I'm a long-time reader of LROD and first want to say best of luck on your new literary journey. I just wanted to share with you and your readers my experience as a writer-turned-editor of a zine. If anyone is thinking of becoming the same thing, I hope they don't repeat my mistakes.
I have been on the receiving end of more rejections than I can count and I got the point where could no longer bear to be just another insignificant, replaceable little cog in the literary machine. I wanted to be someone who turned the crank--an editor. So in 2009 I started an online lit mag, which thank God no longer exists. I'm withholding its name because I don't want to face backlash from former contributors.
I started out as a good editor, adopted a submission policy that was painless, with just a few simple formatting guidelines that made it easier for me to upload the stories and poems to the site. Reprints and sim subs were OK by me. I sent out polite, encouraging form rejections and called authors by their names instead of "writer." I responded after a few weeks tops. I couldn't pay, but I did nominate stories for Pushcarts, Best-of-the-Webs, and tried to promote good writing.
The magazine's masthead listed several fake names of editors and readers so people wouldn't think it was just another personal website masquerading as a literary journal. In reality, there were only 1 and 1/4 people running the zine: me, and friend who occasionally read batches of poetry submissions. Looking back, it was a mistake to accept poetry. I can recognize bad poetry and know when to reject it, but I'm clueless when it comes to distinguishing between ok and good poetry.
Things went well during the first few months after its inception. I received a manageable trickle of submissions thanks to Duotrope, and I could find enough decent stories and poems to put out an issue every month or so. But as the magazine gained more of a following, reading the submissions became impossible.
The overall quality of stories decreased drastically as their number grew. In the early phase, one out of ten submissions was good enough to publish by my standards. When things got out of control, maybe one out of 250. Even if I had switched to a quarterly schedule, I wouldn't have had enough time to find enough publishable pieces.
I don't want to rag on some of the awful riterz I've had the displeasure of reading. But there was one guy who kept submitting stupid stories ripped off from episodes of popular TV shows (Lost, Mad Men, the Sopranos). Clunky prose, stilted dialogue, inconsistent use of tense and person, not knowing the difference between dessert and desert, or then and than -- and turns out this guy was a current MFA student at a university two towns over from where I lived. He's not even the worst; there was also an ESL guy from Croatia who insisted that his pieces were "endowed of top editing by top English speak." ESL man might have been a prankster; every story was a variation on man meets hooker, hooker under-delivers, man stiffs hooker.
Anyway, one weekend afternoon in late 2010, I was frantically skimming submissions trying to find at least a handful I could bear to publish. I was past the deadline and there was a backlog of months-old stories and poems that still hadn't been read. Even when I filtered out the kooks, and the idiots who sent attachments when I specifically said not to, the slush pile was winning and I was losing.
I took a deep breath and evaluated the situation objectively. Would a sane person do what I was doing? Why was I doing this? Was I getting the fulfillment of being an editor? No. And I wasn't even making good literary contacts. My writing time was being sacrificed for the sake of reading bad writing. I needed to stop immediately, and so I did.
I logged out of my submissions manager, opened up Paint, and created an image that said H4CK3D. I then logged in to my server, deleted all the files from my site, and uploaded the image. Problem solved. My online literary magazine was officially hacked and could no longer publish anything or process new submissions. I didn't notify my past contributors or the authors of pending submissions. I just tore it all down, walked away and never looked back.
It was a shitty thing to do, but really for the best. Everyone whose stories I published could resubmit them to better journals and forget the whole thing even existed. Hell, I've had my stories unpublished when online zines shut down, and I just resubmitted them elsewhere. Other editors don't care.
The experience made me realize several things that I was unaware of or had overlooked before:
- Being an editor isn't all that it's cracked up to be (unless you edit the Paris Review or New Yorker).
- Don't let "editors" get you down about your writing. Anyone can call himself an editor.
- Some editors are more aptly called "selectors," since they do very little editing. Anyone can be a selector.
- Blowhard editors, like some who have commented here, probably start out as nice people, but reading so much crap for so long will warp your attitude towards writers. I'm glad I stopped before I became a dick.
- Slow response times and curt form rejections really are nothing personal.
- The slush pile is as bad as everyone says it is. At a non-paying zine, even worse.
- On the bright side, if you are college-educated and read and write on a regular basis, your stories are probably in the top 10% of submissions. Even if you think you are a mediocre writer, there are tons of writers much worse. The fact that you can recognize mediocrity in your own writing is a point in your favor. Having to read so much dreck actually improved my self-confidence as a writer, though I don't recommend anyone try it for themselves.
How to not run a zine into the ground:
- Have an actual staff! You can't do it on your own, don't even try!
- Pay your writers. It's the right thing to do and your magazine will be better for it. If you can't make enough money from ads, subscriptions, and contest fees, you shouldn't be in this business. Exposure isn't payment.
Not to mention, how to be a better submitter:
- Follow the damn guidelines. They are not arbitrary.
- Don't copy another story/movie/TV show. Chances are your editor is more well-read than you think and will spot it. We're not all boobs!
- A cover letter with awards, publications, and degrees won't help you if your story sucks.
- Don't worry if you can't write a cover letter with a list of awards, publications, and degrees. Lit mags want to publish stories, not cover letters. Good writing can stand on its own.
- Thank the readers/editors for reading your submission. It may work in your favor.
And how to be a bolder submitter:
- Always sim sub.
- Never stop submitting to a journal just because they've rejected all of your previous submissions.
- Don't be afraid to resend a rejected story if you've reworked it
- If you can handle criticism, don't be afraid to ask why your submission was rejected. You might actually get a response.
- Thank the editor for his comments, even if they are idiotic and the guy's a dick. Never stoop to being a dick.
I hope that this is of value to some of your readers, thanks for taking the time to read my missive!