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How the Sausage Is Made – Part Three of Three

by Jerri Bell, O-Dark-Thirty Managing Editor

In my last post I wrote about getting your work from submission to publication in O-Dark-Thirty/The Report. Now I’d like to share what happens to your work when it’s accepted for The Review, our quarterly print journal. It’s a bit more complicated than publishing your work online.

Because we read submissions (except for themed issues) year-round, we don’t have a particular period in which we’re looking for work that will be published in our regular print issues. As submissions come in, from time to time one will catch the eye of an editor: a distinct voice, a different or unique take on one of the typical themes of war literature, a story or poem that’s interesting but not about war, a piece that packs more than the average emotional punch without slipping into simplistic sentimentality, or something that otherwise surprises us in some way.

For fiction and poetry, the editors will give that one a “thumbs-up” in Submittable and reassign it to me with a note that says, “Accept for Review.” For nonfiction, Dario often prefers to work directly with a contributor on revisions to an essay; he sends me the final version when they’ve finished with it.

I track all the acceptances for The Review separately from those accepted for The Report. If one of the editors sends me a note to accept a piece that’s too similar to something else we’ve already accepted, or if we have enough material in that genre for the next issue, I’ll send a note back to him asking if he prefers to hold it for a future issue, publish it in The Report instead, or make a case for lengthening the number of pages of the print issue. (We have some flexibility with this, but generally we’re able to publish three or four short stories and essays and three to six poems in each issue.)

Our basic acceptance letter template for The Review says that we’ll publish it in “an upcoming” issue – without a commitment to a specific issue – because we don’t always know at the time we accept work which issue it will end up in. When the first deadline on our production calendar for the next print issue is coming up, about five or six weeks prior to the date we’d like to have the books in hand, I’ll send all the editors back a list of accepted work. That’s when we consider which pieces work well together and will go in the next issue, and which we’ll let the author know we plan to hold.

Some journals offer contributors a contract that must be signed before the acceptance is final. We don’t do that. We don’t have a lawyer on staff. We like to think that if you send us something you want us to publish it. And if we say we’re going to publish it, our word is our bond. As it says on our submissions page, we take first North American serial rights, which means that once it appears in print the rights revert back to the contributor.

Once I’ve sent the acceptance letter and logged the submission into my logbook – Submittable doesn’t allow me to separate work accepted for publication online from work accepted for print, so I list every submission we receive in a notebook – I copy the submission into a MS Word file and send it to our contributing editor, Carmelinda Blagg, for a first round of copyediting.

Carmelinda and I don’t argue much; I usually take her suggested changes with a cheery “Aye-aye, ma’am.” I suspect that she has large sections of the Chicago Manual of Style committed to memory. Sometimes we go back and forth over military terminology a few times, and occasionally we have to reach out to a soldier or Marine for help with land warfare terminology that we’re unfamiliar with. We both enjoy kibitzing over the finer points of grammar and style, and if we can’t agree, senior editor Jim Mathews makes the final decision.

When Carmelinda and I have both gone through all the accepted work for spelling, punctuation, and minor style/usage errors, I start building a master file. I add in the author bios to each piece and tack the interview onto the end. Jim and I take turns writing the Editor’s Note. When it’s his turn, I can always build it right into the master draft. If I’m writing it? I snivel to the production manager, Janis Albuquerque, and beg her to let me put it in last. I don’t feel comfortable writing an Editor’s Note until I’ve assembled the entire file and read through it at least once, but sometimes we run so close to our deadline that I want to get the master file to Janis so she can start the layout before I’m ready to write.

Janis takes our master draft and drops it into a template she built in InDesign, a layout program. She converts it to our preferred font and enlarges initial capitals after each section break; she adds a Table of Contents, the masthead, and the end pages that usually remain the same for each issue; and then she adjusts, page by page and line by line, to remove widows/orphans (single lines at the beginning or end of a page), excess hyphenation, and the bizarre things that InDesign sometimes does to paragraph indentations and em-dashes. She also suggests copyedits if she sees potential typos that we overlooked in the first two rounds of copyediting. To get the work looking exactly right on the page, she adjusts margins, the font size of a line, the “leading” (space between lines), or the “kerning” (space between letters) – sometimes just by a tenth of a point (a “point” in standard typeface is 0.353 millimeters). Those changes are invisible to the naked eye, but professional layout makes the business of reading more pleasurable for the reader. This is why, if you catch a typo that we missed in our copyediting after an issue has gone to print, we will almost never consider “fixing” it. It’s seldom a simple fix. Inserting a single character can change all these adjustments on every page that follows it – hours of work for Janis.

When Janis is done with the layout, which can take as much as a week for a seventy-page issue, she uploads it to Google Drive as a .pdf file – we call this the “galleys.” Carmelinda, Jim, and I each print a copy and go through it slowly, line by line. For some reason, the change in font and layout often highlights typos and other small problems that we missed the first time around. I’m not sure how long it takes Jim and Janis, but when I’m proofing the galleys I can only do about ten pages an hour at maximum – so six or seven man-hours for a typical issue.

I consolidate a list of our changes by page and line number and send it back to Janis, who makes the changes and uploads a new version of the document to Google Drive for us. At that point, we’re usually just checking the changes that we requested – hopefully we won’t see new errors that need fixed. If the original submissions were fairly clean copy, we can often stop after a second round of proofreading.

In the meantime, Janis is working with the cover art. Her husband Mike Fay, our art editor, makes the rounds of art shows that feature work by military and veteran artists, and often contacts the winners of juried competitions for permission to use their work on our covers. Janis takes a high-resolution image of the artwork and manipulates it to fit our standard 6” x 9” cover. Sometimes the image wraps onto the spine or the back cover, and sometimes it has to be cropped to fit just the front. She then chooses a color from the art that she thinks will work well as the O-Dark-Thirty banner on the cover. Sometimes she’ll send the editors two or three sample covers and ask us to choose a preferred color.

When we’re all satisfied that the issue is as good as we can possibly make it, Janis uploads it to a print-on-demand company. We’ve tried several, and have settled on Lulu as the easiest to work with. I review our list of subscribers, add it to twice the number of contributors, and then place an order for that number of copies plus a couple of dozen extras which we use to fill orders for extra copies and to sell at readings. Now that the books are delivered to my house instead of Ron’s, the FedEx guy and I are on a first-name basis! My husband rolls his eyes at the boxes, but dutifully breaks down the empties and hauls them to the recycling station. Ron orders some books separately for use at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence and our seminars.

I then run the mail-metering program, print out postage and labels, and sit in the living room floor with stacks of books and envelopes and enough adult beverages and old movies to get me through stuffing and sealing all the envelopes. The next day, after the hangover clears, I drop the boxes of filled orders at the post office and they’re on their way to readers.

In the final step, Janis creates a .pdf file of the issue that Ron mounts on the “The Review” page of the O-Dark-Thirty web site. Mounting the latest issue takes about thirty minutes.

Somehow, within a week or two of getting all the copies in the mail, we’re starting to discuss acceptances and artwork for the next issue. I can’t imagine producing a journal more frequently than once a quarter! But for every single member of our team, bringing your work to the public in print is a labor of love.

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