Thursday, March 29, 2012

Six Questions for Cameron Eigner, Founding Editor, -ality

-ality publishes fiction to 8,500 words and flash fiction to 1,000 words. Read the complete guidelines here.

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

CE: One of the first things I look for in any submission is quality of language. This doesn't mean the mechanics, though I do expect those to be pretty sharp. What I mean is the use of figurative language that's both elegant and evocative. There's a careful mix for me, though; delving too far into metaphor can become tiresome, and striking a balance where you're using strong images and telling a compelling story at the same time can be difficult. Second, I tend toward stories that show brevity. Because we're an online journal, this isn't an issue of page space, though that has been a factor in previous positions. The issue is compaction. In a short story, excessive asides distract me from the core conflict(s). While this sometimes gives greater depth to the characters, I frequently become frustrated by a lack of forward momentum. I have no trouble publishing twenty or thirty page stories - our first issue includes at least one - the fact is that a story needs to earn every page. The pages beyond number ten or twelve require more and more justification. I'm not hard on page counts, and I'm certainly not a pure minimalist, but as many have said before me, every word in a story should be necessary. Finally, the stories I like to publish offer complex subtexts. One of my greatest joys comes from talking to readers who have wildly different interpretations of stories than I.

SQF: What are the top three things that turn you off to a submission and why?

CE: This is a more difficult question to answer. The first three pages of any submission will determine how I view the rest of the piece. Excessive swearing and vulgarity put me off fairly quickly. It isn't that I'm easily offended, it's that I typically feel strong language has to be earned. Even if the submission eventually develops the emotional strength to justify its vulgarity, openings that rely on shock seem inherently weak to me. This sort of shocking approach extends to the broader problem of topics; I've read more stories about geriatric sex than I can count. Stories that trade excellence in language or characterization for intentional discomfort often find themselves passed up. These stories can be written well - Unclad is about an older woman rediscovering her sexuality - the trick is avoiding dependency on the premise to carry emotional weight. Finally, poor mechanics are definitely an issue. We give all of our submissions a multi-tiered reading. If our editors spend more time reading your submission than you did copyediting it, there are probably going to be some issues. I know that nobody is perfect. Consistent, apparent errors are troubling, though.

SQF: What advice can you offer new authors hoping to publish their first story?

CE: Where to begin. There are the obvious tropes, such as reading journals before you submit to them, trying to match your work to the perceived values and aesthetics of individual publications, following submission guidelines, and so forth. They sound trite, but as an editor, these things are important to me. Creative writing workshops often hinge on the notion of polish. Well-realized and well-polished stories have a much better chance of being picked up. Don't send work that has never been (significantly) revised. Second, I've never subscribed to the notion that a long list of publishing credits actually makes it easier to get published. If you're sending things out, don't expect it to get easier over time. The best advice I can give is to be persistent. You will get rejections. Make use of all the resources you have available, particularly duotrope (a database of both fiction and poetry publishers), in order to find journals to submit to. If you're hoping to get your very first publication credit, it's not a bad idea to look for journals looking to publish their first issue. New writers and new journals go together well. There's nothing wrong with shooting for the stars - The Georgia Review, Atlantic Monthly, etc - but don't hammer them with submissions when smaller markets might be more appropriate.

SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject submission?

CE: It depends on the story and what our current submission queue looks like. We try to provide as much feedback as possible when we have time to do it. As many other publishers know, the sheer volume of submissions makes it very difficult to respond personally to every one. However, I know that, as a writer, I've often wondered what kept my awesome story from being picked up by one journal or another. A note that gives a simple reason can go a long way, even if it's difficult to swallow.

SQF: What do you consider to be the primary responsibilities of an editor?

CE: An editor's job is forming positive relationships with members of the writing community. If that one basic responsibility is overlooked, the community on the whole suffers. Contributors shouldn't feel like they're sending things off to a faceless and unfeeling entity. It's my responsibility as an editor to offer human interaction when it comes to the world of publishing. I'm responsible to every author that I accept with regard to maintaining excellence. Many people hear editor and think of a red-pen wielding tyrant waiting to thrash someone for improper comma use. That is a very tiny part of what I do. Finding quality material and presenting it to an eager audience is at the heart of all publishing, and it's that presentation that drives me forward.

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

CE: How might these questions be answered differently for academic or genre publishers?

I've often wondered about being an editor for an academic journal. It's not something I've ever done, but the thought is something I find intriguing. I have to wonder if all of my aesthetic considerations would be trumped in favour of fact checking and that sort of thing. Even switching genre from fiction to poetry, I think the answers to all of these questions would be much different. We've been toying with the idea of accepting different types of submissions, but for now we're sticking to what we know.

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

NEXT POST: 4/2--Six Questions for Coral Bergen, Editor, Absinthe Revival

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