Daniel Simon, editor in chief and assistant director of the World Literature Today magazine, is also a poet, translator and educator. Simon teaches for the Department of English, the Department of International and Area Studies and the Center for Judaic and Israel Studies. He joined World Literature Today 17 years ago.
World Literature Today is a quarterly magazine of international literature and culture. The OU-based publication has won 23 national awards since Simon joined WLT. The creative team consists of Simon, the managing editor, the book review editor and the design art director.
The magazine started in 1927 as “a very modest 32-page book review pamphlet,” Simon said. Gradually, the publication has evolved into a creative writing journal that celebrates culture and art. Many of the magazine’s works are in translation from authors around the world.
Simon said that World Literature Today has a strong identity on campus as well as in the Norman community. “Good citizens globally” is how Simon describes the magazine. Listen to this short excerpt from my interview with Daniel Simon to learn how, in his belief, World Literature Today relates to OU’s teaching mission:
In fall 2019, Simon will be teaching ENGL 4113, a course on magazine editing and publishing that he mentioned in the audio. The class, he said, will help students become editors, designers or other digital media specialists. The WLT internship component is an important feature of the course, according to the class webpage.
25 years ago, Daniel Simon was working on his master’s in comparative literature, specifically on the 20th century French and American writers. When he finished the degree, Simon “kind of by accident” got a part-time editorial assistant job at the University of Nebraska Press.
While at that first editing job, Simon said he fell in love with editing as an “exciting practical application of everything (he) learned in graduate school in a way that had an immediate impact on the world besides teaching in a classroom or writing articles for a journal.”
Simon said that he admired the intellectual side of the job, which allowed for pragmatic assistance for the writers and their voices to reach broader audiences.
After working at the University of Nebraska Press for five years, Simon came to Oklahoma to start as a book editor at the University of Oklahoma Press. Then, when an opening came available in 2002, he became a managing editor at World Literature Today.
He calls his current job “a perfect fit for (his) background in languages and contemporary literature and publishing.” Now, after 17 years of working at the publication, Simon is the main acquisitions editor for essays and poetry that the magazine publishes.
When asked about the budget cuts and financial issues at the publication, Simon proudly remarks that their “revenue has been pretty solid over the years”.
“For a non-profit, it’s $100 per poem or maybe $300 for an essay. We were able to pay our writers, which is not always the case in literary magazine publishing.”
Simon adds that they did lose a full-time staff member due to the university-imposed budget cuts. Since 2018, he said, the state funding has decreased substantially.
Robust digital presence, Simon said, is a result of the effort to create new sources of revenue for WLT. The shift toward digital publication allows for much “more creative packaging of digital issues.”
“There are lots of evolving business models out there,” Simon said. However, he added that the core editorial model stays the same.
Advice to Future Editors
I asked Simon whether he can think of any advices for aspiring editors to avoid the industry’s common pitfalls. Here are his three paramount lessons:
1. Editing and publishing is as much about people as it is about words. Make sure to develop relationships with writers. Similarly, build working relationships within your team. It always takes more than your own skill. Be able to collaborate to create something out of nothing. Help to shape ideas. Fine-tune the piece, find stylistic flair. There is always a human element involved, so it’s not just about the words on the page.
Dr. Simon works with writers ranging from emerging names to the ones at the Nobel Prize level. He says that sometimes editors have to deal with big egos. He calls it “a risk that comes with the job.”
2. Keep up with the work flow. Manage your inbox and your task portal. Sort the wheat from the chaff. Figure out a way to survive.
Simon deals with constant influx of submissions: a thousand of works to review and pick from. “Sometimes,” he says, “you are just drowning in emails.” Simon estimated that he received over 10,000 of them in the past year.
“But it’s exciting,” Simon said. “You are always looking at something new, something fresh; discovering writers that you have never heard of before.”
It often helps to package the issues around a central theme, said the WLT’s editor in chief. Short stories, essays, book reviews and interviews telling about the same event or topic can make up a good package. For instance, the World Literature Today Summer 2019 issue will be about climate change — one of the most crucial topics of the present day.
3. Develop good judgment. Help a writer to publish something first-rate. Always look for how to make something better. Read veraciously. Have hunger and thirst to discover something new. Seek knowledge.
Simon recommends keeping in mind what value your work adds to the writer’s piece. Besides, he acknowledges that having a broad background in humanities helped him become a better writer and editor.
Finally, World Literature Today editor in chief encourages everyone to persist in their career goals. He says that now is the best time to get into editing and publishing: