"We're a Magazine That's Trying to Move Forward"
Interview by Rachel Worrall
Your mission states that... 'We dedicate ourselves to encouraging, nurturing, teaching, and learning from the writers we meet through careful consideration of their work and meaningful dialogue.' Does this mean if you like a piece of work and want to publish it but don't think it's quite there, you'll go through the editing process with the author until it's ready?
Yeah, but only if we really know that it's maybe one specific thing than can be changed. We do this with maybe one piece a year - especially if it's something we've never seen before and we really want to publish the piece. But we don't go in looking for that kind of editing.
How many fiction, poetry and non-fiction submissions do you get per issue? Can you walk me through the acceptance process?
We get over 10,000 submissions a year over two issues. We've had the (on-line) submissions manager for the past year and a half. We try to manage the mail submissions (~ 5% of current submissions) to keep them neck and neck to be fair to the writers but we also send out a slip now to remind people about the submissions manager and I think because of that we keep seeing a decline in mail submissions. We read the oldest things first.
During production time we don't read. The editors all read submissions before the staff do, next they go to a set of trusted associate editors. When we've picked out the possibilities we bring them to the whole staff in a meeting. This amounts to maybe a dozen submissions each. Our people read the work very closely. After the meeting there's a final decision and then a vote. I've never liked the perspective of the least qualified members of staff getting eyes on work and passing on it or passing it up first. The way we do it also makes it easier to teach. The students get more out of it by us, the editors, being able to explain to them why something's good, why something is not so great.
Does the fiction editor have sole jurisdiction over the fiction that enters the magazine or do the other editors - the editors in chief and the Managing Editor also chip in?
Right now we're in-between fiction editors, so I'm the fiction editor. I share the work with some trusted advisors in the shape of graduate students.
Not all magazines have a manager in chief and a Managing Editor, why do you?
We have a Managing Editor because a student wanted to do it. On the magazine, if someone's willing to do all the correspondence and handle queries then we'll let them, and we'll give them the title Managing Editor. It's a student- run magazine and we try to give people opportunities. Karen Craigo and myself do a lot of it - if no one wants to do certain work, Karen and I do it. But otherwise we leave it to students who are willing to pick it up.
What benefits and what challenges do you feel being attached to Bowling Green creates for you?
Only benefits as far as I can see. Bowling Green invented its student magazine in order to give students editorial experience. It's very important that students have that. The benefit of having the magazine attached to Bowling Green is that I have great students working for me - so I see a lot of different points of view, I meet a lot of great people. Funding is always an issue of course. But they give us a space, they give us students. If we felt it was a problem we'd start our own magazine.
You have such a brightly colored web-page. It really stands out. What do you think the web page says about you?
The web page is really a place for people to get the information about the magazine that they need. Secondarily it serves as an index of all our authors. It's updated nightly. We don't print index reviews any more, especially in this era where paper and print magazines are endangered species. Sometimes libraries will call and ask us to index, so we ask them to refer to the website.
Why don't you accept art work?
We do accept art work. It's just we can't print color artwork because of the cost, apart from the cover. If we got an endowment from somebody we would have full color art spreads. But we can only use one artist a year. Some people send us things e.g. political cartoons or things that aren't a fit for us. Or they want to be commissioned to cartoon for us. But we're not moving to being a comic.
On your website it states that 'Some of the changes Wendell Mayo brought on include our dimensional increase to 6" X 9", and the switch to natural-grain paper, helping to make MAR one of the most attractive and professional literary journals.' How did you manage that transition and these changes?
One of the things Wendell asked is why is the Mid-American Review smaller than all the other American magazines? Then when we talked to the printer he had this nice white paper and Wendell said 'we want that'. We redid the layout for the 30th anniversary edition. We went for a different cover, font and layout. We had an art design and poetry major student and she wanted to help us out. She threw lots of ideas by us and we finalised the design from those. Again, it was about using the skills that people offer.
