Yesterday I talked about how the editing process affects my evolution as a writer. Today I’d like to begin by describing our editing process at Alice James Books, and end with some details about cooperative membership.

At the first stage of editing, a new author (whether or not a cooperative member*) is assigned a volunteer “buddy” from our cooperative board (someone who has already published at least one book) who makes editorial suggestions, including those given by members at the meeting where we choose which manuscripts to publish. The new author makes revisions as s/he sees fit, and then I offer suggestions for editing the revised manuscript and the author again revises according to her/his preferences. When the two of us agree that the book is finished, it is copy-edited and transmitted to the designer.

This editing process evolved based on a cooperative model of publishing which involved a lot of support from fellow members, and as far as I know, grew to include the director’s input after the press began hiring full-time directors. Although AJB is now more of a hybrid than a true cooperative as it has a four-person paid staff, I’m glad we’ve kept this aspect of communal support. I think it makes for more polished books and helps engender the unusual sense of community AJB authors seem to feel.

The other reason for that sense of community (aside from the many friendships forged) is the very real ownership our cooperative members have of the press. While they are fully active members, our cooperative member authors literally own the press, and work with the director to make business decisions and plan growth, as well as making consensus decisions to choose which manuscripts to publish.

A final word about that consensus process: it means that 8-10 board members must agree to agree on each manuscript offered publication, a nearly always challenging assignment, given the wide range of tastes among members. It’s also rewarding. I have begun meetings favoring one manuscript over another and been persuaded otherwise, and I know others have had similar experiences. It is what I like most about the consensus decision-making: having the range of poetry I can appreciate widened—and being challenged to communicate specifically why I find a particular poetry worthy.

*Note: winners of our regional Kinereth Gensler Award become cooperative members with a work commitment to the press, but our national Beatrice Hawley Award does not carry a cooperative commitment.

Originally Published: May 25th, 2006

April Ossmann is the author of the poetry collections Anxious Music (Four Way Books, 2007) and Event Boundaries (Four Way Books, 2017). She has published her poetry widely in journals and anthologies, including Colorado Review, Harvard Review, New England Review, and From the Fishouse (Persea Books, 2009). Her poetry awards...