The Broken City publishes poetry, fiction, essays, comics, illustrations, photography and music/book reviews. Issues are themed. Read the complete guidelines here.
SQF: Why did you start this magazine?
SB: I honestly can’t recall. Probably because I was young(ish) and daring and wanted to see if I could pull it off. It worked, so I kept going.
SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?
- We have to like it. If we enjoy reading something, we publish it. It comes down to the personal tastes of our readers, really. A dozen people may have told you your poem is great (and they may very well be right), but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll like it. A rejection should never be taken as a suggestion that your submission stinks. Note: there are known cases where we’ve published something that we didn’t necessarily ‘like’ because we were able to recognize that it was high-caliber work. We do have an eye for good writing, which can transcend personal opinion.
- Were the submission guidelines followed? If you give us a 5,000 word essay written in Comic Sans, we’re not going to read past the first word. But if we think there’s a chance the piece can be redeemed with some edits, we’ll return it to you and let you know what you can do to fix it up for us.
- Is it well-written? Seems a simple requirement, but it should still be stated; a lot of people are understandably blind to the fact that they don’t write well (yet!). Ask any writer in their 30s or 40s what they think about the stuff they wrote when they were 20 and they’ll cringe (present company included) and maybe cry. We’d never discourage a young writer from submitting—it’s an important part of the growth process—but I’ll say we’re more likely to publish work that has a mature voice (i.e. we won’t be especially interested in lamentations about your lost boyfriend/girlfriend and how your heart was torn out and you’re wallowing in a pit of teenage despair). There are certainly exceptions to the norm; we’ve had some very young writers submit some very exceptional work.
- I’ll add a special 4th, relating specifically to photo submissions. We get a lot of photos sent to us and we reject almost all of them. We’re looking for photography as art—not photography for its own sake. Your picture has to say something beyond its contents, or succeed in evoking some sort of emotional response. Taking a picture of something that fits with our current theme isn’t enough; the picture has to speak—to tell us why it was taken, or why it’s significant. Please, nothing you took with your phone!
SQF: What common mistakes do you encounter that turn you off to a submission?
SB: As mentioned above, failing to follow submission guidelines is an immediate turn-off. Admittedly, we’ve crafted a pretty long list of requirements on our Web site, so we’re willing to forgive minor infractions. It’s the obvious violations that peeve us. Aside from that, we’re not fond of submissions that are full of spelling errors (happens more often than you might think). We primarily receive .doc files, so that means the submitter likely has Word or some similar program with spell-check capabilities. Why not use it? Even a couple proof reads would uncover a lot of the errors we see.
SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a submission?
SB: We don’t provide comments with rejections. We’re a small, all-volunteer staff and we receive hundreds of submissions per issue, so we’re unable to provide individualized feedback. If a submission is not accepted, we send a curt but polite rejection letter (and you wouldn’t believe the cursing we’ve received in return!). Burgeoning writers will eventually discover that a lot of magazines don’t provide even this simple courtesy, so I think we’re doing a decent job with the time we have to offer.
SQF: Based on your experience as an editor, what have you learned about writing?
SB: As mentioned above, it takes time to develop skill. No matter how many times your work might get rejected by publications, it’s worthwhile to keep sending it out. You’ll eventually hit the jackpot, and you’ll improve your writing and learn a lot along the way. It’s definitely important to be polite, professional and courteous in all your dealings with magazines, even when your work isn’t accepted. Treat submitting like you would a job interview; it’s really not that different a process. And yes, that includes never putting a magazine’s e-mail address on your e-mail distribution lists. If you’d just gone and had a job interview with a stranger, would you immediately put them on the mailing list that gets notification when your blog is updated?
SQF: What do you want authors to know about the submissions you reject and how authors should respond? Along this same idea, do you mind if authors reply with polite questions about the comments they receive?
SB: Submitters should never take a rejection to mean that they shouldn’t submit to the magazine again, or that their piece isn’t worth submitting elsewhere. So, we happened not to like it—there’s a decent chance there’s someone else out there who will. As mentioned above, we’re unable to provide feedback. Even if a submitter specifically asks for it, we just don’t have the resources to devote to it and we don’t want to make preferential exceptions. It’s certainly not the ideal situation, but it’s a necessity under our existing set-up.
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
SB: Your interview answers and your submission guidelines tend to make you sound like pretentious jerks; why should someone submit to you?
Good question! It’s important to us that making this magazine remain a fun process, so you’ll likely always find us being flippant and funny (trying to be funny, at least!) in communications and on our site. We’re all business when the time comes to put together the magazine, though. We take this process very seriously, because we know your work is important to you. That makes it important to us! We want to show you off in the best publication we can muster.
Thank you, Scott. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.
NEXT POST: 10/16--Six Questions for Matthew Guerruckey, Editor-in-Chief, Drunk Monkeys