At 23, Chloe Johnson has had the kind of wild career trajectory that is possible only in the world of publishing, where a staff of four works on a rag previously manufactured by one woman in her basement.
Amanda Hamilton, the creator and editor-in-chief of Blue Monday Review, started Johnson off as a poetry editor in January 2015, one of those four staffers. One year later, the staff has reached 30 volunteers, and Johnson is a senior editor putting in around 30 hours a week on top of her full-time marketing job.
In addition to advocating for her favorite submissions to the literary magazine that draws inspiration from the works of Kurt Vonnegut, Johnson manages its website, has designed the past two covers and helps Blue Monday Review’s in-house artist develop and place illustrations.
It’s all volunteer-based. As the quarterly publication grows and pushes for more revenue, its staff must be unpaid.
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“Right now it’s just a passion project for me, and I could care less whether I’m making money with it or not,” Johnson said.
Playing with the top dogs
Blue Monday Review gets about 800 to 900 submissions each quarter. Since the magazine publishes only around 25 pieces each issue, the editors have to read and curate that selection.
Johnson makes it clear, though, that the “slush pile,” or submission pile, is where the vast majority of those stories come from, unlike some literary magazines that commission works from favorite writers.
“We need to really champion the underdog writers, the writers like myself,” Johnson said.
Currently the magazine comprises 95.9 percent unsolicited submissions, with a 2.5 percent acceptance rate of all the work that’s sent in. Johnson says Paris Review and Tin House each have less than one percent acceptance rates — and that’s what Blue Monday Review is trying to be.
“We’re trying to be one of the best literary magazines in the country,” Johnson said. “That’s a far-fetched goal, I’m sure a lot of people think, but I think it’s very well possible.”
Kansas City creators unite
Johnson attributes the magazine’s success to its Midwest home. She met Hamilton at a writer’s critique group after moving to the Kansas City area from Minneapolis.
“I am absolutely amazed at how welcoming the Kansas City creative community is in general,” she says. “You go to places, even like Local Pig or Doughnut Lounge, and they’re like: ‘Oh my gosh, we love what you’re doing. It doesn’t relate to us at all, but we want to help you.’ ”
Bookstores, including Prospero’s, The Raven in Lawrence and Yellow Dog in Columbia sell the magazine.
No poetry about bunnies, please
Johnson has some advice for writers thinking about submitting: Mind your voice.
“You really can be easily influenced by what you’re reading and what you think you sound like. And you become convinced, like, ‘Oh, I sound just like Vonnegut.’ ”
Actually, you probably don’t.
Hopeful writers should give their submissions some substance as well, particularly with poetry.
“Like somebody’s writing about their backyard and a bunny is skipping through the flower garden or whatever. … There’s no meat there,” Johnson said. “There’s nothing that they’re trying to say. There’s no narrative or universal human meaning.”
2016 is the year
Blue Monday Review aims to become a nonprofit within the next three or four months, an endeavor that required a campaign to raise around $3,000 for lawyer fees. The other goal, Johnson says, is just to get the word out. The quarterly is partnering with Doughnut Lounge to have a launch party at Uptown Arts Bar on Saturday. Find out more at facebook.com/BlueMondayReview.
“It’s going to be really great to tell people that we not only support writers in the KC community, but we’re all about artists and musicians and just bringing together the creators of Kansas City,” Johnson said.