Editors and Poets

A few years ago, I tried to be an Editor. Mostly, I was bad at it. I accepted more manuscripts than I had the time or financing to publish. I made a really awesome magazine called Foursquare, but publishing it depended on whether I had enough money for print cartridges, card stock, and shipping; whether both my computer and printer worked (which they never seemed to, at least not at the same time); whether I had time, after working a FT and a PT job, to solicit and read submissions and format the issues.

Every follow-up email from an author who submitted work was like a pinprick– annoying and slightly hurtful. Didn’t they know that my editorial efforts were completely idealistic? That I wanted to publish their work, but I lived paycheck to paycheck, not always able to pay my utility bills or buy gas for my commute? That I worked 60+ hours a week to make these paltry paychecks and every hour I could steal to work on publishing projects was hard-won?

Talking to some of my other editor friends about this, we joked, “every writer should be an editor.” If every writer is an editor, maybe they’ll understand how hard it is to balance life, work, and financial problems when editing a small magazine or press, most of which do not receive outside funding and are operated by one or a small handful of people who volunteer their time and invest their own money to publish poetry. Maybe the diva emails would be humbler, the complaints less whiney, if they only knew.

As a writer, I haven’t been very interested in “sending out” work. I usually wait till an editor solicits my work, because then I know that the editor is interested and will be responsible when formatting my poems for print (which is less difficult now with the ease of .pdf conversion than it was the last time I saw a poem of mine mutilated in print). Last year, I was talking to a friend of mine about the submission process and I thought, “I need to submit work so that I know what it’s like to be a poet today.” Poets seem to spend a lot of time submitting work to editors, and I’d skipped that part of the process. I decided to try it.  I sent some poems and manuscripts out, and some of them have been out for more than 6 months. I check Submittable every day because I’m a masochist like that, and luckily my experience as an editor keeps me from emailing any of the editors and annoying them.

But it’s really different on the other side. As an editor who worked 1.5 jobs to barely survive day-to-day, who had no real time or money to spend making poetry books/magazines, I couldn’t understand why poets were so impatient and selfish. As a writer submitting work and waiting for months to hear anything, I wonder what the editors are doing other than reading my (clearly amazing) poems.*

To maintain a healthy balance, everyone in PoBiz needs to do a little bit of everything. Don’t be such an arrogant poet that you only send work out to magazines and never give back.  Volunteer to help edit a magazine you like, buy books/chapbooks/magazines, and make financial contributions to presses if you can afford it. Try not to openly complain about how long a press or magazine takes to get back to you on your brilliant masterpiece– if it’s been a long time, contact the editor before you lambast them on social media. (And don’t think that other editors don’t see the lambasting and judge you as someone they don’t want to work with in the future.) On the flip side, maybe it’s good for editors to experience the pain of the poet-in-submission — feeling the frustration of waiting for an editor to get back to you when you submit work could help you feel more compassionate with poets you publish.

* If you don’t understand sarcasm, you probably shouldn’t be reading my blog.


About Jessica Smith

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