Thursday, June 21, 2007

Where Have All the Editors Gone?

Picked up Books in Canada today. In it, an essay by John Barton called "Where Have All the Poets Gone?", lamenting the small number of poetry submissions he gets at The Malahat Review. He seems dismayed and a little puzzled by the whole thing. Which makes me think of a farmer who, after years of planting potatoes in the spring and ploughing in the fall, wonders why his once-rich field now yields such a paltry crop.

As I've mentioned in other posts here, I almost never submit unsolicited work to literary journals. Why? The short answer is I can't be bothered. The reasons why I can't be bothered are manifold.

I'm an email kind of person. The only things I send by post tend to be solid objects which can't be scanned or otherwise converted into a digital file. A poem can be encoded on a digital file. Hell, a hundred poems can be. What's the Malahat's policy on electronic submissions?

Electronic Submission

The Malahat Review does not consider submissions sent by email.

Not only that but

All submissions and queries must be accompanied by a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Submissions without an SASE will not be returned or responded to. Do not ask us to inform you about our decision about your work by email in lieu of enclosing an SASE. Submissions without SASEs will be kept on file for maximum of six months after we have complete [sic] our review of them. Email queries about submissions, however, are acceptable.

So, not only do I have to print out my submission and cover letter, using approximately 11 sheets of paper, but I have to buy two stamps. More likely three, as I'll probably want to use a big manila envelope, so I can stuff all those sheets of paper and my SASE into it. So now I'm out $2 in postage and materials.

And now, I wait. And wait. And wait.

Response time will vary depending on the volume of submissions received. Please allow one to three months for poetry submissions, three to nine months for fiction submissions.

One to three months ain't bad, if it's true--which it may well be, given how few submissions they're apparently getting. My experience is that it's usually longer. Sometimes over a year. But at least while you're waiting, you can send those poems somewhere else. Oh, wait:

Simultaneous Submission

The Malahat Review discourages simultaneous submissions. Our editors spend an enormous amount of time considering submissions; it is very disheartening to learn that work selected for publication has been accepted elsewhere.

Aw, I almost feel sorry for those poor disheartened editors! Imagine that! I wonder if it's as disheartening as waiting months to find out if your poems are going to get published, only to get a thin slip with a form rejection on it. Poor editors!

But just think of the cash rewards!


We purchase first world serial rights and, upon acceptance pay, $35 per published page, plus a one-year subscription. Copyright reverts to the author upon publication.

Woot! Granted, this is better than a lot of magazines, much better than the $5 I got paid for one of my first published poems, in a now-defunct magazine (at least it covered the postage), but not exactly a huge incentive for a freelancer. I usually get more than that for publishing a book review, which is a lot easier for me to write than a good poem and is almost guaranteed to be published a short time after I've submitted it.

So, if it's not the money, why should I yearn to be published in the eminently respectable Malahat?

Because it's an honour? Not really; they publish all kinds of boring stuff.
If I consistently see nothing there that much resembles the way I write, guess I shouldn't bother.

The best way to know what we're looking for is to order an issue at the address below.

Yep, don't worry about producing original art; they want house style.

Okay, but what if I'm a cynic and just want to use the magazine to put my poems in front of eyeballs? Don't kid yourself. No one reads these things. I bet few of those who subscribe read it cover to cover. Most of the subscribers are probably people who entered a contest, or who contributed to a past issue. For all your trouble, a very few people might glance at your poem once. Unless you're a "big name," in which case it's the page everyone turns to, so they can see your latest chef d'oeuvre. Sad as the statement is, the money's the best argument for submitting. Which is why I will publish poems in a journal when an editor asks me for them. And I find I tend to enjoy more the journals whose editors are pro-active in acquiring content.

Y'know, if I was an editor and I wasn't getting many high quality unsolicited submissions, I might just, oh, I don't know, SOLICIT SOME SUBMISSIONS!! If you're a poetry editor, part of the job description, it seems to me, is scouting, keeping an ear to the ground and seeking out work that will distinguish your publication from all the others. Boohoo, no one sends us stuff anymore, what are we to do? What will become of our poor little magazine? Why are my potatoes so puny and few? Oh well, guess I'll go out and get the ploughing done before winter.

And if I wanted to up my unsolicited submissions, I'd open it up to email. Yeah, you'll get a lot more crap that way, but it seems to me if you're complaining about not getting enough, you know... Anyway, it's not hard to filter and instantly reject the worst submissions.

And if I wanted to up my readership, I'd get web-savvy and build a site that complements and supplements the paper content of the magazine. Arc is, I think, the only lit journal to do a creditable job of this. Putting your table of contents on a web-page doesn't really cut it. All that is is information; a successful website combines information and entertainment.


rob taylor said...


nathan said...

Amen, amen. (Are we allowed to say that on the blog of a militant atheist?)

I worked at one of those quarterlies. It was like a sclerotic bureaucracy, decadent garden party, and ineffective charity, all combined in one useless, unread and unreadable magazine. It never got anything done, was always carrying a huge backlog of work that made it impossible to solicit work (because it would never see the light of day), was never sure what it was looking for (aside from "beauty"), and was constantly congratulating itself on being such an enlightened, beauty-seeking institution.

Zachariah Wells said...

I'd accept "true dat!" as a modern secular substitute.

Steven W. Beattie said...

True dat!

Zoe T. Leroy said...

True dat, amen and a hearty hell yeah!

R. W. Watkins said...

Glad I accidently stumbled across this, Zachy-baby. I think yours is the only online critique of Barton's Books In Canada-published nonsense I've encountered.

Immediately after reading his foolishness last year, I sent Barton an email explaining where he was wrong; some 10 or 11 months later, and he's yet to respond. I also sent a letter-to-the-editor email to Books In Canada; that, too, is yet to see the light of day. Furthermore, I emailed Books In Canada's Olga Stein, requesting that she bring my rebuttal to the attention of the man who requested Barton write the piece in the first place: their poetry editor, Carmine Starnino; you guessed it--I have never heard head nor tail of cuntish Carmine either. (Interestingly, Stein informed me along the way that, like me, she prefers dealing with American publications. Now why do I get the feeling that Starnino 'got to her'...?)

My conclusionary response to all of this? Such essays are arranged and written from a 'convenient' or 'self-fulfilling-prophetic' perspective in the first place. They need an excuse for their continued shoddiness, blandness, and refusal to raise the bar with superior new voices--Why not blame the poets themselves?!! From where I stand, they were doing the literary/editorial equivalent of the sexual harasser beating his or her victim in the race towards the police precinct (sort of like closet-paedophile Tory politicians when they raise legal ages and 'crack down' on child porn, years after molesting native girls at gunpoint while in uniform at the station). These pricks need an excuse for not opening the floodgates. The last thing they need is fresh new voices crashing their government-funded, smoke-free parties, where they sit around taking solace in each other's mediocrity as Adrienne Clarkson and John Ralston-Saul bless them with their pompous presence.