Minneapolis Convention Center | April 9, 2015

Episode 99: What We Hate: Editorial Dos and Don'ts

(Jordan Bass, Emerson (Chip) Blake, Cheston Knapp, Carolyn Kuebler, Jennifer Sahn, Patrick Thomas) You won’t find this in the FAQ. Get it straight from the source. Five distinguished magazine and book editors speak candidly about what they love and loathe and everything in between. What do editors really want from writers? What do they absolutely not want? If you’re positively sure you know the answers to these questions, then don’t come to this panel featuring editors from The Believer, Milkweed Editions, Tin House, New England Review, and Orion.

Published Date: October 14, 2015


Speaker 1 (00:00:04):

Welcome to the A W P podcast series. This event was recorded at the 2015 A W P conference in Minneapolis. The recording features Jordan Bass, chip Blake, chest Knapp, Carolyn Kler, Jennifer sa and Patrick Thomas. You will now hear Chip Blake provide introductions.

Speaker 2 (00:00:33):

My name is Chip Blake. I'm the editor-in-chief of Orion Magazine. Thanks for being here to all of you, thanks to our panelists for being here whom as you can see, are filled with hate. Don't they look filled with hate? Patrick, can you make your scary face?

Speaker 3 (00:00:52):

It's just my normal face.

Speaker 2 (00:00:56):

I'll tell you something about human nature or a w p nature. The editors ran a panel like this a couple of years ago with the same name as today's panel, which is what we hate, editorial dos and don'ts. If that's not the panel you're supposed to be at now, you should leave on an airplane when you get on the wrong flight. We ran this panel some years ago and it was as this case today. There were a lot of people in the room and then a couple of years later we were feeling more charitable. So we ran basically the same panel, but we called it what we Love and there were like seven people who came. So that's your first editorial lesson of the day that hate sells More than Love.

Speaker 2 (00:01:47):

George h h Martin described editors as the writer's natural enemy and it's important not to overdo the stereotype of editors and writers, but it can also be important not to underdo it, which is that writers line up their precious words in a precise order and editors destroy them. But today we're here in a moment of however briefly of peace and understanding to talk about the things that editors and writers all have in common, which is that we are all working together to create great writing. We're all working together to engage readers and we are all trying to find ways to make a living doing so I am going to introduce our panelists very briefly in the order that they will be speaking today and then I'm going to turn it over to them. Our experience with this panel in the past has been that the q and a session is a really healthy and important part of a panel like this, so we're going to try to leave plenty of time for that because this panel is being podcasted and because there's not a microphone available for the audience, whatever questions you all have from the audience, I'll be repeating them for of the podcast.

Speaker 2 (00:03:00):

So just be ready for that little thing. So now I'm going to turn it over to our panelists in the order that they will be speaking today and they'll take it from here. Patrick Thomas is managing director of Milkweed Editions. Jennifer son is editor of Orion. Justin Knapp is managing editor of Tin House. Jordan Bass is executive editor of MCs Sweeney's, and Carolyn k Kler is editor of New England Review. So Patrick, with this, I'm going to turn it over to you. Alright,

Speaker 4 (00:03:35):

Thanks Chip and thank you all for coming today. I think that you're probably going to figure out that we're filled with a little bit more love than hate, but hopefully you don't all leave as a result of that reality. Chip asked us to prepare a few comments, but I agree with him that probably the more interesting conversation will come out of the questions that we have. But when I sat down to ponder what I hate, this is what I came up with. If there's one thing I hate coming from the perspective of someone who has worked in publishing for about 15 years now, it is that we will never have resources sufficient enough to thoughtfully respond to all of the submissions that we receive. And the average year milkweed receives two to 3000 manuscripts. Many of these are clearly not right for us and are pretty easy to say no to, but when we get down to the best 25 to 50 titles we receive, there are just simply not enough of us on staff to give them all the time and consideration that they are very justly due.

Speaker 4 (00:04:33):

So if there's one thing that I hate more than anything, it's the reality that we all work in an art form that will most likely always be underfunded and restricted by financial and temporal reality. I hate how much of my time is spent either telling people no or disappointing people with a lack of a response. It's hard to recall a night that I've fallen asleep without some little pinging of guilt that there's some author somewhere who I'm grievously disappointing and that's probably partially a result of being raised Catholic. But I think it's also also just that I know that I have to let people down and yet every spare minute and dollar that we have at Milkweed is hard won. And so effectively managing disappointment becomes part of the game. But this is not really a reality that any of you have too much power over, although I would encourage you to donate to your favorite literary nonprofit press, but I think I can provide a useful kind of coral reef to that reality and that is the thing that I hate the most when I see it in submissions is a lack of curiosity.

