Poets & Writers

Diving Into the Digital Slush Pile

EVER since he launched Alaska Quarterly Review (AQR) in 1982, Ronald Spatz has discovered the stories and poems he publishes the old-fashioned way: by opening envelopes sent via the U.S. Postal Service. But in recent years Spatz had begun to notice that the numbers of submissions mailed to the Anchorage-based journal were tailing off. More troubling, when he studied data from the AQR’s social media feeds, he found that interest in the journal wasn’t as strong as he would have liked among younger writers and readers.

So he decided to conduct a test. In September 2017 Spatz bought a subscription to Submittable, the ubiquitous submission management system, and opened AQR to online submissions for a month. In that time he expected to receive three hundred to four hundred manuscripts over the digital transom. Instead he received 1,190—on top of the paper submissions that were still arriving via postal mail.

“I just had to stop it,” Spatz says. “People said, ‘Why? This is great.’ But we couldn’t handle it. We weren’t set up to do it, and it all came in so fast that it just shut everything down.”

Though the journal’s online portal remains closed a year later, the experiment made Spatz a firm believer in the promise of digital submissions. Online platforms like Submittable, he notes, dramatically simplify the administrative work of managing a large slush pile while attracting talented young

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