Whenever I go to a book fair or a convention to sit or stand behind a table and tell people about TCR, person after person asks “Where are you guys based out of?” Usually when someone asks this question, they want to know what college or university backs your literary magazine. They might just want to know where, geographically, your magazine is based, but 9/10 times they’re asking what institute supports you.
My usual answer to this question is “We are independent” and “our editors are in several places, and we work together online.” People mostly think it’s cool that we are independent. But recently someone asked “what do you mean, independent?” I said “that we’re doing it alone?” People have asked me “Why are you doing this?” and “What do you get out of it?” My answer was “Because I enjoy making these books.” I like to be independent. But “making these books” is not simple.
Here is what it’s like to be independent.
Wednesday, 7pm: An alert appears on my phone that says my package has been delivered. I run outside and find a box of 75 copies of the new issue sitting in the middle of the driveway. More will come tomorrow. My cat runs out the door into the night and I have to chase him down and bring him back inside. I carry the books inside and open the box. They look amazing! I send text messages to several people about the arrival of the books. My daughters ask me to look at the books. I make them wash their hands. Several people have already emailed me to ask “where is the book that I ordered?” I’m very tired. I go, eventually, to sleep, after washing the dishes and folding the towels. They fall to the floor while I’m sleeping. I will fold them again tomorrow.
Thursday: Many pages on our website need to be updated. The images on our blog have disappeared because of a mistake I made yesterday. And there is an error in the Python script that I run to update the website. Last week, I spent dozens of hours creating pages for our contributors along with a great deal of help from two people; taken together, the three of us make these pages by way of a cryptic, labyrinthine set of procedures that can go wrong at a moment’s horrible notice. We need a new website, but I am terrified at the prospect of creating it. It is too much to think about this month or next. Today, an unexpected comma exists in line 34, position 7 of one of the .html files. The comma looks expected, to me. The text that I am uploading contains an unsupported character. Several hyphens have been replaced by German symbols, mysteriously. I make four cups of coffee that all get cold. Two rejections of my own writing arrive before 10am. I look at gifs on the internet. An author is angry at me about something I have done. But I have not done this thing, and explain this to the author. The author is happy. The phone rings. There is a problem with the toilet. A writer’s cover letter says “Do not publish me online.” I have no time to take a shower. I manage to make it to the post office with just four packages containing books. My daughter cannot find her scooter. My bike tire is flat and I am late walking to get her from school. When I come home, it is time to make a snack, wash the laundry, help my daughter with her homework, and make her practice the piano. Now it is time to make dinner. I am out of ideas for dinner, but I do have an idea for something I’m writing. I run into the office to write it down. Everyone is hungry. I make potatoes. “Again?” says someone. But I like potatoes. A child cries. I pile up all the books that I need to ship tomorrow. I email several people about the new issue, people who might not know about it yet. It would be great if everyone knew about this issue, because it’s really good. I want to spend more time doing this, telling people about it and getting them interested, but I am very tired.
Friday, 7:45am: I take my daughters to school. A man is coming to treat the house for termites, so I have to move everything away from the side of the house where we keep tools and garden supplies and firewood. It’s heavy. There are spiders in the firewood. My coffee is cold again. Now it is time to print labels. After an hour and a half, I have printed 34 labels. They aren’t the right kind of labels; I have to cut each paper in half and save the other side for later. I’m listening to music and cutting labels. The termite man arrives; he has a gold tooth and a torn shirt. I lock all the doors and close the curtains. He makes so much noise drilling holes in the cement that I can’t remember what I was doing. I start to put labels on the envelopes. But the adhesive on these labels does not stick to this brand of new envelopes. I resist the urge to rip the labels into shreds or ball them up and scream. I tape each label to the envelopes. I’m out of envelopes. It’s time to pick up my daughters from school. The website is still broken. I have almost fifty more postage labels to create. It’s time to go to the post office with all these envelopes. But first, I have to do other errands, and we sit in the Friday afternoon traffic for over an hour. Finally I drop off the envelopes at the post office. I tell the woman they do not contain anything hazardous. I wonder if next time I should hand-write the addresses and take them to the post office instead of suffering the anxiety of printing labels myself. But then, I would have to stand in line, and wait for the postal worker to create media mail postage for each envelope while the people in line behind me angrily shift from one foot to another. I wonder about a lot of things. When I get home, I count the issues, order envelopes and labels for next-day delivery using Google Express, and prepare the next .csv file.
Saturday: The new envelopes and labels arrive. These labels actually stick to these envelopes, what a relief. Today I do not have time to prepare shipments. I have to do chores, cook meals for the coming week, spend time with my family, read submissions, read poems for the workshop I’m going to tomorrow, and fix our website. I work on what I am writing; it’s getting worse, so I stop. I fall asleep in the 14th minute of a television show that I hate.
Today: I wake up at 4am worrying about envelopes and can’t go back to sleep. I take the dog outside in the rain. It’s nice that it’s raining, but it’s very cold. I read submissions and eventually gather the nerve to work on the labels. At six o’clock in the morning, Paypal multiorder shipping, which has given me athletic nightmares for over three years, refuses to cooperate with the .csv file I created that contains all of our current subscribers’ addresses. I finally narrow it down to a space after the state abbreviation TX. I wonder why an end of line character should make me so profoundly sad. I print fifty labels. I have to take care to match each label because some people have ordered two books. I have sixty dollars left in my account where I pay for labels. I still have not unpacked the duffel bag that I took to Portland last week for the book fair, so I go find it. Inside are the bookmarks I send to subscribers. I only have forty left. I will have to order more. I write down the foreign addresses where eleven of these issues are going to former contributors. These labels must be made by hand. When I go to the post office tomorrow I will stand in a long line.
I start to put books in envelopes. I see that these envelopes are not the right envelopes. They are clasp and gum envelopes. I will have to lick them. My throat hurts; I’m getting a cold. I try closing the envelopes with a wet paper towel but it makes a mess. I get a new paper towel and get it less wet, which works. My cup of coffee gets cold.
I read a fantastic poetry submission and cast a vote. It’s time to start thinking about our next issue now. Our response time is less than two weeks. It needs to stay under 30 days, but I have just placed five more calls for submissions. I’m excited about all the work we will receive, but it won’t be enough. Not enough people know about our magazine. It’s time to make breakfast. Potatoes again.
Christine Gosnay is TCR‘s editor