Last weekend we went on one of our long family walks to Black Nore Lighthouse, which you may know is how the online journal I launched in January got its name. The walk got me thinking (as walks often do) how much I’m enjoying being an editor again after a break of about four years.
Part of the reason that I closed Clear Poetry in 2017 was that it had become very time-consuming to manage. I was using social media at the time to promote the site as much as possible, there were lots of submissions coming in from all over the world and I was also getting poets to record readings of their work which was taking time to set up and manage. I realised that all of this effort meant that my attention was being diverted away from my own writing.
I dipped my toe back into publishing others’ work with Finest, which was a really nice way to reconnect with lots of the poets I’d got to know over the course of the last eight years or so (via 52, Clear Poetry and general adventures on social media). It was as much a way of helping to share poets’ favourite work and the creative processes which lead them to create it as it was a means of working out whether I wanted to step back across the line from game to gamekeeper!
When I finally decided that it was time to launch a new journal I tried to put into place what I learnt from running Clear Poetry so that I’d still have time to work on my own creative practice, as well as ordinary day-to-day stuff like reading and learning languages on Duolingo (a new favourite past-time!).
Firstly, I decided that there would be no overall theme for the journal – it needed to be a blank canvas which wasn’t as much of a reaction to my own prejudices as a poetry reader. Making Clear Poetry exclusively about accessible writing worked to a certain point, but I think that objectively speaking it also meant that its scope was too narrow. As an editor it’s nice to come across different types and styles of writing, so this could be one way of keeping it fresh for me as an editor, just as much as it would add to the reader’s enjoyment.
I also decided that I wouldn’t promote it heavily. That might seem like a complete anathema to today’s marketing-savvy online world, but that’s entirely the point – instead of sharing everything blindly via Twitter and Facebook, hand-tooling updates and reiterating calls for submissions, I just decided to put out a simple announcement that the journal was launching combined with a call and let word of mouth do the rest.
On Twitter, I tag in the handle of the poet whose work I’m publishing that day, but I don’t follow them using the BNR account – the only accounts that BNR follows are other journals, otherwise it would become yet another feed that I feel I have to monitor or which continually clogs up my phone with notifications about new posts etc! I find it hard enough to keep up with Twitter on my own account. If you’ve followed the BNR account and it hasn’t followed you back, this is the reason, so please don’t take it personally!
The decision to limit submissions to poets from UK and Europe was a difficult one. Although I published work from some brilliant writers from the USA (and beyond) for Clear Poetry, opening the new journal up globally was a sure-fire way to end up getting overwhelmed at some stage, even if that didn’t happen immediately. This was not an editorial decision, either, or a comment on the quality of work from the USA, Asia etc as I have left the door open to myself to invite poets to submit.
The other “problem” (in terms of workload) with accepting submissions from the US is Duotrope. As much as I’m sure this website is very helpful in terms of managing ones own submissions, feeding in data about acceptances and so on, it does feel like the tyre-kicker’s approach to researching where best to send one’s work. As soon as Duotrope cottoned on to BNR and listed it I started receiving messages from US-based poets enquiring whether I could invite them to submit! To be fair to Duotrope they removed BNR from their database very quickly when I emailed them to request it.
Compared to Clear Poetry (even in its early days), Black Nore Review is much less work and consequently more enjoyable to run. I’m currently receiving about ten submissions a week, almost all of a very high standard. Once I decide to accept work, I set up the post in WordPress and schedule it to appear automatically at 5am on the day in question. I’ve also worked out how to post to Facebook and Twitter automatically, which means that I no longer have to remember to do it, which was also taking up time when I ran Clear Poetry.
Although it’s an intentionally low profile journal, to date this year the site’s been viewed 3,500 times. People seem to find out about it by chance, perhaps seeing that a friend has had work published there. And so far I’m seeing submissions which feel like more of a natural fit based on the sort of work I’ve published so far, which perhaps means that people are taking the time to read it before submitting.
The only slight disappointment I have at this stage is that I don’t seem to receive very many submissions of flash fiction. This might be because I am best known as a poet and as an editor who’s only published poetry in the past but it would be nice to feature some prose on the site.
So far reaction to BNR has been really good, but obviously it can only continue to appear in the world if people submit their very best work, so why not take a look at the site and send me yours?