Aaron Schneider & Amy Mitchell are founding editors of The Temz Review. Living in London, Ontario, Canada, they have published great literary works including our founding editor, Obinna Udenwe’s story ‘All Good Things Come to an End.’
The Village Square’s editors Obinna Udenwe and Ngum Ngafor take notes from Amy & Aaron on how to run a cool lit space.
The Village Square: Tell us, what motivated you to start The Temz Review?
The Temz Review:
It was a combination of factors. One was that a literary journal that Aaron has been involved in for several years needed to scale back its work; another was the desire to help promote new and emerging writers; and the third was the suspicion that there simply aren’t a lot of Canadian journals that will take long or extremely unusual/experimental work. This isn’t a criticism of Canadian journals—while our country is geographically huge, our population is actually ridiculously small, so we don’t have the kind of endless breadth and diversity of literary journals that you see in the United States, for instance. We thought there could be a need for a new Canadian platform, and since Aaron has journal publishing experience and suddenly found himself with far less work to do for the journal he originally helped publish, we thought we could help fill that need.
The Village Square: For a young magazine, it seems to be thriving where others have struggled. How have you managed this?
The Temz Review:
Social media! Twitter has been absolutely crucial to starting big and getting bigger. The first problem you face as a new lit mag is simply letting people know you exist. We put up a listing on Duotrope, but that alone isn’t going to be enough, especially considering how many listings Duotrope has. We started a Twitter account and immediately started following as many new/emerging writers as we could find—often by looking at who was following literary journals that we like, and then following them ourselves. This method let a few thousand writers realize that we exist and that we’re interested in them.
We have also been extremely active on Twitter—we want the literary community to know that we’re supportive of everyone’s work, that we’re going to side with anyone who is marginalized, that we are genuinely open to new/emerging writers, etc. Posting consistently on Twitter and interacting consistently with writers helped to let people know about our “personality” as a publication; I think it also helped them to see us as approachable, as worth trying out, and as actively engaged in building community.
The Village Square: In a world where leaders are increasingly talking of building walls and stopping migration, you receive and publish writers from diverse countries and cultures, do you believe that an online platform like yours help build bridges and connect people?
The Temz Review:
Thanks again to Twitter and to proactively reaching out to a whole pile of different communities, we now have connections with Africa that we never would have anticipated, but that we’re so happy have occurred! We’ve had submissions from all over the globe, including Algeria, India, Singapore and the Philippines.
Online platforms seem really key to building bridges and tearing down walls. Not only do they allow you access to other voices, but they put you in touch with individuals from many different countries, ethnicities, religions, etc. You then feel that you have connections with these communities and countries, and they seem more immediate, real, and vibrant to you than before. I would never have dreamed that we would have any kind of association with Nigeria, for instance—it never occurred to me as a possibility. And now we’re published two Nigerian writers—Obinna Udenwe in Issue One and Ojo Taiye in Issue Two—and they’re excellent! And now I can say, hey, Nigeria has a really vibrant, creative literary community, and I’m excited to see more of what they produce! So now I feel like I have a personal investment in Nigeria that I didn’t have before.
We’re both professors—Aaron is at Western University and I’m at Fanshawe College. Both institutions have significant numbers of international students. One problem I can have is making them feel welcome and more than simply a revenue source for the institution. I recently let my African students know about how we’re publishing excellent new African voices, and they were so happy and proud to hear it! I think they are used to hearing their countries and continent treated only in a negative light.
I guess all of this is to say that I can see all kinds of productive, exciting connections coming out of this one journal, and I’m now really hopeful for the kind of bridge-building work that online platforms can do.
The Village Square: Running a magazine is a daunting task as we have just found out ourselves – financial implication aside, you have to keep track of submissions, website maintenance, social media accounts, etc. What strategies are you adopting to surmount your challenges?
The Temz Review:
Website maintenance and social media accounts are easy for us—we both constantly have to grade students’ papers on the computer (a lot of their submissions are digital now), and instead of taking a five-minute break to look at funny animal videos or shoot things in computer games, we take a five-minute break to see what’s going on with our social media and to comment on stuff or update our website. This model likely wouldn’t work for others who don’t do a lot of computer-based work at home, but it fits for us.
That might be important—that you figure out how to fit it productively into your life as it currently exists, rather than loading yourself down with a lot of extra tasks and burdens you never had before. Young literary journals will crash and burn for a number of reasons, but editors’ burn-out is a significant issue in many cases.
We’re also careful to not over-complicate things, and to be organized—we have a spreadsheet that lists all the submissions for a particular issue, for instance, and we update it every time we get a new submission. When we have to send out rejections, we can systematically go through the spreadsheet to make sure we don’t unintentionally miss anyone, which would be incredibly rude from their perspective. We also tag all incoming email so that it sorts into relevant categories. All of this just makes it easy to find things in a hurry if you need to, and it also means you don’t forget to acknowledge submissions or send rejections.
The Village Square: You have published wonderful works, how was it finding these poignant stories and what was the process like, working with their authors?
The Temz Review:
It was so exciting!!! Honestly, we thought that because we were brand new, we wouldn’t have very strong content for a few years at least. And then we had *extremely* strong content submitted for our first issue, and that issue is better than we could have ever dreamed!
Finding these works is part of the emotional pay-off for us as editors—it’s just so wonderful to see them, and especially to have the pleasure of publishing work by new/emerging writers who may not have many—or any—credits yet to their name.
Working with the authors was really easy—what we accepted for the issue was so strong that none of it required any really serious editing. The same thing happened with our second issue, which we just published—nothing really needed much beyond some proofreading and a few minor tweaks.
