Thursday, April 26, 2007

As long as they spell our names right

One of the things I learned from Casey Hill is that there is now a review of upstreet 2 on The reviews are listed alphabetically; to read it, go here, then scroll down to upstreet:

The conventional wisdom regarding publicity is: "I don't care what they say about me, as long as they spell my name right." That may be true to a certain extent, and I'm glad to have upstreet reviewed in NewPages, but it has to be said that this is kind of a grumpy review. I guess we're too pedestrian for Miles Newbold Clark. As a former mentor told me a few months ago, though, it takes time. We at upstreet are in search of more interesting and varied voices, in all genres, which is why the ads I placed in Poets & Writers and the AWP Writer's Chronicle called for "quality submissions with an edge." (Some of the early submissions made me wonder why I had ever made such a rash request.)

Clark was (sort of) complimentary about upstreet's minimalist aesthetics. I receive many compliments about the look of the journal, usually involving the words "sharp" or "elegant." The minimalist approach reflects my personal taste, and I'm happy about it. Two short stories were singled out, deservedly, for positive comments: "Hidden Camera," by Camp Gordinier, and "Heretics," by Ed Anthony. I hope Fan Club visitors will check out what the reviewer has to say about them, and then go on to read the stories themselves, as well as the rest of the upstreet 2 lineup. The thing that really mystified me about the review was that the poetry was ignored completely. I don't understand this, unless Clark is only interested in prose, or just doesn't feel equipped to evaluate poetry. There are some very good poems by established poets in upstreet 2, including the three we nominated for Pushcart Prizes: "Live at the Village Vanguard," by Bill Zavatsky, "My Erotic Double," by Judy Katz, and "Strange How Trains," by Steve Ackerman.

My thanks to NewPages for reviewing upstreet 2, and we hope they'll take another look when our pages are not so new. We've gotten better, and we'll keep getting better. You'll see.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The numbers game

A lot of people I meet are interested in what it's like to run a literary magazine, and some of the questions I'm asked most often have to do with the submission process--how many we get and how they're handled. This year, upstreet received more submissions than ever before: 295 short stories, 92 creative nonfiction pieces, and 820 poems. This was a lot to read and, no, we didn't do it all at once--at least, we tried not to.

The submissions came to me--either by e-mail or to the upstreet P.O. box--and I gave them an identifying number, logged them into an Excel database, removed the cover letters, and sent the mss to the appropriate editor (fiction, poetry, CNF). Let me use fiction as an example. I sent the very efficient upstreet 3 fiction editor, Robin Oliveira, 14 batches of short stories, the first one on October 21, 2006, and the last on March 6, 2007. These batches ranged from 12 to 25 short stories, depending on how many I received and how quickly she was able to read them. The volume of submissions gets larger as the deadline approaches, and the final batch consisted of 53 stories. What I did with creative nonfiction and poetry was similar, except that there were fewer nonfiction pieces (about half) and many more poems (about 8 times).

Robin had never done this before, so she had to develop a system for what to do with all these stories. Based on what she told me, I know that she read each story once, and made brief notes in a notebook she kept for the purpose. Based on the first reading, she decided if it should be read a second time. After the second reading, she decided whether to put the story on her short list for further consideration, or recycle the manuscript. She reported to me on each batch, giving me the numbers and titles of the stories she was keeping on the short list, and frequently including comments on what she liked or thought needed work. I also read all of the stories myself, and a few times (very few times) added a story to the short list, but in the vast majority of cases I told her to go ahead and dispose of the stories she didn't want to keep. Our level of agreement was very high. I kept a record of all the shortlisted stories on my computer. I knew the names of the stories' authors, but Robin did not. From time to time she thought she recognized the style of a writer whose work she was familiar with, but she wasn't always right about that. (We received a number of submissions from fellow alumni of the Vermont College MFA in Writing Program.)

