I was inspired to write this while working on a presentation about supporting change in publishing with a good friend of mine, Jónína Kirton. So many questions arose as we began planning and discussing the presentation: How do editors and those in power use authentic communication to level the playing field for marginalized writers? How can communication and transparency build trust? Yes, editors and readers of lit mags are mostly working via volunteer hours or working twice as many hours as they are paid for (trust me, this I know), but going back to basics and writing time into the budget is just as important as any other line item. I definitely don’t have all the answers for how to do this, but I know it’s a priority for me and especially other BIPOC writers, and I have decided to base all of my professional decisions around the concept of care. These moments I am about to describe are all blink-of-an-eye moments. Things you’d maybe disregard if you didn’t bother to look hard enough. Things you might miss while skimming.
Here, I share three of my personal experiences with three different Canadian Literary magazine editors. Although these might seem like small gestures, I assure you that these small acts add up. And yes, I’m counting. From asking me what I needed, to being honest about why my work may not be a fit, these rare acts of authenticity and care take time from folks’ otherwise busy day, and this is why I appreciated it so much. In receiving these small gifts I have since built these ideas into my everyday interactions with writers. How can I help remove a barrier that might be causing anxiety? How I can I lend agency, power, support to those who may not know how to ask for it, or worse yet, aren’t sure they deserve it?
My back and forth emails with one of the editors at the New Quarterly were warm and inviting. Not only did she take the time to personally reply to all of my questions about my essay ideas, but with each reply she shared something about where she was in that moment. That added a personal twist to each exchange. Simple. Thoughtful. Very much appreciated. Small acts, immediate connections.
I sent Arc a long poem. A long, long, long collaborative piece in hopes of having it live between the beautiful covers of Arc magazine. Instead of the traditional to-be-expect “no” I received an email explaining the space issue, but the editor also pin-pointed one of the sections of my poem that she was drawn to and why, which was pretty nice way to soften the blow of not publishing the long, long, long poem.
Worried about publishing fiction for the first time? No problem. The good folks at SubTerrain made me confident about my work, offered up suggestions that made sense, and reassured me that the final decisions were up to me. Extending the time for me to get my copy edits in, responding quickly to all of my emails without making me feel like I was taking up their time … unexpected but deeply appreciated.
I wish this list contained more than three magazines. My hope is that I will be able to add to this list often. And as an editor of a literary magazine I already know how this works. No one is expecting personalized responses to every email, but when you do have to correspond, it takes no more effort to be genuine even in your templated responses than it does to copy and paste the rejection or acceptance. Small moves, small gestures, massive impact.