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.

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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