Speaker 4 (00:05:42):

I'm regularly shocked by submissions that come to Milkweed editions, submissions that an author has presumably worked for years on, spent countless hours of time perfecting, and then they send it to us without having read a single one of our books or anything that we've produced save for possibly our submission guidelines. And even then, sometimes it doesn't seem like people are doing that and this is where the majority of our rejections come from. It's people obviously not researching the press that they're submitting to. It seems like the simplest thing in the world, and yet I see it again and again and I just don't understand why anyone who actually caress about the manuscript that they're working on would send it to a place where they have no idea of what we do, how we do it, or why we do it on a larger level. This same in curiosity sometimes reveals itself in a broader publishing context where writers will submit something and they haven't really done the work of reading the books that are obviously in conversation with their text.

Speaker 4 (00:06:41):

Publishing is a conversation whether we like it or not. Books speak to one another and when authors or writers have not considered the other texts in conversation with their work, it's pretty obvious in the submission. So you've heard a lot of hatred and dislike, but I will tell you what I love when I see a submission. It's when a submission arrives covered by a letter that explains to me what the project is, who the writer is, but then goes on to thoughtfully explain how that project fits in among the books I have recently worked on and how it fits into recent publications of other presses. When I see that I am overjoyed and extremely excited to read the work, there's certainly a lot of work that goes into that, but I'm sure that it would be a fraction of the amount of time that you spent putting into your manuscript. So in short, you heard what I hate. I love writers who read as much as they write, and not only does this mean better submissions for us, it also means more book sales, which support presses like those sitting in front of you today. They allow us to do our job better, to read more submissions and to support more literary artists like yourself. So that's what I hate and love. Thank you.

Speaker 5 (00:08:00):

Hi everybody. I'm Jennifer Sa. I edit Ryan's a magazine Advertising Minute. Here it is. It's a bimonthly magazine. Tagline is Nature Culture Place and we mean that very broadly and it's a unique magazine. It occupies a unique niche in the marketplace, not only because it has somewhat of a subject, but also we are publishing literary writing and narrative nonfiction, narrative journalism. We're publishing visual arts that stand on their own for eight or 10 pages in a row, primarily visual, doing a lot of different things and combining them under one cover that makes our tastes really unique, especially when it comes to a genre like fiction. It makes us a really complicated keyhole to unlock. We will publish 30 roughly stories a year, fiction and nonfiction only 30, and when we're looking through our submissions, I'm going to paraphrase something that Rob Spillman from Tin House Chesterton's colleague over here said, I think that former the first what we hate the original one, and I've never forgotten this.

Speaker 5 (00:09:14):

He said, what I want everybody out there to know is that every time, and this was more in the envelope days, every time I open an envelope, what I am thinking in my head is, please let this be the one. Please let me want to acquire this the minute I finish reading it. Of course, those of us who are opening those envelopes know that more often doesn't happen than does, but it's important that those of you who are submitting know that from the editor's perspective, our job is so much easier. That's our job to get the material and when it comes and we know it right away, it's like, phew, okay, there's one of the 30. So that's our position, where we're coming from and in terms of what we're looking for, I think will this piece, when the writer and I are done with it, will it be a national magazine award candidate?

Speaker 5 (00:10:07):

Will it end up in an anthology? Will it win a push card prize? Will it go viral on the internet? Our bar is very high. We want to make the right choices and we want those sorts of things to happen for every piece we publish. We want that for us and we want that for you, the writer as well. The thing that I look for the most, I'm talking about what I love. I realize that it's hard. I want a story that is going to grab my attention and hold it straight through to the end such that you forget everything else that's happening around me. And if you can do that in a piece and send it, I'll probably take it and try to make it work. It's very hard to do. It's a hard thing to do and editors are there to work with material that has that potential and make it more so it's very important.

Speaker 5 (00:10:56):

I think one of my pet peeves are authors who assume that the editors out to get them, oh, editors, all they want to do is reject. And that's why I love what Rob said so much, but also that the editors are out to sort of destroy the part of the piece that I love the most. I think if you're not in it as a collaborator with the editor and you're not willing to take risks with the editor, maybe you shouldn't be looking to publish. Maybe you should just be writing for yourself because our job is to make your work better for our audience and to get attention for it. And if you want to be in relationship with us, you have to understand that and trust that. And part of our job is to earn your trust and that's not always easy, but it's really important for the relationship to go right.

Speaker 5 (00:11:44):

Another thing I want people to know is that editors use erasers too. We are always revising our work, which is our correspondence with you and our, it's on both sides of the table where everyone is trying to get every single detail right. And lastly, I think I'll paraphrase something that Patrick said, which is to pay attention to what the magazines you're submitting to are doing. Put yourself in the position of the editor there and say, okay, I've read a few copies of this particular magazine. What are they trying to do? What is it that they're really looking for? Don't try to write for that. Ask those kinds of questions to say, is what I've written really going to be right for them? If you're saying something new and you're saying it artfully and it fits within, certainly for Orion, our sort of broad but themed subject area, then the answer to that question is yes, and it'll be a relationship filled with love.

