“I’m doing the work that I want to do. And someone will either like it or not and either way that’s all right. It’s not a critique of me as a person if another editor doesn’t like that work. It’s just editing like many things is very subjective.”

The Apple Valley Review is a semiannual online literary journal founded in 2005 by Leah Browning. Published in the spring and fall, each issue features a collection of poetry, short fiction, and personal essays.  

Apple Valley Review editor, Leah Browning, has worked as a freelance writer and editor since 1995.  She is the author of three short nonfiction books for teens and pre-teens and six chapbooks of poetry and fiction.

Episode Transcript

[00:00:00.330] – Rachel Thompson
What do editors want? It’s a question that many creative writers have asked themselves or more likely muttered dejectedly after a frustrating rejection. I’m Rachel Thompson, author and literary magazine editor, and your podcast host.

[00:00:14.970] – Rachel Thompson
The Lit Mag Love podcast grew out of my course by the same name, and I continue to seek out answers to this question of “what editors want” by going right to the source. I bring you interviews and insights about how to improve and publish your writing. In this episode of Lit Mag Love, I speak with Leah Browning, editor and founder of Apple Valley Review. The Apple Valley Review is a semi-annual online literary journal founded in 2005. Publishing in the spring and fall, each issue features a collection of poetry, short fiction and personal essays. Leah Browning has worked as a freelance writer and editor since 1995. She’s my guest today and the author of three short nonfiction books for teens and preteens, and six books of poetry and fiction. So she serves as the Editor. As I mentioned, the Apple Valley Review was founded in 2005 by her, and she continues today as Editor. And you’re going to learn in listening to our conversation that she, in fact, is also the first reader so she doesn’t work with any interns or assistants. She is the person who will be reading all the submissions that come into the Apple Valley Review.

[00:01:44.330] – Rachel Thompson
So I wanted to welcome you to the podcast, Leah Browning from Apple Valley Review, thanks for being here.

[00:01:50.570] – Leah Browning
Thank you! Good morning. So I’m wondering if you can share, start by sharing with our listeners, why you founded Apple Valley Review…And your mission, and whether that’s changed since the review was founded in 2005.

[00:02:04.130] – Leah Browning
The journal was something that I always had in my mind. It was kind of a dream for the future that some day, I would be able to start a journal. And when I would think about that when I was younger, it was always thinking about it in terms of a print literary journal, a very formal print journal, which for me and I think for a lot of people, that’s out of reach financially… And in terms of all the different details that go into making something like that; it’s a it’s a very, you know, serious product and you really have to put a lot into that. And at the time that I started it in 2005, that was when (at least in my view) online journals were really starting to take off. And I just found that really exciting and interesting, and it suddenly became a possibility for me to start one.

[00:02:59.960] – Rachel Thompson
Yes, wonderful. In many ways, you’re kind of a survivor of that period, though, too, because a lot of journals…

[00:03:04.840] – Leah Browning

[00:03:05.430] – Rachel Thompson
…Started and then folded at that time.

[00:03:08.150] – Leah Browning
Yeah, I, I didn’t appreciate at the time how difficult it is to keep something like this going. It really takes a lot of time and I think you really have to want to do it to keep one going, for sure.

[00:03:22.340] – Rachel Thompson
And my impression and maybe correct me if I’m wrong or sorry, if this is insulting a bit to you, but is that you’re kind of very bare-bones in what you do in terms of…The website is very delightfully 2005, as I would put it. And I guess I’ve also heard from writers who find Apple Valley Review a little bit mysterious as well, too, in terms of how you operate, and I’m wondering, is all of that something that you’ve done deli…are these deliberate choices?

[00:03:49.130] – Leah Browning
Well, when you’re talking about, about it seeming kind of 2005, I’m wondering if you’re talking about the design of the website, for example, that I still have a page of links. Or, things like that, that were things that everybody was doing in 2005 but nobody does that anymore (for the most part). I would say that the design of websites has changed a lot in that time, and part of why I haven’t changed it more is just for practical reasons. It would be really difficult to completely start over again, especially because I now have, you know, 14 years worth of material.

[00:04:28.550] – Leah Browning
But part of why I have left, for example, the page of links: part of why I’ve left that is that I like that camaraderie that existed. In 2005, you really were trying to support other journals and say, these are my friends’ journals, these are the people that I appreciate. And so I like supporting other journals and want to do that, so that’s, you know, one specific page that I have left over the years.

