Friday, June 24, 2016

Six Questions for Nancy Kay Clark, Editor, CommuterLit

CommuterLit publishes short stories, memoir, novel excerpts and poetry, in any genre with a word count of 500 to 4000 words. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Nancy Clark: I started my career in the late 1980s as a print magazine writer and editor in Toronto. By 2010, the digital revolution had changed the magazine industry drastically. By then if you wanted to stay in the magazine industry, you needed to know how to write and edit not only for print but for online platforms, how to run a blog and website, how to produce audiovisual content, how to put together enewsletters and how to promote yourself and your publication through social media. Also by 2010, I had begun to write fiction and had joined a local writers’ group, where we offered each other support and consolation for the plethora of rejections we constantly received.

Meanwhile, blogs I read and seminars I attended kept telling me about the self-publishing revolution and how, even if you got picked up by a traditional publisher, you would have to actively participate in creating and promoting not only your work, but yourself as a brand. You would have to grow your own readership.

So what was an often-rejected print dinosaur like me to do? Well, like many of my fellow introverts and non-digital natives, I was uncomfortable with the thought of revealing myself online in a personal blog and the idea of constant self-promotion was daunting. I also knew that with a young family and other paying gigs on the go I didn’t have the time to feed a blog all by myself. I also wanted to promote not only my own work, but the work of my colleagues in my writers’ group.

My solution was to create a literary ezine that would take advantage of the mobile technology coming on stream. I would publish a short story or poem every weekday that the public-transit commuting public could read on their way to work in the morning. This would allow me to learn about online media and self promotion as I went along, which would benefit my wider magazine career. It would allow me to promote myself and my own fiction writing, and because I opened the submissions up to all, I could help promote members of my writers’ group as well.

It’s been a great learning experience and an interesting ride. Certainly, I have made mistakes, but the benefits have been worth it. Today, the ezine is still small, but it is a tight-knit community of people who love to read and write fiction.

SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?

NC: Because the ezine posts four or five new pieces per week, it has many slots to fill — unlike ezines that post on a monthly or bimonthly basis. Therefore, CommuterLit needs constant submissions. Each week, I choose the best four or five from the submission pool. So, as you can imagine the quality varies from week to week and so CommuterLit has become known as a site that accepts pieces from beginner writers. Often, first-time contributors tell me that this is the first time their work has been accepted anywhere.

That’s not to say that I never reject a submission — of course I do. Or that all our contributors are beginners. Our contributors write in a variety of genres and have different levels of experience.

But I’m okay with CommuterLit being known as a good place for beginners to submit. We all have to start somewhere.

I’m not looking for a perfect short story. I’m looking for potential. Something that has an interesting plot twist, an intriguing premise or theme, a character or voice that grips me. I’m looking for something that makes me laugh out loud, makes me tear up or makes me angry. Mostly, I love stories that make me think — that layer on theme over plot over character. Without a theme, without a viewpoint, it’s just an anecdote that you tell at a cocktail party — amusing, but forgettable.

Submitters to CommuterLit must also be mature enough to accept the constructive criticism offered in the online comments. I moderate the comments — I will not post vicious, personal attacks — but often a fellow CL contributor will post a blunt comment about a story and then an online debate will ensue over plot points or character development. Submitters must accept that a critical comment about their work is not a critical comment about themselves. It’s actually valuable feedback for them as they develop as a writer.

SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission?

NC: Gratuitous violence — depictions of violent acts that seem to have no other point in the story other than to shock.

Overwriting — this is usually the mark of an inexperienced writer, who either is in love with descriptive imagery and piles it on thick or does not trust the readers’ intelligence enough and explains everything in great chunks of exposition.

These kinds of sentences: “Why, yes I’d love to dance,” she smiled.  or “You’re crazy,” he laughed. You can say words, yell them, whisper them, screech them or even bark them, but you cannot laugh or smile them.

Clichéd plots or characters.

SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a submission?

NC: No, sorry, there are too many submissions for that. Sometimes, I will accept something on the proviso that something in the text is changed, and then I will explain my reasoning and give feedback.

SQF: You also offer a critique service. What, specifically, do you provide and how much does it cost?