Speaker 6 (00:12:52):

Hey y'all, my name is Chein Knapp and as Chip said, I'm the managing end of Tin House in that I often think of myself as Tin Houses Quasimodo. So when I was asked to be on this panel, I experienced to diabolical little tickle down in my cockles here at Long Last My Chance because in this and many things, I cast my lot with William Gas. I hate a lot hard, I hate debates about MFAs. I hate the phrases, not the things, the phrases New York publishing and online community. I hate When Writers list. They've been published in a magazine when they've only been published on that magazine's website. And I likewise hate the idea that we editors are given a platform to sound off about what we hate harmlessly tongue in cheek as I know it's meant to be. This panel stokes very real writerly existential fears. And the fact of the matter is, like both panelists mentioned before me, it's a lot easier to talk about what we hate than what we love. This is why it's hard for us to answer the question. Almost every writer here really wants to know even more than how much we pay. What are you looking for in a story or a poem or an essay? And even though it's true, you can't answer this with simply something good. I'm looking for something really good. It makes you sound dickly unspecific.

Speaker 6 (00:14:22):

So what you do is you use the code. You all know this code. You have perhaps unknowingly been attending panels today that teach you it. No one person developed it sort of just magically appeared at some point like deep time or reality television. And we too at Tenhouse used this code in our editorial meetings. One of the first things we'll ask of a piece of writing is What's it doing? And then does it work? We will discuss its craft and its technique. If what a story is doing is in our eyes unsuccessful, we'll say, no, no, it doesn't work. If it's a little clunky in places, we'll say, well, it's not fully realized. It needs some work. And if it's good, we'll exclaim, it works or it really speaks to us. Then if it's really, really good, sometimes we'll call a story or poem, organic. It's organic we'll say.

Speaker 6 (00:15:17):

Now a code is only any good if everyone who needs to know it does in fact know it. I guess it's important to note that a code is always a covering up it's existence as a code is predicated on a weird kind of obscuring, like a sleight of hand magic trick. I came to a point after many years of attending such conferences as this one that I no longer quite understood what I meant when I called a piece of work organic. This was a problem. It sent me off hunting for answers. The best essay I found that deals with this is Paul Valerie's man in the seashell in it. Basically he picks up a shell and asks, by what process did this pretty thing come to be? Valerie seems deeply saddened by the fact that the poet poetic man is only kind of like the mollusk, which creates its beautiful dwelling the shell from within itself without a thought or care.

Speaker 6 (00:16:13):

He writes, we can never in our object arrive at the happy union of substance and shape that is achieved by the inarticulate creature, which makes nothing but whose work little by little is differentiated from its flesh progressively moving away from the living state as though passing from one state of balance to another while the malice dwells effortlessly with that which of itself creates, we have language, a substance or material that feels like it comes from outside us. An unnatural material with which we seek to shape a satisfying dwelling language forces us to use it and then define ourselves accordingly. We literally have no other way to talk about ourselves with without it. And a lot of writers have wrestled with this idea that language actually ends up speaking us and not as we assume vice versa. This has been a hangup for poets through the ages, how with nothing but words are we supposed to make something as whole and complete and solidly delicate as what nature renders without a will or choice.

Speaker 6 (00:17:20):

An example that comes immediately to mind is Marie Howell's fantastic poem, the meadow, which begins as we walk into words that have waited for us to enter them. Sow the meadow muddy with dreams is gathering itself together and trying with difficulty to remember how to make wild flowers. I really like this because first of all, she stresses this idea that we enter language. Language receives us. We are no more than guests who will when the party's over, take our coats and ghees and get going into the rainy dark. And secondly, I like the way she implicates nature neatly suggesting that it too like poets can actually forget how to work with the material it's got to work with. Valerie would eat that up. The poem goes on later to say there will come a day when the meadow will think suddenly water root blossom through no fault of its own.

Speaker 6 (00:18:14):

The process of creation, even if this doesn't make a lick of logical sense happens against nature's will through no fault of its own. While we bumble about with words hoping to stumble across some combination thereof that feels real and light enough that we can fool ourselves into believing it's alive naturally and complexly interconnected enough for us to dare to call it organic. So this unification of form and content is one thing that really fires my editorial and artistic pistons. When a writer is able to render in prose how an experience feels or tastes, that's just incredible. Literally. I don't mean a simple description either, but that more mysterious sense of success that arises when the language mimics what we experience in life, not simply what that experience in life is like. I think that comes close to what people mean when they call it description or a story or poem inevitable.

