Ken Zahrt is a literary review editor who will be at A Rally of Writers giving us some insights into the mysteries of working with literary journals.
What does a literary review editor do?
The editor establishes the aesthetic perspective and scope for the publication in an attempt to provide some organizing rationale for the content and oversees the production as it aligns with the defined vision.
How did you get started?
I got started by talking to anybody I could find with literary interests and connections and asking questions. How can I get involved? How can help? Literary circles are entrepreneurial by nature — perpetual start-ups of sorts, or mom-and-pop types. They’re always looking for help.
What are the biggest misconceptions about literary journals and what they publish?
Probably the biggest misconception is that the production is a smooth, polished process and, therefore, that a declined submission means the work was carefully reviewed and determined to be inadequate. No. Not at all. Many literary journals are produced by very small teams, maybe even one or two people, who are wearing many hats and who are probably doing most of the work out of passion rather than pay. It’s a messy process. Very subjective. The folks involved are trying to balance publishing the best content, while maintaining some kind of aesthetic, while meeting some kind of production schedule. There are many reasons a submission might get declined that have nothing to do with the worthiness of the work. Maybe it doesn’t align with an issues theme, or the publication is up against a deadline and simply has to draw a line in the sand. Maybe the review team never got a chance to fully read all the submissions. Ultimately, a decline doesn’t actually mean anything about the quality of the work.
What would you like to see that you don’t?
Right now, I think there’s a lot of everything out there, which can be a good thing and a bad thing. Makes it hard to get your thumb on names of writers who are constantly doing exceptional work and developing as authors.
What are you seeing that is overdone?
I think attempting to be experimental in form is a bit overdone. A strong story with emotional depth will beat experimental form every time.
What are three things that make for good literary writing?
Compelling story, emotional depth, and accessibility.
How has literary changed over the past few years?
I think “literary” often gets mistaken for “serious” or “dramatic,” and the idea of what is literary has become too narrow, too high-brow. I think many “literary classics,” if read today like they were being published for the first time, would be categorized as various genre fiction. New well-drawn comedies or romances or mysteries are being relegated as a less serious literary works.