your journal unique, but you only think this because you’ve been answering this question (“what makes your journal unique?”) continually since you started the journal, with your Production Editor, who you could not have started the journal without. See: earlier comment about how articles on starting a literary journal often tell you not to do so.
As the Editor in Chief, you’ve gotten to know a lot about the production side of things, but even though you took a Book Publishing class at Emerson College (where you and your Production Editor graduated from), you never realized how much really went into the publishing of an actual, physical literary arts journal until it was something you had to do. You still probably don’t know everything, but you know so much more than you did when you started.
But back to production. “Production” is when you’re working on getting the actual physical book perfect so that it can go to print. Usually you’re not also open for submissions during production, but the schedule you’re on is a bit wack and needs to be changed for next year. You note this in your book and send emails to your editors reminding them to remind you at your online spring editors meeting to remember how hectic things were and how the submissions schedule needs to change to move production up.
Right now, as you mentioned, it’s time for final edits, and the following things were discussed: whether or not to be consistent and spell out state names in contributor bios or let contributors decide whether they want them spelled out or not; whether or not an orphan that a poet did not intend to be an orphan in an already oddly formatted poem could be fixed by left-justifying text that is centered in the original; how/where/whether to add mention of an online feature that’s not specifically related to the actual physical book that you’re printing but is worth mentioning; how much money the journal would have in its account if the printer who normally prints it prints it and how that’s not enough and how we have more pages than we said we did in the original request for an estimate to said printer—the list goes on.
Production time is busy. Production time means learning new things, like about orphans. An orphan occurs in a print publication when a single word appears at the end of a paragraph in a line of text. Open the book closest to you. Scroll through a few pages, paying attention only to the last line of text in each paragraph. Are any of them only one word? In a copy of Rough Magic: a biography of Sylvia Plath by Paul Alexander after skimming eight pages with many paragraphs on each, you only find one orphan. Sometimes, you guess, there’s nothing you can do about an orphan. You wonder if online publications care about orphans. You make a note to ask an online literary journal editor.
Today’s life as a print literary arts journal editor is different from every other day as one, but the same as every other one. There’s rarely a day you don’t do something for Gigantic Sequins. Some days you’re the one whose skills and attention are needed; other days, you’re learning something new, delegating something, or checking in on whether or not someone else did something. You can’t think about what it would be like not to be the editor of a literary journal, having spent much of your adult life as one. You can’t imagine what it would be like not to worry about getting the book to print on time, about reading and posting calls for new submissions, about soliciting pre-orders and subscriptions. You’re happy to be an editor, and you’d never want to write a piece telling someone not to start one, though you understand why pieces like that are written.
You welcome your readers to your new column. You promise them you’ll write it in first person next time.