On Knowing When to Call It a Day
A big part of editing—and I mean a BIG PART, maybe even the biggest part—is knowing when to call it. So you have over 100 submissions left and only a week to vet them all and you need to power through regardless of everything, right? Definitely wrong. The most important part of editing is knowing when to take a step back, breathe, and maybe take a few days off, even if it pushes back your publishing schedule.
If you’ve been reading antilang. for a while, then you might have noticed that we mostly stick to a familiar schedule: submission period, reading period, publishing and promoting the issue, and back to the submission period. We always want to get our latest issue out and into the world and have caught up on all our submissions before we open the doors for new subs. But sometimes this doesn’t work out. Sometimes, we will publish an issue days before our submissions reopen, and sometimes we will publish a week after we open for submissions. If you’ve submitted to us, you might have noticed that sometimes an issue goes live before you’ve even heard back from us. And we know this can all be very frustrating for both readers and submitters, because we’ve been there ourselves (honestly, we are still there! This abnormal response time must be a Canadian lit mag thing…). But, we have good reasons why things don’t go according to plan, and we promise that we will respond to you and your work.
The main reason our publishing and vetting schedule can go a little haywire is that at The ALP we understand the necessity of stepping back from vetting submissions to give every piece fair consideration. Sometimes, we will read half our submissions and have enough very good pieces to make an issue. But that isn’t fair or equitable. We owe every piece a just consideration, and for that reason, sometimes we find ourselves needing to take a break from reading.
Because our mandate is Good. Short. Writing., we can read A LOT of submissions in one go, especially when the pieces are only one or two pages. This means that sometimes we have a lot we already like, and then can start approaching the other pieces with a mentality of “what can I find that is wrong with this piece so I don’t have to like it.” THIS IS TERRIBLE. It feels terrible when we start thinking like this and when vetting pieces starts feeling like looming work we have to sludge through. Most of the time, this is not the case—we got into the lit scene because we LOVE reading diverse work from different people. But we are human beings, fallible and tired from working day jobs that pay us to survive, so sometimes antilang. does feel like work.
Luckily, we know how to recognise these feelings and act as a support network behind the scenes. We talk to each other constantly, remind each other to read books by other people, encourage each other to go for walks and eat filling meals, and all of this helps. When it gets really bad, we know we all have each others’ backs, so we can say “hey, I’m really having a hard time with X piece, can you look at it?” and someone else will cover that piece. This network works for us, and is unique in the Canadian lit mag scene because we are such a small group without additional readers (meaning that at least 1, but usually 2 or our directors read each piece before a verdict is reached). Not many magazines can claim that the editors personally engage with every piece submitted for an issue, but we do.
On the opposite side of things, sometimes when we vet pieces, we end up flagging multiple submissions in a row as very good. This might be the case, but we are always a little skeptical of when we become too generous. Typically, antilang. publishes 20-25 individual writers per issue (depending on the length of the pieces). We get hundreds of submissions, and try to vet these in the order that they were submitted, as we want to respond to submitters as quickly as possible. Therefore, when we really like four or five in a row, we have learned that this is another time when we need to call it on editing for a bit. Of course we want to see writers succeed, and of course we want to get their works into the world, but the fact of the matter is that we have limited space. And when we start flagging a bunch of pieces as “yes,” then we encounter the problem described above. It’s a tumultuous cycle.
All this to say, after eight issues, we know our limits for vetting submissions. We have support structures in place for getting through them efficiently and fairly, but doing this sometimes means compromising our publishing schedule. And that is OKAY. We don’t like when we have to push back an issue or don’t give feedback on pieces before the issue launches, but we want to give every piece a fair chance (and be fair to our own mental well-being). And sometimes this means NOT vetting pieces. Sometimes this means binging a Netflix show or reading a new release or just sleeping instead of editing and vetting. But we think that this practice leads to better vetting overall and gives each piece a fair chance. Even if we ultimately decide “no” on a piece, we then give ourselves time to give that piece better feedback, and more often than not, that results in a resubmission that earns a place the next time around.