You're on FB and you have pod-casts, but as yet there's no on-line edition. Will we be seeing one soon?
I believe you're either an on-line journal or a print journal and at the moment we're a print journal. I don't know how you separate the two. I'm not going to put the 'b' stuff on line. We'll do a digital edition after a point but it wouldn't be something we'd do automatically or currently. The on-line journal has a lot of positive things going for it but we'd have to do it right - we'd hire a web-master. Also with an on-line edition you have to have a daily presence.
What about Facebook? You have a strong Facebook presence.
I use Facebook a lot to promote things - I'm personally friends with about 3,000 writers. If I want people to be interested in something I will Facebook it. We are also competing with on-line journals who can easily link their content. I want to stay as relevant as I can without hiring Steve Jobs as our CEO. If I can give kudos to people in the issue or to a contributor who has had a book published, I will.
What about your Pod-casts?
We haven't done one in a couple of months. We'll do another one soon.
Tell me about the Winter Wheat Festival.
The festival offers a unique blend of time and geography. It's a small setting where people have opportunities to participate on every level. People who come usually come every year - about 250 people. Sometimes more.
Do you pay for an article published in MAR?
We don't pay. Even paying a small amount like $10 a page adds up to a lot of money to us. When we did pay over two issues, because we had a small grant, the amount came to about $3,000 which is half the cost of printing and mailing a set of issues. Most writers just want the credit and I don't think not paying affects us much, not enough for it to make a significant difference, a difference that would be worthwhile.
Would you say you publish more work from established authors than new authors or about half and half?
We publish way more new authors. If we publish established fiction writers it's because we've been publishing them for years. If we like someone we'll keep looking at their work - we're not looking to not do that. It's harder to get established writers in fiction to contribute however as they have more chance of finding paid work elsewhere. Prize winners in poetry will still publish with us though. If people are writing short stories and poems because they're thinking they're going to cash in on them then they're looking in the wrong place.
You haven't mentioned the fact that you publish Nonfiction.
We don't have a Nonfiction writing program at Bowling Green. We used to have someone on staff who had a nonfiction MFA but we're between nonfiction editors right now. It's like the art work. I know what I like but I don't know if it's good for the genre. Much of the nonfiction that we get is from people who primarily write fiction and poetry for us.
What about your chapbooks?
We don't get any work from people wanting to be translated. We only get work from translators. We don't get as many submissions in this area. We believe though that no one is as dedicated to author translations as we are. The way the chapbooks work is that often someone will send us a single poem and then we ask for some more to make up a chapbook. We have twelve already for the coming year. It's an embarrassment of riches sometimes!
What would you like people to know about the magazine?
I want writers to know that we're pretty tireless in promoting people's work - those whom we think are really fantastic writers. We're tireless in trying to get the work out there that we think is good. We're a magazine that's trying to move forward - we're not avant garde and I certainly don't want to use that term - but we're certainly looking for the current thing - we print a lot of new writers. The voice of the MAR slowly changes over time and over time the MAR as a publication helps form the nation's literary voice. We like to think the magazine is symbiotic in that way - we help people get established and we help form what fiction and poetry and literary writing is.
Also, what I always say to the staff about editing is that every time we open an envelope or a file we should hope that that work will make it into the magazine. I'd like writers to know that we're not a magazine that's looking for a writer to fail. We're not opening an envelope or a file hoping to reject it. I want it to be 'the one'. I want to be able to get excited about it and show it to others. When you're doing 99% rejections it can get really draining. Sometimes we go through spurts where we don't accept things on the fiction side for a month or two - it's hard to work like that, it's depressing - so we try to stay positive.
I tell the staff to try to find the thing that's good about a piece and what they like about it. We're all writers so we know that our work is on some pile at someone else's magazine and we hope for the same treatment for our work as we give to the work of others. It's easy to go into rejection mode when you're behind on your correspondence. You have to get over that.