The Advantages of Being a Lit Mag Editor
By Lou Gaglia
The best reason for being a lit mag editor is the money, which far outweighs any corny sense of accomplishment that comes from putting out a product with literary merit. In fact, there are so many reasons for being an editor that I couldn’t possibly catalog them strictly, in order of importance, so I’ll start with money and then think up other advantages that come to mind and write them down before I forget them.
Editors of lit mags quite often receive generous donations from unknown sources and buy coffee shops and send their kids to college on such donations. I personally know an editor of one major mag who quit his day job as a toy store manager.
“Because of this one person’s generous donation,” he told me recently on his yacht, “I’ll never again have to call a lazy employee to aisle three to help a snotty customer.”
Despite the many unsolicited donations that pour in, most editors hang onto their day jobs, but the smart ones realize they don’t need to be working stiffs any more.
“For a while I was making no money, just reading stories and selling fruit on street corners, and I was thankful whenever I could crash with one of my buddies,” said one editor acquaintance to me. “Most of the time, though, I slept in garbage cans and read stories in the early mornings. I even received some submissions right there in my favorite garbage pail because several writers somehow knew where I was. But now, after a series of very generous donations, I run my lit mag from the comfort of my own garage. I can feed the kids and afford roofing caulk, and later I’ll retire to a condo in Hilton Head or the Hamptons when the time comes and I’m old and feeble and don’t know what a comma is anymore.”
“You’re very lucky,” I told him.
“No, I’m smart,” he said, “and you’d be smart to take up editing yourself. Do you know where to place commas at?”
“Sure, I know where to place commas at,” I said. “What do you think I am?”
“I don’t know what you are,” he answered, “but you ought to try it anyway.”
My grandmother died long ago, but when I was a small child, she gave me some advice and I’ll never forget it. We were sitting in the living room staring at the walls when she turned to me and grabbed the front of my shirt collar and lifted me up to her face.
“When you get older,” she said to me, “you ought to be an editor of your own literary magazine. They make—” (she was struggling to hold me in the air) “—they make oodles of money, and they are patted on the back by some of the most—the most prominent…”
She couldn’t hold me any longer, so she dropped me, and she never did tell me who would pat me on the back.
Still, I never forgot her words of wisdom, and I’d sure like to make oodles of money someday. One of my editor friends recently showed me his gold cuff links and his private golf course.
“Your grandmother was absolutely right,” he said to me on the fifteenth hole. “We editors have it made. And it’s not just the donations that roll in. It’s the praise we get from some of the most—the most prominent—the most—” He urged me to the next hole because an impatient foursome of editors was up our backs, and he never did tell me who would praise me.
Later, while we were hunting our slices in the woods, he said to me, “Do you know, I was on an assembly line when I decided to start my own lit mag. I was picking ice bags off conveyer belts and brown bagging my lunch, and I couldn’t even feed my own family or the parakeet. But last month I was rich enough to tell my floor manager to stick it. And do you know why?”
I was busy hunting for my ball in the weeds and didn’t answer right away, so he lifted me by my shirt collar. “Do you know why?”
I still didn’t answer because I didn’t remember the original question, so he dropped me in the weeds.
Only later did I recall what he’d asked me. I never did find out why he told his floor manager to stick it. His secretary seldom answered the phone after that, and I came to understand that I was no longer part of his Will.
It’s Easy Work
Being an editor is much easier than most other jobs, because a smart editor only needs to put his feet on a desk, grab a red pencil, and read the first paragraphs of five hundred stories, and if he likes a paragraph, he flips it onto the Read This Later pile. He chucks the others into a bin, then copies and pastes rejection slips for the poor chumps.
“The only pain in the neck part about it for me,” said my friend the former toy store manager, “is that I have to change the names on the rejection slips so that they fit the rejected writer. I wish to God they all had the same name.”
“Why not just address it, Dear Writer?” I suggested.