Speaker 6 (00:19:07):

Any who here at the end of a day, when you've all been hearing all about craft, I'm here to tell you that Tenhouse wants your vision. I understand what that word craft to mean technique and both aim at a kind of refinement and refinement and my mind is synonymous with a kind of purification, but purification can be deadly for art, at least the kind of art I'm interested in. A good little allegorical story about this is Hawthorne's the birthmark. A scientist's wife is the perfect example of beauty except for a small palm shaped birthmark on her cheek. And the scientist spends his story working and working to remove the birthmark, continually refining his method and he finally succeeds. But in the process, he kills her spoiler alert.

Speaker 6 (00:19:53):

We see so many stories at Tenhouse that are wound so tight that they never breathe. Breath one so well crafted that they're dead on arrival. But I don't want to suggest that craft and technique aren't valuable or can be ignored. Longfellow wrote, many have genius but wanting art are forever dumb. The two must go together to form the great poet, painter or sculptor. And it so happens the Greeks use the same word for both craft and art. Tegna, they called it etymologically speaking. Tegna means more deeply a way of knowing, and if we dig deeper, it means to have seen that is to apprehend what is present. TEGNA involves a process of uncovering things as they are. It is vision in the widest sense of that word. Think about it. How do we talk about really sublimely good stories and poems and essays? We say, huh, I've never seen things that way before.

Speaker 6 (00:20:49):

What would we call Kafkaesque? Had Kafka written nothing but insurance documents. Had Lilo continued on in advertising with the most photographed barn in America, still have his burnish, its burnish. Would April be the happiest month if Elliot had remained a banker? When we talk about works by David Foster Wallace and Lydia Davis and Frank Bidart, more than anything, I think we're talking about their peculiar visions of our shared world and in their act of seeing and knowing they uncover things as they are, fix them in a work of art. This is TechNet and to quote gas again, this takes tremendous skill and except in rare and highly favored persons, great labor. And I feel like that comes at least close to expressing what I'm looking for as a reader, as a writer, as a person, something that restores to our world the very possibility of meaningfulness. So what do I hate? Maybe anything that doesn't at least strive for this. Thanks.

Speaker 7 (00:21:59):

All right, well thanks for coming everybody. So I think Chein covered most of my basic thoughts on this topic, so maybe I'll try to respond to a couple of things that came up earlier in the conversation. I'll try to talk first about something that Patrick brought up, which is the frustration of submissions from writers who appear to be not terribly familiar with the work that our magazines do, which is something that comes up a lot in discussions like this, but at this point it's a little hard for me to feel true hatred for that. It's sort of a fact of nature I think in this business. It's something that probably since the first writing conference thousands of years ago, somewhere in the Fertile Crescent, the Babylonian editors were pleading with their writers to not do this, to read the damn magazine before sending the story out.

Speaker 7 (00:22:52):

And the writers probably wrote that down on a tablet, scraped it out, and then of course they didn't do that. Why would they do that? They have no interest in reading all of those magazines and it's probably impossible to read all of those magazines just as it's impossible for us to read all of those stories and it's sort of just the world we live in as editors and it is something to be aware of maybe just as a simple reality that you're submitting into this stream, this sort of dark matter of literature that isn't really seen by anyone except for magazine editors. There's a tremendous amount of it. Most of it is not strange, confusing. It can be difficult to stay with past page one or two, but that's really where a lot of literature lives for us as we're reading for our magazines. And at this point I almost wonder if it would be more helpful for writers to sort of look in that direction rather than at the magazines.

Speaker 7 (00:23:54):

You could simply stop reading magazines and only volunteer at one and read what is submitted to them and then write something that is not like any of that and it would just cut right through it. It would be incredible. And that's really your competition. It's not what's in there already. I mean, I think that stuff is the work you really want to belong with that, but the stuff you're trying to cut through is really what comes before it and what's outside this strange body of mass literature that is just constantly being generated and thrown at our doors. It will never stop coming. Those writers will never read the magazines. Those birds will always fly into the jet engines. You can't talk them out of it. It's just going to keep happening. So that's a hatred I try to let go of.

Speaker 7 (00:24:46):

I am glad though that Patrick pointed out, I think the true editorial hatred is self-loathing. That's where we really like to put it. We really do turn it inward because you feel terribly insufficient in this job. There's too much to do, there's too little time to do it. You find yourself hitting limits all the time, just limits in terms of the attention you can give to a piece, the space and the magazine, the amount of work you can do with someone before you have to turn around and do the next thing. It can be an incredibly endlessly frustrating experience and we love to f fate ourselves over that. I think that happens constantly and that probably is a good thing to bear in mind as well, I think as a writer, to know that the people you're submitting to who can be seen as these sort of, I don't know, impassive, mandarin overlords, dropping the guillotine on you mercilessly at all times. Generally we're full of panic and confusion ourselves and are simply trying to put together the best magazines we can and then we look back at them kind of in terror and wonder how we managed it at all. Those are my thoughts on hatred in the literary world today.

