Press Note: Literary Magazines and the Editorial Process with James Byrne

In this new series, editors of the Poetry International Chapbook Series and Poetry International staff will discuss the process of running a contemporary press and literary journal: from collaborating with fellow editors to navigating design technologies to promoting a new publication, and all the spaces in between.

Literary Magazines and the Editorial Process with James Byrne
By Stephanie Romero

IMG_1899PI had the privilege of hosting guest James Byrne this April. Byrne is a poet, translator, and editor from Britain. Among many endeavors, he has coedited and helped translate anthologies such as Bones Will Crow, contributed to anthologies, and has published two collections of poetry, one being Blood/Sugar. He shared his publishing experience with students in a lecture-type setting. Armed with his PowerPoint, Byrne went straight into a definition. He asked us all to finish the line: “Editing is a process of…” A few people gave their views on what editing is essentially; he thoughtfully listened to each and later emphasized that editing is a service, and a key component when editing is to remove the ego. Throughout the event, he involved the audience by asking for definitions from publications like literary magazines and manifestos. From the general topic of editing, he narrowed down the playing field to editing a literary magazine.

But before he got into the editing in this era, he went into the historical context of literary magazines. He described the publication roots of Blast, the first literary magazine. He talked about its short-lived run (1914-15), T.S. Eliot’s association with it, the ties to politics, and its manifesto. Byrne talked a little bit about why he co-founded the literary magazine The Wolf. He recalled the need for an outlet for new poets. The vision was to collaborate: publish well-known writers alongside promising ones.

He presented a compilation of eleven essential components to consider when starting a literary magazine. He brought up business-related factors such as researching the competition and promotion; however, he also talked about practical things, such as plotting towards what kind of magazine you want and choosing a memorable name. For example, he suggested considering whether the publication name should be inclusive or exclusive, depending on its end goal. Towards the end of the session he also highlighted that it would behoove a magazine editorial team to find and keep a good relationship with a good printer.

Retracing his steps, Byrne talked a bit more about The Wolf’s solicitation and submission process for cover art. He touched on funding a magazine and The Wolf’s temporary government funding in particular. He spoke about the Arts Council in England, which at one point was The Wolf’s biggest contributor, and how The Wolf unwillingly eventually became independent of that donor. Because he’s both an editor and a poet, he’s shared his experience of both sides of the editorial process. He quoted a bold statement, saying, “Occasionally a good editor will extend the literary tradition.” Editing is an act of collaboration with the necessity of being humble and attentive, according to Byrne.

He emphasized the need for students and job seekers to have experience. Byrne brought up cultural economics and how a degree is not enough, rather experience working in a field you’re interested in makes you more competitive.

To read more about James Byrne and his works, click here.

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