Goings On

I’ve been lax in posting here lately. Sometimes the number of things I have to keep track of gets overwhelming. So, I thought I’d mention some of what I’ve been busy with over the past month.

In January, the first issue of Flycatcher: A Journal of Native Imagination went live. We’ve received some great feedback, which makes the long hours we put in all worthwhile. I’m especially proud of being able to help emerging writers get their work in front of an audience. Now it’s time to gear up for Issue 2, due out this summer.

Also in January, I began working as a graduate research assistant with the Georgia Writers Association. I’ll be editing their monthly newsletter and helping out at workshops held on the second Saturday of each month.

One of my poems is published in the latest issue of The Cleveland Review, which I’m particularly happy about because I’m from Cleveland. I was thrilled when I discovered this fairly new publication several months ago.

And then there are my classes. I’m taking two this semester, which didn’t sound like too many when I registered, but which I now realize are two rather work-intensive courses. The good news though is that when this semester is over, I’ll just have one more class to take. My focus will shift to my capstone project, which I’ll be starting in the fall, assuming I get my proposal done this semester. Oh yeah, my proposal . . . .

Coming Soon–Flycatcher: A Journal of Native Imagination

As of tomorrow I will officially be on winter break and will have completed a bit more than half of my required credit hours toward my master’s degree. (Yay me!) After a weekend of decompression, I will plunge headfirst into work toward preparing the first issue of a brand-spanking-new literary journal called Flycatcher: A Journal of Native Imagination. I was asked on as an assistant editor of Flycatcher in June by my classmate and friend Christopher Martin. Flycatcher is Chris’s passion, and I’m honored to be along for the ride.

Starting a new literary and arts journal is exhilarating, and an awful lot of work! Over the past roughly five months, we’ve read a healthy number of submissions, carried on some hefty philosophical discussions, done a bit of social media and word of mouth promotion, and completed some copy editing. Some of us have conducted interviews and written book reviews and even championed social causes. There’s still much to be done to get our inaugural issue ready for prime time, but it’s the kind of work that keeps you up late into the night for the sheer joy of doing it. How many jobs can you say that about?

Of course, I’ll make an announcement when the issue is live, but in the meantime here’s a sampling of what to expect: Poetry by environmental writer Erik Reece, author of An American Gospel and Lost Mountain; fiction by Raymond Atkins, recipient of the 2009 Georgia Author of the Year Award for First Novel for his book The Front Porch Prophet; memoir by Linda Niemann, author of Boomer and Railroad Noir; a photo essay by photographer and poet Brian Brown.

How’s that for a tease? Stay tuned!

Robert Lee Brewer: The New Definition of Editor

(I interviewed Robert Lee Brewer for an assignment in the Professional & Academic Editing course I’m taking this semester. I’m grateful for his generosity in taking the time to respond to my questions and for his permission to post my write-up of the interview here.)

If you think of an editor as someone bent over copy with red pen in hand, searching for misplaced commas and inappropriate homophones, then a glimpse into the working life of Robert Lee Brewer will permanently alter your mental picture. Brewer is Senior Content Editor for the Writer’s Digest Writing Community. He is responsible for the book that has come to be known as the freelancer’s Bible—Writer’s Market—and, as if that wasn’t enough, he also edits the companion website, WritersMarket.com, and the genre-focused Poet’s Market.

There is no typical working day for Robert Lee Brewer. His regular tasks are many and varied, and include everything from reading pitches and assigning articles to creating blog posts and combing through fields of data. “Some tasks make me feel like a programmer, others make me feel like a copywriter,” says Brewer. “There’s a lot more that goes into being an editor (at least in my role) than just editing.”

While an English literature major at the University of Cincinnati, Brewer landed an internship at F&W Publications (now F+W Media), which owns the Writer’s Digest products. He subsequently worked his way up the totem pole to permanent part-time employee, production editor, and assistant editor, until he ultimately reached the position he holds today. “I guess I did it the old-fashioned way,” says Brewer.

In total, Writer’s Digest Books publishes nine Market Books each year. The team responsible for preparing the new editions currently consists of four editors, two assistant editors, a rotating staff of interns, and freelance proofreaders. Each book contains hundreds of pages listing agents, magazines, websites, publishers, contests, and conferences where creative people can potentially find a home for their work. A database holding all of these contacts is updated continuously throughout the year.

The Market Books also feature articles written by professionals on the writing craft and the publishing business. Each summer, Brewer solicits pitches for these articles. He assigns articles to writers in autumn, reviews completed articles during winter, and sends the updated editions off to the printer the following summer.