Speaker 8 (00:26:17):

Well, this has been a lot of fun. I feel really good company with all these self loathers and molluscs and really thoughtful people. So I'm just going to show you the New England Review. This is a magazine that I edit, which is a quarterly, we're in Middlebury, Vermont. And on that note, I think that the New England Review has to work against its title a little bit. We aren't out to publish Nathaniel Hawthorne's offspring or Emily Dickinson's as much as we love them or essays about the beauty of autumn leaves or exclusively literature by people who live in and write about Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maine. While we love New England and we are indeed based there, we don't see that as our purview any more than say Tin House sees the zinc sided Victorian house in Portland as their purview. We look for writers of all kinds and writing by all people.

Speaker 8 (00:27:11):

So just to clarify that, I think a lot of writers already know that, but there's probably also quite a few who don't. I've gathered that from various submissions. So I think that the others have really covered the ground here, but it's such a tempting theme, what we hate. I thought, whoa, who me? I'm so optimistic. I don't hate anything I love, I just love. But then I thought, actually it's not that hard. I was just suppressing some memories. But I actually want to start off with this quotation from Vladimir to Boho and his interview in the Paris Review. It's fairly famous, but it's fun nonetheless, the interviewer says, and the function of the editor. Has one ever had literary advice to offer? Nabokov says, by editor, I assume you mean proofreader. Among these I have known limpid creatures of limitless tact and tenderness who would discuss with me a semi as if it were a point of honor, which indeed a point of art often is.

Speaker 8 (00:28:18):

But I have also come across a few pompous of ular brutes who would attempt to make suggestions, which I countered with a thunderous stat. So I hate that because one of the joys of being an editor at a magazine such as ours is working with authors, is looking at titles and saying, is that really the best title? Is that last sentence? Right? And sometimes I'll lop off the last sentence just to see if they notice and if they come back and say, yes, yes, you can't do that, or there's a back and forth. I love the back and forth. I want to make sure they really meant to do what they did because sometimes I think that having an outside reader, somebody who hasn't lived with the piece, the way a writer has lived with it, can actually be helpful and can help make clarity where a writer has really, I mean I know this, you just read it so many times that you have no idea if it even makes sense anymore.

Speaker 8 (00:29:15):

So anyway, every once in a while we do encounter defensive writers, even pompous and avuncular about editorial changes. And like I said, we want them to defend their choices, but defensiveness implies that they think that we are aggressive and out to get them and at least idiots when really I think we are some of the biggest fans obviously of the people that we are publishing. That kind of attitude is pretty unusual and it usually happens with the very young and the very old, but I hate that. And another point more frequently, once a year or so, we will call or email an author to accept a piece and they'll say, oh, I'm sorry that was just taken by the New Yorker or somebody else, anybody. And that's good for them. We're glad that when they find homes for their works, we just don't want to find out after the fact.

Speaker 8 (00:30:16):

So by the time we pick up the phone to call somebody, we have read this piece so many times in so many different shades of light and so many different moods and we still love it. And while we're reading this piece over and over, we haven't been reading all the other pieces that are in the pile. And so when you call somebody and say, we want this piece, and they're like, oh, I'm sorry, that was just taken by another magazine, you feel really burned. And this has happened to me a number of times. Most recently it was with this 50 page essay that I just couldn't believe how amazing it was. It was about James Joyce and sex or something. How did somebody manage to write this incredible essay about that? My readers loved it. It was total slush pile material. We don't know who this is.

Speaker 8 (00:31:02):

This person has never published anything in a literary magazine before. And so by the time it gets to the point where we've all read it all of these times and we really want it and then to be like, no, sorry, somebody else is publishing that already. You feel like I could have spent that time on this pile over here instead of rereading and rereading a piece that really wasn't available. So on the theme of what I hate, I can think of one more thing in general, and that is occasionally we'll spend a lot of time wrestling with a piece and we'll think, well, should we take this? Should we not? And we talk about it, we go back and forth and ultimately maybe we decide against it. And so sometimes I'll say to the writer, sorry, we decided against this one and we gave it a lot of thought.

Speaker 8 (00:31:45):

If you want to hear more about our discussion, let me know. You don't want to assume that they want to hear because sometimes they really don't. But I had one time where I did this and I wrote back all these comments and it turned out that the person forwarded all the comments to a friend and there was a snarky back and forth about does this person know what she's talking about? And then they printed it out and sent the whole conversation back to me with a revision. And I guess that what I'd like to say is that it's of course totally fine to question the editor's comments. We make a lot of mistakes. It's not always easy to articulate what you think is or isn't working about a piece. But I would just say if an editor writes personal comments about your piece, don't put it on your blog and don't send it back to them.

