October 25th, 2011 / 2:29 pm

Reading Material

Today, Nouvella Books is launching Matthew Salesses’s novella The Last Repatriate. About the book: In 1953, after the end of the Korean War, 23 POWs refused to repatriate to America. The Last Repatriate tells the story of Theodore Dickerson, a prisoner who eventually returns to his home in Virginia in the midst of the McCarthy Era. He is welcomed back as a hero, though he has not returned unscathed. The lasting effects of the POW camp and troubles with his ex-fiancée complicate his new marriage as he struggles to readjust to the Virginia he holds dear. Nouvella is helmed by Deena Drewis and their business model looks interesting–limited print runs, 400 of which are sold during a week long launch, 100 sent to bookstores and events, as well as e-book distribution.

I was thoroughly entertained by this exploration of the minibar by Dubravka Ugresic—one of the best essays I’ve read in a long time.

If you’ve ever wondered what script writers think of bad movie scripts, wait no longer.

At the Los Angeles Review of Books, a thoughtful essay about the Occupy movement.

David Carr asks, “Why not occupy the newsrooms?”

Kyle Winkler thinks books are an existential crisis.

A lot of writers bristle when their work is vetted by students at literary magazines. Mike Meginnis has a lot to say about the matter. As a follow up, he has questions.

You can see the history of science fiction in one image. It is amazing.


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  1. Marcus Speh

      i just re-read stanislav lem’s “phantastik and futurology” which is an analysis and history of sci-fi, mostly. to find it ALL compressed in one image is truly amazing. may have to wrap this around my head and wear it to class this week…thanks.

  2. Anon2

      I’m sort of confused by Mike Meginnis’s post that seemingly applies one university’s model as an across-the-board example. 

      The fact is, many college-run journals–esp. ones with much bigger slush piles than Passages North–do not have a checks-and-balances system in place. I’ve been around several, behind the scenes, I would know.  

      I also don’t see why it’s a big deal to suggest that a 23-year old intern is likely to be a less astute and experienced reader than a 40-year old editor who presumably took that paid  position based upon experience (of course, there are main editors of journals who are also students). Perhaps the issue is personal to Meginnis because of his own age? I’ve worked at several college-run journals and, sorry, most people that age simply need more time to be more well-read.  One should be well-read in contemporary literature, but also in classic literature, so that he or she is not reading in an historical vacuum. I see this issue arise quite often amongst writers in their early to mid 20s in the online lit blogosphere–stuff that gets held up as “groundbreaking” and innovative is not all that groundbreaking to innovative to more experienced readers.

      There are no easy answers or solutions here, because there is more work to be read than available workers, but telling writers who are more experienced than many of the people reading their work to “just get over it, you’re not special” is equally as unproductive as those experienced writers telling “the kids to get off their lawns.” The Passages North model, in fact, sounds the most ideal, and instead of being pitched as the “norm” by Meginnis, should be instead pitched as what SHOULD be the norm at college-run journals. 

  3. Roxane

      I commented on the post itself but I agree that it’s perfectly fine to say yes, a student (regardless of their age) may not have the necessary expertise and aesthetic to make final decisions on creative work. I still think Meginnis raises questions worth talking about.

  4. Anonymous

      I agree with Mike.  If you like what a journal publishes, that means you trust their process when it comes to selecting work.  If you don’t think they are publishing quality material, then don’t submit there.  That’s all there is to it.

  5. Anon2

      Me too. I’m just not sure about the presentation at the moment. I liked your post. 

      Here’s another key issue: despite the acceptance of online publishing as viable, the most prestigious publications still tend to be print and attached to universities. The most prestigious journals, then, often have the most inexperienced staff. I think it’s reasonable for some writers to be concerned with this. 

  6. Anon2

      Unfortunately, it’s not that simple, especially with college-run journals that rotate staffs on a regular basis. 

      And it’s quite possible for a journal to publish “quality material” and still have readers who miss stuff, so I’m not sure how those two ideas line-up neatly.

  7. Anonymous

      The magazine’s staff’s only obligation is to put out a good magazine. Anything beyond that is nice of them, but not required. You can be upset about it, but unless you’re involved with putting the magazine together, you don’t really have a say.

  8. Anon2

      What I find strange about your post–and others on this issue–is how much they resemble this rather American idea that the consumer (in this, the writer) should “not have a say.”

      It’s just further proof that even in circles one would consider liberal and progressive–like, literary circles–cream rises to the top. 

  9. Anonymous

      As an American I’ve learned not to expect special consideration from big institutions. They’re really bad at special consideration. Expecting otherwise seems either naive or entitled. Or I might just be a pessimist.

  10. Anon2


      So questioning the experience level of the people who say “yes” or “no” to your stories or poems is the equivalent of seeking “special consideration?

