30 May 2014

insider insights: an interview with erin renee wahl

Erin Renee Wahl, Nonfiction Editor of Bloodstone Review
For May's final interview, I give you the insights of one of my co-editors at Bloodstone Review, Erin Renee Wahl. Erin grew up amidst the cornstalks and tractors of northwest Ohio where she received her BA in English and Writing from Bluffton University. After her undergrad degree she spent a few years teaching English in several schools in Zhejiang province in China before coming back to the United States to attend graduate school at Northern Arizona University. She earned her MA in English with a creative writing focus in poetry and creative nonfiction there. Not satisfied with the mountains of student loan debt already accrued, she went on to the School of Information Resources and Library Science at the University of Arizona where she earned another MA. Her professional, editorial, and creative writing has been published in multiple places such as: Sterling, Meat for Tea, Literary Juice, Suisun Valley Review, Blackmail Press, and others. Erin has edited in a variety of formats for years.
As an editor, how do you handle rejections? Is it a "business, not personal" deal? Do you ever get pushback on rejections you send out? What's your view on submission rejection?

Since I (and let's face it, most editors out there) also submit to literary journals, I feel your pain. For real. And it's for this reason that I keep my rejections business as usual. Rejections are a part of the path to being a successful writer. Handling rejections with grace is part of being a writer. As much as I hate to get them I've become rather immune, in a way. I understand the staggering numbers of submissions journals get and the space restrictions they're under.
I've never had a really negative response to a rejection…yet. I'm sure I'll get one eventually. I think this is one of the reasons that I like using the form rejection so much. It is pretty well understood and clear that you're saying no to the work, NOT the writer.

As a writer, how do you deal with the "dreaded" rejection slip?

I used to get really upset when I got my first few. Now I celebrate them. Not even joking a second. I love writing. I love editing. It's a passion. It never feels good when someone pokes a hole in your inflated sense of loving something. So here's what I do: I think back on all the editing I've done in the past and then about how many submissions the editors probably had to read to make their final decisions. I think about journal space. I think about all of those things and I say to myself: "Writing is such hard work!" Then I go to my submissions spreadsheet and make the necessary changes to reflect a rejection, noting the date (usually at least 6 months) when I could submit to this journal again. Then I get excited. Because this submission packet has just come back from somewhere with an answer which means I can send it out to ANOTHER place now! Exciting! And that's when the web-browsing and journal research starts to find another place where my submission might fit.

I share this with you because this outlook has made receiving rejections a challenge and almost a delight rather than a massive failure on my part and a reason to drive me to the local bar. See the possibilities in your rejections.

How often are you submitting your work?

That depends on what I've got running around in my computer. I've run through some thin times when I didn't have a darn thing I liked enough to send out. A few months ago I had a literary epiphany and did so much good writing and revising that I found myself with a surplus of things I felt comfortable sending out. That kind of richness cannot be overrated. I submit at least a couple times a month, but normally I do it in bulk. Once I consider a packet ready to be submitted I'll spend some time researching at least 5 journals to send it out to. I format each submission carefully and send it off, immediately recording the submission in my spreadsheet. Then I keep working on other things and repeat the process when they're finished.

How do you cultivate your submissions? 

After I have created my packet I choose 5 journals to send it out to. I know some folks who send their packets out to more places than that but at the moment I don't feel comfortable choosing more than 5. Each journal is meticulously entered into my submissions spreadsheet. When a submission comes back with a rejection, I mark it in red and immediately go looking for a new journal to submit it to. I don't like to let things sit too long. If I get an acceptance I immediately run to my spreadsheet and find all of the places where I submitted that same piece. I mark them in my specific "withdrawn" color and appropriately notify those other journals (most journals will tell you how on their website) that such-and-such a piece is no longer available.

I research LIKE CRAZY before I submit somewhere. I would say that I spend a minimum of an hour on a specific journal's website reading their guidelines and mission statements and searching their editors on Google to see where and what they've published. And I read as many of the archives of the journal for my genre as I can. Sometimes it's pretty clear right away that the journal isn't a good place for my work and then I can move on quickly, but other times more thought is needed. A few times I've sent out submissions to places where I just really wanted to get published. Not one of them accepted me. I took it as a good lesson about how researching is the key to success.

What do you dread most about the submission process? What do you love the most (beyond, of course, getting accepted)?

I dread the waiting. It leads me to guessing about my submission status and all sorts of madness. Even editors get antsy about submissions…we're only human. I love the feeling of having a lot of white spaces on my Excel sheet. My sheet is color coordinated, amongst other things, and an active submission is just white space. The more white space I have the more possibilities I see for my work and the more I feel I'm taking charge of my writing, rather than letting the universe control it.

Actually, I may just love my submissions Excel sheet in general. :)


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Join in one of this month's Submit-O-Rama Boot Camp Challenges!


  1. This was such a good interview Khara, and Erin of course. I thought I took a long time to research the journals and editors I'm considering, but I don't take nearly as long as Erin does...I will take you routine under advisement. I keep track of what I'm doing on Rolodex file cards (also colour-coded incidentally) but very detailed as to where I've sent something and when and so on.The poem titles are cross-referenced with the journal or contest entry titles and so far it works fairly well. I do keep a separate file of "achievements/published/awards" so I can tell at a glance where things have ended up. I'm afraid of Excel - paranoid I think because I don't know how to use it but maybe I need to learn how finally.

    Before I go, I wanted to thank you Khara for the submit-o-rama challenge. I think I did my basic training. Maybe not in quite the way I'd planned but I did submit to two entirely different chapbook challenges (and you know how onerous, or exciting -- depending how you look at it -- that can be) and about five other contests, yes...I think I came in on track. Thanks again Khara...you do good butt-kicking!

  2. Good system to learn from. I should start imitating you.


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