From the Editor’s Desk: Taker or Giver?

I’m back from Los Angeles, and thrilled to be back to reading for the magazine. The trip to Red Hen Press, LAR’s parent organization and my future publisher for my poetry collection, couldn’t have come at a better time. My poetry comrade Tanya and I have both been busy and flustered this crazy summer, and while we’re always happy to be working with our contributors, we both felt a bit daunted to launch into the tiring task that the slush pile constitutes.

Cue Kate Gale and Mark Cull, Editor and Publisher of Red Hen Press, respectively. Tanya and I were lucky enough to stay with Kate and Mark and to spend two days at the press learning more about what goes in to running a small press. Not only did we come away with a huge amount of new knowledge, but we also found ourselves with an even deeper respect for the work that Red Hen does in the world.  After our time at the press, I realized that editing a literary magazine is a piece of cake compared to running a press. I felt that watching the press run gave me a swift attitude check; I realized that I do not, as an editor, have to work anywhere near as hard as do the editors of the press. Writers, if you’ve had a book out or a book accepted by a small press, stop reading this blog right now and go write a thank-you note. A real one, on paper, in ink. I can say with 90 percent certainty that you have no idea what has gone into the production of your book. The small press world is a tenuous ecosystem, it’s true. But expressing appreciation for the editors that make that ecosystem work would go a long way.

Kate and Mark, like many small press owners, have sacrificed for books. They’ve put their considerable professional energies into a business that is essentially thankless. They bust their asses every day and deal with pressure from every possible side just to bring books they believe in to the reading public. These people are, in a word, givers. Seeing them work was a good reminder that people as giving as Kate and Mark exist. There seem, sometimes, to be more takers than givers in the literary world.

Takers want to be published, they want agents to accept them out of the gate, and they want big advances. They want editors to take their work, but they don’t want to work for it. They want to be important in the literary world, but they don’t want to do any important work to establish themselves. So, yes, there are plenty of takers. But Kate and Mark reminded Tanya and me that not only are givers critical to the survival of our art form, but also that givers will eventually make vastly more of themselves than will takers.

I think it’s worth asking ourselves–not just as writers or artists, but as people living in the world–whether we’re engaging in giving or taking. Are we trying to take from the communities we live in, or are we investing in those communities to make them stronger? Are we expecting others to support us, or are we supporting others? Because in the literary world (and, I might venture to say, the world at large), those who give will ultimately make good on their investments. But those who do nothing but take? They’re unlikely make any lasting impression at all. Think about it.

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2 thoughts on “From the Editor’s Desk: Taker or Giver?

  1. I think you’ve touched on a very important issue, and it’s great to get that snapshot of the world of small presses. There are many ways to give to the world of writing. Last spring, I was running on fumes as a teacher (this happens a lot lately), but my husband reminded me that I had the chance to “support the biz” by teaching 80 students. I taught like never before (and I’m pretty good), inspired by the chance to create and or empower 80 new readers.80 people read Mark Budman and Rousseau and Silko and Cisneros, Somebody fell in love with the writing of Rinbaud, and I feel thrilled to have made that possible.

  2. You know, I think your husband’s a wise dude! It’s true, I think, that teachers have the opportunity to really make an impact on our industry by creating readers. Sure, that sounds a little self-serving in a way, but we wouldn’t be making books if we didn’t believe they were necessary.

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