NC: The critique service is my solution for not being able to give feedback to everyone. Whether I accept a story for posting on CL is a separate issue, but regardless if someone wants feedback on a submission he or she can pay $50 and I will deliver a two- or three-page critique of the work. Often, writers have taken that feedback, redrafted the story and resubmitted it to CL and I’ve accepted it for posting — whereas their first draft I would not have accepted. Sometimes, they don’t want to submit the piece to CL, but just want to pay for the critique, which is fine also.

On my site, I also include pricing for manuscript critiques of larger pieces of work.

You can read about what my clients say about my critique service here.

SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?

NC: I guess whether it is worth having your work accepted and posted on the many online literary websites on the Web, including CommuterLit — particularly if contributors are not getting paid. Like many ezines, CommuterLit cannot afford to pay contributors. The little money I get in annual donations to the site and from the critique service, I use primarily to keep the site afloat and to cover some of my time. As a working writer and editor, the fact that I can’t pay my writers has bothered me greatly. I have tried various strategies — asking for online donations to specifically pay the writer after each story or poem posted and producing two print-on-demand CL anthologies, but the response was disappointing. I also know that because there are so many sites and self-published titles out there, promoting yourself and finding and growing a readership for your work are in many ways even more difficult tasks than they were in 2010 when I started CL.

I continually try to deliver benefits to my contributors in the form of professional development and to promote their work as best I can. I also continue to try to figure out how to pay contributors. But I have come to the conclusion that it’s got to be a two-way street. Contributors must also help promote CL through their own networks, must be willing to coach and support their fellow contributors through the comment streams and finally be willing to pay for online content if they themselves wish to be paid.

Thank you, Nancy. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Six Questions for Robert Cole and Cody Music, Co-Founding Editors, Tallow Eider Quarterly

Tallow Eider Quarterly publishes poetry, flash fiction, essays, and artwork that are the most experimental, innovative and engaging art and writing available today, and reviews. Read the complete guideline here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Rob Cole: It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I think an equal combination of reading magazines I admire and ones I do not motivated me start TEQ. Really, I wanted to get engaged in other people’s writing instead of being constantly absorbed in my own.

SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?

Cody Music: I’d like to think I don’t look for specific qualities – initially. Maybe that’s avoiding the question, but, if our submissions remain intriguing to the end, I’ve likely been shown things I didn’t know I’d like to experience.

SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission?

RC: When writers or artists refuse to read our submission guidelines and use strange fonts or extremely intricate formatting. Also, seeing the writer’s name, address and email on the top of every page of the submission. What always matters most is the content, the writing or art, and I think it’s a shame when writers spend more time on bios than sending their best work.

SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a submission?

CM: Hardly ever. Taking the time to improve what I don’t enjoy seems very inane, and that’s not ill-will/anything personal.

SQF: Who are a few of your favorite authors of experimental prose and poetry?

RC: Ben Mirov, John Amen, Claire Hero’s “Afterpastures” was a favorite, there are a ton of authors and poets I admire. I really appreciate the writing styles of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Bernard Malamud.

SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?


Q: How’d you name your magazine?
A: We talked and chose a phonetic phrase with a hint of archaic “huh?”

Thank you, Rob and Cody. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Six Questions for Sara Crowley, Editor, The Forge Literary Magazine

The Forge publishes one piece of prose (under 3000 words) each week. Stories are selected by a rotating group of 14 editors, whose preferences are clearly stated on the site. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: What is the goal of The Forge?

Sara Crowley: Simply to provide a place for superb writing. We’re writers and our aim is to make The Forge as writer friendly as possible, so we pay, we respond quickly, and we are open about our submission statistics.

SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?

SC: Firstly, make me feel something. Stories are how we communicate with each other and reading a story that leaves me blank is like being talked at by a dull stranger; I’m looking for the conversation to end so I can leave. Second and third; originality and craft. In a well-written story the writing doesn't show and reading is a pleasure.

I’m totally rooting for the writers who trust their work to us and I read each story hoping it’s brilliant. It’s a thrill discovering and sharing great writing.

SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission?

SC: It’s a little irritating when people don't follow guidelines or the story is peppered with typos and spelling mistakes. Other than that it’s pretty subjective, which is why it’s cool we have 14 editors with widely differing tastes. Hopefully The Forge will never seem predictable.

SQF: Does The Forge provide comments regarding why a piece wasn’t accepted?