[00:04:56.150] – Leah Browning
I guess another thing is I just, as a person, I don’t like change all that much so I guess I have kept things kind of consistent. I don’t mind that it looks a little bit older. It is older. And I mean, my main issue with it is just to try to keep it up to date. But other than that, I have left a lot of the design the same way it was when I started it.

[00:05:16.250] – Rachel Thompson
My impression of it is more that, it seems to me your focus is on the writing and maybe in some ways, maybe that is part of the survival that you’ve been able to maintain since 2005; is you haven’t focused on the more superficial things like the design or changing the structure of the site, and you’ve kept things pretty consistent over the years.

[00:05:38.510] – Leah Browning
Yeah, I would say that that’s true. Definitely. For me, the writing really is the focus and I want that to be the focus. And I like other journals where they focus more on images and other things, I like to look at them, I like to read them. But I guess I went in with a really specific idea in mind of what I wanted to do with the journal, and I keep pretty closely to that over the years.

[00:06:09.680] – Rachel Thompson
So another thing I think that makes you stand out as a publication is your submission guidelines that state you’d prefer not to have simultaneous submissions; although it sounds to me like you do accept them regardless, but that’s your preference. But I love that the exchange you make for requesting these non-simultaneous submissions is a turnaround time for reading of two weeks.

[00:06:32.810] – Leah Browning
Yeah, thank you for mentioning that actually. My thoughts on the simultaneous submissions have evolved a bit over, you know, the past decade. I think when I first started it, it was more reasonable to ask people to send an exclusive submission and more recently, I think most people do send simultaneous submissions. It’s rare anymore to find a journal that only takes exclusive ones. And my thinking has changed on that. I do read simultaneous submissions. I welcome them at this point and I do try to respond quickly enough that if there’s something…That if I want a piece of writing, I will be able to get it in time.

[00:07:15.380] – Leah Browning
I do really try hard to have a turnaround time of two, sometimes three weeks. I sometimes just have too many submissions and I can’t get through them in that time period, but I really try to stick to that very closely as much as possible.

[00:07:31.350] – Rachel Thompson
When I started sending out work, it was a time when there were…it was before 2005 so it was a time definitely when people were not welcoming simultaneous submissions. And at the time I felt like the attitude from writers and something I agreed with was, if you’re not going to turn my work around quickly enough, that’s not sustainable for me to be able to send my work out. So I love that you do try to read work quickly. And I mean, I hear that you’re flexible now about the simultaneous submissions but in my books, for this writer anyway, I think it feels like a good payoff. “OK, don’t simultaneously submit but you’re going to hear back in a few weeks.”

[00:08:10.460] – Leah Browning
Yeah, and that’s really where I was coming from when I first started it. This came very strongly from my own experiences as a writer because when I started submitting, I was sending paper submissions in the mail and then waiting four months, six months, sometimes a year or more to get a response. And it’s really difficult as a writer to well, you know, to go through that whole process, to submit things, to get things accepted when you were hobbled that way. Essentially, it could take years for something to get into print and so I guess I welcome the change to simultaneous submissions and, well, the other thing that I wanted to say about that was that the reason why I started thinking so much about the turnaround time was that I started submitting to agents. And agents, at least in my experience, are much, much faster. They look at what you’re sending them and respond right away, sometimes within a week. And that, to me, was a real turning point to think, “OK, I don’t have to wait six months to get a response. I can get one in two weeks.” And then to turn that around when I became the journal editor, “how can I make that happen for other people?”

[00:09:31.610] – Leah Browning
So it absolutely came from my own experience writing and submitting. And that’s the other reason that I read year-round. I found it very, it’s not difficult but you really do have to keep track of the times of year when other journals are accepting submissions, and it becomes… You know, at times that’s tiring and so I just wanted to have submission guidelines that were pretty straightforward for other people.

[00:09:57.380] – Rachel Thompson
Nice, and can you tell us a bit about the reading logistics for you to be able to do that kind of turnaround, year-round?

[00:10:06.230] – Leah Browning
Well, I read everything myself. I don’t have I don’t have interns, I don’t have part-time readers. I do read things myself and then if there’s something that I’m considering more seriously, than I do save it back for a second or third reading. If I’m seriously considering publishing something, I like to read things more than once and see how it changes, depending on when I’m reading it and how it holds up against other things. So I just like to read it more than once, usually.

[00:10:38.690] – Rachel Thompson
I want to know, how do you do that then? If you’re doing all the reading and you’re doing that year-round so quickly, are you reading the entire submissions? Or you know pretty quickly that, you know, whether a piece is not going to… like the pieces that aren’t going to work, you can turn them down after the first page or so… Or, how does that work for you?

