Thursday, February 2, 2012

Six Questions for Nathaniel Tower, Founder and Editor, Bartleby Snopes

Bartleby Snopes published its last issue in January, 2017. The archive remains online.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Nate provided the first set of responses for Six Questions For. . . posted on 12/1/2009. I offered him the opportunity to update his responses as SQF begins year three. Thanks to Nate and all the participating editors and publishers for a fun ride so far.

"Bartleby Snopes is an online literary magazine with several goals in mind. We want to publish the best new fiction we can find. We want to give the many writers out there an opportunity to publish their best work. We want to inspire you to create great works of fiction." The site publishes flash fiction to 1,200 words and longer fiction to 3,000 words.

Bartleby Snopes is currently accepting submissions for its latest project, Post-Experimentalism. We aren't really sure what it is yet, but it's something new and it's something amazing. It's really up to the writers to show us what it is. We plan to have our first issue out in the summer. It will be print and online and maybe even something else. Read the complete guidelines here.

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

NT: We want stories that are engaging, original, and fluid. Stories have to make us want to sit at a computer and read them straight through in one sitting, and when we're finished we should want to read them again. They need to tell a story, and that story needs to be compelling in some way. We don't want to see a story we've seen a million times before, and we want characters that are real but not boring or one-dimensional. The prose must pack a punch and pace itself in a way that makes the story smooth to read. The bottom line is that after we read a story we want to think, "I wish I had written this."

SQF: What are the top three reasons a story is rejected, other than not fitting into your answers to the above question and why?

NT: If a story is disjointed, littered with backstory, or if it has no clear dramatic narrative or plot, then we will almost certainly reject it. A story has to actually contain a story. We don't want character sketches or sloppy expositions. We want pieces with beginning, middle and end. Stories with problems and some type of resolution. Stories filled with typos and stories that are too long will almost always be rejected as well. We are willing to work with authors if we like the story, but we're not looking to do total rebuilds.

SQF: Bartleby Snopes is different from other magazines in that the readers vote for the top story each month. How did you come up with this idea?

NT: I wanted to give the readers some voice in what goes in our semi-annual issues. I also wanted to get a sense of what types of readers we have and what types of stories our readers want to see. Bartleby Snopes has always been about doing things for the writers and the readers, so it made sense to get some input from the readers. The polls also help to attract new readers to the site every month, and they give the readers the satisfaction of knowing people have read and enjoyed their stories.

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

NT: Almost always. We give personal feedback about 99% of the time. One of the reasons I founded the magazine was because I was tired of the 6-month rejection that said "Sorry, this isn't for us." As a writer, I know how much time it takes to submit. Sometimes I think I spend more time submitting than writing. Because the writers take that time to look at our magazine and send something our way, I think they deserve that personal feedback. Again, the magazine is all about the writers and the readers, not about ourselves, so we do anything we can to help writers. Obviously we don't have all the answers, but we can at least give one perspective. This helps people know what to submit to us again in the future. And most people are grateful for the feedback we provide. At least most of the emails we get in response suggest that people are.

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

NT: Just how subjective it all is. I've gotten pieces that I thought were brilliant that resulted in reader backlash. I've lost readers because of the stories we've published and the stories we've nominated for awards like Pushcart and Best of the Net (but we've gained a lot more than we've lost). At the same time, I've gotten stories that I could barely finish that I would never publish, and some of these stories have ended up in some fairly prestigious places. I think we publish great stories, and there are a lot of good stories that we don't publish because they just don't fit. But it really is all just a matter of opinion (at least most of the time—I do occasionally get writing that I think is objectively bad and really unpublishable). No one should ever take rejection personally. There is a market out there for just about everything. Being an editor has helped me take rejection better.

I also have learned that the writing community, in general, is a group of welcoming and grateful and kind individuals. People are so thankful when their stories are published, but it's more impressive how thankful people can be when their stories are rejected. People really get excited about the publications of others, and there are a lot of good friendships created between readers and editors.

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

NT: What are the future plans of Bartleby Snopes? Have you ever considered shutting it down?

I actually was strongly considering closing the publication to submissions indefinitely. It was just getting to be too much time and work. As most writers know, most of these magazines are just side things that produce no profits. There are quite a few magazines that start as one-person shows, but as the magazine grows and gets more popular, it becomes nearly impossible to do it alone.  That's why I brought Rick Taliaferro on board as our Associate Editor and our "Long" Fiction guru. Even with him it's still a lot of work, and sometimes I wonder how much longer I can do it. But I enjoy it too much to give it up now. I feel like we've contributed something to the writing community, and I feel like the magazine has made me a better reader and a better writer (I've also learned some programming skills and other things as well). As for the future, the magazine will continue to do everything it's doing now (Story of the Month, two stories per week, Semi-Annual issues in PDF and print format, Dialogue Contest, etc.). I'd also like to develop a few more projects. I'd like to launch some more print stuff. In particular, we've got this idea for flash novellas that we will hopefully launch this coming year. What will it look like? I guess you will just have to keep visiting Bartleby Snopes to find out.

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

NEXT POST: 2/6--Six Questions for Becky Tuch, Founding Editor, The Review Review

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