Publishing: An Editor’s Perspective

Written by Pauletta Hansel, Writer-in-Residence, Cincinnati & Hamilton County Public Library 

Our 2022 Writer-in-Residence, Pauletta Hansel, is a poet, memoirist, teacher, and editor. Attend her upcoming workshops and writers' office hours. And, listen to her as host of CHPL's "Inside the Writer's Head" podcast. 

Interviewed by Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library Writer-in-Residence Pauletta Hansel as part of her blog post How to Get Published? Answers From Writer-in-Residence, Writers, and Editors. For even more advice, read her blog posts, Publishing Tips and the Circle of (Literary) Life

Robert Murphy

Robert Murphy is executive editor and publisher of Dos Madres Press. He is the author of a chapbook Not for You Alone, (Dos Madres Press, 2004), Life in the Ordovician – Selected Poems (Dos Madres Press, 2007), and From Behind the Blind (Dos Madres Press, 2013), and has had individual poems appear in multiple journals. He is married to the iconographer and painter Elizabeth Hughes Murphy, who is both book designer and illustrator for Dos Madres Press.  

What are you looking for in the work you choose to publish? 

I must apologize, I cannot answer the question except by indirection: If I were looking for something specific, it means I would likely miss that which I did not expect to find, that which moved me most, or surprised. What does the ancient Greek pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus say: "If you do not expect the unexpected you will not find it: for it is not to be reached by search or trail."  

Then there are those wonderful last lines from Rilke's "Archaic Torso of Apollo" - " . . .for here there is no place / that does not see you. You must change your life." Is there anything about the work that might change us so? Or this from one of Keats's letters to Shelley:  ". . .  be more of an artist, load the rift of your subject with ore." 

What do you wish writers would do when submitting work? 

Before submitting, read the Submission Guidelines, and New Author FAQs. [Note: most publishers have some version of these on their websites. Many also use Submittable to communicate guidelines and accept submission.] 

What do you wish they would not do? 

The author does not need to tell me that he or she thinks that their work would be a good fit with the press. Nor does he or she need to tell me that so and so, one of our authors, suggested that they submit to us. 

What advice do you have to someone just starting out? 

Do investigate the publisher in terms of the subject matter they tend to publish. Also, I would recommend before submitting that they actually take physically in hand a few of a publisher's titles to get a real feel of the books they publish. I believe layout and design, both cover and text, and the quality of the paper and the printing to be important. It's hard not to become discouraged if one is constantly being turned down - don't give up. And don't give in to the temptation of being other than YOURSELF. If nothing else, as poet William Stafford told us, "A writer is not someone who so much has something to say as he is someone who has found a process that will bring about new things he would not have thought of if he had not started to say them."  And then this from Stafford as well, and one of my favorites, “I have woven a parachute out of everything broken." 

Sherry Cook Stanforth

Sherry Cook Stanforth is the managing editor of Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, the literary journal of the Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative (See the anthology, Quarried), and Riparian: Poems, Short Prose and Photographs Inspired by the Ohio River (Dos Madres Press, 2019). Her poetry collection Drone String (Bottom Dog Press, 2015) reflects the storytelling and music traditions of her Appalachian heritage. 

What are you looking for in the work you choose to publish? 

One of the best approaches a writer can take is to richly translate a publication theme or call. Almost always, we editors are taken by distinctive, voicy poems and stories that defy "the universal" in favor of a very specific expression of people, places, things, and happenings. Grief? I don't feel it when I see the word "grief" or encounter the cliché, "tears falling like rain."  But I did know grief in Roethke's poetic line, "Even the sides of wet stones cannot console me" and I experience hope, too, in distinctive references, such as Oliver's reference to Earth and her "pockets full of lichens and seeds." 

What do you wish writers would do when submitting work? 

In the hundreds of submissions I receive, I find myself most moved by writers who embrace sensory detail and focal storytelling.  Some positive editor-speak words that come to mind -- fresh...nuanced...distinctive. 

What do you wish they would not do? 

In a world of wishes, I would seize upon this -- may writers in all genres release themselves from the desire--the burden--of telling "universal" stories in hopes of touching more readers' lives. The general universe is...well, a cold void. But beyond the commonplace, you find Saturn's oddly disappearing rings or the Helix Nebula or that black hole perched at the heart of our Milky Way. We editors want the details! 

What advice do you have to someone just starting out?

To writers who are just starting out -- a good author-editor respects you and also hopes that you challenge yourself to embrace apprenticeship.  Ask more experienced friends for earnest feedback. Join circles and listen to other writers, even as you hear their impressions of your work. Read your own material aloud, as we spoke words before writing them. The music inside of language will find you in this alone-time, expressing your work.  And, of course, you'll catch errors, too. Finally, immerse yourself in the complex territory of metaphor and haiku, too, where tone, visual distinction, and unique expression often unfurl. 

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