For most writers, the ultimate dream is seeing your work in print. Local author Heather Cuthbertson has set her sights on making that dream a reality for Salem wordsmiths.
In 2010, with help from fellow writer Marilyn Ebbs, Cuthbertson launched Gold Man Review, a journal devoted to Salem’s literary community. Never mind that Oregon already had several thriving literary journals, or that Cuthbertson and Ebbs had no publishing experience. The pair knew that Salem was rich with writing talent, and they wanted to create a platform so those authors could be discovered and supported.
Cuthbertson has written several young-adult fantasy novels and has published one nonfiction book called Going Home: A Companion Guide to Foster Children. She originally got the idea for Gold Man Review while working toward her MFA in the low-residency creative writing program at Antioch University.
Part of the program requires a field study. Cuthbertson is a fan of short fiction, so she planned on contacting one of Oregon’s well-known journals, such as Glimmer Train or Tin House, to see if they could add her as a slush reader, a person who sifts through unsolicited manuscripts to find a gem worthy of consideration. Then it hit her: Why not start her own literary journal?
“I’d always been fascinated with short stories, and I’d always been interested in literary magazines and how they run,” she says. “So I just thought, ‘Why not?’”
Cuthbertson knew Ebbs, a romance writer, through the Salem Chapter of Willamette Writers, where they had volunteered as co-chairwomen for several years. She needed help launching the magazine, and Ebbs was the first person she thought of.
“And Marilyn, being as blind as I was, she was all for it,” Cuthbertson recalls.
They started talking about the journal on a Friday. By the end of the day, they’d chosen the name. By the Sunday, they were up and running, with submissions guidelines and a website. They sent out a call for submissions the next day.
“That’s why Heather and I get along so well,” Ebbs says. “We have the same energy and the same positive attitude about writing. If one of us gets an idea, that’s it. Boom. We do it.”
For Gold Man Review’s editing team, Cuthbertson called on a group of editors she knew would be perfect for the job.
“I had a great critique group, so I just went to them and told them I started a magazine. I said, ‘Are you with me or against me?’ I turned my critique group into my editors.”
With Nicklas Roetto on board as project manager and Darren Howard as senior editor, the team was ready to start carving their niche in the literary journal market. Part of that niche was to give local authors who had been overlooked by larger journals — whether they worked in poetry, fiction or nonfiction — a shot at being published.
Cuthbertson likens getting published in a top-tier journal to “winning the lottery.” Competition is fierce and the work of many talented writers is rejected because of the sheer volume of submissions the journals receive.
The fact that literary journals survive is surprising in itself. Even those that operate under the umbrella of a university have serious challenges to contend with: printing costs, unstable funding, and far more people who want to be published than are willing to subscribe. Meg Storey, an editor with Portland’s Tin House, reported that her office receives upwards of 30,000 submissions per month. The manpower required to consider that number of pieces is astounding — and many journals do not read everything that’s submitted.
Working with Writers
Roetto immediately saw that by keeping Gold Man Review small and locally focused, they could stand out from the larger journals in one important way: by providing a chance for the editors to work one-on-one with contributors.
In Gold Man’s first year, the journal received about 100 submissions, the vast majority of which were not ready for publication. Several showed promise, however, so rather than reject the work, the Gold Man staff contacted the contributors, offered feedback and asked for edits.
“Even the great authors need editing,” Cuthbertson says. “The problem is that most writers don’t have an objective editing team. They don’t have a critique group. We were able to look at these submissions and say, ‘This is great, but it needs work.’ And instead of saying no, we were able to say, ‘Let’s contact the writer and see if they are willing to fix it.’”
“We did significant edits for all of them,” Roetto adds. “It took about three months with a lot of back and forth between the editors and the authors.”
Joe Donovan was a student at WillametteUniversity when his essay, “Nonfiction Love,” was chosen for publication in Gold Man Review’s first issue. He worked with Cuthbertson for two months to polish the light-hearted piece about a crush on a classmate. It was his first time working with editors, and he valued the feedback.
“Heather still has a presence in my writing process,” he says. “I’m now aware of what I’m trying to do with my writing. I’ve learned how to better analyze my own work. Gold Man was a great experience.”
Donovan’s response is typical of the authors whose work has been accepted. Many of them jumped at the chance to have an objective editor help improve their pieces.
