Among the Throng: What Editors Look For

Being an editor is, psychologically, tough work. I feel often enough that I am judging individual selections of writers’ work and poems both objectively and subjectively. Here is what that process looks like:

Objectively:

  1. I look first for form. What is the poem’s format? What is the stanza style?
  2. How are the line breaks thought out and are they all intentional?
  3. Is this a formal poem (sonnet, ghazal, villanelle, etc.)?
  4. Is the imagery vibrant or sparse?
  5. Is there room for editing or improvement (mostly vast improvement)
  6. Does the poem keep to a trope or does it make imaginative leaps?
  7. Is the poem consistent with its arguement?

Subjectively:

  1. How does this poem make me feel and how strong is that feeling?
  2. Does the poem surprise me, shock me, or intrigue me?
  3. Does the wordplay, language, or metaphors please me?
  4. Does the poem take risk with language, message, or voice?
  5. Does the poem do something new or reinvent anything at all?
  6. Does the poem make me laugh, and, if it does, is that intentional?
  7. Does the poem, overall, feel complete or mature in tonality/authority?

These are the things I, personally, look for in a poem. Being one of the poetry editors of (b)OINK is a responsibility I don’t take lightly. I make time everyday to look at submissions, often three poems at a time, and make sure the poem both meets the magazine’s criteria and aesthetic and meets at least 3/4ths of the bullets I mentioned above.

One thing I’ve learned about rejection from the angle of an editor, is that often enough it is difficult unless it feels like a shitty first draft or does not fit at all for the journal. Rejection often isn’t a personal attack but, rather, what is best for both the magazine and for the writer themselves. I reject work in the hopes the author will find their work better suited in another place. Do not take rejection without this realization.

One thing any writer can do is to support their community by subscribing and/or buying issues of the magazines they wish to be within. Another is to read the issues and discover what aesthetic, what kind of work, what kind of community does the magazine promote. Write a good cover letter and don’t be afraid to be personal. Make sure you meet the editoral standards for the journal both in your manuscript and your style.

And, as always, write the best poems/essays/stories you can. Make sure you edit your work mutliple times. Be yourself. Have fun with your own writing and do not take it or yourself to seriously and you’ll be alright.

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