Amanda Newth, from our Editorial Team, talks about our selection process.
It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again: this is a love project. I have been lucky enough to be a member of Headland’s volunteer editorial team since its inception in early 2014. This has always been a labour of love for everyone involved, and we have always been open about how subjective our story selection process is. Put simply, we publish what we love—but with five members of varying personalities and opinions on the editorial team, we’re not always crazy about the same thing. For me, this is one of the most rewarding and interesting aspects of the role.
Headland accepts submissions year-round, aiming to publish approximately ten stories every three months. The initial selection process is undertaken by three team members, including Founding Editors Liesl Nunns and Laura McNeur. This usually results in around thirty stories, which are then distributed to the rest of the team. We judge each submission on its own merits, so on first reading we don’t know the author’s name, nor anything about them. It’s amazing how many assumptions are made—many of them inaccurate—as a result. I love discovering those misjudgments; finding out that a vivid, complex, beautifully crafted story has been written by a first-time author, or that another has been written by someone twenty years younger (or older) than expected.
After we’ve had sufficient time to read and digest the submissions, the five of us meet for lunch— thank you, Liesl and Laura, for your killer baking—to decide which stories we’re going to publish. We discuss our thoughts and opinions on each submission. Biases are confessed to, along with sentimental attachments, minor outrages and, sometimes, weird misunderstandings. Often our opinions are reconsidered, but sometimes they are unwavering.
We then take a vote on whichever stories we are unable to agree on. Arguments are put forth, but the majority rules. We’re quite a well-mannered bunch (book nerds usually are): to date, there have been no fist fights. But we’re only up to Issue Two.
It’s often difficult—and sometimes impossible—for many of us to put aside our personal experiences and perspectives when reading a story. I’ve tried, and failed, more than once. But this doesn’t mean it’s impossible to appreciate and value the experiences and perspectives of others. Without them, Headland wouldn’t even exist. There would be no point.
It can be argued that our subjective selection process is unfair, but I think it’s honest. We don’t claim that every submission we don’t publish isn’t a good story—it’s just one that, for any number of reasons, is not quite right for us. There are stories I have loved that haven’t made the final cut; there are stories we have published that I’ve had to re-evaluate my opinion on, and rightly so. In the end, is there any truly objective way to make such a decision?
Everyone on the editorial team is an avid reader, some of us are writers, and all of us are human. It’s not easy to tell someone who has devoted hours of their life to crafting a story which potentially contains a small chunk of their soul that you’re not going to publish it. So, writers of the world, if we ever do that—please, please, please do not be discouraged. There is every chance that your story made it to the vote, but then someone annoying like me decided they liked another story just a little bit more. Keep writing. Keep submitting. Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was rejected 121 times before publication, then became a bestseller. Metaphysical odysseys aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but who cares? Write what you love, because nothing else matters.
One last thing. One of the benefits of publishing what you love is not having to pander to the so-called market. There’s no worrying about what’s “hot” right now, or profit margins, or Key Performance Indicators, or other tedious jargon. Our lives are already too dominated by the dollar, whether spending it or making it, and it’s a relief to not have to think about that for once. It’s good for the soul. Much like a great story.