A Day in the Life of an Editor

A real editor’s desk

Editors do a lot of things – we read, we respond, we choose things to publish. We even do actual editing – you know, get into someone else’s words and try to make them better with clarification, brevity, grammar, imagery, and all that. But the very first thing on that list, you may have noticed, was to read.

As in read your submissions.

In fact, an alternative title to this post might be a day in the life of a poetry submission.

So, let’s talk about that. What really happens here at Gyroscope Review when a poetry submission graces our submissions pile?

First of all, our system sends an automatic response to the poet so they can see that the submission was successful in getting to us. They can also, if they pay attention, see whether that submission was properly formatted with the correct title. That is because our submission response email is formatted to automatically include the title of the piece as it is entered in the submissions form. If someone sends us a piece with a lovely title like Spring Fog Has Feet Like a Mountain Lion, but they put Gyroscope Review Submission #1 in the title spot on the form, then they will receive an acknowledgement that says we’ve received Gyroscope Review Submission #1 for publication consideration. And we will probably change that title field at some point during our process so that we know which poem we are referring to among ourselves.

Lesson: put your poem’s actual title in the appropriate spot on the submissions form.

Second, we (the editors) all receive an email from Submittable when a submission hits our system. In that email, we see the cover letter the author included. Let’s talk about cover letters for just a moment. Here at Gyroscope Review, we don’t want to know your entire publication history in that cover letter. We don’t want to read through your entire curriculum vitae. All we want to know are two things: how you found us and why you think this particular submission might fit our journal. Stop there. Unless you have a great joke to share. We like good jokes.

Third, we read the piece. There are three of us on the editorial staff and all three of us will read your work. Three is a nice number. There are no tie votes. Sometimes, one of us will vote “maybe” because we are human and we might need to come back to a piece on a day when we are in a better mood. Or aren’t distracted. Or don’t have a headache. “Maybe” means we are aware it’s there, we’ve looked at it, and we have to give it a fair shake later.

Sometimes we find a piece that makes us say, hold on, what is this? That happens when we find something that is several pages long, something that looks like an essay, an excerpt from a book, is an image rather than words, a piece written in a language other than English. These kinds of things don’t belong in our submissions pile. If you have something that is a hybrid and you don’t know if it counts as poetry, contact us via the contact form on our website. We can talk. But, before you do that, read our guidelines. And read them again. Follow them religiously.

Once we make a decision on any given poem, we notify the author of that piece immediately. We don’t wait until the end of our reading period to make decisions. We try to maintain a constant movement of pieces that come in to us so that authors don’t have to wait. This is especially important if the work isn’t a good fit for us; we want poets to be able to get that work out somewhere else where it is a good fit or be able to rework the piece to make it stronger without delay.

As for the pieces we accept, we work hard to make sure the author knows what our terms are with a contract embedded in the acceptance email. We do not publish work without the author acknowledging that contract. We can’t emphasize this point enough. If someone submits work to us and we accept it, we must receive acknowledgment from the author on that acceptance or we will withdraw our offer to publish it.

Everyone who submits to us should check their email on a regular basis. Email is our official means of communication. We will not hunt you down. If we get no response from you regarding an acceptance, we will not use your work and we will withdraw it from our consideration.

By the way, to get all those acceptances chosen is no small thing. We usually have more things we like than room in the upcoming issue, so that means we have to have a group discussion about which remaining pieces are going to make it into the issue at the end of the reading period. We each rank the “yeses” still hoping for a home with us, then see if we’ve agreed on anything that way. There are usually one or two that all three of us have included in our top five. Those get in. Then we talk about the merits of the rest again, make a final team decision, and go with it. This is also the point at which we sometimes ask poets to send us a piece again during another reading period. This happens with pieces we loved that were more specific to another season than the one for the upcoming issue as well as with pieces that we just plain loved but had no more room for.

Once we have all our acceptances done for the upcoming issue, submissions close and we get to work putting the issue together. This is a massive undertaking when we put the poems in the order in which they will appear in our journal, design the cover, write the opening editorial, and format every single poem to fit our publication’s print style. This is also when we tear our hair out if a poem is formatted in an unusual way. Poetry has a lot of leeway for how it can look, but sometimes we have pieces with colored fonts (don’t!) or bold on the entire poem (don’t!) or a nonstandard font (marker felt, papyrus, etc. – don’t!) and weird margins for no good reason. Let your words do their job and leave the font choice and margins to us. Yes, there are exceptions. They are rare. Very rare.

Once we have the issue put together, we send a PDF proof copy to contributors. This happens about one-two weeks before the issue is due to come out. Why do we do this? Because human beings make mistakes. We might be pretty decent editors, but sometimes a letter gets left out of someone’s name, a poem loses its formatting somewhere in the movement from poet to submissions system to print issue, or a bio has an incorrect reference. That proof is the time to catch those little mistakes before they are send out into the world. The response time is very tight for that proof copy due to our publication schedule. If a contributor misses that window, they are out of luck.

After all that, we upload the final version of the issue to our publishing platform. Once we have it formatted there, it goes under another review. The people doing that review are not us; they are people connected with KDP, the publishing arm of Amazon. They make sure that the issue is going to look right in its print version, and help us make that print version available all over the world. It takes a few days for this process to be complete and we always have to make sure we’ve left enough time to correct any issues that crop up at this point. While the issue is going through its review, we get the PDF version uploaded to our website for those who depend on the free version’s availability. Once we get the okay from KDP, we tell the world about the new issue of Gyroscope Review via our website, our social media, and our contributors. And we wipe our brows, have a beer, and get ready for the next reading period. And we keep our fingers crossed that enough of those print editions sell to pay for our website and our submissions system.

Over the past year, we’ve had quite an uptick in the number of submissions sent to us. That means it might take longer than it used to for us to get responses out to submitters – but never more than three months due to the structure of our publication schedule. It means sometimes submissions get closed unexpectedly because we have more than our submissions system can handle. It means that we’ve had to decline really good work because there is no room left in the upcoming issue. All of these things are okay problems to have because it means people know we’re here. It means we’ve produced decent issues that make people want to be a part of what we’re doing here. But it does create challenges that we do our best to resolve with the resources we have.

One of the things we are considering is a change to the way we take submissions. We have, from the beginning, asked for people to submit each poem as an individual submission for ease in voting on each of those submissions. For this next reading period, that process will stand, but we are exploring alternatives in order to keep the ever-expanding number of submissions we get flowing smoothly. We will keep you all informed when we do make a change.

We hope you continue to send us work, read our journal, share us with your friends. The whole point of Gyroscope Review is to share fine contemporary poetry that turns your world – and ours – around. It’s been a fine four years since we’ve released our first issue. The poetry community is just the best. Thank you. All of you.