Behind the Scenes of Papercut

Seeing the author’s faces light up when they see their name appear with something they spent forever working on makes up for all of the hours that went into making it.


Photo taken by Emma Louise

CSOG6115.jpgAs the editor-in-chief for Alpha Xi Phi’s Papercut Literary Journal for the past two editions, I’ve realized just how much work comes into producing a literary journal.

Throughout the fall and spring semesters, we asked students both past and present to submit their work for consideration. Once we received a submission, we added it to our spreadsheet to make sure that we can keep track of it. The other editors and I then sit down, read them over, and discuss whether they think it is ready for submission or not.

The editors and I will come to either two decisions: yes, it is ready for publication how it is, or no, this could use some workshopping. As an organization that wants to help students excel in their writing, we try not to say no to pieces but instead offer out a hand to help them tap into their potential.

Even though we reach out and offer help, some students don’t take it which is perfectly fine.  But on the other hand, we’ve had many students come into our meetings with their piece, ready to workshop.  We offer a really supportive and helpful community, and seeing student’s faces light up when they realize how they could make their work better is amazing.  Seeing them come back with an improved revision is an even better feeling.

Once we have selected all of the submissions that are going to go into our publication, I sit down and try to figure out which order we want them to go in.  This is actually one of the hardest parts of putting the publication together because if there aren’t good transitions between pieces, the book won’t flow and will read awkwardly.  It’s like playing with one of those puzzles where you can only move one piece at a time.

Once I know the order that I want them to go in, I start copying and pasting them into a template that we get from our publisher.  Because I work with Microsoft Word all the time at my job, I know how to use all of the things that most people don’t: section breaks, page breaks, making sure the margins are different on odd and even pages, making sure each page has a different header and footer, and other technical stuff.  

I have to try and fit as much into as few pages as possible because we get charged by how many pages we have.  So if one story goes one line over a page, I have to figure out how to shrink it to one page. Sometimes that’s messing with the spacing, the font, or other sizes.

My favorite part of the whole thing is sitting down and actually editing the book.  Because I don’t want to change the author’s work, I don’t do too much content editing.  I sit down and look for grammar mistakes, like missing commas, periods, quotation marks that are wrong, etc. I also look for spelling errors and missing words.  I try to catch everything, but sometimes when the book is printed I will notice one or two things that I missed, but I have to remind myself but that’s two errors in 18,159 words. I also check to make sure that all the headings are correct, all the page numbers are consecutive, there are no blank pages, and I also check to make sure everyone’s name is spelled right.  Because that is one thing that people will notice.

Putting the whole book together actually takes a lot of work and time.  I have no idea how many hours I spent putting the second edition together, but I knew that I went through three different drafts where I changed the order of the works, went through and edited it different times, and then had to start with the formatting over and over again. 

After all that, the Alpha Xi Phi members look over it, tell me what needs to be changed or what errors they find (which I am so grateful for), and then we send it to the publisher.

In about a week or so, we get to see the books, and actually holding the book in my hand feels so rewarding after all the hours that went into making it happen.  Seeing the author’s faces light up when they see their name appear with something they spent forever working on makes up for all of the hours that went into making it.  

Knowing that I got to work with something I have so much passion for makes up for all of it.

-Alyssa Harmon


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