On Blind Review: Or, The Problem of Pretend Objectivity
Anyone who submits to lit mags should be familiar with the term ‘blind review.’ This is usually accompanied with directions to remove your name and identifying info from all pages of your submission, except for the cover letter (which should be in a separate document). This way only the editor that receives the incoming submissions has access to the names/identities associated with the submitted pieces (and, ideally, the mag has a high volume of submissions, so the editor that does see names couldn’t possibly be bothered to remember them anyway). That editor then sends the works along to section editors/readers and they are reviewed without bias toward gender, race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, or any other label or minority identifier that someone could judge the author for.
In a perfect world, that’s all well and good, and certainly the intent behind blind review has its merits, but in practice, this allows terrible people to be published. You might think, “But, if their work is good, doesn’t it deserve publication?” To which we cite Kate Leth:
“There is no abusive ‘genius’ who could not be replaced by someone who isn’t shitty”
— Kate Leth (@kateleth) January 9, 2019 (original Twitter post now deleted)
We think this says it all, but to clarify, in every artistic community there are abusers who get away with having a platform for their work because of the fallacy of ‘artistic merit.’ (No need to name them here, but we’re sure we can all name a few actors or musicians who fit this description). The world of Can Lit and writing globally is not immune. We believe in encouraging emerging writers, and so we also believe that these writers have the potential to become even better than the so-called greats who get published despite their personal failings and the harm they cause their communities. Obviously, we strive to publish good writing, but we do so without allowing shitty people into our community.
So no, we don’t blind review. We leave names and bios on our submissions so that we (and our guest editors) can see who wrote the work submitted. How does this impact our review process? Well, we have some people we will always reject because we know, through whisper networks, that they have abused their positions of power, exploited and crutched on their ‘renown,’ or made people of certain groups feel uncomfortable (at best) and caused serious mental/physical harm (at worst). This doesn’t mean you have to hold the exact same values as us to get published in antilang. or soundbite, but it does mean that you have to genuinely believe all humans are deserving of human rights, respect, and dignity. That seems like a low bar, but apparently it’s not. We also extend this beyond social justice concerns to encompass issues specific to lit mags, for example, plagiarism. If someone has plagiarised in the past, we don’t accept their work, even if it is an original piece. Yes, people can change, but we don’t have to forgive and forget.
But how do we know if someone is a shitty person? To be honest, we can usually tell from the cover letter or the piece itself, but we also do a quick google search of our short listed submitters. Does this mean you spend more time researching submitters than on reviewing their work (AKA, on your job)? No, because most of our submitters are amazing people! We can tell from their cover letters, their bios, their pieces, that they care about people! Many of our submitters mention their activist work in their letter and treat all their characters with dignity (even if they are not great people in the text—there is a quality about the writing that shows its a comment on an individual, not an entire group of people). And we love this—we love that our submitters (at least, the overwhelming majority) are compassionate and considerate.