From Both Sides of the Desk: Talking with Margaret Bauer

11/13/2018

The North Carolina Literary Review is a print and online journal celebrating the literary community of North Carolina. NCLR publishes new and emerging writers, and the issues’ recent themes include North Carolina Literature in a Global Context, Environmental Writing in North Carolina, and North Carolina Literature into Film.

NCLR just released its twenty-seventh issue—Margaret Bauer’s twenty-first as editor. I spoke with her about how her writing life intersects with her editing life, and she provided her perspective on the writing world as an editor with years of experience.

Editors love their writers

NCLR highlights voices from or about North Carolina, and that attention to place is what defines the magazine. For Bauer, building the issue also means building a community. Bauer’s pride in the magazine is evident when she discusses the magazine’s editorial processes, staff members, and contributors.

“By the time an issue comes out,” she says, “I have developed quite a relationship with these writers. Whether I have met them in person or not, I feel like I know them by that point, and I want them to be pleased with the issue featuring their work… And perhaps that is a good point to make here: be nice to editors. We work hard, and we care very much about your work—indeed, about you.”

In that thread, Bauer has some ideas about how to reconcile this kind of editorial care with the harsh realities of rejection in the publishing world.

Never read a rejection letter as a judgement of your writing

Bauer is a writer herself, with thirty years of experience publishing literary criticism in scholarly journals and books. She recently returned to submitting creative work, and the experience of receiving rejection letters has prompted her to think about the relationships between editors and submitters.

Based on her experience on both sides of the submission process, she has some words of wisdom for writers: “Read literary magazines to determine which are a good fit for your writing. Enroll in writing workshops to keep developing your writing skills. Accept rejections graciously; they make the acceptances you will eventually receive even more meaningful, more worthy of celebration. You want literary magazines to be selective. You do not want your work published before it is ready, and when it is published, you want to know it was selected from numerous well written submissions.”

Of course, Bauer knows trying not taking rejection personally is easier said than done: “Now, suddenly, I’m having to take my own advice and not get discouraged. For every submission I’ve had accepted, I’ve had probably ten rejections.” Still, rejection doesn’t mean the editors and staff of a publication aren’t reading your work with care. Bauer says, “The process is, in fact, more human—perhaps more humane—than a general rejection letter may reflect.”

Editors: Pay it forward 

Bauer’s advice extends to those on the other side of the editorial process. She feels that it’s the responsibility of the editor to keep the publishing process humane. One way to ensure transparency during a contest is to consider submissions with author information hidden, selecting winners based on the work, not the cover letter. 

Bauer also encourages editors to nurture their creative communities by giving feedback to writers. If they love a piece, editors might also consider working with the writer to get the work publishable, rather than simply declining it. At the very least, she hopes editors always acknowledge submissions, even if the magazine declines them. “Submittable makes it so easy to send rejections,” she notes.

Online publication can help a magazine publish more writers and reach a broader audience while keeping costs low. When NCLR’s issues started getting too big—attempting to fit in a lot of writers—Bauer made the decision to move book reviews to a new online issue. The online issue doesn’t require a subscription, so those book reviews can reach as broad an audience as possible. The online issue also features the finalists of NCLR’s contests: “It gave us another 100 to 150 pages without the additional print costs.”  

Relatedly, be cheap. “We’ve never used a clean envelope or a clean piece of paper for anything… But we put out a quality publication. The print issues are gorgeous. That’s where the money goes. All the money we have goes into our printing, pretty much.” And it pays off.

 

The next issue of NCLR will feature the theme “North Carolina Expatriates.” Bauer says, “There are writers from here who haven’t lived in North Carolina their whole adult lives or their writing lives.” Bauer is excited to feature their work in NCLR, extending the North Carolina literary community out of North Carolina.

Anna Zumbahlen

Anna Zumbahlen lives in Missoula, where she works behind the scenes at Submittable, teaches poetry in the schools, and edits Carve, a quarterly literary magazine.