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The Trials and Tribulations of Being a Literary Journal Editor

By Sarah Parmet

If there’s one thing that I’ve learnt about being a literary journal editor, it’s that poets are

obsessed with cicadas. I KNOW!

But, before we unpack that, I think it’s only fair that I give you amateurs a little context.

Being a literary editor is an arduous job. It’s one filled with long hours and tears. It’s a life of

vulnerability and pain and suffering — Woah, that got intense.

My point is, my job isn’t easy. The question all of you should be asking yourselves is, do

you have what it takes to be one of us? Chances are, you probably don’t, no offense. I mean, if you’ve read this far, you clearly have no life.

All of you are incredibly fortunate that I, a highly trained professional, am about to share

some industry secrets and walk you through my process:

1. Get drunk (this is a joke. However, I am considering moving to Europe).

2. Open Submittable and pray the Editor-In-Chief didn’t give me poetry.

3. Curse loudly because the Editor-In-Chief gave me poetry. Seriously! I am slightly scarred

after the EXPLICIT sex scene in the last one I edited (those of you who know, know).

4. Read the piece I have to edit and emotionally shut down. Close the tab and don’t touch it

for another two days.

5. Two days later: “Hey, don’t I have a submission due tomorrow?”


7. Imagery-richimagery-yourgrammariswrong-wrong-wrong-wrong

8. Yay! We hit the word count! Turn it in hours before the deadline.

9. Emotionally prepare self to get completely roasted by the Senior Editor.

And then I repeat this process. Again, and again, and again, and again until I drop

dead/age out (hello, college).

I can already feel the burning question that all of you are really wondering:

“Sarah, what kind of submissions do you get?”

And let me tell you, you’d be surprised by the kinds of things I have to read. Realistically,

96.69% of the pieces end up in what I call the “slush pile” — in other words, they’ll probably get rejected in the first round.

1. The opening chapter of your bad fanfiction: I know you submitted the prologue of

your novel. I know it. Don’t even try to pretend it’s a short story.

2. Deep high school/overthrow the government/capitalism bad critique: We get it.

You’re edgy and you hate the common app. Don’t we all?

3. Poetry?????: New flash- pulling completely unrelated phrases out of your ass and

chopping them up every five words does not make a poem.

4. Can’t follow simple instructions: There is a word count for a reason. You had one job.

One job!!

But those are only mildly unpleasant at best. They don’t even compare to perhaps the

worst ones.

5. Sexual Imagery: You know, I actually don’t want to hear about your desires to do

naughty things on a polyester couch (yes, polyester. I wish I was making this up) . You

can take that to the erotica publisher down the street.

6. Mommy/daddy issues: For some reason, this one almost always goes hand in hand with

the sexual imagery. It gets awkward when in one stanza, you’re mentioning a 50 year-old

man who I think is your father, and the next you're making out in the basement with

????? Or, the “traffic-red-lips and cigarettes”..... You were just talking about your mother.

Is this your mother, or is this not your mother? I genuinely can’t tell. I always pretend it’s

a love interest, but you can never be sure when it’s poetry.


. Cicadas. I’M LITERALLY NOT EVEN JOKING. I have edited two poems BACK TO

BACK, both which mentioned cicadas. “Cicada crawling on your face” “Cicada on the

trees” “Cicada shells in my mouth” “Cicadas and my mother” Cicadas, my foot at this

point I am SICK of cicadas. Sick of cicadas. See what I did there? No, ok.

Yeah. Imagine what it feels like to read about someone’s sexual fantasies, and then have

to provide them 400 words of feedback. I seriously don’t get paid enough to do this. Actually, I don’t think I get paid at all.

Take it from an editor. For any of you who want to make it past the slush pile, follow the

instructions, please don’t talk about Cicadas, and please, PLEASE don’t mention your parents

and implied sex in the same stanza. Peace out.


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