Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Adding "Former" to My Title

It's hard to know, just exactly, when it's time to end a volunteer commitment, but I'd been thinking of ending my service with Literary Mama for about a year before I finally said goodbye to the all-volunteer staff this past June. The challenge was to determine the best way to transition to new leadership without disrupting the workflow and overwhelming the staff.

I think we succeeded. Our nine-month transition began in October and included discussions with senior leadership about finances, the organization's mission, and the many tasks that one does simply because they need to be done. We completed an all-staff survey in April to assess commitment, identify strengths, and solicit ideas for improvement. Best of all, the transition appeared seamless to the reader.

That phrase--appeared seamless to the reader--may be the point I'm most proud of. As I discussed the actual transfer of leadership with the senior leadership, we considered the 10-issues-per-year publication schedule that keeps our editors busy and the habits of our readers and the submission schedules of our writers because we didn't want to damage any of the relationships we'd built. We wanted to live up to the level of trust so many place in us, and we wanted to be deserving of that trust in the future. Call it integrity or obligation or commitment--I believe those concepts should be at the foundation of any leadership changes an organization makes, especially those made by an all-volunteer organization.

There's a bittersweetness that comes with the word "former," but that sentiment is offset by the knowledge that the organization is held in loving hands by women who are excited to move it forward.

I didn't join Literary Mama in 2010 with the hope of becoming Editor-in-Chief. I joined because there was no one else in my community who was interested in reading and writing about motherhood and family the way I was. A local writing group I helped create around 2000 dissolved after a few years when everyone but me moved away. An online critique group I joined shortly after that exposed me to a variety of subjects but became burdensome with a monthly critique requirement that left little time for the subject I was most interested in. There's no doubt that I read of Literary Mama's needs at just the right time in my life. They were looking for a blog editor; I was looking for a new experience and a community that was deliberate in thought, word, and deed.

I've volunteered for many different types of organizations over the years but this one is, by far, the most unique and dear to my heart. From day one, I was encouraged to take initiative and be responsible, to be a self-starter, and to make the position(s) my own. But more importantly, I was supported by thoughtful responses to my questions and sincere interest in my suggestions. This support helped me respond yes when I was asked to accept the roles of senior editor and managing editor in 2014, and two years later, to that of editor-in-chief.

Literary Mama Staff 2017-2018
Thanks to the current Literary Mama staff for their commitment to the organization and to her founding editors who first decided, in 2002, that the world needed a place for mother writers who were producing work that was deemed too complex for glossy parenting magazines and too mother-centric for traditional literary journals.

Highlights of my time with Literary Mama:
  • crafting more than 100 writing prompts
  • developing four  blog series that highlighted staff achievements, offered inspiration to writers, and shared tips for having work published on Literary Mama's pages 
  • expanding Style Guide
  • redesigning website
  • establishing standards for tracking website and social media metrics
  • managing production schedules
  • helping hundreds of writers develop their voices
  • working with dozens of volunteers spread across five time zones but committed to the same quality of work as I was

Friday, February 20, 2015

10 Years; 4,264 Posts

Ideas are a dime a dozen; what truly matters is how an idea is executed. The greatest idea in the world doesn’t stand a chance if there isn’t knowledge behind what happens from the conception in your mind to delivery on the newsstand.
                                                                          -- Samir "Mr. Magazine" Husni

Last year, past and present Literary Mama editors contributed posts to the online magazine's blog to celebrate its 10th year, the role it's played in their lives, and the friendships they've formed because of it. 

Some of the women have backgrounds as high school teachers, college professors and MFA students, others as writers, editors, and copyeditors. Some work outside the home, some within. The overriding theme of every blog post, however, is community. Within Literary Mama's pages, each woman found the support she needed to claim her writer self and dedicate time to develop it amid family, work, and other responsibilities.

It's interesting to note that while the founders' initial thrust was to showcase their own writing, they quickly realized Literary Mama could be a market for other mama writers. Many of the decisions they made in 2003 about content and the editorial process continue to guide our efforts today, yet each new staff member brings—and is encouraged to bring—her expertise to the table. So, much like the writer who examines every phrase, paragraph, and punctuation mark for purpose and clarity, Literary Mama has been able to continue suggesting revisions to society's definition of motherhood by publishing voices that surprise, delight, and challenge. 

I'm proud to celebrate five years—and, in February, my fifth issue as managing editor—in this niche market, and I think it's notable that Literary Mama editorial staff live and write from all points of the world. 
Editorial Staff. February, 2015.

Like any other volunteer-driven organization, Literary Mama is only as strong as those who serve. But it's not enough to simply believe in an organization's mission, and enjoy the camaraderie--especially with the additional challenges of time zones that stretch from one day to the next and technology that seems to be updated just as we get the older version figured out. 

It may be community that first brings literary mamas together, but once that has been established, respect is what keeps us together. It is, in fact, paramount to our success.

One's resume may be the first step toward earning respect among the Literary Mama community, but I've never considered its bullet-point list of accomplishments the final destination. Instead, I've found that respect lies within the slew of emails that fly back and forth between editors as submissions are read and evaluated; and then again as final drafts are proofed, copyedited, and prepared for publication. There's a sincere interest in working with each writer—it could even be viewed as workshopping—so every essay, poem, story, interview, or review selected for publication is as strong as it can be. 

I've also found that respect comes as a result of honesty. Nearly every email exudes a warmth that invites thoughtful commentary, the right to disagree, and a desire to work together. When words are misunderstood or responses less-than-timely, the emails are filled with heartfelt apologies, not excuses or finger-pointing accusations.

And finally: I see respect expressed in the comments from our readers and like-minded publications in the virtual community where we live.  It'd be easy to calculate respect by pointing to the number of followers, "likes," or "shares" we've garnered—and we do pay attention to these numbers—but I think the raw emotion of a comment carries just as much weight: 
  • "Thank you for identifying us, for making what often seems foolish into something admirable. I am proud to be a mother-writer when I read this."
  • "Thank you for making me feel as if I’m not alone in the writing abyss."
  • "It was such a pleasure to work with the editors at LM. I was thrilled to see the positive response that my essay received via social media on LM. It means everything to this writer when readers can relate to my stories.  Thanks to LM for giving me the opportunity to publish it."

I doubt the women who started Literary Mama could anticipate the public response to their adventure when they penned this in their mission statement
We know that becoming a mother takes more than the physical act of giving birth or completing an adoption. It takes birthing yourself as a mother—often a lifelong psychological, intellectual, and spiritual process. Literary Mama honors the difficult and rewarding work women do as they move through motherhood by providing a smart, diverse venue to read, publish, and share mama-centric stories.
But I can see why their idea worked and, just as importantly, how Literary Mama has been able to publish more than 4,260 pieces by 1,250 contributors during its first decade. I predict many similar celebrations in the future.