Speaker 8 (00:32:29):

It's just really embarrassing to get your own words back in another form and be like, yikes, these were being shared around. So I would just say, don't do that because it me not want to do that anymore and just go, no thank you and not say anything beyond that. So I should also say that we realize that there are a lot of things that writers hate about submitting to journals and publishers probably a lot of it to do with the amount of time it takes us and with the personal or impersonal rejections. And we are always trying to fix those problems, make it as humane as possible, and we're always fine tuning our process of reading submissions, trying to, should we get more readers? Should we have fewer readers that we know better? How can we make this go faster? And we have all these volunteers who are readers and they're doing it just because they love it and they're learning about writing by doing that.

Speaker 8 (00:33:19):

So in fact, we have one reader who's been doing it now for 10 years. So it's a lot of work, but I think that you should know that they're doing it out of love for writing rather than out of a desire to, I don't know, have revenge or something. And one thing actually I really want writers to know also is that literary journal editors and magazine editors, while we spend a lot of time reading and looking at works to either accept or decline, we also spend a ton of time doing other stuff for our magazines, like websites, website design, layout, proofreading, galleys, budgets, writing grants, sending renewal notices, e-newsletters, training volunteers, new plans, social media and all of this stuff takes a lot of time. So as I like to say, art is not efficient and literature is not efficient, and that's just part of its beauty.

Speaker 8 (00:34:14):

So be patient and just quickly, I know we really want to hear your questions, but I just want to say a few things that we love just to be a little happier about the whole thing. We really do love to discover new writers, people that have never published before, and sometimes we have great success with that. We did have one person, we published her very first story and then it ended up in Best American Short Stories. And we still think of that as like that's a total win for everybody. We also love to see new work by people we've published before and our staff is really small. So if we have signed a note, feel free to address this by name. We'll be glad to hear from you. You don't need to go back to dear editor again. And then a big one for me is that I love assembling the magazine.

Speaker 8 (00:34:57):

I love taking all of the poems and the stories, the translations that we've gathered for the issue and putting it all together in one big book. I like to see what themes come out of it and how they play off each other, how they talk to each other and create kind of a whole new story of their own. So the magazine itself becomes like another poem. And finally, I'll just say that we love experiments. We love polished, crafted writing. We also love wild and unruly writing, and I think as long as they in the end form that organic mollusk thing that we can never describe, I think we're all set. There are some things we hate, but they tend to get buried under the piles and piles and piles of things that we love and that's why we're here and that's why we do this. Thank you.

Speaker 2 (00:35:51):

We have a healthy amount of time now for questions. We're very curious to hear from you. I'll be repeating your questions as I said I would. You're welcome to direct your questions to one of the specific individuals that's up here or just to throw it out to the panel in general. Why don't we start right here,

Speaker 9 (00:36:08):

One kind of writing or another, how do we read these? Try to figure out if we might be.

Speaker 2 (00:36:16):

So the question is how the writer better identifies publications periodicals that fit with his or her writing.

Speaker 4 (00:36:24):

I'm the oddball here in that I work for a book publisher and I do believe that Jordan is partially right about his critique of my comments about people reading. But I find that covering letters that artfully describe how a work fits into the list at Milkweed editions are some of the most exciting things that I see before opening up a full manuscript. And they make me much more well inclined to the manuscript when I do get into it. And I have to believe that if you try to craft such a cover letter and it doesn't feel true or right to you when you're trying to situate your work at that publication, that you're probably sending it to the wrong place. I also think that there's such a strong desire to be published now right away and to go out to multiple different locations all in a given six month period or one year period. And I just feel like if we're working on something worthwhile and long lasting, waiting for just the right spot can be valuable. And that said, I am not a writer, so I know that urge in a different way, but some of the magazine editors might have a different answer to that.

Speaker 5 (00:37:36):

I'll add to that. I would say look for the genres that a certain magazine is publishing. Look for the patterns among those genres. Oh, they tend to like a strong narrative presence. Oh, they tend to not want a strong narrative presence. Oh, they tend to publish really deep think pieces or oh, they tend not to publish really deep think pieces. And I think there's one piece that's in almost every magazine that's a giant signpost for what that magazine is looking for, which is the editor's letter. And typically in there you're either getting a sensibility that's being broadcast or the editor is actually highlighting some of the content and saying, this is the content we're especially proud of because of this or that. And they may not say it in those words, but that's written between the lines of those editors letters. We sit down and write those letters thinking what do we really want the readers to understand about this issue? Also, maybe you could look for if it's a magazine that put some content online, but not all of it, what is the content that they're choosing to put up there? That's content that's usually been pre-selected because it best exemplifies what the magazine is trying to do also because the magazine sees that it can have success in a larger non-subscriber audience. So those are a few clues you could follow.

Speaker 2 (00:39:00):

How about right here? Keep going. Are there

Speaker 10 (00:39:02):

Particular themes, topics or techniques that they're seeing too much?

