On Blind Review: Or, The Problem of Pretend Objectivity

Anyone who submits to lit mags should be familiar with the term ‘blind review.’ This is usually accompanied with directions to remove your name and identifying info from all pages of your submission, except for the cover letter (which should be in a separate document). This way only the editor that receives the incoming submissions has access to the names/identities associated with the submitted pieces (and, ideally, the mag has a high volume of submissions, so the editor that does see names couldn’t possibly be bothered to remember them anyway). That editor then sends the works along to section editors/readers and they are reviewed without bias toward gender, race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, or any other label or minority identifier that someone could judge the author for.

In a perfect world, that’s all well and good, and certainly the intent behind blind review has its merits, but in practice, this allows terrible people to be published. You might think, “But, if their work is good, doesn’t it deserve publication?” To which we cite Kate Leth:

We think this says it all, but to clarify, in every artistic community there are abusers who get away with having a platform for their work because of the fallacy of ‘artistic merit.’ (No need to name them here, but we’re sure we can all name a few actors or musicians who fit this description). The world of Can Lit and writing globally is not immune. We believe in encouraging emerging writers, and so we also believe that these writers have the potential to become even better than the so-called greats who get published despite their personal failings and the harm they cause their communities. Obviously, we strive to publish good writing, but we do so without allowing shitty people into our community.

So no, we don’t blind review. We leave names and bios on our submissions so that we (and our guest editors) can see who wrote the work submitted. How does this impact our review process? Well, we have some people we will always reject because we know, through whisper networks, that they have abused their positions of power, exploited and crutched on their ‘renown,’ or made people of certain groups feel uncomfortable (at best) and caused serious mental/physical harm (at worst). This doesn’t mean you have to hold the exact same values as us to get published in antilang. or soundbite, but it does mean that you have to genuinely believe all humans are deserving of human rights, respect, and dignity. That seems like a low bar, but apparently it’s not. We also extend this beyond social justice concerns to encompass issues specific to lit mags, for example, plagiarism. If someone has plagiarised in the past, we don’t accept their work, even if it is an original piece. Yes, people can change, but we don’t have to forgive and forget.

But how do we know if someone is a shitty person? To be honest, we can usually tell from the cover letter or the piece itself, but we also do a quick google search of our short listed submitters. Does this mean you spend more time researching submitters than on reviewing their work (AKA, on your job)? No, because most of our submitters are amazing people! We can tell from their cover letters, their bios, their pieces, that they care about people! Many of our submitters mention their activist work in their letter and treat all their characters with dignity (even if they are not great people in the text—there is a quality about the writing that shows its a comment on an individual, not an entire group of people). And we love this—we love that our submitters (at least, the overwhelming majority) are compassionate and considerate.

On Why You Hear “Yes” Before You Hear “No”

We all know how lit mags work: you send something in, and the longer you go without hearing anything, the longer they are taking to decide if they want your work (so, if you hear “no” just before the issue comes out, well, then at least you can take comfort knowing that your piece made the editors’ long-list). On the flip side, if you get a “no” within a month of submitting, then you know they really didn’t like it. Either way, with a “no” it’s rare to receive any type of feedback (so if you do get an encouraging note about your work, celebrate!)

By contrast, when we read submissions to The ALP, we categorise each piece and then go through work we’ve flagged for our issues (antilang. and soundbite). We do the edits for these pieces (the ones we accept for publication) before we send out our rejections. We also adhere to a tight schedule—we give ourselves around a month to edit and send out our acceptances and to put together both publications.

Because of this quick turn-around, things can get a bit awkward—sometimes we’re still sending out rejections after the issue has launched online. However, we post on our social media accounts (@antilangmag) when we have completed all our acceptances. So, if you haven’t heard back from us by then, you’ll be receiving a “no” with feedback.

Do we edit or give feedback on every submission? No. We are a publisher that prioritises editing, but we are not a free editing service. When people send us work that is not even close to being polished (obvious first drafts, an abundance of clichés or abstractions, etc.), then we send a generic “no thanks.”

