Confession Tuesday: What I Learned As An Editor

Dear Reader,
I am stepping down as the editor of the 30-year-old print literary journal Crab Creek Review to focus my time on Two Sylvias Press, a small indie press I began with Annette Spaulding-Convy (the other editor at Crab Creek Review).  

the last issue I'm editing...

I confess I am both sad and yet, I have this feeling of freedom, as for the last few years, I've had one hand in the cookie jar of Crab Creek Review, and the other hand mixing the batter of Two Sylvias Press.  It feels good to know that after AWP, I will be focused on one press.

I confess being an editor taught me a lot about being a writer and poet in the world.  It taught me a lot of what not to do, how not be a jerk in the publishing world. It taught me how to be strong and still be kind.

So here are a few things I learned as an editor 
that taught me how to better myself as a writer--

1) As a Writer, You Teach Editors Whether or Not To Work With You Again -- 

I have learned this lesson a few times both while editing the eBook anthology Fire On Her Tongue: An Anthology of Contemporary Women Poetry as well as through the many issues of Crab Creek Review.

There are poets who I admire and like as people who I will not work with again because they are pain in the butt.  

There are ways to ask for what you want without being a jerk or rude.

There is a way to be a gracious writer in the world-- learn to be that person, or realize, your chances of publication decrease with every obnoxious email you write, despite your talent.

Yes, your poem was marvelous, but you give me a headache.  You teach me not to publish you again by your actions.  I'm sorry, but there are just as many talented, fantastic, and overlooked writers who do not make my head hurt that we can publish.  We only have limited space and limited time, so we're choosing them.  

Please realize that along with talent, you need to have kindness too.  If you never learned that as a kid, I guess I'm going to have toughlove you into learning that with a rejection. I hope you figure it out.

2)  Sometimes Your Poem is Amazing and You're Still Rejected --

We are a print journal, so our space is limited.  We loved your poem (and hopefully, we let you know this on your rejection slip), but we had to say no.  Why?  We ran out of room for the issue.  

How can you raise your chances of being accepted?  Submit at the BEGINNING to midpoint of a reading period, not at the end.

I wish it was different. I wish we had bigger envelopes and a larger budget, but space and money always play into publishing. 

3)  Submit Like a Man (for the women)--

This has become a mantra I've shared with my women friends because here's a trend we've noticed as editors.

When we tell a writer we like their work and ask them to submit again, the male poets will submit work within a month (two at the very latest) of our asking.  The women writers?  We usually never hear from them again or until a year or more later.

When an editor asks you to submit again, she isn't kidding.

The male writers do what we ask-- they resubmit and usually accepted.  

The women, I imagine them sitting at home wondering, "Is it too soon to resubmit?  Did she really mean it or was just being nice?  What should I send, and when?"

And when in doubt of when to resubmit, feel free to ask with a note like that-- "I am so glad you enjoyed my poems.  Would you like me to resubmit in this reading period or the next one?"

And when you resubmit, remind the editor that s/he liked your poems-- we forget like that. Say something like, "Thank you for your kind note about my poems about death and thank you for asking me to resubmit. Here are four new poems I'd like you to consider..."

4)  Watch Out For the Three Fs (for the men)--

We noticed a trend in poems by male poets, which we labeled "The Three F's."  In every batch of poems, we received a poem by a male with one of these topics:

1)  Frogs:  The poem is how they injured or killed a frog as a boy and now feel bad about it. 

2)  Farting:  Either a poem about a bathroom, toilet, or fart joke about midway through.

3)  F*%#ing:  Yeah, you probably expected this one.  This isn't to say we don't like these poems or references, but realize, trying to write a good sex poem is hard.  Many times I felt as if I was reading a first draft of porn script (if they have script) and well, "pubic hair" is just clunky and reads as ugly as it sounds.

5)  Remember Most Editorial Teams are Volunteer--

Before you write the angry email about why no one has responded to the poem you submitted 6 weeks ago, remember, along with editing a literary journal, many of us have full-time jobs, children, families, ill parents, and are writers ourselves.  We try to give our best to the journal, but we are pulled in many different directions.

When you don't hear from us as soon as you like, it's most likely because we're behind and has nothing to do with you.  We love you poets and writers!  Journals exists because of you! This is why we would never charge you to submit your work to us.  But sometimes we get behind, especially as all the submissions start to slide in.  

Annette and I had a short sentence we'd always remember when doing something for Crab Creek Review-- Writers first.  

Writers are the reason we have a journal to publish.  Writers thrill us with their words and images.  We dedicated six years of our life to get your poems out into the world, to nominate them for Pushcart Prizes, and celebrate them as much as we can.

Sometimes we all get behind.  But we still love you.


I've learned a lot more as an editor, which I'll share at a later date, but right now, Annette and I have a day of The Poet Tarot planned (a new project soon to be released from Two Sylvias Press). Here's a sneak peek at a new card--
He's missing his crown... but a general idea of where we're going.

~ Kells 

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  1. Fyi- when my friend decided to start a literary journal, he asked me about what I liked and didn't like about various journals. I pointed out some specific things, but I also showed him issues of Rattle and Crab Creek Review as examples of presses that were doing great things.

    I appreciated the advice about re-submitting.

    Although I don't edit a journal, I have also learned that not all poets are worth dealing with, after years of hosting a reading series.

  2. Thank you, Shawnte!

    We worked hard. Tried our best. And am glad you saw the glitter beneath the coal.

    You are a wonderful poet to work with. That is 100% true!

  3. Thanks for the advice! I appreciate these tips, especially about submitting early and re-submitting. I just want to (politely) point out a typo in the heading for item number 2 (the first "you're" should be "your").

  4. I love that as an editor I used the wrong "your." Hilarious! Thanks for pointing it out. I shouldn't blog before coffee kicks in. (And I'll fix it!)

  5. Thanks for your advice, Kelli. Your thoughts on submitting work closer to the opening of a reading period is most helpful. I wish you the best as you focus on Two Sylvias full time!

  6. I think this is excellent solid advice to which every writer should pay attention.


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