I was involved in a conversation the other day about new journals. It’s a tricky thing for writers, submitting work to an unknown journal. On the one hand, there’s the possibility of finding a great new home for your work. On the other, there's the possibility of seeing your work displayed amateurishly along with a few dozen other pieces that indicate the journal’s driving aesthetic is “whatever the hell people send us” and then a few months later the journal will fold. This is a very real danger, and it’s not just a question of pride. More than likely, the piece you’ve published is, or will one day be, part of a larger full-length work looking for its own home. Having your acknowledgements page littered with publications you’d be embarrassed about is not just embarrassing. It actually hurts your odds of publishing that full-length.
That said, I started a journal once, and I have many editor friends who have done the same. I fully support new journals and have deep admiration for the writers who launch publications in both editorial and contributor capacity. As a writer, you have to find the right balance between protecting your work and promoting the work of others, but the best way to support the work of a new editor is to send them your poems (or stories).
So, when do you take the risk? The truth is sending work to a new journal should never be a leap of faith. As with any journal, you do your research. Obviously, research is easier when there are past issues. But, even without issues to look at, there’s a lot you can learn from studying the following things:
1) Presentation: There’s a website, yes? Does it look professional? Have they kicked in for the rather small investment of a domain name? Have the editors written something about their aesthetic goals? Their launch plans?
2) Standards: We can’t judge aesthetic quality at this point, but is there an indication that they’re following publishing standards? Are their submission guidelines the 5-6 poems/1 story, no previously published, simultaneous allowed guidelines? It’s not that this is the most perfect submission standard for every journal, but it is an indication, especially for a start-up, that they know the landscape and lingo. Are they using Submittable? Bonus points for that.
3) Editors: Who are they? If they aren’t listed, this is a no-go. You will not send your poems and stories to anonymous editors. If they are listed, check out their bios. Do they have credentials? Previous editorial experience? Graduate degrees? Where do they publish their own work? If the editors are publishing in reputable journals, they’re likely going to aspire to create something much along those lines. If the editors’ last publication was Crazy Joe’s French Toast and Poetry Page, we have a little problem here.
One thing to not do is to send them your lesser poems or stories. Oftentimes writers will think to themselves, Huh, new journal. I guess I could send them something, but I don't want to waste anything really good. I’ll send them my ‘C’ work.
As an editor, I say, Don't be an asshole. Don’t insult editors with your ‘C’ work, especially when they’re new. A first (and second and third) issue is so critical to establishing both the aesthetic and quality of a journal. Send the work that will help this journal be the sort of publication you’d be proud to send to in 10 years.
And as a writer, I say, Don't be an ass. You shouldn’t be publishing your ‘C’ work. You shouldn’t be sending it out at all. You don’t build a reputation on ‘C’ work. If it’s not good enough to send to Beloit or Ploughshares or Missouri Review, don’t send it to anyone. I’m not saying you should only send to these types of places or that their response should be the final word. I’m saying if you wouldn’t proudly put the poem in an envelope and drop it in the mail to them*, crossing your fingers and hoping they’ll say yes? Then don’t fucking send it to anyone.
*I kid, of course. No one’s using envelopes anymore.