Gaining Legitimacy and Confidence: On My Experience as a Panelist
I kept asking myself, “At what point does my project, my venture, become legitimate?”
My name is Ben Harris, and I’m a writing tutor and graduate student here at Saint Rose in the English MA program. For the past three years, I have been the editor-in-chief of Thoughtsmith, an online literary magazine that publishes poems, short stories, and essays about writing and creativity. When I started Thoughtsmith, I was finishing up my associate degree at SUNY Adirondack and was working there as a writing tutor in their Center for Reading and Writing. One day, I decided that I wanted to create a literary journal, so I did. It really was that simple. I came up with a name for the journal, I bought a domain name, and I paid for web hosting for a year, thinking that I wouldn’t just discard Thoughtsmith on my pile of one-post blogs and one-entry journals if I had invested money into it.
Fast-forward three years, and here I am, a “legitimate” editor. On March 10th, at The Arts Center in Troy, I was part of a panel called “Submitters and Rejecters: Local Editors and Publishers Discuss Their Work.” The panel was one of many at “Write Here,” which was described as “a mini-conference for and about writers and writing in and around the Capital Region of New York State.” I, just a guy who had started a journal out of the blue, was on a panel with real editors. I sat between Chloe Caldwell, who runs her own reading series and is a columnist for The Faster Times, and David Holub, the editor and publisher of Kugelmass. To David’s left sat Matthew Klane, the editor and publisher of Flim Forum Press, and Nancy White, the president and editor of The Word Works. They were real writers, real editors, collected together by Daniel Nester, the moderator of the panel, in order to impart some writing and submitting wisdom on a crowd of local writers. I was, surely, there by mistake.
During the panel, I had a realization: hey, these “real, legitimate” editors started the same way I did! Sure, I was intimidated by the fact that they had print material for sale (I mean, surely print is better than online—right?), but they had started their projects, which in turn had become legitimate enterprises, just like me. It was this realization that allowed me to relax. During my portion of the panel, I talked about Thoughtsmith and my experiences as an editor; I discussed the submission manager we use, “Submittable,” and how it allows me to organize incoming submissions for my journal; and I talked about Duotrope’s Digest, a great tool which writers can use to organize their submissions, acceptances, and rejections. There was a short and question-and-answer section after we all presented, and I was able to field a few questions. (In fact, I jumped right in on a few, something I never thought I would do!) I felt honored when, after the panel, a few people who had attended came up to me, asked me questions, and thanked me for my participation.
Overall, the experience was amazing in so many ways. Not only was I able to share a little bit of expertise with local writers interested in getting their work published, but I was able to feel like a real editor: something, it turns out, I was all along.