A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of interviewing Janice Lee from Civil Coping Mechanisms about the behind-the-scenes responsibilities of an editor for both a literary journal as well as a book series. The following post is a compilation of my questions and her email responses. Read on for her take on starting a journal/series, diversity, the editing process, and advice for new writers.
ASHIEDA MCKOY: In general, how do you start a literary journal? And/or could you talk about how the #Recurrent series started?
JANICE LEE: I think starting a new journal or publishing project has to do with needs and intention. Entropy was started because I felt there was a void at the time in the indie lit community. I started it originally with Peter Tieryas Liu and we were both inspired by models like HTMLGIANT (especially the openness and the trust placed in the contributors to freely post with minimal editorial oversight) and io9 (in terms of the diverse and exciting content). We really wanted to create a space for writers (and also non-writers) to talk about literary things, like book reviews and other critical essays, but also open the space for topics like video games, film, music, current events, science fiction. Writers are multi-faceted and have multiple interests, and we wanted to reflect that diversity of thought and personality and aesthetic in one place. We also wanted to create something more than just a magazine or journal, but a supportive community where writers and readers from different groups, geographic regions, aesthetics, communities, backgrounds, etc. could come together and share ideas.
When I started the #RECURRENT series initially with Jaded Ibis Press, it was with the intent to feature 3 particularly innovative novels that both carried on the legacy of the novel as an important, historical & unique literary structure, as well as to reimagine the novel as interface and interactive narrative. The series continued and was reborn at Civil Coping Mechanisms as an imprint that sought to push the boundaries of narrative with books that reconstructed, reimagined & expanded on existing narrative spaces. The new series was no longer bound to genre or category, and I asked for books that were intuitive, instigative, innovative, sensitive, perceptive, heart-breaking, and honest. In particular, I wanted to focus on books by lesser known experimental writers, women, and writers of color.
What is the story behind the style of pieces you’ve chosen for the #RECURRENT series?
I’m interested in writing that gestures towards intimacy in different ways, writing that isn’t afraid to reveal or retreat, writing that breaks my heart. For example, when Gabrielle Civil submitted Swallow the Fish to me, her email was already so powerful, and when I read the first few pages of the manuscript, I already knew I needed to publish the book.
How do you handle or think about issues of diversity?
I want to publish what I feel like needs to be published, but isn’t being published. Books that have readers waiting for them already. Books that are necessarily heartbreaking. So this means that I focus on writers that aren’t afraid to go into vulnerable spaces. That, and combined with what I feel like is a necessity for more diverse voices to be heard, I seek out books by women, writers of color, and marginalized writers.
Do you do anything to insure a diverse pool of authors?
Well partially I try to keep diverse, interesting, and intelligent community. I try to be around the people I want to read, talk with, and cry with. I ask writers I suggest for recommendations. When I’m accepting submissions, I also just state in the call that I’m especially looking for manuscripts by women, non-gender binary individuals, writers of color, or individuals from marginalized backgrounds.
How much does length impact your opinion of a piece and acceptance/rejection rates of pieces?
It doesn’t really. For #RECURRENT, I’ve published long books, so I’m not afraid of length. Entropy is online, so we’re not bound to limitations that print has. More important to me is if the piece is important, makes me feel something, is honest, is needed or wanted in some way. Length is tangential.
How and where do you solicit for submissions? What’s been effective in getting quality submissions, rather than just volume?
For both Entropy and #RECURRENT (CCM), we start with our immediate community then work outwards through the websites and social media. It’s not about curation and exclusivity at all. Rather, we’re interested in community, building real community and relationships, so we start with those we trust, and those that are trusted by those we trust, etc. We’re here to strengthen this community so that’s where we start.
How do you approach a writer when you want them to make edits to their piece?
For Entropy, I edit very little. I don’t accept pieces unless they’re almost 100% ready to do. I do too many things currently to have time to work on edits with contributors. It’s time-consuming, so I’m looking for work that is finished. Some of our other editors take a more hands-on approach. I work similarly with #RECURRENT. This is what I do in my free time after work and teaching and writing and life, so I love to bring work into the world, but I’m looking for it to be done. If there are minimal edits, I try to talk with the author directly, over the phone, or Skype.
How much editing can a piece need that you accept? Do you accept pieces with contingency edits? If so, how do you handle this exactly?
See above. As I mentioned, other editors at Entropy are more hands on and may work on edits with contributors. If there are more than a few line edits, or if the edit isn’t an easy one, I will usually pass.
How long do pieces take from acceptance to print?
Entropy—depends on the editor. I usually try to respond to submission emails within a week, and schedule them for publication online within a few days to a couple weeks.
#RECURRENT—I only publish a couple books a year usually. So it depends, but usually 6 months-1 year from acceptance.
Is there any advice you have for new writers looking to be published?
Be honest. Be kind. Treat editors like human beings. Treat yourself like a human being too.
Janice Lee, #RECURRENT Series Editor & Entropy Executive Editor, is the author of KEROTAKIS (Dog Horn Press, 2010), Daughter (Jaded Ibis, 2011), Damnation (Penny-Ante Editions, 2013), Reconsolidation (Penny-Ante Editions, 2015), and most recently, The Sky Isn’t Blue (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2016), a collection of essays. She is Editor of the #RECURRENT Series, Assistant Editor at Fanzine, and Founder/Executive Editor of Entropy. She can be found online at http://janicel.com and Twitter: @diddioz.
Ashieda McKoy is a poetry candidate at Virginia Tech. After teaching in Texas for four years, she only drinks sweet tea with lemon and mint.