[00:10:56.240] – Leah Browning
I typically do read an entire piece… But I mean, to be perfectly honest, I mean, there does come a point where maybe there is some skimming involved or something like that. I would say that I do have a pretty good idea within a page about how interested I am in something. But I do like to continue on and see where a story is going or, you know, if I have six poems and maybe I’m not as interested in the first one, I do still continue on and read all five or six, to be fair to the person who sent it.

[00:11:29.780] – Rachel Thompson
And of the submissions that you’re receiving, what are some of the qualities of writing that you are eager to read in submissions that maybe haven’t come in yet? Are there things that you’ve been waiting for, or wishing that you could receive?

[00:11:43.740] – Leah Browning
I would say not really, but there are certain types of writing where I’ve published some over the years but I always am looking for more. And so I would say those would be fabulism or magical realism, for example, which I do think is very difficult to do well and I’m very drawn to it, I like that type of writing. You know, Aimee Bender, for example, would be an author who does a lot of magical realism in a way that I like. But that’s hard to do well.

[00:12:19.650] – Leah Browning
Something else I’m always looking for is essays. I never, I just never quite get as many essays as I would like. I typically, in each issue, only publish maybe one essay and I would like to publish more of those.

[00:12:34.590] – Leah Browning
And the other thing would be translations. I love translations and I’ve spent a lot of time reading translations in the past few years. I think it’s really exciting that there’s more international work that’s available to readers. There are more presses, New Vessel Press for example, or Europa Editions, where they’re putting out some just really exciting and interesting translations. And I know that translations have always existed, but I just feel like there’s a renewed interest in it, and, emphasis on it and I find that really exciting and I’m always interested in seeing translations.

[00:13:12.150] – Leah Browning
For my specific journal, I like the translations to be a little more current but I have published things that have gone back, where the original publication date was maybe in the 1970s or something like that. But I would prefer to have a lot of more current translations if I could.

[00:13:30.300] – Rachel Thompson
Well, that’s great to hear. Good tips for our listeners. So I’m wondering, do you ever, because I know you write in a few genres and I’m wondering if you ever receive work in one genre that you think would be better suited to another? And if so, how do you make that assessment?

[00:13:47.610] – Leah Browning
Occasionally I would say where that line is blurred the most would be with prose poems versus micro-fiction. There’s a line between those things that seems a little bit blurred sometimes. But generally, I would say the writer has a pretty good sense of what genre the material works in.

[00:14:10.050] – Rachel Thompson
When you’re looking at the prose poems versus micro-fiction, can you speak a little bit to the qualities of each, and where that gets blurred?

[00:14:18.910] – Leah Browning
I’m not sure if I can really explain it. I think it’s just something, as you’re reading… There are certain lyrical qualities that exist in a poem, or that often exist in a poem, that seem a little bit different from the more prosaic elements of micro-fiction or flash fiction. But I like both of those very much, and I think that in my own writing I do sometimes blur those a little bit too. And, I don’t know; I think that the sort of mixed genres that people are doing now are interesting and I like to see how things are evolving with. For example, flash fiction I think it has changed a lot or become more prevalent in a way that’s interesting.

[00:15:11.010] – Rachel Thompson
For sure. I mean, the literary landscape has changed a lot since you started. And there’s also been a lot of movements around representing underrepresented voices in literature, and I’m wondering what kind of approach you take at Apple Valley Review to open those literary gates to people from marginalized communities whose voices might be underrepresented in writing?

[00:15:33.880] – Leah Browning
OK, yeah, I totally agree with you. I think the emphasis on that has changed a lot or there’s become an emphasis on that, that didn’t really exist before/that I didn’t see before. I do think that there are a lot of journals and editors who are focusing on this right now, and they’re explicitly saying in their submission guidelines that they’re looking for work from marginalized communities and also even putting together whole anthologies and collections and themed issues around marginalized communities.

[00:16:12.150] – Leah Browning
I guess for me, I haven’t really focused very much on that simply because I think that there’s such a strong focus on it right now. And I think a lot of other people are doing that and they’re doing it well. And I guess it’s not an area where I feel like I have any kind of expertise, or can… I guess I don’t feel like I can add anything to that conversation, really, so for me I’m looking more at an individual piece of writing and how that fits in for my journal. And I guess where I’m looking at that more would be at translations. I would say that’s probably where my focus has been.

