Editor Q&A: Mia Herman

Mia Herman lives in Queens, NY and received her MFA in Creative Writing from Hofstra University. Her poems and essays have appeared in multiple journals, most recently the Bellevue Literary Review and Minerva Rising. When she’s not writing or editing, Mia is most likely a) creating spectacular road-trip playlists, b) watching obscene amounts of reality TV, or c) setting her friends up on blind dates. Follow her on Twitter (@MiaMHerman).

TBL Editor Q&A Series: Mia Herman

This is one in a series of brief interviews with a diverse array of writers, editors, and other industry professionals. Check back over the coming months for more!

What steps did you take to become the Outreach Director at Tethered by Letters?

Dani (CEO and Editor-in-Chief) and I have this running joke that I became Outreach Director because I’m good at stalking people—which, I realize, makes me sound kind of scary. But there is a kernel of truth to it. You have to be willing to reach out to all sorts of industry professionals, many times over. That’s how I fell into this role. I don’t like taking no for an answer, and I don’t mind reaching out, again and again, until I get the answer I’m looking for.

I started as an intern, back in early 2016. After the internship, I stayed on as a junior editor, and I think the outreach work suited my personality. Whenever TBL needed to get in touch with a celebrity author, I would do some research to find that author’s contact information. Then I’d draft an email and send it out. If that email didn’t get a response, I would redraft the email—switch up the language or try a new approach—and send it out again. And if that didn’t yield a response (or the response we were looking for), I would research the author’s agent and publicist. It was the same thing with universities and outside organizations. I think, at some point, Dani thought, This girl just never gives up! We should probably make her our Outreach Director.

What is the most exciting/satisfying part of your job as Outreach Director?

I feel very blessed to have a job I love, working with people that I really admire, and I think there are three equally exciting and satisfying parts to it.

The first is having the ability to aid and empower so many different communities that deserve recognition and support. I handle TBL’s community partnerships, and I have learned so much from the people and populations we work with. There is the Afghan Women’s Writing Project, which gives women in Afghanistan a platform and a voice. There is Lambda Literary, which is the leading literary organization promoting LGBTQ literature and the LGBTQ community. There’s also Breath and Shadow, a quarterly online journal with a focus on disability literature and culture. And there is the work we do in the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility. The list goes on and on! To be able to work with these vital literary communities—to shed light on their challenges and achievements—is so inspiring.

The second thing that is super satisfying about my job is when I hear from an agent who has recently read an issue of F(r)iction and wants to sign one of our authors or artists. That gets me so stoked! It is extremely gratifying to know that your work is helping to shape someone else’s career and life.

Last but not least, my job as Outreach Director allows me to connect with authors that I have long admired. Hearing from Phillip Lopate, or Linda Pastan, or Lydia Davis is such a humbling experience. I studied these masters when I was a college student and when I was in grad school. And now, to be able to chat with them or read original work from them… that, to me, is just the coolest thing ever.

You also work as a Senior Editor for F(r)iction. How would you say those different roles interact? Do you ever have to sacrifice one for the other?

As a Senior Editor, I am involved with almost every aspect of the F(r)iction publication process—which stories get pitched up, how many works of fiction or poetry we’ve locked, which outside organizations we’re partnering with, the diversity of our authors. So my work as an editor definitely informs my work as Outreach Director.

For example, if an issue of F(r)iction is shaping up to have a heavy focus on fiction, I’ll counterbalance that by reaching out to my contacts at different literary agencies and asking them to send us some nonfiction work. Or if an issue is coming together and I see that we don’t have too many genre pieces, I’ll reach to authors who specialize in sci-fi, or fantasy, or horror, and I’ll ask to see what they have available. The same holds true for our community partners. We always want to be sure that we’re highlighting different populations and different missions, so if I notice that it has been a while since we’ve featured a certain organization or population, I’ll reach out and connect with their program coordinator and arrange for a F(r)iction feature.

