[Ed. note: This is another interview where a seventh question snuck its way into the proceedings.]
InDigest is an online literary magazine and arts blog focused on creating a dialogue between the arts. InDigest is also a small press publisher and runs a reading series in New York at Le Poisson Rouge. Read the complete guidelines here.
SQF: Why did you start this magazine?
DLN: I started it with a few friends in St. Paul, MN mostly because we wanted to share the writing and art of a community. There were a lot of interesting people around us (me, David Doody, Chris Koza, and Jesse Sawyer), and we thought we'd start to pull it together and maybe just do it for a little while and see what happens. A lot of editors answer this question with these "The short story was dead, and then we started publishing" kind of answers that are kind of myopic and full of bull-shit-tery. We just did it because it was an interesting project. It's grown and changed over the last five years and I think it's become something different, but we really just started InDigest because we saw a lot of people that we thought were doing interesting things and we wanted to showcase those things.
SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?
DLN: I'm no good at this sort of question. I don't know what I'm looking for. I'm just looking. I'm trying to dig through the slush pile with an open mind. There's a sort of paradox in the often-seen note on submission pages that says you should read an issue before submitting to get a sense of what the publication publishes. That's true. But on the other hand if it's just like something we've published, then I probably won't like it. When selecting pieces for publication we often say that we want to be able to justify to a stranger why they should read any individual piece we publish, and if it's not different and unique with distinctive qualities, it's hard to tell a stranger why they should read it.
SQF: What common mistakes do you encounter that turn you off to a submission?
DLN: Spelling and grammatical errors top the list. It's hard to keep reading when you think someone isn't respecting your time by sending you the best version of this piece of writing they can create. To that same end, no one likes getting emails that say things like "What gives? It's been two months and I haven't heard from you." Any sort of aggressive email makes me far less inclined to give a close read. I try to overcome those kind of things, but it's hard to be completely objective. We're an online magazine, and don't get paid for this, ever, we lose money on this, and any time someone contacts us and acts as though we owe them something, that's hard to see since we're doing this out of love for the craft, experimental work, and new writing. There's a relationship between editor and submitter that is unspoken that I think should be honored. The submitter needs to remember what kind of publication they are submitting to and the unique editorial situation that they are entering, and the editor, by the act of saying they are reading submissions, has agreed to give some time and care to someone's writing. They've trusted you with their work and you have agreed to respect it and consider it. Anything that breaches that agreement is hard to tune out.
SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a submission?
SQF: What is the best part of being an editor?
DLN: It's the moment when you're digging through the slush pile for hours, you've read 15 straight pieces that were marked instantly in the "no" column, and then you find yourself completely engrossed in a submission and someone has trusted you with a piece that is clearly special. That's a great moment. That moment of discovery.
SQF: Based on your experience as an editor, what have you learned about writing?
DLN: Honestly, everything I learn as an editor about writing comes from our worst submissions. I learn what not to do. You see a lot of the same "moves" and people attempting to take on similar themes and you get a sense of what is really kind of boring as a reader. That's helpful, because as writers we try to read really great writing and see what others are doing that is interesting, how they do it, what works about it, and we rarely seek out writing that is not good and making lots of mistakes. It's powerful as a writer to be exposed to bad writing.
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
DLN: "What can you do for your local online lit mag editor?" Send them a note when a new issue comes out if you like it. Editors of online poetry publications are 99.9% unpaid and do a lot of great work to keep spots to read poetry alive and viable. Most of these editors don't get a ton of feedback. They probably hear from the authors in the issue and a few friends. Get a friendly note from a stranger is awesome. It makes the whole process feel a little more imbued with purpose.
Thank you, Dustin. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.
NEXT POST: 2/08--Six Questions for Ben White, Editor, Nanoism