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 Putting Together Issue 2

If you’ve followed us since Issue 1, then you know that our inaugural issue was solicitation-only, and that we used that model to put established authors beside emerging writers. You already know we like work that b(l)ends genres and operates on multiple levels, according to varying types of readers. And putting together the first issue was relatively easy–we already knew so many amazing writers that we wanted to feature together.

So, what about issue 2? For the second issue (coming this September!) we opened for submissions from all over the world. We received some repeat submitters who appeared in Issue 1 (spoiler alert–they are also in issue 2), but this upcoming issue is not a repeat of what we’ve already done. We considered every submission and accepted it purely on the merit of the work, though as we did so, we made sure to push ourselves and our understandings of ‘merit.’ We read cover letters and when we were unsure of a piece, we considered it in light of what the cover letter said the piece was doing and the positionality of the author. This is important, because we are editors, but that does not mean we are infallible. We are also white and in a heterosexual relationship, and regardless of how much we strive to be allies, we are not subject to the same forms of oppression and marginalisation as many of the writers who submitted work to us are. We read your pieces, and we grew. And the magazine has also grown to encompass and support these voices.

If you have submitted work to us, then you know our policy is to help edit pieces–most of the work in our issues has received edits (though some comes to us in its best form). And in doing this editing, we opened our dialogue with our submitters. At times, we would suggest a change to be made (usually a line to be cut, because we are about concision), and the submitter would correct us, would point out the importance of including that line, even if it was, technically, a redundancy. Because although we (being university-educated as readers) could ascertain the message of a piece, the inclusion of that line opens the piece to people not as well-trained in reading. Thank you. To all our submitters who expressed concern that their pieces would not have the same, or as broad, resonance if they followed our edits, thank you. You have helped us become better editors, and we are grateful that you entrusted your work to us and had the courage to correct us. And we are so happy that so many writers–including those who corrected us–agreed with our edits. We believe every piece in Issue 2 is as strong as it can be, and that is what we strive for. Good. Short. Writing.

So, now that it’s edited, how do we put it together? Well, we start with a huge list of our submitters and their pieces on an excel spreadsheet. Then Allie writes it out by hand because she doesn’t understand technology and she highlights the names according to prose vs verse (ish–there are genre blurring pieces, so this is done by feel). We agree on a piece to start the issue–the tone we want to set. And from there we find the thematically linked pieces. For issue 2 this means the (loosely) place-based pieces. We start making lists of names with arrows to indicate different groupings of themes and which pieces flow together best and rearrange so that each grouping leads into the next intuitively. This process involves a lot of back and forth of names and titles and general confusion between the hand-written order and the master copy Jordan compiles on the computer. We found three main themes for this up coming issue: place, deconstruction of form, and intersectional feminism, with five ‘random’ pieces to round out the issue (there is a similarity to the ‘randomness,’ but we haven’t come up with the right adjective for it).

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Keep an eye open for our upcoming previews, because we’re going to start launching Issue 2 previews in the next few days!

Issue 2 Cover Art Contest

What does literary brevity look like? Show us!

Hey everyone, we’ve been vetting your writing for antilang. no. 2 and we’re blown away by your incredible words! Now we’re looking for an amazing piece of art that captures the essence of good short writing for the issue’s cover.

What does literary brevity look like? Show us! Maybe you’ll go for minimalism, perhaps pithy pointillism, or a more metaphorical approach. Look to our mandate for inspiration. Imply and implicate with your imagery.

Our favorite piece will be featured on the cover of antilang. no. 2 (fall 2018) and will appear in the next collected print edition (no. 2-3, expected early 2019), which the winning artist will of course receive a hard copy of. We hope to eventually pay our contributors via funds raised through Patreon and we will start by back-paying people featured in our early issues.

Click the button below for a direct link to our Submittable page. (Pro tip: it’s totally free to enter!) We can’t wait to see your work!
submit

On Cover Letters & Bios

Hello! As you know, antilang. is now open for submissions for issue 2. And, if you’ve clicked our submittable button, you’ll see that there’s a section for leaving a cover letter. But what does a cover letter for a literary magazine entail? If you’re just starting to send out your work, the cover letter and bio can be the worst part of submitting. Thoughts of “but I’m not that interesting,” “now they’ll know I’m an amateur,” and “I just like writing” leap into your mind, and leave you staring at a blank screen until you panic and abandon the whole endeavour. Right?

But we want to see your work! So we’ve created a helpful guide to get you started on your cover letter and bio.

  1. Don’t stress over the cover letter! We care about your work first.
  2. Begin your cover letter like you would a paper letter: a block in the top left corner with your name and contact info (mailing address, email address), then date and address the letter (“To the Editors” works for a generic letter, but you can personalise it with “To Allie & Jordan”)
  3. Begin with “Please consider my [word/page-count] story, [“title”]” OR “Please consider my poems [“title”], [“title”], [“title”]” OR “Please consider my short work of mixed genre, [“title”]” (you get the point–be polite, and identify your work).
  4. Follow this up with a quick explanation (about one-sentence) of how your piece is a good fit for us (this is not mandatory, but we hear other publishers like this, and it’s good practice indicate how your work fits with what a magazine likes to publish–it demonstrates that you have read the magazine)
  5. Bio (belongs in a separate paragraph and should be fittingly concise (~30 words). Clearly label it as your bio by starting: “Bio: [your bio here]”. Most bios include: your name; what you’re studying (if still in school); if you have any previous publications, then list the magazine names; any completed degrees. As we encourage anyone who feels comfortable to disclose any intersectional/minority identities, then you can include this alongside your name. Your bio can also contain your preferred genre of writing. Alternatively, we love clever anti-bios (example: “Allie pretends to write poetry” OR “Jordan studies the intersection of the housing market and avocado imports”). Check out the end of antilang. no. 1 to see a range of bios!
  6. End with “Thank you for your consideration, [your name]”

Now that you know how to do a cover letter, you’ll send us your work, right?

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(Fun fact: this anti-bio appeared in a chapbook of collected poetry by the advanced poetry class at the UofC in 2015)

You know you wanna click that button!

Do you love to click buttons? Of course you do, it’s half the reason any of us are on the internet! Well, we’ve got a fancy new button for you to click on our submission guidelines page, which will lead you to our Submittable page where you can click a plethora of new buttons.

And while you’re there, you might as well submit a piece of good short writing to be considered for issue no. 2. Oh yeah, did we forget to mention we’re now accepting general submissions for our next issue!? Click the links above or the button below, brush up on our guidelines (they’re newly revised) and send us your best in brevity.

We can’t wait to read your wonderful writing!

submit