Saturday, September 10, 2011

Notes from an Assistant Editor’s Point of View

For this month’s blog Cynthia has asked me to chime in on what its like to serve the Aurorean as an assistant editor. Frankly this is one of the very few jobs I’ve worked that I can say is taken with a deal of pleasure and excitement. This is especially true when we approach the production of a finished product. Certainly it’s not all sun and rainbows but the tasks that fall on the mundane side of things (going through the mail, acknowledging submissions) aren’t physically or mentally challenging in the least and can be accomplished swiftly with a cup of tea at my side and a cat on my lap. Other tasks do require a bit more moxie but that’s where the fun comes in.

Over the course of a reading period my eyes are often the first ones to get a look at the submissions that roll in. After a good chunk has piled up I take it home for the weekend and when I’ve got a few hours to spare I sit down with a cup of coffee and begin my reading. The fun comes when I find a gem. The truth of the matter is that those gems are really few and far between. I’d guess that the Aurorean accepts poems from about 10% of the manuscript submissions it receives (even less if we break it down by individual poem). This means I read A LOT of poems that won’t make the cut. It’s easy sometimes because it’s usually very clear when someone has not read our guidelines or is unfamiliar with the Aurorean and what we publish.

Cynthia and I talk time and time again about how wasteful it is of a poet’s time and money to submit blindly to publications without ever having read said publication or adhered to said publication’s guidelines, not to mention our own time in responding to submissions that clearly aren’t for us. It doesn’t matter. We can scream it till we’re blue in the face but the fact will remain the same; a good 30% of our submissions can easily be rejected almost out of hand because they fail to meet simple guidelines. A good chunk of other poems might meet our guidelines but fail for all sorts of other reasons (lack of focus, unoriginality, vapid lines, shoddy line breaks with no appreciation for natural rhythm, natural pauses, or the sound and sense a poem begs to impart to one's ears). Sometimes a poem is rough for one of these reasons, yet a keen editor’s eye can buff out a rough spot and make the poem shine. If I see a spot that needs buffing I’ll point it out but I’m certainly not paid to revise or reconstruct a whole poem or even explain in great detail why a poem can’t cut it. Suggested revisions of poems are things a poet accepts or not. I write comments for Cynthia to read on all the manuscripts I see. Sometimes the comments are brief like “Nothing here grabbed me,” “such-and-such is a nice poem, I love the imagery” etc. Sometimes they’re more voluminous like when I see a rough spot that just needs a buffing. After commenting they then go to our Editor.

Sometimes we both wrestle with a poem together because it has merits but needs two editors’ eyes to make it shine. Sometimes a poem has some brightness to it but it takes a set of two eyes to see why it’s really a muted brightness (against all the other accepted ones) and needs to be rejected. We can’t publish every good poem we get. We have space restrictions and this means that good poems often get squeezed out. No biggie, we’ll encourage the poet to try again.

This leads me to impart some tips from my perspective on how to give yourself the best chance at publication in the Aurorean.

1. Read the latest issue. When you’re done with that read another issue.
2. Read our guidelines. Learn them, live them, love them.
3. Read your poems aloud. If it doesn’t sound right it isn’t.
4. Revise, revise, revise, and if you can and have the inclination to do so then join a group where you can also workshop your work and get feedback for the revision process.
5. Submit early. As Cynthia’s last blog indicates, we work in increments and accept poems in batches throughout the reading period. We always know how many we’ve accepted and how many more we need to accept in order to fill our pages. Good poems get squeezed out the closer we get to our deadline.

We’re now in our Spring/Summer reading period, which means the Fall/Winter 2011/12 issue of the Aurorean is due out in a little over a month. We’ve still got a lot of typing and proofing to do before it goes to print. Then will come the exciting part, the finished product’s arrival, the packing and the mailing, that beautiful little journal finally in our hands. It’s always a thrill to hold that thing and flip through it.

With last year’s Fall/Winter issue, we added a new multi-media addition and it’s something we hope to continue. After the journal has been packed and mailed Cynthia and I will take to our sound studio where we’ll each record a reading of our featured poets’ work and one other poem from the issue for use in a poetry journal trailer that we’ll post to our site and to help promote our journal and our poets. Besides being fun and often hilarious to make (after 10 takes we start to lose our marbles and often fall into uncontrollable fits of laughter) I think these trailers are a wonderful addition to the journal, and a nice way to showcase our featured poets’ work. If you haven’t seen our first two trailers you can view them here

I look forward to the upcoming month with great anticipation—till then, all the best to our contributors and readers as we continue our swing towards autumn and winter.

Devin McGuire
Assistant Editor


  1. Devin, your post was not only informative,but especially well written with care and help offered to all of us Aurorean hopefuls.So much appreciated!
    The trailers (as they used to say in my younger days) absolutely blew my socks off! WOW!Wonderfully done!
    I could not only read and watch those beaustiful scenes,but listen as well.
    Thanks to Cynthia and you for the privilege!
    Looking forward to all the next issues !

  2. Thanks Natalia. Glad you liked it and the trailers. Those are really really fun to make!