  11. Mike Meginnis

      Anon: I’m not saying everyone does it the way that magazine does. My point is the fact that writers get upset about being evaluated by insufficiently educated people, and that editors humor them, reveals a really ugly sense of entitlement and a deeply weird hostility toward students.

      I will absolutely concede that most MFA students are awful readers. But so are, well, most editors, and most human beings; I’m bored to tears by practically everything that gets published in a given year. (And I do think committee-based decision-making plays a big role in that. My favorite publishers tend to have control freaks at their centers.) The fact is that whenever you submit, you’re putting your work in someone else’s hands. You don’t know who they are. You don’t know how smart they are. You don’t know how old or well-read, most of the time. Seems like the only mature thing to do, given all that, is to choose magazines you like and hope that they like you too.

      And of course if you want to ever get read outside the academy, it might be a good idea to stop seeking such carefully protected environments for your work. Readers don’t ask themselves if they’re qualified to not like your stuff. They put it down and forget about it.

  12. Mike Meginnis

      Yes. It is.

      What should someone have to do or be to earn the right to know your writing isn’t for them?

  13. Matthew Mahaney

      Seems more important to question the reason someone who’s opposed to unqualified readers having a say in who gets published would submit to said journal. Why not only send your writing to those special journals staffed by old, paid, expert editors?

  14. Anon2

      Hmm…nowhere do I say or suggest that I’m “opposed to unqualified readers having a say in who gets published.” Instead, it’s pretty clear from my first post that I support the oversight of interns.

      Interns are interns for a reason. 

  15. Anonymous

      Not to mention that in addition to questioning the individuals reading it, you are questioning the judgment of the individuals who felt they were trustworthy enough to read it and, thus, the selection process of the magazine.  The MFA students didn’t sneak in and decline submissions overnight when no one was looking.

  16. Anon2

      They should be reasonably qualified or intern in a system that oversees their reading.

      Obviously, it’s impossible to completely quantify “qualification,” but most other professions seem to manage. Reducing everything to mere surface matters of taste like, “I like this, I don’t like this, Its not for me,” is a cop out, one that pretends like editing isn’t about placing those “likes/dislikes” in a deeper context in conversation with tradition and innovation.  Most experienced editors are able to discuss the work they accept and reject in these terms. 

  17. Mike Meginnis

      What does it take to be qualified to reject your work? Is it a certain amount of education? A certain amount of publishing?

      If you want people to follow this rule it can’t be some vague intangible, you need to offer specifics: degrees, awards, something.

  18. Anon2

      Do you work in academia? If you do, then you know how much everyone is stretched thin and overworked. Many of the individuals in charge simply don’t have time to debate whether or not to “trust” readers when the reality of a 5,000 manuscript slushpile stares them in the face.  

      So, in fairness to the many of the inexperienced readers, the system itself is just as much to blame. 

      I’ve also seen how this works at several places–interns are eager to read for the first month, then fall off the face of the earth, only to grumpily reappear a month or so later after the editor has scolded them, usually toward the end of the semester. These are often the people entrusted to say yes, no, or maybe to stories. 

      Again, I have seen this operate at multiple national journals and trust my experiences and the experiences of numerous peers. Take it or leave it. The Passages North model is not the norm.

  19. Anon2

      What “rule” have I suggested, other than not allowing interns to have the power to reject stories without anyone else reading the story?

  20. Tracy Rae Bowling

      Whoa! The consumer in a literary magazine system is the writer? Literary magazines are, yes, consumed in large part by readers _who are also_ writers, but literary magazines don’t exist to delight, satisfy, meet the needs of writers. Their service is not “providing publishing to writers.” Literary magazines serve readers. Their product is reading. 

      Which you can call a capitalist system if you want–more mags should pay their “labor force,” more mags should share what capital they’re making (not generally enough to share, unless they have had exceptional success at producing products that readers want and are willing to pay for enough to sustain)–but it’s a system that has readers as its users, and readers as its financiers. Don’t go cutting them out.

  21. Mike Meginnis

      You said they should intern unless they were “reasonably qualified.” Who is reasonably qualified? Why should some people be interns and others real editors?

  22. Anon2

      Touche–the analogy doesn’t quite hold up.

      However, I wasn’t suggesting that journals exist to “meet the needs of writers” when I had the audacity to defend writers who criticize journals that depend on writers’ work to meet the needs of readers. Literary magazines serve readers with the writer’s product.

  23. Anon2

      Who is “reasonably qualified” for anything?
      Even a degree doesn’t promise qualification.

      Where are you going with this?

