By Ashieda McKoy
This is the eighth in a series of blogs written by the editorial staff of the minnesota review interviewing editors and folks in publishing. We hope that these will shed some light on the industry and help you learn more about how, where, and why to submit your work.
As a queer black poet, I wanted to do an interview with an editor of a journal / magazine that privileges the voices of typically marginalized folks, namely queer people of color. Nepantla is one of few literary journals dedicated to the work of queer people of color and a publication that I love and deeply admire. I wanted to know as much as I could about the workings of this journal, especially because of the care paid to diversity and authenticity in every single published issue (and anthology). The following is an email conversation with Christopher Soto, non-binary Latinx poet, and editor of the journal. The interview has been slightly edited for length.
Ashieda McKoy (AM): In general, what is your advice for starting a literary journal?
Christopher Soto (CS): I think it depends on if you have edited before or not. When starting Nepantla, it was my first time editing poetry. Thus, working with Lambda Literary and having their support was extremely important to me. They taught me so much and also helped to promote the journal beyond what my personal reach was. If possible, I would recommend seeking out mentorship and taking the learning process slow, before starting a literary journal. Mistakes will be made when learning, and mistakes will also happen when one is more familiar with editing too, so I think having an organization or community to support you through this learning is really important.
AM: Do you do anything to insure a genuinely diverse pool of authors? And/or does that matter (as much) considering the already small pool of authors the journal considers in the first place?
CS: I would pay attention to identity markers, form, access to literary world, and other types of diversity when editing. When editing the first issue of Nepantla, I had to do a lot of solicitation from poets I was reading. When editing the printed anthology, several years later, there were so many poems in Submittable that I didn’t feel inclined to solicit as much.
AM: To follow up: Do you solicit for submissions? How and where? What’s been effective in getting quality submissions, rather than just volume?
CS: I would solicit very much in the early days. When the first issue of the journal came out then I would also workshop poems with people and provide heavy edits in order to get the poems to a place where the author and I both felt comfortable publishing the poems. In the later days, there were just so many poems and so few pages that I was less able to provide edits and workshop lines with poets.
AM: How do you approach a writer when you want them to make edits to their piece?
CS: I just ask them if they are open to edits. Sometimes writers will send me updated versions of their poems later on too, without my requesting edits. In both cases, the author or editor may or may not want the changes. At this point, it’s just up to open communication and finding a place where the author and editor both feel great about putting the poem into the world. My advice would be, only publish a poem if you feel comfortable with the final product. Always speak up if you feel like your work is not being represented in the manner you desire.
AM: What is your favorite part of putting together an issue?
CS: I love finding and supporting new poets, that I had never heard of, in the submission pile. I also love seeing the final product and how readers are interacting with the works when published.
AM: How/does editing the journal affect how you approach some of your own work (and vice versa)? (i.e., how do your poet / creator and editing “selves” converge?)
CS: Editing has opened up my mind to so many new poets, and forms, and voices, and styles. I think editing has helped me grow my “toolkit” in terms of how I can play with language on the page. I think this is less an endorsement of editing and more so an endorsement of reading. Every time that I am in a book of poetry then I feel my “toolkit” growing. The more closely and widely I read others, the more closely I am able to read my own work and the more widely I feel able to write.
AM: Finally, is there any advice you have for new writers looking to be published?
CS: Patience and humility. It’s something that I am still learning too. Most of publishing is about getting rejections, especially before people recognize your name. I started publishing in smaller journals, then more medium sized journals, before publishing at places with more extensive distribution and readership. Sometimes I’m still looking at my colleagues and thinking that I write too slowly or don’t publish enough. Comparing one’s “career” to others feels so detrimental to focusing on the production of one’s own work. I think patience and staying focused on one’s own work is most important.
More on Christopher Soto (from their website https://christophersoto-poet.com/)
In 2016, Christopher Soto published the chapbook Sad Girl Poems (Sibling Rivalry Press) and co-founded the Undocupoets Campaign with Javier Zamora and Marcelo Hernandez Castillo. In 2018, they published Nepantla: An Anthology Dedicated to Queer Poets of Color (Nightboat Books). This is the first major literary anthology for Queer Poets of Color in the United States. They have edited an online journal, of the same name, with Lambda Literary since 2014. In 2019, they moved to Los Angeles and began working with the Ethnic Studies Centers at UCLA. They more recently joined the Board of Directors for Lambda Literary and became a CantoMundo Fellow.
Ashieda McKoy is in her final year of Virginia Tech’s MFA program. She is poetry co-editor for the minnesota review and has won national awards for her poetry, teaching, and service.