Monday, February 22, 2016

On the effort and sacrifice of editors

          My first full-length poetry collection is coming out this summer, and just the other day, my second full-length collection was accepted by a publisher. At age forty-seven, with two forthcoming books, I couldn’t be happier to embrace my unusual status as both a midlife and an emerging poet.
The fact is, I spent a dozen years publishing other people’s work instead of my own. As the editor-in-chief of a major journal, I made many good professional contacts and built some friendships in the field, but an unexpected effect was that my relationships with other editors made submitting awkward. I didn’t want even a sniff of quid pro quo where my poems were concerned; instead, I wanted them to get by on their own merits. During these years, for the most part I didn’t attempt to publish in journals, and I certainly didn’t pursue a full-length book. I did, however, publish two chapbooks, one with the Wick Poetry Series at Kent State University and the other with the independent press Winged City. I’m very proud of both of those skinny books.
            Serving the broader literary community made life varied and fun and meaningful for me during my editor-in-chief years, but I can’t deny that doing so held me back a good bit. Sure, some editors are content to reap the benefits of connections to publish their own work and gain a following. And still others do the same hard work that all submitters do and are left to question the source of the progress they make. I skirted both of these ethical quandaries by just biding my time.
            In a previous post, I raised the question of cronyism in the publishing field. It strikes me as a significant problem. Today, though, I want to highlight the sacrifice that editors make. Obviously, I’m candid about my own self-sacrifice (yay, me), but many editors are quiet on the point. They do their work, both editorial and creative (few editors are not also writers themselves), and they are quiet about the personal cost.
            Editors are often criticized—even here. I pick apart their rejection language, as if forgetting the times that I sat in front of a computer and labored over the verbiage of a just-right rejection slip. Sometimes they fail to deliver the critical message and bypass the whole “we’re rejecting this” part of the note (yesterday’s blog post gave an example of this). Sometimes they appear to whinge over their own extreme effort, perhaps forgetting that it takes less than half a minute to reject terrible writing.
            Editors are also viewed with extreme suspicion by submitters. Are they taking work from the submission pool or just soliciting famous names? Are they really considering work or just rejecting it unread? Do they ignore the unpublished or the bookless? Do they have something against men, or women, or people of color, or certain aesthetics?
            Certainly, many do have an aversion to certain people or certain types of work. (The latter is part of the job—pursuing an editorial aesthetic is perfectly valid, provided it is communicated openly with would-be submitters and it does not stem from cultural bias.) But I suspect that most editors are receiving work on its own terms and trying to do the best they can by using their own judgment. Cultural biases creep in and are examined and dealt with, if an editor is worth her salt.
            But editors have a big job, and a vital one. They must consider submissions—more and more all the time. They have to raise money for publication from a potential audience (mostly writers) that resents being approached with a subscription offer or a donation solicitation. They do all of this while under a curtain of suspicion from submitters whose default position is to doubt editors’ ethos. And as a reward, a majority of these editors get paid … nothing at all.
            In the final assessment, I’m glad I waited until after my term as an editor concluded to pursue my own publishing goals. Editing was a labor of love, and I treasure the friendships that came from that period in my life. All in all, though, I’m glad to be where I am now—slowly but surely making my way, without any sense that I owe anything to anyone.

I did my time on the other side of the transom, and I’m proud to have served. Now I get to embrace my new life—as a published poet. It has been a long road, and often a difficult one, but I’m so glad to have ended up right where I am.

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