December 27, 2011

More Thoughts on Editing

Next time it's number ten. It’s a big year for our little independent journal.

As it stands, the fiction crew has completed two phone conferences this reading period as part of the selection process for Versal.

To repeat the caveat I’ve specified ad nauseam to every blog post I’ve written on this dear blog, this is my first go as an editor for the journal. Knowing the quality of the fiction selected for inclusion in previous issues, I figured rightly that the curating process would be a vigorous exercise.

What I couldn’t anticipate was the dynamics of the fiction team.


First, let me explain how we choose the pieces that are debated at the roundtable.

Each editor is given a batch of ten stories to read. Editors usually do one of two things: reject the piece outright or send the piece to another editor if they like it, but want another opinion. If the second reader likes the piece they send it back to the original reader suggesting that everyone gets a chance to read the work. The third option, if a story completely blows the wool socks off the first reader, is to escalate the story to the entire fiction team for consideration.

Like the first reads, we work in batches of ten stories for the escalation roundtable. Since we are spread across the United States and Europe, we meet via phone conference on Skype.

The first phone conference for issue ten, and the first I ever participated in, was intimidating. I felt a certain amount of pressure to perform grandly. I wanted to be confident, stick to my guns, and sound intelligent; and all my fears were at odds with the need to be confident.

What I learned quickly was that there is no room at the Versal editing table for a solitary ego.


During the Skype conversation the fiction team carefully combed over each piece discussing meaning, intentions of the author, characters and setting (if necessary). Etc. I was surprised to find that no one was dominating the conversation, nor was anyone particularly harsh about glaring errors in a piece. Weaknesses were even weighed against a piece's strengths, although, every editor desired a certain amount of perfection. There were times where a piece that was put to the roundtable wasn't suitable, even for the editor who sent it to the escalation in the first place. These pieces had merits that we discussed–it wouldn’t have made it to the roundtable if there wasn’t something that worked–but were ultimately dismissed. After three hours of discussing we had chosen, if I remember correctly, one piece for inclusion in the journal and several others we would read again at the next roundtable.

This wasn’t a mark of an indecisive team. We had strong pieces up for consideration and this made the selection process strenuous. The quality of the pieces we are receiving are extremely high. We feel extremely proud to be able to read such compelling work.


In regards to the selections I was for or against, I usually had a rather strong opinion that I brought to the table, but on occasion, I was swayed during the discussion. If the piece was well argued, I sometimes found myself agreeing with the opposite camp, no matter how much it hurt my pride.

Again, pride and ego have no place in Versal.

Robert mentioned during our meeting something that I found incredibly compelling; no editor's opinion was completely ignored. At least one story that an editor chose for inclusion in the magazine was selected. So, whether or not the story I really wanted was selected for the journal (one in particular, which I felt I was defending alone, did not) at least one story I said yes to would be fit to see print.

The democratic selection process creates a sort of tension within the team which prevents us from getting comfortable. We have to be on our toes, ready to defend our position, and be equally ready to let some of the fights go if. If we were to all get along and become comfortable, we might also find ourselves getting lazy. This would most likely result in us producing a boring, unpalatable journal.

Knowing that I could influence the position by being myself was a satisfying and welcoming release.

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