[00:16:58.020] – Rachel Thompson
Yeah, I think I heard a stat recently, I’m not even sure if it’s true but something like two percent of books in the U.S. are in translation possibly? It’s a very small number anyway. And so I guess when you’re talking about translation, you’re saying that people then can read and understand other cultures by virtue of them being in other languages. Is that the idea?

[00:17:19.000] – Leah Browning
Yeah, I do think that opening that window into someone else’s lifestyle, country, religious practices, interests; just I think reading for me from a really young age just opened a window into someone else’s world. And the more we read about people from other countries or living other lives, I think that it opens up a conversation or it opens up a lot of thoughts for the reader. And I think that’s, I don’t know, I just think that that’s a good thing. I think it’s good for people to explore and find out more about other people.

[00:17:56.920] – Rachel Thompson
So once you have found pieces that you would like to publish, what should readers expect when their work is accepted by you? Do you make developmental suggestions? Are you quite hands-on as an editor, or do you leave the work as it is?

[00:18:10.870] – Leah Browning
I would say that other than making small changes like, grammatical changes or correcting a mistake or something like that, I would say typically I’m pretty hands off. I see writing as an art form first. Like, first of all, for me it’s an art form. And I typically am looking at a piece in and of itself, “do I want this as is, or not?” And I mean, yes, if there’s a particular line of a story that I find jarring, I would maybe offer a suggestion or ask the author if he or she would consider taking out a particular line or a particular word or something.

[00:18:57.310] – Leah Browning
But I don’t, I would not say no that I go in and make a lot of changes. When I do, I really try hard to keep the voice and the vision of the author, because to me that is paramount. I don’t mind reading something that’s very different or I like actually reading something that’s very different from my own style or something that I would have written. I like having things that are different and show someone else’s perspective and point of view. So, I mean, I do make some changes, but they’re more minor, typically.

[00:19:30.370] – Rachel Thompson
Is there a variation in how you approach the different genres there? I ask because often when I’m talking to editors, they’ll say we’re pretty hands off about poetry, but we’ll get more in there with fiction. Is that something that’s true for you as well?

[00:19:45.040] – Leah Browning
Absolutely. I can’t think off the top of my head of any time that I’ve ever made any real substantive change to a poem. I typically am very hands off with poems. But with fiction or essays, there have been a few times where, you know, I would talk to a writer about a particular line or to something like that, but I do feel that if I want to make really substantive changes, really substantial changes, that maybe I’m not ready to accept that piece of writing.

[00:20:20.200] – Rachel Thompson
For sure. As you have, like since you started editing, and you’re a writer yourself, has the act of editing, has editing other people’s work, changed how you write?

[00:20:29.620] – Leah Browning
I don’t think it’s changed how I write as much as how aware I am of the submission process actually. When I was younger, I never would send a submission that said, “hey you,” at the top of the submission letter/the cover letter. But I did feel that there was a really strict protocol for submissions and you had to write a letter exactly like the letter that was the template in Writer’s Digest or something like that. And, I realized over time that those things don’t really matter so much. I think one of the most important qualities in a cover letter is being polite and respectful. And that’s really the most important thing. Try not to make, you know, also try not to make too many errors in it. But, the main thing is nothing really matters as much as the writing itself. And I guess that is a way that I have changed in my writing, is I feel that I’m doing the work that I want to do and someone will either like it or not. And either way, that’s all right. And it’s not a critique of me as a person, if another editor doesn’t like that work. Editing, like many things, is very, very subjective and I guess it’s made me be able to take that process less personally in some ways.

[00:21:53.510] – Rachel Thompson
So now that you’re submitting work out and with this sort of new knowledge, I guess, what do you consider when you do submit your own work to lit mags? How do you research the lit mags and how do you approach submissions now, apart from not using that template from Writer’s Digest for the cover letter?

[00:22:12.710] – Leah Browning
Yeah, I did that for a long, long time. I would say that when I’m looking at other lit mags, the main thing is “do I like what they’re publishing? Do I like what what these editors are doing?” And that’s probably the most important thing. I’m always surprised when writers will say that they submit to a particular literary journal, but they don’t like what that journal is publishing. And I don’t really understand that, because I think that’s an important quality in a literary journal, if you’re going to submit your own work, is “do you like what what this journal is publishing”? And it gives you a good, some good insight into what they like and don’t like.

[00:22:58.130] – Rachel Thompson
And I guess over the years, as you’ve been submitting, I’m wondering if you have learned yourself even about how to be an editor? In terms of some good experiences that you’ve had working with editors, and possibly some not so good experiences that you had working with editors at other lit mags?