“Too impersonal. I’m not heartless, you know, and one of those writers may very well be an anonymous donor down the road. So no, I make sure to address rejections personally. That’s why in my submission guidelines I ask writers to include their nicknames.”
“Last week, though, I had to address three different rejection slips to writers nicknamed Cuddles. It was embarrassing.”
“Still, it all sounds like easy work,” I said.
“That’s true, and if writers keep calling themselves Cuddles, I can always copy and paste that name too, so I don’t have to keep typing it.”
We were walking along his garden pathway. He sighed.
“So, it’s all pretty easy for me, I guess. It doesn’t take much effort to chuck a story onto the reject pile, or ask my wife if she thinks a story is okay or if it sucks. But in a way, it can be rough. Writers are sensitive over rejection—too sensitive, if you ask me—and some of them fall into such bouts of depression. That’s all I need—for some writer to take a swan dive off a cliff because of one of my rejections. If the cops find one of my rejection slips in his pocket, I’m sunk. I tell you, it’s tough having such power.”
We stopped for a martini at the edge of his garden, near statues of other prominent editors and proofreaders. He sighed.
“You can’t blame yourself if a writer takes rejection personally,” I told him.
But he wasn’t listening. He was dabbing at his eyes with a tissue. “I sure hope Cuddles is all right.”
A Family Tradition
Admittedly, editors face enormous pressure—especially one powerhouse editor that I tried to interview. She flipped out on me at Starbucks and made a scene in front of the patrons (who didn’t look over anyway) after I politely asked if she’d teach me where commas go. Most editors, though, are pretty even-tempered, which leads me to one last advantage of being a lit mag editor: it can bring families together.
My friend the ex-toy store manager now runs a family-run rag. He is listed as its founding editor, and his momma is editor-in-chief. The magazine’s headquarters also doubles as a bakery (“so we can pay the online fees” he explained to me when I knit my brows).
“Momma is a huge help to me,” he told me inside the bakery, over coffee and donuts. “Not only does she run this place, but she knows a good story when she reads one. She replies to some writers personally, but she’s really fast with the slush.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you wouldn’t believe how many submissions we get that are written in crayon. She automatically rejects those and it saves me so much reading time, it’s amazing. And then there are stories about mice. It’s specifically written into our submission guidelines that we don’t like stories about mice, yet writers insist on sending them to us. She does a word search before she even reads a submission, and if mouse or mice show up at all, or even vermin, she sends them form rejections without batting an eye. I’m different, and probably foolish. I read entire pieces. But sometimes I’ll get through almost a whole story, and in the very last paragraph there will be some mouse hurrying across a room, and I’ll roll my eyes and reject it. But Ma, well, she’s amazing. She whips through submission after submission, automatically rejecting stories that end with “The End” or “That’s all, folks.” I don’t even look at an ending until I get to it, so whenever “that’s all folks” shows up at the end, I realize I just wasted my time. I guess I still have a lot to learn.”
He pointed to the bakery counter where a dozen workers took orders and filled boxes with baked goodies.
“See those people? They’re my cousins and aunts and uncles, our proofreaders. They’re some of the richest people in America. And little Sally there…” He pointed to a back room where an older woman sat with a young girl who was drawing circles onto paper with a red crayon. “She’s learning how to get rid of improperly placed commas.”
“Well, isn’t that something,” I said.
“Frankly, buddy, you’d have to be a chump not to be an editor,” he said. “I mean, between the donations, the baked goods, the golf, and the boating, how can you beat it?” He paused. “Well, what do you say, pal?”
I tried to answer but my mouth was stuffed with a bite of cream donut, and I must have had a powder mustache or something, because he looked away with a smirk.
Lou Gaglia is the author of Poor Advice and Other Stories, and Sure Things & Last Chances. His stories have appeared in Columbia Journal, Eclectica, Blue Lake Review, The Writing Disorder, and elsewhere. He teaches in upstate New York and is a long-time T’ai Chi Ch’uan practitioner. Visit him at lougaglia.com