Occasionally, I hear writers lament that their stories and poems are rejected by university-based journals because some kid has read it and sent it back before an actual editor could discover it. I have no idea how other journals really work, but I doubt that’s the case most places, and it’s not here at Passages North.
We’re housed at and funded by Northern Michigan University, and we’re grateful for that support. We’re also lucky to have students in and out of our office every day, students excited to be a part of the publishing process. And while our top priority is putting together the best issue we can, we also have a responsibility to those students. We – the editors – don’t have them reading submissions to do our jobs for us. Students read submissions so they can get a sense of how one particular literary journal works, how their own writing stacks up to what’s being sent out into the world, to help them develop an editing eye. We’re also teachers at heart.
Do I get a little more hopeful or excited when I see a story has gotten positive responses from my undergraduate and graduate readers? Sure. But I’ve also taken stories that these same readers gave a thumbs-down, and I’ve seen them latch onto stories I found sentimental and over-written. You bet, in some ways it’d be more efficient if I could just sit down every night and go through that day’s submissions and say yes or no to each story. But at the same time, I don’t envy those tireless editors of independent journals who have to do everything – everything – themselves. I’ve got a graduate student managing editor to run the office. For gosh sakes, we’ve got an office, even if it’s weirdly connected to the college health center, so people come in and ask for immunizations and pap smears way too often. We get to put our stories and poems and essays in print, even if that happens only once a year. We know we’re lucky.
To be direct about it: nothing gets sent back, rejected, based on a student vote. More to the point, nothing gets sent back (or accepted) based on any one person. We’ve got a whole big gang of poets and nonfiction and fiction readers on the hunt for treasures in the submissions, but our genre editors read every single submission. And then we talk to each other. (P.S. Submishmash is making this whole conversation happen so much more quickly, given we no longer have to wait for an actual manuscript to move its way around from reader to reader!)
I value all the feedback from our readers, who – even if they’re unpublished writers still – can give me honest reactions about which stories they found compelling, which they just didn’t. And besides, who am I, even as the journal’s fiction editor, to get to decide anything? Who is any editor? We’re all simply people – readers and writers – who love some things and don’t love some things. All writers can ask of us – or at least all I’d ask from a journal where I’m submitting my own work – is that an editor have the capacity to love some things. If that’s possible, then we’ll connect with somebody. Maybe you.