What I Learned Editing a Literary Journal

As the Writer-in-Residence at the Hemingway Birthplace Home in Oak Park, Illinois, I was privileged to edit the inaugural Hemingway Shorts publication. It was a bigger, more demanding job than one might imagine. But I loved it and learned a lot, and for any writer who would consider submitting their work to any publication, there are a few things for all of us to consider.

More than 450 international submissions entered the online portal. We would choose one winner, and 10 finalists—all would be published in the new literary magazine, what we hoped would be an annual endeavor. Honestly, most of the work was not very good—mediocre or poor at best. I had been told by colleagues who have done this work for other publications that most would be forgettable. They were right.

But there would be good things to come. 

Former Writer-in-Residence, Annette Gendler helped in the process. She was invaluable, as we felt obligated to read every single one of these entries. But honestly, some we never finished reading. Others we read over and over again. Some knocked us off our chairs, and those ended up in a pile of semi-finalists, some thirty of them. Those thirty were well-constructed, compelling, heartfelt, emotional, intriguing. I was admittedly concerned at the start about the quality of some of the work, as we wanted this publication to be the best of the best, certainly. But then the heavens opened up and wonderful work fell to our hands.

There are many good writers out there, but only a few cut through to the soul.

As an editor I learned to be patient. To wait for the good stuff. I also learned to cull as you go. Do not wait for the deadline to start working through the submissions. That would have been a nightmare. And I learned to trust that the cream would rise to the top. It did.

As a writer…some advise. Stick to the word count in the submission guidelines. Stories that did not, were not considered. If the submission guidelines are written in English, assume that the stories must be. And do not send a quickly written first draft, figuring the “editors” will fix your grammatical and syntax errors. The story may be wonderful, but that is lost in sloppy work. You would be surprised how much sloppy work is submitted. This is not the editors being grammar Nazis; it’s about taking pride in your work.

I am proud of Hemingway Shorts. I am honored to have been part of the process. And I am looking forward to doing it again and again.

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