Wednesday, June 18, 2008

why editors keep promises, part 1

When I became one of the editors of Many Mountains Moving, Inc. during 2005, I learned along with co-director Erik Nilsen that A LOT of people had been promised publication by previous editors, and much work had yet to appear.

I know it means a lot to writers, especially early in their careers, to get published in something like MMM. It meant a lot to me in 1997 when I first appeared in MMM. I was impressed by what was in the issue and by the fact that it sold out of Borders Books in center city Phila. very quickly. I also knew that it is horrible for young writers to get a promise and see that promise disappear.

It's true that the staff before Erik and I arrived had to resign or chose to resign pretty quickly (end of 2004--early 2005), and it's true that a lot of people thought MMM was dead. And it took a lot of effort and many great volunteers to help us through that very rough transition period (Thanks, Donna Salemink! Thanks, Shannon Arancio! Thanks, Bryan Roth and Barbara Sorensen-- veterans of the most uncertain hours.)

With all the departures, we were actually off the hook, i.e. we didn't have any contracts with the writers because we didn't make those contracts. We didn't accept that work. But our predecessors had. Why should we feel compelled to keep those promises?

1) I wanted to honor the promises of the previous editors because I believed in what they were doing; I knew they were great editors. They must have been doing an awful lot of things right because they had a very loyal and devoted following. Keeping promises that they made mostly fit in with what I believed in also. This was, in fact, a way to learn about the history of the aesthetic of the journal.

2) I wanted to keep promises for the sake of the writers because even if we were technically off the hook, we had a chance to help writers who wanted or needed the publication, and so this was a good reason to keep those old promises. Even if it wouldn't have been our fault if those poems never appeared, we had a chance to build some good will in the small world of poets & writers. Since there is little money in the literary world, especially "PO Biz," reputation really does count for a lot.

3) I myself have had some very terrible and important experiences with editors breaking their own promises to me, and these things usually DID have an impact on more than just the obvious things. So I knew firsthand how it feels to be on the other side of a broken deal. I didn't want to put anyone through that or anything remotely like it.

4) karma, ultimately, is a reason why I wanted to keep the promises we made. I believe the things we do mean more than we can fathom in any given moment, even any given lifetime.

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