Whereas the Writer’s Market book has a finish line for its new edition every year, editing WritersMarket.com is like chasing “a carrot tied to a string that is constantly just out of reach.” The website requires even more content than the book, and that content must be updated regularly to keep it relevant. Authors use WritersMarket.com to search for publishing opportunities in real time, and they can also use the site to track where they’ve submitted their work.

Robert Lee Brewer’s duties for Writer’s Digest don’t end at editing or maintaining databases. He writes articles for Writer’s Digest Magazine. He leads webinars and tutorials for Writer’s Digest University, an online education program for writers. And, he runs the Writer’s Digest poetry blog, Poetic Asides.

In fact, Brewer is also a poet. He has self-published two chapbooks of poetry, ENTER and ESCAPE, and he regularly participates in poetry readings. He also maintains a personal blog, My Name Is Not Bob, and frequently tweets for his own benefit and that of his employer. This is one well-rounded publishing professional. According to Brewer, “Sometimes, I’m an editor, but I can also be a poet, husband, father, den leader, concerned citizen, etc.”

Brewer is married to poet Tammy Foster Brewer, with whom he has five children. Luckily, his editing gig allows him the freedom to work from his home in Duluth, Georgia: “I work at home more than 90% of the time. When I’m up in Ohio, I usually stop in for a day or two in the Cincinnati office.” He is happy to be able to spend ample time with his family and to cut the phrase “daily commute” from his vocabulary though he misses seeing co-workers and has had to teach himself when it’s time to quit working.

A creative person at heart (Brewer earned two writing certificates from the University of Cincinnati, in Technical and Business Writing, and Creative Writing – Fiction) he views editing as a creative endeavor, particularly when combining “a writer’s intent with a sensibility that will appeal to the editor’s audience.” Having known a number of other editors, he feels each typically excels in one area above all others. “Some are good at speaking and networking, some are better at research. The best I’ve been around though are very good problem solvers and eternal optimists.”

In the ever-evolving world of publishing, an editor, whether of print or online media, must be open to developing new skills and adopting new roles. Robert Lee Brewer is a fine example of exactly this type of flexible editor. He has embraced new media while incorporating values learned via his work in traditional media. To aspiring editors, he offers this advice: “Keep up with what’s happening in publishing and media. Always work to develop new skills and take on new challenges. Don’t get set in your ways if you expect to survive in this business.” Words to live by for those who want a thriving career like Robert Lee Brewer’s.

A View from Both Sides

I’m peaved at a couple of literary magazines right now. Back in March I submitted a poem to several different publications. I’ve heard back from all but two. These two really piss me off, because their websites give the impression they are functioning entities when I suspect they have, in fact, suspended publication. I suppose I could write and ask them if this is the case, but why would they respond to my question if they can’t be bothered to kindly reject my submission?

I’m a relative newbie to the whole literary magazine racket, so I guess I’ll chalk this up to learning experience. But it sucks, doesn’t it? It takes a long time to research these journals to find the ones that might be most receptive to my work. Now I realize some of that time has just been pissed away. How hard would it be to update a website? It’s unscrupulous to continue to accept submissions knowing you’ll never use any of them.

Despite my frustration, I press on. I keep researching. I keep submitting. I want to get my work in front of readers. I’m trying to build my reputation as a writer. Along the way, I’ve discovered some journals I really love. Memoir (and) and Contrary immediately come to mind. For every dud, there are a handful of brilliant and respectful publications that make it all worthwhile.

Recently I was asked to join the editing team of a brand new literary journal (more on that in a future post). Being on the other side of the equation is a trip. We’re all still getting comfortable with the whole process of soliciting submissions and selecting work to include in our first issue. We get lovely pieces we can’t use because they don’t suit our magazine’s theme, and we get suitable pieces that require heavy editing. Both cases are a challenge.

Our personal tastes and biases are unavoidably injected into this process. It’s good for writers to realize this. I submitted to a literary magazine for the first time close to two years ago. My piece was rejected and I slunk away planning to never submit again. That was dumb. It’s always good to take a critical look at a piece that’s been rejected because you may find it needs tweaking. But if you still feel strongly about the piece when your editing is done, send that sucker back out. Success in the game is finding an editor with your taste, one who will love your piece as much as you do.

As a writer, I need to develop a thick skin and an unfaltering belief in the value of my work. As an editor, I strive to be honest yet compassionate. I want our new journal to be one of the good guys, a stimulating publication where writers want to place their work and where they feel valued even when a piece is rejected. And I promise, our website will always be up to date.