I don’t remember ever needing to sacrifice one position for the other, but that might be because I don’t see the ebb and flow as sacrifice. If my outreach endeavors need immediate attention all week long, I make sure to get my reading and editing done on the weekend. And vice versa. It can definitely be a challenge, at times, to juggle everything. But I think I’ve gotten pretty good at the balancing act.

Your work as a writer has appeared in F(r)iction, the Bellevue Literary Review, and several other journals. How do you balance writing with your other duties?

I wish there was a secret to this! It is so tough. The truth is, I have to push myself way harder than I used to. After a long work day, it’s really tough to get yourself to sit down and write. I think the most challenging part, for me, is clearing my head. It takes some time for me to quiet all of the voices—this one nagging me about a meeting I need to prepare for, or that one reminding me dinner is on fire.

I try to grab a few minutes whenever I can—in the doctor’s office, on my lunch break, in the shower. It sounds crazy, but I have a waterproof pencil and pad of paper hanging on the wall in my shower. That’s when I do my best thinking, and I’m terrified that all of my thoughts and ideas will go right down the drain if I don’t immediately put them down on paper.

It’s obviously not ideal. This type of writing doesn’t allow for a smooth, continuous momentum. But even if I just jot down a couple of lines that move a poem forward or develop a character’s motives, I can see a progression. And that’s what I care I about. Staying stagnant is not an option for me.

Has your time as Outreach Director / Senior Editor influenced how you view the publishing industry? Has it influenced how you view your writing?

Oh absolutely! When you’re spending so much time reading and editing other people’s work, it only helps to sharpen your own skills as a writer. I’ve been exposed to so many different forms and genres of work, and this exposure really opens your eyes to the playfulness and profoundness of language. It makes you want to experiment with your own writing. It makes you want to push yourself out of your comfort zone. It gives you the ability to understand what works and what doesn’t—what needs to be trimmed and streamlined, and what needs more exploration.

As far as the industry is concerned, it’s certainly as tough and competitive as it has ever been. But the business, as a whole, doesn’t feel quite as impenetrable to me as it once did. I hear from agents who are actively searching for new clients. I talk to publicists who are advocating for their authors like it’s a matter of life and death. I know editors who are awake in the wee hours of the morning, trying to rework a single scene.

The truth is that stories inspire people. They inspire people to work hard and to work together. And that is a really beautiful thing. It’s not something to be intimidated by—it’s something to be celebrated. I don’t think that’s how the industry is usually seen. But that’s how I see it now.

What do you see as the next step in your career? What do you see as the next step for F(r)iction and TBL?

I see F(r)iction retaining its high publishing standards. I see it sitting on the shelves of UK bookstores, where we are currently putting down roots. I see TBL working tirelessly to raise literacy rates worldwide, especially in the prison system. I see us offering educational programs—like internships and publishing lectures and career roundtables—in universities and high schools, making sure that young writers are getting the attention they deserve. I see us continuing to provide platforms for emerging creatives and underrepresented communities who might never have been seen or heard otherwise. I see it all taking shape right now, but I can also see the wider reach we will have in the coming years. It’s kind of wild to see the progression.

As for me, I am currently working on a number of projects. I’m working on a collection of essays that wrestle with religion and chronic illness. I’m also working on a collection of epistolary essays, each one addressing an ex-boyfriend of mine. So there’s a lot going on, and I’m very thankful for that.

What are you reading right now? And, in a perfect world, what are you drinking while reading?

In a perfect world, I would be drinking mint mocha anything. At all times.

To keep up with industry news and events, I’m always combing through the latest Poets & Writers and The Writer’s Chronicle. As for leisurely reading, I recently finished Turtles All the Way Down by John Green, which is an incredible exploration into the world of mental illness. I also recently finished All the Difference, a memoir by Patti Horvath, which dares to understand how physical illness and disability shape the way we see ourselves.

But my reading list is L-O-N-G! It’s always growing and expanding. Right now, at the top of it, you’ll find The Reminders by Val Emmich, The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn, and Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. Just talking about these titles makes me want to run to the nearest library or bookstore. But let’s be honest: that’s something I always want to do.

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