Over the past few weeks, Indiana Review’s genre editors have posted about what they look for in poems, stories, and essays in terms of craft. These posts have elicited several questions from readers about the nuts and bolts of selection process itself—that is, how, logistically, we go about deciding what to publish in Indiana Review. I hope to begin to address those questions in this post.
Being an editor is the best job in the world. There are few things more exhilarating to me than “discovering” an incredible piece in the slush pile, especially if it is the author’s first-ever publication. There is something really magical about finding that poem or story or essay, reading it over and over again, discussing it at length at a selection meeting, hoping it gets voted in, seeing it on its way through the long, long production process, and then finally getting to send the print journal out into the world.
Maybe this enchantment has something to do with the fact that here, at Indiana Review, our editors and readers are all aspiring and emerging writers, too. We are continually putting ourselves in the exact same situation as the writers who submit to Indiana Review (if you’re reading this post, I’m guessing you’re probably one of them). That is to say, most of us here on staff have been rejected time and time again, and we know how extraordinarily special (and rare!) it is if/ when one of our poems or stories is accepted for publication.
That said, the more I engage in dialogue with editors at other literary journals, the more I realize the selection process varies widely from publication to publication. It is my hope that this post will make what we do here at Indiana Review more transparent to our submitters, subscribers, and everyone and anyone who is interested in how we practice a democratic selection process.
What happens to my submission?
When a writer submits to Indiana Review, her submission is first read by the Editor, Associate Editor, or genre editor. And read again. And again. Yes, it’s true that the majority of pieces (probably around 98-99 percent of the submissions we receive) don’t make it past this point. If a paper submission is rejected, a rejection notice is put in the SASE and put in intern logout box. Intern logs submission out of our database and mail the SASE. If an online submission is rejected, the editor selects the “reject” function in our online submission manager, and an electronic notification is sent to the submitter’s inbox.
But don’t get discouraged! There is also a potentially happy ending to this story. When an editor finds a piece that she or he thinks might be a great fit for Indiana Review, the editor places it in “the box.” “The box” refers to the group of about twenty poems or 8-10 stories that will be discussed at the selection meeting any given week. In addition to the work that is culled from the slush pile, the genre editor might also include work from a writer that she or he has solicited.
Once the box of work to be discussed at that week’s selection meeting has “been set,” the work is made available for readers.
Read more after the jump!
Who are your readers?
Our readers are graduate students in Indiana University’s MFA program. We usually have between 8 and 15 readers any given week. Over the course of the week, readers come to the office to read the work to be discussed at the selection meeting on Friday. If a reader does not read the work before the meeting, she/he is ineligible to vote at the meeting. Another reason a reader may be ineligible to vote is if a reader knows the author of the piece that is under consideration personally.
This rule does apply to authors who have been solicited, as well as the editors who have done the soliciting. If, for example, Joe, our Fiction Editor, has selected a story to discuss during the meeting that week, and I happen to know the writer of this story, I must refrain from voting.
What happens at selection meetings?
Selection meetings take place on alternate weeks for poetry and fiction, and approximately once every 4-6 weeks for nonfiction.
At a meeting, each piece is discussed at length before it goes up for a vote. Often, these discussions are thrilling and impassioned. Some readers who are particularly excited by a piece will work fervently to champion that work, and convince other readers who are less keen why they believe this particular piece belongs in Indiana Review. More than once—quite often, in fact—it happens that one or two readers persuade an entire room of why a poem or story should be published in Indiana Review. In this way, discussion becomes one of the most crucial and important parts of our selection process.
Everyone at the meeting gets one vote, except for the Editor and Associate Editor, who are permitted two votes, each in her respective genre. For example, I write poetry, so I have two votes on each poem we discuss at poetry meetings. Katie, our Associate Editor, is a fiction writer, and receives two votes per piece at fiction meetings.
A piece must receive a majority of votes to be accepted; if the vote results in a tie (which happens more often than you may think!), the piece is not selected for publication.
Stay tuned for our next installment of “Ask the Editor,” when I will address the question: Do you read/accept poetry based on the work itself or the resume of the writer?
Send us your questions!
Do you have a question you’d like the editor to address? Leave a comment on this post, and I’ll do my best to respond to your question in a future blog post.
Thanks for a behind the scenes look at the submission process. “The box” sounds like a mysterious and wonderful place for writing to go!
I appreciate your taking the time to write this. It’s as though a magic little window has been opened into this mysterious world. No, seriously!