Editor's Notes - Volume 13, Number 1

By Joe Mackall

October 1, 2011

Editor's Notes - Volume 13, Number 1

I don’t remember much about being 12 or 13 years old, but I do recall feeling a little restless, maybe even a tad reckless. Just how those feelings manifested themselves over forty years ago, I’ll leave buried, deep in the hazy cave of a dim memory. Now that we at River Teeth are in year thirteen, we’re feeling a bit restless ourselves, maybe even a tad reckless.

Thanks to our amazing and talented managing editor, Sarah Wells, we find ourselves with a little money to spend. And this after years of living issue to issue, begging for grants and hoping for subscribers. So we had a few meetings to figure out how best to use the cash we suddenly have on
hand. Since the beginning, we’ve wanted to pay writers. We hate the idea of writers writing for free, but we also don’t want to do what’s expected and safe, like paying writers by the page or the word, whether it’s memoir, essay or literary journalism. We receive nearly 1,000 submissions a year and publish around 24 pieces. I doubt if paying contributors will increase submissions, or ensure better submissions. We’re humbled knowing that quality writers submit to River Teeth because they believe it’s a seriously good journal, one of the best—if not the best—when it comes to journals publishing exclusively nonfiction. So what to do with the money?

I have a rather husky friend whose wife likes to tell him that he eats like a nine-year-old with money. Our fear is that we would spend our money in much the same way. Dan and I have always thought of ourselves as a magazine rather than a journal. We’ve always tried to solicit work from writers we love, and we’ve tried to bridge the false banks separating journalists and creative writers. In keeping with these notions, we’ve decided to use a few thousand dollars an issue to solicit pieces from writers who may not look to journals as a source of income, writers who routinely publish in Esquire or Harper’s or Vanity Fair or Orion, writers who can’t afford to publish for prestige or publishing credit alone. We believe this is the only way to ensure we’ll always have pieces of literary journalism in River Teeth. Although we love memoir and essay and will continue to read and publish as much of the best stuff out there, we’ve decided we need to renew our goal to bring together the best literary journalism with the best essay and memoir.

In what could be considered another example of recklessness on our part, we’re instituting another odd policy, although to call it a policy is a bit overstated. It’s just a wild idea really. We’d like to publish one piece an issue that was not solicited and not sent to us either. Let me explain. In the amazing writing community we’re a part of, thanks to River Teeth and AWP and all the writers and editors out there who do this work for love--hell, to feed their souls—we hear stories all the time about writers we ought to know or pieces of creative nonfiction that for some strange reason have not been published. We want to see those pieces. Maybe a writer familiar with River Teeth had a student 10 years ago who wrote something this person still thinks about all these years later. Maybe somebody has a friend who has an essay that he or she loves but for reasons unknown has been rejected by several other prominent journals. We want a friend or two an issue to call or send an e-mail saying, “You guys have got to take a look at this piece.” Now, there’s no guarantee we’ll publish it, but we can guarantee a reading outside the regular channels of outright solicitation or electronic submission.

We’ll keep our readers aware of how our fresh recklessness is working.

Thanks for reading.

-- J.M.

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