For our “no with feedback” submissions, we put comments in the body of an email and typically address the strongest element of your work (the spark we see in it!) and any major issues. We do accept work that requires edits, but usually we don’t accept work that requires structural changes (i.e. switching the tense or perspective, rearranging scenes, or other edits that would take substantial time). So, our feedback will not be line edits, but rather comments and questions about the construction of the piece. These are pieces we feel are so close to being what we want, but need some sort of change that would take longer than our one-month deadline to incorporate (but that’s just us—a lot of these pieces do get scooped up by other lit mags that focus on elements outside of concision).

At The ALP, we do things differently. We know good work doesn’t emerge from a vacuum—while you sit down and physically write by yourself, the rewriting and editing are often done by sharing your work with trusted readers and editors. We want to highlight this communal element that is inherent to the writing process (and often overlooked).

antilang. Preview: Kevin Stebner’s “Oilspill”

StebnerWhile our mandate says we like: good. short. writing., we’re also interested in genre-defying/blurring work that avoids easy categorisation. This constraint-based-visual poem is one of the most different pieces in our second issue and the closest we have come to printing visual art. Now that you’ve read his project description, head over to antilang. no. 2, page 15-17 to read the poem!

antilang. Preview: Melinda Jane – The Poet Mj’s “Kit”

Melinda Jane – The Poet Mj’s “Kit” is a structurally unique piece in antilang., a micro-novel written in verse. Jump to page 25 of the new issue and see the full arc unfold.MjMelinda Jane – The Poet Mj: writer, spoken word artist with explorations in soundscapes, improv music in the performing arts. Poems in Thirty West Publishing, The Mozzie, Rambutan, and more.

antilang. Preview: Jessica Mehta’s “Savagery”

Jessica Mehta’s poem “Savagery” opens antilang. no. 2 and sets the bold, political, and powerful tone that many of our emergent contributors carry on throughout the issue. Read her other poem, “Orygun,” and the rest of the issue by clicking the excerpt below.MehtaJessica Mehta is a multi-award-winning poet, storyteller, and author of 13 books. She’s a member of the Cherokee Nation and has been awarded numerous poet-in-residency positions around the world. Currently, she is a Halcyon Art Labs fellow and working on her PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Exeter. Her next poetry collection, Savagery, is forthcoming with Airlie Press in 2019.

antilang. Preview: Steve Passey’s “Borealis”

PasseyOur second last preview before we launch antilang. no. 2 is “Borealis,” a flash fic by Steve Passey that instantly locates and characterizes its narrator with a distinct voice. This story is a perfect lead-in to fall, when the auroras become more frequent and visible in the chill evenings.

Steve Passey is originally from Southern Alberta. He is the author of the collection Forty-Five Minutes of Unstoppable Rock and the chapbook “The Coachella Madrigals,” among many others.

antilang. Preview: Lonnie Monka’s “over Awarta”

Monka

Obviously, we appreciate concise writing, and we think it’s at its best when the imagery and language hone in on one moment. Lonnie Monka’s poem does just that and the fireworks pop off the page.

A freelance writer and poetry enthusiast, Lonnie Monka runs Jerusalism, an initiative to foster local literary community through events such as reading series, author meet-ups, workshops, and more. When not busy reading or writing, she enjoys posting pictures of restrooms on Instagram – @toiletsofjerusalem.

soundbite Preview: Chris Kelly’s “Excerpt from A Kid Called Chatter”

While an audio collection of short readings does lend itself quite well to poetry, we also have some fiction appearing in our first volume of soundbite.

Clocking in at a whopping three minutes and eighteen seconds, Chris Kelly’s excerpt from his novel A Kid Called Chatter is the longest piece forthcoming in soundbite. And in just three days (!) you’ll also be able to read his poetry in antilang. no. 2.

antilang. Preview: David Martin’s “Loess”

Part 2 of our double-feature is a lyric poem by David Martin, which appears in antilang. and is titled “Loess.” David Martin works as a literacy instructor in Calgary and his poetry has been awarded the CBC Poetry Prize. If you haven’t already checked out his debut collection, Tar Swan (published earlier this year by NeWest), then go do that now! antilang. will still be featuring his work when you get back! We are thrilled to have this and one other poem by David in our second issue.

Martin