The most rewarding experience I had while interning at Superstition Review came, rather not surprisingly, during the selection process for our most recent issue. I say not surprisingly because it is during this process that you get the opportunity to give an author the thing they have been searching for: publication.
What did surprise me though were two works that the fiction editors discussed during the selection process and how we were able to work with the authors of those pieces in order to get them published in Issue 11. Both of these pieces would have more than likely received “nos” if we had not been able to work with the authors, something that I was not previously aware was even possible. I had never before thought of the freedom that technology afforded the literary world and the opportunity it offered in erasing the barrier that seems to exist between the publisher and the author.
The first example I want to talk about is the piece by Jacob Appel, “Burrowing into Exile.” Appel originally submitted a story called “A Display of Decency” which looked at a young man’s struggle with religion. It was well written and a good read, but the piece was drenched in baseball paraphernalia and took place in the 1940s. The general consensus was that this created a setting which might be difficult for our particular readership, which tends to be younger. In fact, one of our fiction editors did not recognize many of the references in the piece. This decision about how any given story fits a publication’s aesthetic is one that all literary magazines have to make (and trust me, as a writer this is a difficult lesson to learn). This could have easily been the end of this story: a decline due to incompatible audiences. Instead we contacted Appel and solicited another, more contemporary, piece from him. This is something that I do not think would be possible without the immediacy available through the internet.
Our second “on the edge” story was from an undergraduate student at Utah State University. Since we tend to publish mid and late career authors, we get very excited when we find work from undergrads that make the top of the pile (we don’t publish any ASU undergrads since we have a non-compete agreement with the ASU undergraduate literary magazine LUX).The editors involved in the selection process saw the potential of Kendall Pack’s story, “Make Your Own Lawn Darts (and Rediscover Happiness) in 8 Easy Steps.” It was equally clear that, as submitted, Pack’s piece was not quite where it needed to be in order to be published. There were rough spots and inconsistencies and neither the author nor the publication benefits from bringing a story to the public which is not really finished. This could have easily led to a rejection letter for Pack as well, but the freedom of Superstition Review’s setup allowed us to contact Pack and offer him publication contingent on his willingness to revise his submission. What could have easily been just another homeless story became Pack’s first publication which can only be seen as a great success story.
This ability to become an entity which can work hand in hand with an author to get a piece to publication level is one of Superstition Review’s greatest strengths. As a writer, I am well aware of the distance that often exists between the writer and the publisher, an expanse that is so large that agents are sometimes required as go-betweens. But the landscape of publishing is changing and no longer is an author required to mail out manuscripts and wait months to years before hearing back (at least this is becoming a near extinct process).
Technology has the capability to erase the gap of information between the publisher and writer, something that has not really existed on a wide scale until now. No longer is it a requirement that a publication send out a faceless rejection letter that tells the author only that they have not been selected for publication. Now, with the ability of submission programs to organize all submission along with the comments of the editors involved, it is easier to go back and see which submissions were on the cusp of publication. We can then look at these submissions and see why they were turned down and make that a part of our rejection letter. In an industry where so many variables can lead to a piece not being published it is an invaluable tool to be able to offer the writer at least a slight indication of why a piece was not selected. Or, even better, there is an opportunity to not only disclose these reasons but allow the author the chance to correct these mistakes if they so choose.
Obviously this cannot always be the case. Some large publications just do not have the time to look through all their submissions and tailor a specific response, but they at least have the option to tailor one for the submissions that are on the edge. It will also to take time for these technologies and the assets they offer to catch on. However long it takes, it does give me a great sense of hope for the future of publishing and I see a time where publishers and writers can work as closely as peers in other fields. I can see the benefit of writers and publishers establishing professional relationships that provide brief points of contact concerning the craft of writing.
Bonus opinion: without delving too deeply into an already cantankerous subject, I see these constantly evolving technological tools as a gateway to a future where biases can be circumvented by using submission programs to cloak the identity of submitting authors. This seems like an unbelievable boon to an industry which so recently suffered from a humiliating setback.