      Of course it’s subjective, but subjective assessments can be rendered reasonably. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that the average 22-year old four years removed from high school has a lot more to learn than the 40-year old with 15 years of editorial experience, nor is me pointing this out evidence of hating students, or a claim that it’s impossible for the 22-year old to be a literary genius. But, as someone who teaches and has dealt with that age demographic for several years, the great majority need to have their work monitored because of a lack of experience. In fact, many of them would prefer to not be thrown to the wolves. 

  24. Mike Meginnis

      Man, you’ve watered your claims down to the point where there’s nothing left. My argument is that no amount of qualification is necessary to do editorial work. Editors of magazines are free to impose whatever restrictions they want on their staffs, of course — I have before and will again, if I ever have a staff again — but it’s not something that anyone outside a given magazine should even be talking about. And honestly, if a writer ever wants to be great, they simply can’t afford to think about whether or not the rejection came from a “qualified” reader. That is not where your head should be.

  25. Tracy Rae Bowling

      Allrighty. Just keeping things honest.

      Writers are surely important. I wouldn’t be an editor if I didn’t feel that way. And from the purely selfish perspective: no writers, no magazine. No writers, no great reading for me. I don’t know, though–writers who submit are involved in a pretty unhappy business. I wouldn’t say I don’t want to make them happy, but I wouldn’t want to be tasked with keeping them happy. Bad business practices are one thing–if you really think that putting the fate of a piece of writing in the hands of someone with a lesser title (because I don’t, really, think it’s accurate to assume less experience, less maturity, less development) is a bad business practice, then I suppose the writer has the prerogative to say so, and to go somewhere else. I’m having a hard time, though, telling honest critique in this debate from “But I’d be happier if the most important and powerful person at your journal DID read my work a long long time and like it a whole whole lot,” and from hurt feelings. A journal has no power to manage a writer’s happiness, so I don’t think a system ought to be asked to do it (you are not saying this, but, it seems a natural conclusion). Happiness is just going to be really hard work when what’s important to you is getting rejected.

  26. Anon2

      With all do respect, what do you expect when you essentially ask me to propose an Official Certification Program for Slushpile Readers?

      As for your point about writers’ psyches, I think writers can raise these questions while remaining steadfast believers in their work.  When you were at Puerto Del Sol, your staff rejected several of my stories within a few weeks that were all later accepted by reputable national journals of equal or better standing, so obviously I (and I’m sure many other writers who share my concerns who manage to publish in decent venues) have the necessary tough skin to persevere.

      However, we’re still human and still wonder about who is on the other side and how qualified they are. Why’s that bad? Editors publicly assess “submitters” all the time. 

  27. Darby Larson

      “Reducing everything to mere surface matters of taste like, “I like this,
      I don’t like this, Its not for me,” is a cop out, one that pretends
      like editing isn’t about placing those “likes/dislikes” in a deeper
      context in conversation with tradition and innovation.”

      i don’t think matters of “i like this”-taste and deeper contextual conversations of tradition and innovation (and etc.) are mutually exclusive necessarily. don’t the myriad paths within that deeper conversation cause splits between what is “good” and not, and so aren’t journals sort of in the business of trying to build their own unique aesthetic based on any of those paths, and so end up creating an “i like this” context on a macro level within which a submission can then be referred to as “good.” that maybe the screener perhaps shouldn’t independently say “i like this” (and most decisions to publish are not based on this independent decision anyway) but the collective “screener” for a journal, assuming there is a tier reading system, says on behalf of the journal aesthetic itself, “i like this”.

  28. Anon2

      So…you’re suggesting now that I’m seeking safety and shelter from “readers” who might not like my work? Seriously?

  29. Anonymous

      I guess I should have said off the bat that I don’t submit to most academic mags because they seem like big faceless monoliths with no personality or character. And that I have no background in academia and no need for anyone to think my publishing credits are prestigious. So maybe my opinion just doesn’t matter. I understand if you’re just frustrated at the system, though.

  30. Anon2

      Oh geeze….I guess it was only a matter of time before that card was played…I shouldn’t forget where I am. 

  31. Anon2

      Well, I appreciate your response, but I’ve grown tired of this notion–the one that’s implicit in your post–that these conversations always come down to bitterness on the writer’s end. Don’t confuse passion with bitterness. 

  32. Tatertots23

      You know, I agree with your criticisms in your first post, but don’t get what you are going for here. Most writers—read submitters—are not “consumer’s” of the magazines they submit to. 

      And the American idea is that “the customer is always right,” not that the consumer should not have a say. 

  33. Tatertots23

      I really wish Mike were joking in these posts. 

  34. Anon2

      Actually, “the customer is always right” is sort of a myth…to understand this, you only need to look at how American auto companies have a history of blaming consumers for the industry’s downfall instead of making better cars.