SC: Sometimes we will, if we see potential in a piece and think our comments might be useful. It’s down to the individual reader to decide if they would like to send a note.

SQF: Will The Forge publish a story posted on an author's personal website/blog?

SC: No, we would like shiny, new words please.

SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?

SC: I’d like you to ask me about our quick responses. I did see some concern expressed on social media by writers who felt we might not have considered their work carefully enough when their stories were rejected on the day they submitted. Our aim truly is to be as writer friendly as possible and we don't want to tie up work for months and months. I assure everyone that each story is assigned to two editors straight away. If one of those two readers votes “maybe” it goes to a third reader. If one of the two readers votes “yes” it goes straight to the two editors currently selecting work. If one reader votes “no” it still gets read by a second reader, so the absolute minimum is that two editors have read your work. We are part of an international writing forum, The Fiction Forge, and with our different time zones we can be reading, assigning, declining, and accepting, 24 hours a day. A swift rejection will have received no less care than a rejection sent two weeks later and it seems daft to me to wait. If you haven’t heard from us for a month or so, someone is strongly considering your story as one of their picks. Obviously, if we get heaps of subs we won’t be able to keep up the pace, but for now, we’re proud to be speedy.

Thank you so much for inviting me to your blog; it’s an excellent resource for writers.

Thank you, Sara. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Six Questions For Ritta M. Basu, Publisher/Editor, FewerThan500

 FewerThan500 publishes literary fiction to 500 words. Occasionally, the editors may select exceptional creative non-fiction for publication. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Ritta M. Basu: I originally established FewerThan500 in 2009 as a way to connect with other writers and to develop my editing skills in the flash fiction genre. I had spent years working in journalism and having been out of the newsroom a few years was missing the camaraderie with people of like minds. As a former journalist, I loved the concept of short, well told stories and found flash fiction to be a perfect genre for me as a writer and editor. Managing editor Kevin Moriarity and I were in a local writing group together and he and associate editor Frank Rutledge approached me in 2014 about joining forces. We have since added assistant editors Brandon Fink and Heather Ruffalo to our editorial board.

SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?

RMB: Each of our editors are looking for different things in a story. We're often amazed when we sit down to review submissions at stories that appeal to some editors and not others. We have outlined our personal preferences on the website, but all of us tend to look for a story that is well crafted, utilizes the negative space creatively and hooks us with a "show don't tell" approach.

SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission?

RMB: Again, this can vary. However, if it is clear that the writer has sent us a first draft and not really spent time with the craft, we can spot that right away and don't even vote on the submission.

SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a submission?

RMB: This is the one thing we pride ourselves on. There is often a story that may not work for us as it is submitted, but we will take the time to determine what works and what doesn't and provide feedback to the writer. Often we ask the writer if he or she would like to recraft the story using our suggestions and resubmit. For me, personally, the editing and rewriting process is the most fun part of working with the writer who submit to FewerThan500.

SQF: Based on your experience as an editor, what have you learned about writing?

RMB: Sometimes the worst pieces of writing come from writers who try too hard to follow the rules and impress the reader.  The best writing comes from practice and intuition, along with a strong rewrite.

SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?

RMB:  I think readers might be interested to know about our process for selecting the stories we publish. Our editorial board is made up of writers, poets and editors all of whom work in other professional fields and volunteer their time for this publication. While we are all located in suburban Chicago, we strive to make FewerThan500 a global publication, featuring the works of writers from around the world. We meet at a local Panera every two weeks to read and discuss the submissions we have received. The stories are sent to the editors as they arrive at without an author name or bio attached. This precaution protects against potential bias. Once we sit down together, we take turns reading the submissions aloud and each person is given a chance to provide input about the story. We then vote on whether to publish the story, send it back for edits, or pass on the submission. (We occasionally all agree that a story is so exceptional that we want to accept it without discussion.) When we discuss stories, we rarely all agree. We have different tastes and the discussions are often eye opening as we reconsider a story from another editor's standpoint.  We have fun with this process and always honor the majority vote. Whatever our decision on a particular story, the writer is always informed of our decision and encouraged to submit again. We have seen writers who have sent us stories that were immediately voted down come back with something new and be unanimously accepted. We believe in writers and enjoy the chance to highlight their work, which is one of the reasons we do the author profiles for every writer's work we publish.

Thank you, Ritta. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.