“It takes a lot of time and effort to read 30 pages and edit it correctly,” Roetto says. “A lot of times, (authors) are relying on their significant others as their readers. What they need is an unbiased editor to help them.”
With an all-volunteer staff, Gold Man divided the contributors and set to work. The first issue, published in November 2011, featured 30 writers of fiction, nonfiction, poetry and author interviews. The editing team also included their own works in that issue — a common practice in literary journals — but they do not plan to do that in the future because they have so many other writers to promote, Ebbs says.
The Learning Curve
Gold Man’s editors say the first issue received great support from the local writing community, but it barely broke even. Cuthbertson’s first concern was supporting the writers, and she only had a vague idea about the business side of things.
“It was only a month or two after starting it — after I’d put out a call for submissions and people started submitting — that I started to research what goes into a literary journal,” she says. “That’s when I read how much work is involved and how it doesn’t pay back. It’s really a labor of literary love.”
The team had to learn many things quickly: ISBNs, Photoshop, InDesign, eBooks, marketing, organizing an LLC.
“Gold Man was just this fun thing we were working on,” Roetto says. “And then we realized we were going to be selling things. Then we realized we’d be paying taxes and then we had to have an LLC, then you have to keep your receipts…”
“I feel like we got nickel and dimed to death,” Cuthberton adds. “The problem is that work and school got in the way. The marketing — just getting the word out and getting books into stores — is a full-time job.”
Still, the team realized the effect the first issue had on the writing community. When they held a launch party for Issue One, they were joined by many of the contributors, all of them excited and full of gratitude.
“That makes it worth it,” Cuthbertson says. “I would do it again just for that, just for how grateful they were and how proud they were.”
Expanding Gold Man
For Issue Two, released in November, the team opened submissions to Oregon writers and received about 500 pieces. For future issues, they plan to expand to regional writers, and finally, nationally. But they are quick to point out that they are committed to fostering Salem’s writing community.
“We had community support from the beginning, and that’s the only way that Gold Man could succeed,” Cuthbertson says.
It wasn’t just the volume of the submissions that increased in Issue Two. The caliber of the writing improved as well. Some of the submissions required minimal edits, and the editors were happy to see more experimental writing from authors who were pushing the envelope. That’s the creative edge that Gold Man hopes to capture.
“One of the best things you can do is make people mad,” Cuthbertson says. “That means the writer did their job and triggered emotion. That’s what will end up setting you apart as a literary journal.”
So far, the editors have read all submissions in their entirety — as opposed to many journals where readers may not go beyond the first page before deciding to reject a piece. The all-volunteer team hopes to keep this up, but they admit that the more Gold Man expands, the more difficult it will be to offer the one-on-one feedback that defined them in the past.
“(Providing feedback) is important, and we want to do that for at least one or two a year because there aren’t many other journals that offer that,” Ebbs says.
The team has set its sights on several long-range goals. Roetto is in the process of turning Gold Man Review into a nonprofit. In addition to the magazine, which they hope to publish quarterly, the team plans to offer even more outreach to local writers through workshops, author visits, quick-hit classes from local professors, and critique groups for all of those authors who are depending on their significant others as their primary readers.
“Our end goal is that we wanted to create a learning environment,” Roetto says. “We want to help authors learn more, connect more.”
Cuthbertson’s ultimate goal is to get into publishing. She’d like to follow the Tin House model, with Gold Man Publishing as the book project arm and Gold Man Review as the nonprofit, community outreach arm. But she’ll always have a love for the journal.
“When I started out, even though I had no idea what I was getting into, I knew one thing, and that was that I wanted to make sure that anybody who got published in Gold Man Review would have something they could hold in their hands and be proud of. And we accomplished that.”
Launch Party and Reading
When: Feb. 15, 6–9 p.m.
Where: IKE Box, 299 Cottage St. NE, Salem
Who’s Invited: The public is welcome, and journal copies will be available for sale at a discounted price.
Find Gold Man Review
Gold Man Review accepts original, unpublished fiction, nonfiction and poetry from writers living in Oregon. Submissions are accepted online from January through April. Gold Man also accepts art and photography but will only publish those mediums through eBook. Complete guidelines are available online.
Kate Erickson is a fiction writer, and is all too familiar with the literary magazine submissions process.
Partner to Jeani, parent to Liam, William Bragg is a professional photographer. WilliamBragg.com.