Stepping Out to Start a New Literary Journal
By Tabitha Blankenbiller
Silk Road forked into my writing life path two years ago. I was halfway through the MFA program at Pacific University—far more polished and disciplined than I had been coming in, as someone who wrote while mistaking vagueness for intrigue, and couldn’t name off three memoir-writers even if my Nordstrom credit line depended on it. Still, I had two semesters of heart-letting and insomnia-spirals yet to learn from, and I was fluorescent green to the writer “business.” By entering the Pacific community I had a few literary journal names, like Tin House and Ploughshares. I had a fresh new Submishmash account (rest in peace, best web name ever lost!). But I had no idea how these literary journal entities worked, exactly. Who was reading our work? Why the long response times? What did a yes or a no mean, and what did a receipt of either reflect upon my writing?
In the first few months of working alongside editors Tammy Dietz and Hannah Pass in Silk Road nonfiction, I quickly learned that:
- Journals get a ton of submissions. On Writer Island, as we are alone in our spare rooms and offices and hall closets combing through Google for possible homes for our work, it feels as if we’re the only ones doing so. I remember thinking with my first round of submissions I sent, there can’t be THAT many people sending stuff to Hayden’s Ferry Review. I have to have a good shot. I didn’t even see most of the submissions that were sent to Silk Road; the fantastic staff of junior editors sifted out the best to be sent up to the editing staff. Only a small fraction of favorites came across my screen, and of those, we may have accepted one out of every ten. For that reason, I began to feel slightly less awful as the form rejections started rolling into my email box. Although the perspective may have worn a bit after the 20th.
- A No is rarely a verdict that the writer is terrible. The vast majority of the time we passed on a piece, it was for reasons along the lines of content or style not fitting in with the journal’s vision, or perhaps not working with the other nonfiction pieces we’d curated for the issue already. I read writing from many people whose work left me spellbound, and downright jealous, but ended up passing on for reasons described above. The theory was later proven from the other side, when pieces I had rejected from some journals were enthusiastically snapped up by others. Good writing has a place. It’s just a bear sometimes to find where it is.
- I love editing almost as much as I love writing. I’ll never forget the giddy joy I got from pressing Send on the first acceptance letter I wrote. Working to edit and restructure the piece into its final published version filled me with all the pride that drives people to do good work. I helped! It’s addictive.
I’ve had two bustling years of experience with Silk Road journal, lessons I’ve harnessed to propel forward: into my first journal acceptance letter of my own, my graduation, my finished manuscript, and my new job as a full-time editor. And as my latest learning curve, I’m stepping out with fellow Pacific alumni (Tiffany Hauck, Kase Johnstun, Charlotte O’Brien, and Sean Davis) to start a literary journal of our own, Spilt Infinitive. Spilt Infinitive is a journal that strives to represent new and underrepresented writers by publishing gritty, honest, scene-driven work. We crave scenework and substance, and a story above a situation. Pieces that are smart, funny, surprising, bizarre, yet profound are our favorite finds. I’m sad to be exiting Silk Road, but thrilled to pass along the good editing karma I learned here to this brand-new adventure, one I’m helping to carve with my own hands (or at least typing fingers). Our first issue is up on our website, http://www.spiltinfinitive.com, where you can download it directly onto your Kindle. The issue has work by outstanding up-and-coming writers, including Pacific alums Autumn Sharp, Jaydn DeWald, Laura Henley, and Leigh Camacho. We’re also accepting submissions for our second issue, and we welcome your poems, stories, and essays. Our guidelines and submission links are available at http://www.spiltinfinitive.com/submissions. Finally, my secret-delicious Spilt job is Woman Behind the Social Media Curtain, so please come see the Tweets (https://twitter.com/SpiltInfinitive) and Facebook posts (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Spilt-Infinitive) that make me laugh uproariously to myself.
Best of luck to all Silk Road staff and submitters in the coming year! And thank you for all the challenges, questions, and joys you’ve blessed my time with. I’m sure our literary paths will be crossing again shortly.