This is the time of year I love — no, I’m not talking about preparations for Thanksgiving and Christmas or even about finals week. I’m talking about the time each year when I get to sit down, as I did this weekend, and put together the pages for Poetry South.
As always, there has been a lot of work that went into this weekend. My staff of four grad student writers had already read most of the submissions. (I usually get a head start and read the first six months worth or so before their class begins.) They had voted, and then I reviewed all of their votes and made the final selections, while also teaching my Fall classes, running the Eudora Welty Writers’ Symposium, etc. It usually takes me most of the semester to get through all the final decisions.
I will say, the students do a great job at reading and finding some fabulous poems, and our submissions are always stellar. Nonetheless, we occasionally disagree. I’ve rescued a few very fine poems from their reject pile, and I’ve ultimatley decided to return a few poems that they were enthused about, finding that they just didn’t fit the magazine’s tone or the way the issue was shaping up.
The lesson I take from this is that I know we always miss some very good poems. Maybe we read them at the wrong time of day or at the wrong point in our reading marathon. What I take from this is that no editor is perfect. We all do our best, but we will miss some poems, or we may get more excited about some other poems for some reason. I try to remember this whenever my poems come back to me from another journal.
Another lesson I always am reminded of in the decision-making process, is how important it is to keep good records when simultaneously submitting, and to immediately inform all other magazines when something is accepted elsewhere. You have no idea how annoying it is to accept a piece and then be told it’s no longer available. When that happens weeks after the acceptance, the anger is ten-fold. Don’t be that writer. Enough said.
Except that the third lesson should be that editors remember. And we remember the good as well as the not-so-good. There are plenty of names I’ve seen in a few rounds of submissions, who I notice when I see them again. Sending your work to a magazine more than once, even if it’s been returned to you multiple times, is often a good idea, especially if you’ve gotten some personalized encouragement.
But the joy this weekend was in taking all those accepted poems — 88 poems by 66 poets for Issue 12 of Poetry South — sorting them, shuffling them, and finding the ways they speak to one another. Laying them out in the magazine, seeing which will go well next to which, and watching as the themes of the issue ebb and flow, is a wonderful experience, even if I did feel glued to my office chair for a few days. It’s also great to start hearing from contributors as they proof their pages and catch a few errors — some we made copying into the magazine file and some that hadn’t been caught in their submissions. There’ll be at least one more round of proofing on our end as well, and then it will ready to off to the printer and then off to those who’ve subscribed.
Another fun part of the weekend was putting together the contributors’ notes and learning more about who is in the issue. Besides being impressed with people’s accomplishments, I always find out about who has books coming out, what presses their books are with, and what other journals they’re publishing in. So my last bit of advice is to read the contributor’s notes. It’s like a snapshot of who is publishing where right now. Make notes about the places you’d like to send your work. This is even more fruitful if you’ve also read the magazine, so you can judge whether your work is like theirs and might be a good fit for the places their work has appeared. Whether this is a way to find new outlets for your work or to be reminded of places you haven’t sent work to in a while, it’s all part of keeping up to date on the publishing world.