I’m sure we’ll have some less-pleasant interactions with writers at some point, but it hasn’t happened yet. Beyond a few rude email replies from people we rejected, everything has been really positive so far.
The Village Square: There have been ongoing conversation and debates around the superiority of traditional publishing to e-publishing and vice-versa. At some point, traditional paper Publishing had fallen below its counterpart but since last year, it seems to be picking up again. What’s your stand on this debate? Do you consider going to print at some point?
The Temz Review:
Nope—no print. The reason for this is twofold: money and accessibility. Print is ridiculously expensive, and unless someone on your editorial team is independently wealthy or you can securely rely on literary grants, it’s just not an option. One thing we’re really concerned about is sustainability—is this a model that we can keep going with indefinitely? How do we manage things so that we can keep going even if we *never* have any supporting funds or extra hands/eyes? Online is really the only safe option if you’re playing the long game with a new publication, we think.
Canada’s literary community has also recently been really shaken up by instability in grants—publications and presses that relied, and thought they could continue to rely, on government grants suddenly lost funding or had it reduced; there has also been a lot of confusion, chaos and delays with the granting bodies themselves. All of this has emphasized to us that we need to plan so that we can keep things running even if we never have any external financial support.
Accessibility is also a concern. Because we really want to support great new/emerging voices, we want the maximum number of people possible to read our journal. Far more people are going to see it online, for free, than will ever buy a print copy to read.
The Village Square: Tell us individually, what medium you love to read with most, the physical book or the electronic devices?
The Temz Review:
For both of us, it’s physical books—there’s just no contest there.
My preference is for physical books. I think has to do with two things. First, just basic habit. Second, I find that e-readers don’t show enough of the page. That said, I don’t mind reading things like stories and poems on a laptop. I just don’t think that I could make my way through a whole novel on a computer.
I see computer screens way too much for my own career, so my preference is to read things in hard copy. I have a Kobo, an e-reader that displays the EPub format (among others), and I’ll use that for a lot of electronic pieces. I turn the display light off entirely so that it just looks like ink on an unlit background—this gets as close as possible to a physical book.
We’re working on creating an EPub version of our second issue and would like to do that for all issues going forward—that way, print-lovers like us can at least have a few more options for reading digital material.
The Village Square: Many magazines have garnered a strong reputation for publishing the best of the best in all literary genres, sometimes, writers accuse them of not reading every submission that they get. Do you read all submissions that come to The Temz Review?
The Temz Review: Yep, we do!
The Village Square: Our editors are scattered across Canada, Mexico, Nigeria and the UK – for us this is a challenge. Tell us how you communicate best with yourselves and are able to keep track of your submissions and make decisions?
The Temz Review:
Well, uh, since we’re both married and in the same house, I’m not sure we can give you pointers on that! However, our assistant editors are both in Toronto, and while that’s not very far away from us, it’s nonetheless far enough that we video-conference with them. We’ve also discovered through experience that it can be tricky handling the volume of submissions with multiple editors. For our next issue, we’ve created a shared online doc that all editors can use to list submissions they like—this should help us narrow down our ultimate choices and also help us to see what has support from a variety of editors.
Ultimately, we try to be collaborative in our decisions. We’ve learned that occasionally we need to jump quickly at a submission because it’s excellent and because the author has told us that it’s a simultaneous submission, so we know that if we don’t take it immediately, someone else will. Those decisions are less collaborative because they have to happen quickly, but the majority of pieces we publish have been discussed by and have the support of all of our editors
The Village Square: It’s great to hear that you are husband and wife. Now tell me, who are your favourite authors and how much of an influence are they to your decision making process while reading through submissions?
The Temz Review:
I have a lot of favourite authors. I like Elfriede Jelinek, Mario Vargas Llosa, Ernesto Szabato, and, of course, Alice Munro. However, who I like doesn’t really impact the way I read submissions. What has the biggest impact is just having read a lot. This helps to see what a given submission is doing and judge it on its own terms. When I am reading submissions, I am looking for something that excels at what it wants to do rather that for something that neatly dovetails with my tastes. My hope is that this keeps me open to new possibilities, that when I do run across something really original and unique, I’ll be able to recognize and value that originality.
I don’t even know who my favorite authors are anymore! I read so much, all the time—everything from “highbrow” experimental literary fiction to genre crime and fantasy. I also tend to go through phases—right now, I love Asian literature, and I have read everything from the Chinese epic novel The Story of the Stone (older translations name it The Dream of the Red Chamber) to Banana Yoshimoto’s wonderfully quirky contemporary novels to Su Tong’s viciously effective and beautiful books. I’m also in a queer fantasy phase, and most of that material comes from the internet in the form of e-books.
Ultimately, though, as Aaron has said, we both try to prevent our own tastes from dictating too much in the journal. We want to be able to see a submission on its own terms—we’ve had a few submissions where the two of us said, personally, it’s not the kind of writing we would pick up ourselves, but we can see that it’s doing what it’s doing really, really well. And it deserves to be published for that reason! I guess our wide-ranging reading styles mean that we’re equipped to recognize different types/styles/modes of writing and to recognize when they are done well, even if it isn’t our personal favorite type/style/mode.
The Village Square: Lastly, where do you see The Temz Review in the next few years?
The Temz Review: Still here, still doing what we’re doing. Probably not substantially larger. We have a few options for branching out a bit that are under consideration, but we want to be cautious, prudent and sustainable, so you’ll simply have to wait and see!