Home > Editor Essays > The Secret Life of a PRISM Prose Submission
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By Jane Campbell

Does submitting to a literary magazine ever make you feel like you’re sending your beloved work into a black hole that spits out a rejection letter six months later? Do you wonder if anyone actually reads your piece past the first sentence? Well, I know how you feel, dear writer, and I want to assuage your fears. Here’s a behind the scenes look at what happens to your story during its stay at the PRISM office.

photo 1Welcome to beautiful UBC Vancouver! There’s a stunning mountain vista behind these clouds, I swear!
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The PRISM office. Behold the majesty.

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When a prose piece first arrives in the mail, it goes here. I know it says “fiction” not “prose.” The label maker’s out of batteries.

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Next the piece is logged in our high tech submission database (read: an excel spreadsheet) by the lovely and talented Gabrielle Lieberman, one of our editorial assistants.

photo 2When fifteen pieces are ready to go, I put them into a pack for one of our Editorial Board members. Our Editorial Board is comprised of UBC MFA students.

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The Editorial Board member reads the pieces, offers his or her comments, and votes YES, NO, or MAYBE.

Then the pieces return to me and I give them to a second Editorial Board member, who does the same thing. There’s no photo of this because people on the Ed Board apparently don’t like having their picture taken.

photo-1Then all the pieces come back to me. Look how engrossed I am by your work! I look at the votes and read the comments. If a piece has two NO votes, it’s rejected with very little further consideration (There are rare exceptions, but never mind those for now). If a piece has even one MAYBE vote, I will at least take a look at it, but I’ll use the votes to determine how much time and consideration it receives. If a piece has one NO and one MAYBE, I may just read the first couple pages or skim it. If a piece receives two YES votes, I’ll give it my undivided attention and probably read it several times.

After I’ve read the pieces, I decide which ones to reject and which ones to keep on my shortlist. I often send the shortlisted pieces to another Ed Board member or two for additional opinions. After I’ve spent a sufficient amount of time mulling over my choices and being indecisive, I make acceptances.

If you’re wondering what happens to online submissions, the answer is basically the same thing, but no one wants to look at ten photos of a computer screen.

Have additional questions about how we read, choose, and edit submissions? Leave your question in a comment and I’ll answer it another post, possibly with illustrative photos.

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