When I went to conferences in the past, I always attended a lot of craft panels to find inspiration and jump-start my own writing. This year was different, though. Since I took on the co-Editor in Chief role six months ago, I figured I ought to wear my editor hat at AWP rather than my writer hat this year. Therefore, I attended publishing panels in Seattle. The topics were things like distribution, getting literary journals into libraries, becoming financially sustainable, and increasing small press readership.
I furiously scribbled page upon page of notes, and Rob did the same. His brain was moving in a different direction than mine, though; as I was thinking about implementing all of these new ideas, Rob was thinking about what wasn't being discussed: the writers.
Once he pointed it out to me, I was appalled that I hadn't realized it myself. I was so deep in editor mode that I had completely disconnected from my writer perspective. Where were the writers in all of these conversations about MARC records, PCNs, charging for submissions, marketing through Twitter, and selling Kindle versions? Where were the panels on how journals and presses can better serve the writers? Obviously there wouldn't be anything to catalog and no one to donate and no readers to attract if it wasn't for the writers, but that doesn't make it okay to take them for granted and cut them out of the conversation.
We were still brooding over the "where are the writers?" question as we made our initial trip to the AWP bookfair. Surrounded by tables representing literally hundreds of literary journals, we felt overwhelmed. We wondered why we publish a journal in such an over-saturated market. We wondered, as we wandered past the likes of Creative Nonfiction and Beloit Poetry Journal, if we'll ever feel that we're doing a good enough job of connecting readers and writers. We wondered how on earth our little boat could float in such a vast sea. In that moment (admittedly glassy-eyed and delirious from lack of sleep), we weren't at all confident about what we were doing.
And then I heard someone calling my name. "Signe? Signe? From Stoneboat?" It was Kiersten Bridger, whose poem "Weeble Haibun" appears in our current issue. She recognized us from the Stoneboat Facebook page and took the initiative to say hello. We chatted for a while -- about the journal, about writing, about publishing, and about the need that literary journals fill (even the small ones like ours). I walked away from that interaction with a completely different perspective. It was an incredible experience to connect with one of our contributors and see the impact we'd had by publishing her poem. It reminded me of why we do what we do, and it made me want to do it better.
We ran into other contributors at AWP, too: Maryann Hurtt, Sandra Kleven, David Onofrychuk, Erin Wilcox. Some, we'd met before. Others we met for the first time. They all reminded us that at Stoneboat, the writer is our top priority. Having funds to pay the printer is important, but not so important than being a few dollars short will stop us from providing an opportunity for writers to make their voices heard. We're small, but we're doing something big. We know we're doing it for the right reasons. And we're proud of that.
AWP was a humbling experience for us, but it was also amazing. It renewed our excitement about the journal and reminded us why we continue to do this difficult, time-consuming work. The salary is $0.00, but knowing that we gave "Weeble Haibun" a home is priceless.