The Conium Review is a bi-annual, literary print publication of flash fiction, longer fiction, and poetry. Read the complete guidelines here.
SQF: Why did you start this magazine?
JRG: My interest in publishing started when I edited a zine and worked on a few chapbooks in Wisconsin. That was six or seven years ago. After moving to the Pacific Northwest, I knew I wanted to get back into editing, and I worked as an editor for the Pitkin Review at my MFA program. I finally got motivated to jumpstart The Conium Review after talking with my friend Benjamin van Loon about his project, Anobium.
My goal was to start a journal focused on quality writing rather than logistics. Even among small press publications, plenty of good literature gets slushed because the author is a newbie or word count is off. We consider unpublished authors alongside seasoned pros. And the journal is open to a number of forms and lengths, publishing everything from flash fiction to novellas.
SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?
JRG: First and foremost, I look for an engaging plot. A good submission should grab my attention early and keep it piqued throughout the draft. If I’m disinterested throughout the manuscript, then chances are our readers will also tune out.
And I look for active characters. Characters shouldn’t just watch a story unfolding around them. Along with plot, character engagement is crucial. Characters who take action are simply more interesting than characters who sit around musing all day.
I also look for well-crafted language. Every sentence should sing. When language is crisp, each word fuels the story, and the reader can’t help but get pulled along for a joyride.
SQF: What common mistakes do you encounter that turn you off to a submission?
JRG: When writers don’t follow the submission guidelines, it makes my job more difficult, and it’s a turn off. Other than that, the most common mistake is sending work that isn’t polished or ready for publication. A few small errors are expected in any manuscript, but I don’t want to deal with messy, rough-draft-type work.
SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a submission?
JRG: I don’t usually provide comments. The same goes for most of The Conium Review’s editors. We read hundreds of submissions every month. Providing personal comments for each rejection would be a daunting task. I try to offer comments when I think they are particularly pertinent, but in reality I don’t usually have time.
SQF: Based on your experience as an editor, what have you learned about writing?
JRG: I’ve learned to appreciate the writing community more. Every writer has something to learn, and I’m no exception. Through conversations with editors, writers, and readers, an author’s work evolves. Rejection isn’t an insult; it’s part of that community dialogue. Running a literary journal constantly reminds me how important it is to be open to revision, collaboration, and discussion. Writers shouldn’t work in complete isolation.
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
JRG: I’m always curious to learn what an editor reads in his or her spare time. I think it gives insight into personal editorial tastes and preferences. If you asked who some of my favorite authors are, the answer always includes George Saunders and Etgar Keret. A few other writers I admire are Aimee Bender, Sam Lipsyte, Gary Lutz, and Amelia Gray.
Thank you, James. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.
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