[00:23:15.890] – Leah Browning
I have mostly had good experiences. I do find it stressful to be edited a lot. And so I do think that influences me as an editor, not really wanting to take something that another person takes very seriously sometimes. I mean, there are different pieces. You might have one short story where you feel really strongly about it and don’t want to change a single word. And then there are other stories where you might feel a little bit more flexible about it.

[00:23:47.330] – Leah Browning
But I just really want to respect the writer and what the writer was trying to do with the particular story or essay, and leave, I don’t know, leave it mostly intact if at all possible.

[00:24:01.040] – Rachel Thompson
Those are great things to do, I think, for writers. And thank you so much for sharing what you’ve learned and your insights with us today. Before I let you go, can you tell us what’s next for Apple Valley Review and for you and your writing?

[00:24:16.010] – Leah Browning
Well, I’m in the process of assembling the Fall 2019 issue right now. And my goal for the journal really is, I mean, it’s a very simple one but to keep it going. We touched on this a little bit earlier, but keeping a literary journal going is a very… It’s difficult. And so I just, you know, want not to give up, I guess, basically. And, also to continue something which has also been really important to me, which is supporting the writers that we publish in any way possible and, we just had one of the essays from (I think it was Spring 2018) was just one of the notable essays in The Best American Essays. And that type of thing is really exciting for me, I feel really happy about it when that happens and I just want to support other writers as much as possible.

[00:25:08.400] – Rachel Thompson
Wonderful Leah, thanks so much for sharing your Lit Mag Love with us.

[00:25:11.720] – Leah Browning
Oh, you’re welcome! Thanks so much for talking to me today.

[00:25:14.840] – Rachel Thompson
So that was my interview with Leah Browning of Apple Valley Review and, I think, I’m hoping that people who are interested in submitting their work to Apple Valley Review picked up a few important tidbits that are… First, that if you’re writing fabulism/magical realism, she sees that as something that’s difficult to do well but really likes it, and is looking to publish more of that in Apple Valley Review so it would be a good place to send that kind of work.

[00:25:40.670] – Rachel Thompson
In addition to that, she’s looking for essays! So she never quite gets as many essays as she’d like, and she typically publishes one per issue, but would be interested in publishing more. That’s the kind of thing where you read the review and you think, “oh, they only publish one essay per issue” and in fact don’t realize that the reason for that is just not receiving enough so this would be a great place to send essays.

[00:26:04.760] – Rachel Thompson
And finally, translations is another thing she mentioned that’s something that Apple Valley Review would publish more of. And, in particular, translations from more current work. Although she did mention publishing a translation from a piece from the 1970s, in fact, it’s more current translations that she’s looking for.

[00:26:24.890] – Rachel Thompson
And another thing that Leah Browning said in our interview is that she’s OK with blurring the lines between some genres in the writing. That sometimes she sees writing that does blur between prose poem and micro-fiction, but that that is OK. So there’s not really a hard line about genres, and in fact, she seemed open and excited about some of the mixed genres.

[00:26:48.140] – Rachel Thompson
When it came to her own writing, and I’ve drawn the title of this episode from her comment that she’s doing the work that she wants to do; and someone will either like it or not, and either way that’s all right. It’s not a critique of her as a person if another editor doesn’t like that work, it’s just editing, like many things, is very subjective. And I think those are words to live by if you’re sending work out to journals. And it’s great to hear that from an editor, herself, who’s recognizing that about sending out her own work.

[00:27:18.350] – Rachel Thompson
And I think the number one thing though to remember about Apple Valley Review that is fantastic, is how fast their turnaround is. You could get a quick response within a couple weeks on a piece, so it’s a good place to send work that you just want to kind of test out the waters on and see, you know, how long does it take to get a response. Given what she said about how she slowly reads through pieces that she’s seriously considering, she reads them a few times, then a slower response is probably a good thing. A quick response means just an immediate no, but a slower response maybe means that she’s read it a few more times first.

[00:27:52.460] – Rachel Thompson
Lit Mag Love is co-presented by Room magazine: literature, art and feminism since 1975 and the Lit Mag Love Course, an online course to get smart, fearless and published with lots of help from me. Sound editing for the episode is done by Mica Lemiski and I’m your host, Rachel Thompson.

[00:28:12.350] – Rachel Thompson
If you want to give us some love in the form of a review wherever you get your podcast, we would love that and it really helps other writers discover the podcast. You can find us online at litmaglovepodcast.com, or on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook @LitMagLove. Thanks for writing and reading literature, and thanks for listening to Lit Mag Love.


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