Speaker 2 (00:39:09):

Are there themes, topics or techniques that editors are seeing too much of?

Speaker 5 (00:39:15):

I'll go again. I'll jump in again. Memoir that's written for the writer, not the reader. I think that's perennial. I don't think that's a seasonal issue. We see a lot of memoir at Orion. We do publish proportionally more memoir than many magazines, but a fair amount of the memoir that comes through our submission window process really hasn't been digested and crafted to give the reader a certain experience. It's really written for the writer wanting to get down and makes some sort of statement about something that happened to them. And that's a huge transformation to understand when you've stopped writing for yourself and really started writing for an audience.

Speaker 6 (00:40:01):

I also think just to add to that, the question of whether your story is about something that you might be seeing too much of might be the slightly wrong question to be asking because I think if a story itself is living and breathing and feels urgent and alive, we will publish seven stories that are the same that each live in its own way. So it's kind of figuring out whether your story is alive, it doesn't matter quite for me and Tin now what the story's about. We don't read for content in that way.

Speaker 2 (00:40:40):

How about right here? The question concerns policy around simultaneous submissions.

Speaker 8 (00:40:53):

We are happy to have writers submit simultaneously. We are iffy about poetry right now, but I'm talking about prose. That's what takes a long time to get a response and I have no problem whatsoever with simultaneous submissions. I'm sorry if I gave that impression. The problem that I have is when they don't tell you that it was taken elsewhere. So if you submit to five magazines and one of them takes it, hurry up and tell the other four. Just keep a good list, keep their emails at hand or whatever and tell them right away because you never know they might be cheering about it right now. We can't wait to call her up and then you want to get them before they get to that point. So simultaneous submissions are absolutely necessary for prose writers. You can't wait six months and then send it and wait six months or whatever, but just the taking it back is really, really important. So that's all I have to say about that. Anyone else?

Speaker 5 (00:41:48):

I would add that if you submit to five magazines at once, but there is one that really you want to be in more than the others and you hear from a different one, you can say, I have this with another magazine and I need 24 hours to get back to you. And you can go to the other magazine that you'd rather be in and say, listen, I sent you this, I sent it somewhere else they're interested, but I'd rather be with you. Would you be able to look at it quickly and let me know?

Speaker 4 (00:42:17):

I believe our policy is that we accept simultaneous submissions, but the answer is largely the same. Just communicate early and often if the status of your manuscript changes, my guilt complex bleeds over into my inability to respond in a timely way. So I often encourage people to go elsewhere because if I'm not fast enough to consider it, there's no reason that other people shouldn't be able to. But I do in general, love to take the opportunity to urge writers to have patience and to wait for the right opportunity because what's worse than not being published is being published in the wrong place. If your work gets picked up by an editor who doesn't know how to care for you or help you or is going to take advantage of the rights of your work. There are plenty of people out there who are willing to do that. And so six months all things considered, we live fairly short lives, but six months isn't that long, especially if we're talking about a work of art. So I urge patients,

Speaker 2 (00:43:14):

There's a question right here. The question is whether Patrick can elaborate on the art of the cover letter.

Speaker 4 (00:43:27):

This will surely not be eloquent enough to explain everything to you, but I think just think about it like literary criticism. You're explaining how your work fits into a larger landscape of both concept and style. So what you would say is I recently picked up copies of Zoology by Alison Hawthorne Deming and things that are by Amy Leach, and I noticed that you really appreciate creative nonfiction that's considering about humans' relationship to the more than human world. I've also recently been reading Leslie Jameson and Ula Biss and I feel like my book is in that conversation, but let me explain to you the five ways in which it's different or the five ways in which I feel like I'm touching on a different concept or in a different way. It's really, I mean we always talk about at Milkweed that before any book actually gets sold to a reader, it is sold to about eight people in between.

Speaker 4 (00:44:21):

So first the writer sells it to the editor, then the editor sells it to their staff, then the staff sells it to the Salesforce, then the Salesforce sells it to the wholesalers, then the wholesalers sell it to the bookseller, then the bookseller sells it to the reader. And when you consider how many books are published every year, that's a pretty hopeless process all things considered and yet amazing things come through it all the time, and they typically do because people get really good at talking about their work in a way that keeps other people from falling asleep. And so my trick was always to go home and describe to my father whatever book I'm trying to sell because he couldn't care less about the majority of books that Milkweed was publishing. So once I saw the light not go dead in his eye as I was describing something, I knew I had landed on some sort of a pitch that was going to work effectively and then I'd go use that with the Salesforce and with the wholesalers and the booksellers and et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. So I think that there are so many opportunities to speak to other readers and writers before you submit something and just share that letter with lots of people and say, do you feel this is compelling? Et cetera, et cetera. Does that make sense? Yeah, it really does. Sure.

