Zephyrus through the decades.
Earlier this week I was fortunate enough to meet with Dr. David LeNoir, an English professor and advisor at WKU. When he’s not teaching English or expanding his collection of flamingo merchandise, LeNoir is the faculty advisor for WKU’s student journal, Zephyrus. You can read our interview below.
R: How many submissions does Zephyrus average each year?
L: This year we received around 240, and last year it was around 280. So an average would probably be around 250. It got really high a couple of years— somewhere around 400 or so. I’m really happy with that level. Way back in the day we had to beat the bushes for submissions, but now we get a pretty good collection.
R: How does the selection process work?
L: After I receive the submissions, I code each piece to ensure they’re anonymous. Then it’s all randomized— meaning each author’s work is split and coded numerically in packets. The editorial staff reads every piece and rates them individually with a basic voting system. After the staff has read and rated all of the pieces, those ratings come back to me and I collate the results. I compare all the raw numbers and create a tier system— if everyone likes a piece then it’s in the first tier, if most people like a piece, it’s in the second tier… and so on. After I’ve divided the pieces into groups, I go back to the actual manuscripts and start counting pages. I start with the first and highest group, then go down the list to each subsequent group until I run out of pages.
R: What’s the average rate of acceptance?
L: Generally between 5%-11%, which is actually a pretty broad range. This year it’s about 10%.
R: Why can’t Zephyrus be expanded to accept more submissions?
L: Right now it’s a matter of money. I would love to if we had the money, but the English Department pays for it and doesn’t charge for the copies— they’re free. If we charged for the copies, took out advertisements, or had a large donation we could definitely expand. In fact, we did in 2006— we did an expanded, Centennial Edition to celebrate the 50th year of Zephryus— and it ended up being a huge book. Not only was it a regular issue, it was a retrospect— we went back over fifty years and pulled pieces out from previous editions. It was only possible, however, because of a $5,000 donation.
R: How can someone become an editor?
L: If you’re interested, let one of your creative writing teachers know. They can pass the information on to me.
R: What is the average size of the editorial staff?
L: It varies considerably. We had eight students that finished reading this year, and we had about fifteen last year.
R: How is Zephyrus actually published?
L: Originally we had to go through a bid system, but one year the print company had difficulty scanning the artwork and the finished product wasn’t very pretty. After that, we got permission to ignore the bid system and work exclusively with one printer. We chose Print Media, and they did a great job. We’ve been with them ever since.
R: How much does it cost to create Zephyrus?
L: For $1200, we receive 500 copies— so a little over $2 per issue.
R: Has there been any talk about opening Zephyrus up to outside submissions, or starting another magazine that would do that?
L: We’ve talked more about the idea of having another journal that does something like that. Right now, the department is investigating the possibility of establishing an MFA program and if we did that, we’d do a journal that’s wider than Zephyrus.
Personally, I would be opposed to opening Zephyrus to outside submitters for two reasons: one, it’s nice to have a closed community. There’s already enough competition out there for publication, and this is a nice place for Western students to be protected from additional competition. We have some great writers on campus, so inviting other people into that pool doesn’t really make sense. The other reason is that this has always been a student publication without any initial support from the university. The students wanted to highlight and showcase student work, and I think that’s a great mission for our journal. I’m not interested in changing that.
R: After a story or poem is published in Zephyrus, can it still be submitted to other journals?
L: Absolutely. We have no intention of prohibiting students from sending their pieces other places. Although, it is important to note that most journals accept submissions with the idea that it hasn’t been published elsewhere so there might be a slight conflict there. But as long as you’re upfront with them there shouldn’t be any problems.
R: When will this year’s edition be in print?
L: There’s a very good possibility that we will have them at the senior year (May 2nd). Otherwise, it could be the week of finals.
R: I know there are some awards given to students published in Zephyrus— can you expand on those?
L: We have five awards that have been in place for a long time. Two are sponsored by university departments and three are from private sponsors. The English department sponsors the Wanda Gatlin Essay Award. Gatlin was a previous advisor for Zephyrus, and was a major driving force in resuscitating the journal when it encountered problems. Next we have the Zephyrus art award, which is co-sponsored by the English Department and the Art Department. The Jim Wayne Miller Poetry Award is sponsored in honor of Jim Wayne Miller— a WKU faculty member, scholar, and poet. Then we have another poetry award, which is the Browning Literary Club Poetry Award established in 1979. Lastly, we have the Ann Travelstead Fiction Award of Ladies Literary Club— established in1983.
R: What’s the most rewarding aspect of your job as faculty advisor to Zephyrus?
L: It’s a great service to the students and helps recognize that Western has a lot of great writers. It showcases the talent that we have here at Western. I wish there were more venues that do that.
On the flip side of that, I’ll tell you that the most annoying part about it: because we’re limited in space and money, we turn away an awful lot of good writing. Some things that don’t get picked are wonderful pieces, and I wish there was more space.
R: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
L: Yes. Rejection is part of the writing life, and no student should take getting rejection like this to heart. It doesn’t necessarily mean the writing wasn’t up to standards— we just have fierce competition. If you don’t get published here, send it somewhere else. And, of course, always submit again next year.