Friday, November 16, 2012

Six Questions for Jenny Catlin, Founder/Editor-in-Chief, Scissors and Spackle

The Scissors and Spackle editors "are excited by unconventional writing and encourage submitters to send us work that defies conventional classification." Read the complete guidelines here.

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

JC: Originality. We receive a large number of submissions that are well written but don’t possess any unique qualities. We aim to publish fresh material that may not easily fit in to traditional journals. We want subject matter and syntax that we haven’t read before. If someone is sending in a poem about being drunk and heart broken it better be damn good, totally unique, or signed Tom Waits.

Painstakingly proof read material. Though we now have one on staff, I am not a copy editor. If a submission is accepted with grammatical errors, there is a strong possibility that it will be published with them. That makes the writer look bad. That makes us look bad. I sometimes believe that there is a small army of previously rejected writers that take tremendous joy in finding editorial errors in our site, and I do not wish to provide them fodder. We are a horribly understaffed publication and because my focus is on the content and quality of the work, I don’t always have time to search for miss-used semi colons. In addition, the care that a writer takes in proofreading their work speaks volumes about the seriousness of the writer.

I am not sure there is a third. If someone sends in a unique, clean piece there is a good chance it will be accepted. We are often not sure what we are looking for until we read it.

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

JC: Anything that is pointlessly demoralizing to a population is always rejected. We print adult material but will never run a story about a geeky science chick who is a maniac in bed, defying the notion that intelligent women are ugly and gross. No homophobic/racist (etc.) rants.

If I am on the fence about a submission, a poorly conceived cover letter is sure to inspire rejection. People might be surprised at how many cover letters are downright insulting. I have read a number of cover letters that say something to the effect of “I believe my work is leaps and bounds better that what I have read on your site.” Which always baffles me--why would anyone want to be published along side what they believe to be, a bunch of crappy poets?

Anything written from a pet’s perspective. This is a personal pet (pun intended) peeve of mine. That kind of feel-goody, “Art of Racing in the Rain,” writing makes my skin crawl. Though no knock on the people who write it. We all have different interests.  

SQF: Which of the following statements is true and why? Plot is more important than character. Character is more important than plot. Plot and character are equally important.

JC: Both and neither. The quality and content of the words is all that I care about. The plot and characters can be very surreal and undefined; if the writing is a fantastic, visceral experience I will fall in love with it.  

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

JC: Keep submitting. I offer this advice from the perspective of both a writer and a publisher. I reject great work, simply because it doesn’t suit us specifically. And I like to think that I have had great work rejected for the same reason. 

Also, know your markets. Every editor, of every publication, will suggest that submitters read an issue or two before sending their work. They do this for a reason. Writers should have a sense of a publication’s aesthetic before they send their work in. Not every great poem/story is a fit for every great publication. 

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

JC: I’ve learned more about writing through editing Scissors and Spackle than I have in any other venue. There is an abundance of incredibly talented writers in the world. Reading through submissions, I have realized that I need to hone my craft to stand out amongst them. However, I think that the most important thing that I have learned, and tried to apply to my own work, is to write from a reader’s perspective. That is to say that just because something is interesting to me, does not mean that it is of interest to anyone else. In the long-long ago days, I wrote a lot of ‘my sad bar life’ poetry. As an editor, I have read a ton of it as well. I now know that that is generally the most insipid, boring crap on earth to read. It was a hard realization for me to internalize. I have had all these experiences that I believe to be harrowing and awe-inspiring but they just don’t come through on the paper. Many things that I, at one time, believed to be my own totally unique, personal stories pretty much belong to everyone else already. 

Unfortunately, I am not one of those writers that can make the old new again. To be honest I don’t think that there are many. Truly great writing capitalizes on the mundane moments in life, not on the grand ones. If a writer can create a whole tragic landscape around picking up a fork from the floor, there is your genius. Anyone can make teenage prostitutes and junkies sad, it’s in the manual.   

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

Q: When an editor asks for a brief third person bio, what are they really asking for?

A: A BRIEF third person bio. I appreciate that writers want to trumpet their previous accomplishments, but trophy case bios are not necessary. Include something interesting about yourself and a few links to your work. If readers want to find out more about you, they will. A full page explanation of every single journal that you have ever been published in is neither BRIEF nor appealing. BRIEF, in my opinion, refers to a quick note no longer than three or four sentences.  

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

NEXT POST: 11/20--Six Questions for Troy Palmer, Editor, Little Fiction

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