Speaker 2 (00:45:25):

Do other panelists have thoughts that they would like to share about the art of the cover letter

Speaker 6 (00:45:32):

For literary magazines? I would say somewhat the opposite, like the shorter the better, and I don't mean long. Yeah, we mean nothing haiku explaining really. I don't know how other places work, but at Tin House we don't really read the cover letter. So you guys, if they get longer than a paragraph sort of red flags start going up and if they get longer than they should never be longer than a page definitely. But for us it's never going to make or break a submission. So I would say keep it to, its the most basic info that you can give us. Yeah, the submission succeeds on the actual submission

Speaker 11 (00:46:16):

Knowing how precious your time is. When some of us have gotten a nice rejection, personalized rejection back, is it proper etiquette for us to then say, thanks so much for giving me some guidance and direction, or do you never want to hear from me again?

Speaker 2 (00:46:34):

The question concerns the etiquette around nice return letters.

Speaker 8 (00:46:39):

Well, I think that was one of the points I was trying to make was that we're people too. And so if I said something and I signed not the editors but myself, I would be happy to hear back. I want to know if that was helpful. I want to know what happened. It doesn't always work out, but I think that we like to be in conversation with writers if we've said something in particular to them, I love hearing that it was helpful and that they went and published it somewhere else or anything like that. So like I said, we don't need to become dear editor again. We can be ourselves. Anyone else?

Speaker 6 (00:47:14):

I'll ask if I ask for a revision, I want to see the piece again. If I don't ask for a revision, I don't want to see the piece again, sort of again, if our job is to help you be clearer for the reader, I hope that the instruction I'm giving personal responses is clear enough. I'm not trying to play a game, I'm not trying to make you guess on what I want. That would be in some way to fail. You and me also

Speaker 2 (00:47:43):

May back there dark shirt.

Speaker 12 (00:47:46):

I'm just curious if Mr. Knapp, you'd be so kind to answer the question about simultaneous submissions because does Tenhouse not discourage simultaneous submissions?

Speaker 6 (00:47:56):

Oh yeah, no, we accept simultaneous submissions. I would say that the same thing holds that other people have said that it just be clear in your correspondence if something else has been accepted. We often find with poetry that people, we accept five poems at a time. One of the five is accepted. And so they'll write and say, one of these has been accepted, please consider the other four. But we understand. Yeah, please submit to everyone

Speaker 13 (00:48:28):

Can speak new writers.

Speaker 2 (00:48:32):

The question is about policy around accepting work from new writers.

Speaker 8 (00:48:36):

So yeah, we read a ton of stuff by people who have never published anything before and then when you go to accept something, you look at the cover letter because like Chein said, you kind of, when you get a lot of submissions and a lot of 'em are pretty short, you want to spend the time with the submissions rather the cover letter. When you've read it a million times, you're looking at the cover and you're like, wow, this person actually hasn't published anything in this area before. This is really cool, but I'm also really going out on a limb, right? Because it's 50 page essay for instance, the person doesn't have any kind of track record and you're excited like, wow, I'm going to do this. I was trying to describe that as maybe part of the excitement and the thrill of it and then just to really make you feel the disappointment with me of like, no, you can't have that. So I think that reading the cover letter after you read the piece and then discovering that they really are not a published writer is sort of a point in its favor. Then you go like, oh, good. Then we get to be where if they've already published a million books and are all over the place, you feel a little bit less like you did it or less invested because as editors we like to, I don't know, do good works and have been the person to have given this person a break

Speaker 2 (00:49:41):

Just as moderator. I would say that it's exciting to receive and publish work from known writers. That's a thrill. But I think especially as you mature as an editor or a publisher, publishing work from newer writers is a lot more exciting. You really feel like you've been engaged in a discovery yourself, that you're having influence on what's available in the writing world in a different way than publishing somebody who's known and that it's really fun to have the sensation of helping somebody in their career. It's something that all of you is something that as anyone as a writer who is trying to emerge and feel encouraged around because editors really love that. Next question, the question is how often things are returned strictly on basis of not being on with an individual publication or

Speaker 5 (00:50:30):

I have to say for Orion, that happens a lot. That happens especially with fiction. I am sent exceptional fiction all the time. That doesn't fit our theme as loose as it is, it doesn't fit our sensibility. It may actually fit our theme but not our sensibility. So those sort of two things intersect at a real sweet spot and where fiction is concerned, it's a pretty tight little circle there. But the same thing goes for a nonfiction. This is a really incredible expose, but it's really hard to do expose in Orion. This belongs in another magazine and it's heartbreaking to see something that is that good and that special that just doesn't work for your publication.

Speaker 7 (00:51:13):

I think it can happen that an editor will find a story that is maybe the perfect story for them but isn't necessarily the perfect story for their magazine. I feel like that's where that would come up. In general, A real

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