Robin also was able to place some of the shortlisted stories roughly into categories: cats, death, illness, high school sex, etc., which frequently helped her decide among them (i.e., which of the two cat stories is better?). Once we were finished, she narrowed her short list down to 38 stories, roughly in order of preference, 17 of which she labeled Yes, and 21 Maybe. The top 13 stories (102 pages) made it into the book. I made this decision based on her choices and the choices of creative nonfiction editor Harrison Fletcher, who gave me a similar (although much shorter) list, which ended up with 10 CNF pieces (52 pages) in the book. Because, due to family issues, poetry editor Jess Greenbaum didn't finish reading until much later, I left her 33 pages, which ended up with 22 poems by 16 different poets. My involvement with the creative nonfiction selection process was not as close as it was with fiction, and I read very few of the 820 submitted poems, most of them at the end of the process. The Wally Lamb interview, conducted by me, takes up 17 pages, one of which is a photo page.

I believe this process has resulted in a good balance among the different genres. I purposely increased the proportion of creative nonfiction in this issue, which was made possible by the improved quality of the submissions. upstreet has now reached 224 pages, and I'd like it to stay that size. I'm increasing the price from 10 to 12 dollars to accommodate the larger number of pages, which I didn't do last year. I believe that the more submissions we get, the better the journal will be. This also means, of course, that it will become more competitive, harder to get accepted. I have already begun receiving submissions for upstreet 4, and Robin can't wait to get her hands on them, but we won't begin reading until after the current issue comes out, which will be around June 15.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Decisions, decisions

When I opened this Blogger account, I had to make a bunch of decisions about settings: layout, formatting, etc. Among those decisions were that (1) this blog is not restricted in any way, but open to all readers; and (2) readers are free to make any comments they choose, without being censored or edited. The second decision required some thought. I'm responsible for what's published here, and Blogger could terminate my account if their terms of agreement are violated--either by me or by a commenter. So, if you do comment on one of these posts, please try not to libel anyone, include links to porn sites, use hate speech, or engage in any other illegal or unethical activity. :)

This may seem like a silly request, but I'd rather not be in the position of having to moderate comments. My son works for a company that automatically filters all incoming e-mail, and won't let a message through to an employee if it contains offensive or objectionable language. I've been on the receiving end of this policy, I find it offensive and objectionable, and I don't want to do it to others. I've also had a comment of my own, to a friend's blog, censored--not because I was being a criminal or a pottymouth, but because he disagreed with what I was saying. (As far as I'm concerned, that's even worse than being busted for using an f-bomb in an e-mail to my son at work.) Thanks for understanding.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Welcome to the upstreet fan club

Today I had a phone conversation with Casey Hill, who runs, a very attractive listing service for literary magazines. Since February 20, upstreet has been listed on NewPages. Today I learned that, in the past two months, the upstreet listing has been viewed 750 times, and 450 of those views have gone on to the upstreet website: This probably accounts for part of the increased volume of submissions we've been receiving.

I called Casey to ask for his advice on distribution. The last time I'd spoken with him, he suggested that I look into a distributor named Ubiquity. I'd e-mailed them, and then sent them a copy of upstreet 1, but hadn't received a response. Today I called Ubiquity and found out that they have a new policy regarding journals: because they don't make any money on journal distribution, the only way they'd be able to take on a new journal is if they were permitted to give the journal away to bookstores at no cost. In other words, they really aren't interested. (Neither are most other distributors, from the giant Ingram to the very selective Small Press Distributors.) So, how does a start-up literary magazine become established? The consensus seems to be that, while everyone assumes bookstore sales are important, that isn't the way to go. A bookstore presence may increase a journal's visibility, but most copies are sold by subscription. Every time I hear that, I wonder how you sell a "subscription" to a publication that comes out once a year. A one-year subscription is the same as buying a single copy.

Casey also suggested that one of the best ways to enhance the visibility of upstreet is to start a blog, which explains why I'm here. For now. I'm going to try this and see what happens. If I get over the feeling that this is a totally self-indulgent ego trip--which is the impression I have from amost all the other blogs I've seen--then maybe I'll keep it going. I have to keep reminding myself that this is not about me, it's about upstreet. That gives me an excuse to talk about my favorite subject. I hope it will also give me someone to talk about it to, which is the point. If you're interested in the process of publishing a literary magazine, specifically upstreet, come on back. I welcome your comments.