Roxanne Gay blogged about the nature of being a friend of writers and being an editor in a recent HTML Giant post. A good post that made many good points, for instance acknowledged the incestuous (missing a perfectly good opportunity to use the great neologism, "incestual," but never mind that) world of independent publishing. I'm on the fringe if I'm even outside that world, and hey, it's frustrated me, too (so much so that I'm inching slowly towards my own online lit zine / whatever you want to call it). But I'm not buying her main point that "the magazine goes before everything else" without oodles of caveats and addenda, which she suggests there are but not to the degree I think is needed to be really and truly honest. Cronyism is the way of the world, always has been and will continue to be. Those successful clawing-climbers-without-connections-to-the-top will always be the exception and not the rule.
Without evidence to the contrary I'm going to sound like just another conspiracy theorist of sorts. I'll sound like one who imagines secret or not-so-secret cabals of men and women banding together in a manner that keeps outsiders out and vice versa. But actually, that doesn't need evidence does it, that people are clannish? That despite our claims to the contrary lauding the shear glory of notions of objectivity and its careful implementation when and wherever possible we are more times than not are going to go with what's safe (or what we perceive is safe), and what's safe is what we "know." And scare quotes attributed to what we "know" because when do we know for certain all sorts of stuff? At best we go with our best judgment -- I hear things like "gut" and so forth invoked, but really that's just a way of speaking about our given and varying tastes. An instinct that compels us a certain way for reasons we may not know why. And sure, I imagine you can be someone who speaks to the taste of another person (i.e. an editor) without ever having met that person -- but more often people's wavelengths are synced by knowing one another and discoursing, expositing. You take someone into your fold, even if it's by enjoying certain authors or whoever else that you haven't necessarily met and certainly don't "know" in everyday life. You find a way in which to trust a given public persona if you've had no face time or other personal contact (or you don't and accordingly reject that person).
I can tell you right now that if my hypothetical lit mag-zine ever becomes more than hypothetical I will certainly err on the side of including my friends in the venture, whether it's someone I know in real life or someone I've developed some kind of a working relationship with via the Internet. It's simple. It's obvious. If you believe you know how someone operates creatively or you have a pretty good idea of that at least, you're also probably going to give that person a lot of the benefit of the doubt. Most likely other things will sync, too. You'll probably be able to pick that person's writing out of a pile of others' stuff without any identity-tipping marks aside from the person's writing style itself. I suspect I could determine who's who with at least most writers I like or love or what have you. I definitely know my close friends' writing styles, to be sure.
How I hope to maybe differ from other places as an "editor" or whatever, and granted there are logistical reasons that preclude this elsewhere with the high volume submissions etc., is I'll be more open to developing a relationship with writers who submit. Considering I've tried this tack myself (pursuing a kind of dialogue with editors) countless times elsewhere on the Internets, I can tell you it doesn't really happen, not in any significant way. And attempting to go a different way with respect tot that is something I think will make all the difference.