This past Sunday, Editors-in-Chief of et al. Justin Greene ’16 and Jack Spira ’16 sat down with the rest of the editorial staff to conduct the second inaugural submissions review. Editors sat with their laptops open, fingers poised to respond to the first piece up for discussion. A few of the staff members were still polishing off plates of Usdan brunch.
But who are these mysterious lovers of fiction? And what exactly is et al.? If you’ve seen the posters around campus, marked by a glasses-and-scarf-wearing hipster dog and a typewriter, you might recognize it as Wesleyan’s only pure fiction print publication, which debuted at the Student Activities Fair in early September.
According to Greene, the magazine’s creation was relatively straightforward.
“The story behind the formation of et al.: my friend Jack Spira, who’s the other editor-in-chief [and] who lives in Writing House, and I were talking, and we were just like, ‘Yo, Wesleyan doesn’t have a fiction publication,’ or at least a print one, because The Jaded Basil is real, but that’s online,” Greene explained. “And we were like, ‘That’s really dumb. I don’t know why we don’t have that; we should start our own.’ It was really as simple as that; there wasn’t one, and we thought that was stupid.”
et al.’s name, which means “and others” in Latin and is most frequently used to denote multiple authors in MLA-style citations, was chosen to represent the magazine’s egalitarian spirit.
“We want to seem communal,” Spira said. “First, the communal editing process, and [second], the communal nature of a collection, an anthology. It’s about the writers. Even though we [the editors] are making it, it’s not about us. It’s about the artists; they get to forge the magazine, really. We’re just kind of like the little bits in-between that put it all together, like little helpers, mostly.”
et al. currently accepts fiction pieces of 2500 words or fewer, as well as scripts for short comics, with a deadline of Dec. 15. Each submission is subjected to one to three rounds of editorial review, a process that the magazine’s editors-in-chief have designed to be democratic to the extreme. Aside from being able to break a tie if necessary, editors-in-chief have no more say than any other editor.
During the first round of review, each piece is distributed anonymously to the board of 15-20 editors (only Greene and Spira are aware of the author’s identity, based on hir email address). The editors then vote as to whether the piece should continue to the next round. If the piece receives a majority of approvals, the author will be contacted to schedule a one-on-one meeting with one of the editors, who will offer feedback from the staff. The author can then choose whether or not to make the suggested changes to hir work before resubmitting it to the second round of review.
“I think that’s a major part that differentiates us from other publications,” Greene said. “We want the authors to be as good as they can be, and obviously they have their own creative license, but we want to take our time out to ensure that we have the best possible product and they’re totally happy with it.”
During the second round of review, which is tentatively set for March to allow for the release of the magazine during the May final exam period, the remaining 20 or so submissions will be narrowed down to the final selection of texts. This stage poses the greatest challenge to the editorial staff.
“The first stage is just a question of how good [a piece] is, regardless of any other pieces,” Spira said. “The second stage then becomes not just how good it is, but how well it fits in with other pieces. We necessarily have to compare certain pieces, and it sucks because pieces can get benefits from being antithetical to other pieces… because we’re not publishing a collection of individual pieces, we’re publishing a book with pieces inside of it. Just as you can have 10 great chapters, and a bad book.”
If needed, a third and final round of review will take place to resolve any lingering disagreements. Ideally, the magazine will be pared down to about 90 pages before going to press. Greene and Spira hoped to maintain the “pocket-sized” aesthetic of their original vision, but due to budget constrictions, the magazine will be a slightly larger, more conventional paper size, about four by seven and a half inches.
Funding for the magazine is something of a work in progress. According to Greene, the University administration and Student Budget Committee are skeptical of new fiction publications on campus because past iterations have been expensive and short-lived. For now, et al. anticipates receiving funding in the spring once a concrete number of submissions has been determined. However, it has already gained the support of Director of Writing Programs and Adjunct Professor of English Anne Greene, and both editors-in-chief remain optimistic.
“We’re getting a really positive response,” Justin Greene said. “The students seem to be really taking to it, in terms of submissions, just spreading [the word], general excitement.”
Sophie Chabon ’17, another member of et al.’s editorial board, agreed. She compared favorably her experience with et al. to her work at her high school’s literary magazine and The Best American Non-Required Reading, an annual compilation published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
“We’re just accepting submissions right now, so ultimately we won’t know until the spring when we release the magazine, but overall people seem very welcoming of the new literary mag on campus,” Chabon said.
In the meantime, however, Greene and Spira continue to seek submissions and are trying to keep things in perspective during the magazine’s early stages.
“We don’t want to grow too big for our britches and stuff,” Spira explained. “We’re not a national magazine. We’re publishing the literature of students at an undergraduate college who are still learning how to write—and that’s not to say they need help learning to write in any way—but we’re publishing really good stories, done by people who will get really good. We can keep doing that for a long time, if people stick with it, and I think they will.”
As for their own stake in the magazine, both editors-in-chief say they are still very much enjoying the glow of their role as “founding fathers.”
“In my mind, it’s still my magazine,” Spira said. “It feels like my baby, that’s just taking its first little baby steps. Like, when people show up to the meeting, to something that Justin and I started, it feels amazing. I feel like I got to create something on campus, and that’s a very beautiful feeling. And the editors feel that way, too.”