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How the Sausage is Made, Part Two of Three

by Jerri Bell, O-Dark-Thirty Managing Editor

So one of our editors has accepted your work for The Report. What does that mean, and why does it take so long for your accepted piece to appear there?

The Report is our online edition. It gives us more flexibility in accepting work – for example, let’s say that we’ve already accepted a personal essay on PTS or a humorous boot camp story for our next print issue, and someone else submits another well-written essay on the same theme that we would also like to publish. The two works are too similar to run together in the print issue, but having the online journal gives us the flexibility to publish both pieces. With the online journal, readers see each work individually: we could run two poems on aviation consecutively, or two sonnets on the sands of Helmand Province, but because the pieces are read individually instead of side-by-side, readers aren’t overwhelmed by an abundance of work with similar themes. They’re more likely to appreciate work posted in the online journal for itself, not for the way that it works with other contributions. Finally, I can post two or three times a week in the online journal (I like to let each contribution stand for at least 48 hours before posting new work). In one quarter, I can post almost four times the number of contributions that I can publish in print. The Report lets us get more of your work out to the reading public.

Once a submission is accepted for publication in The Report and I’ve sent your acceptance letter, I copy the submission into WordPress as a draft and then archive the submission in Submittable. If you included your third-person bio in your cover letter, I copy that in as well.

Unfortunately, depending on how your work is formatted (and I haven’t yet figured out what makes the difference but I suspect it has something to do with how you set up your paragraph indentation), the transfer from your word processing program to WordPress can scramble the format. I often have to put up the original submission side-by-side with the version in WordPress and manually insert paragraph breaks, delete extra lines that appear mysteriously out of nowhere, or re-italicize what you emphasized or your characters thought – and don’t even get me started on what the computer gremlins do to your em-dashes.

If you’re a poet, I have to put your submission up beside the WordPress draft and go through it line by line to make sure your original line breaks are intact. Be warned: WordPress is going to chew up your indentations, and then left-justify everything. So if you send me a poem about Swiss cheese that’s intended to look like a wedge with clever little holes you made using tab stops and missing words? When WordPress is done cooking it, it’s going to look like a bland, square slice of Velveeta. And it doesn’t give me much capability to put indentations back in. I try to let poets know about this when we accept work with indentations in it for The Report – with poetry, I assume (correctly or otherwise) that the poet has indented deliberately, for effect, even if I’m too ignorant about poetry to figure out what that effect is.

While I’m working through all the formatting issues after a transfer, I’m also lightly copyediting. We use the Chicago Manual of Style and the Merriam Webster dictionary, and we’ve also started our own style guide for issues unique to military writing that CMS doesn’t cover, or where we feel a deliberate violation of their guidelines is in order. If I catch a misspelling, a typo, or something you’ve written that doesn’t conform to our style guidelines – this happens most frequently with dialogue tags – I’ll change it. In poems, I only correct blatant typographical errors and misspellings; if something else seems to need a tweak, I contact the contributor for permission to make the change. If I can’t find the guidance I need in our style manuals, I’ll bounce questions off our associate editor Carmelinda Blagg (the goddess of hyphenation!) or our senior editor Jim Mathews – the only person in the entire world I allow to correct me about comma placement. Yes, I have comma issues.

Our editorial policy is that we will not make significant revisions that alter the meaning of your work, or your voice – we’re not going to clean up grammar errors in your characters’ dialogue, for example – but we will make minor copyedits to tidy up spelling and punctuation without discussion with the contributor. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to do otherwise.

While we aim for accuracy, we’re human and don’t always catch every typo or format change. Another great aspect of an online journal is that if I post something and you see a typo that we missed in your published work, I can make a correction in under five minutes. Hint: the cleaner the copy you submit, the less likely it is that your work will be published with errors.

Prepping a contribution for posting in The Report can take me anywhere from ten minutes for a short poem, to two or three hours for a five thousand-word short story with lots of dialogue. If a contributor didn’t include a short, third-person bio, and doesn’t send one despite my e-mailed requests, I will sometimes try to write one myself from information submitted in the cover letter. So please include your third-person bio in the cover letter! It will make life easier for both of us. Take a look at work we’ve published if you’ve never written one before.

We publish accepted work in the order in which it was received, except in special cases involving a themed issue or holidays. So if I have a lot of already-accepted work in the posting queue at the time your work is accepted, it may be several weeks more before I can hit the “Publish” button on your story or poem.

Once we’ve published your contribution, we’ll always send you a short e-mail letting you know that your work is live on line. I then post the link on Facebook and on our Twitter feed. We love it when you share our Facebook posts with your friends and re-tweet our news about your work! So be sure to “Like” and “Follow” the Veterans Writing Project on Facebook – and don’t be shy about sharing your work when it’s published!

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