Friday, June 14, 2013

Six Questions for Anupama Krishnakumar and Vani Viswanathan, Editors, Spark

Spark is a three-and-a-half year-old online and print-on-demand literary magazine from India aimed at having a fun-filled exploration of the Word, World and Wisdom. Spark is a monthly magazine and publishes short stories, non-fiction, poetry, art, photography, interviews and special features focusing on a particular theme each month. Read the complete guidelines here.

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

AK & VV: 
1) The primary requirements are good grammar, coherent sentence construction and a logical, observable flow of thought. Even as contributors often argue with us that we should not consider our readers as unintelligent when they defend their contributions, as editors, we are particular that at least we understand what the contributor is trying to say. 
2) Second, we look for that appealing factor in terms of writing style – some people have a way with words that effortlessly captures you. It’s hard to put a finger on it, but sometimes we see good writing that makes us go ‘Yes, we should totally feature this!’ For some contributors it has been a powerful, precise vocabulary, while for others it has been an arresting sense of narration. As far as art and photography submissions are concerned, we expect them to ‘tell a story’ and we appreciate work that kindles our imagination.
3) Third, we look for contributions that dare to be different – within what we feel are the bounds of our magazine and the kind of content we are pushing through. We are particular that casual, personal-blog-type of writing will not be published on Spark – yes, literature could mean any kind of writing under the sun, but at Spark we still respect and demand a certain level of formality in writing unless local lingo or journal-type of writing is used to drive a particular point. 

Of course, since Spark has a theme to its every issue, it goes without saying that the contribution should align with the monthly theme (if it is made towards that section of the issue) or the requirements of the different sections of the non-thematic segment (if it is made towards that section of the issue).

SQF: What common mistakes do you encounter that turn you off to a submission?

AK & VV: It puts us off when we see some authors not paying attention to the theme announcement for the month. Secondly, when people do not stick to the guidelines we have clearly listed on the site – particularly in terms of word count (some of them end up sending us pages and pages of their work and rambling, which, honestly, is totally suicidal for an aspiring writer) – we clearly do not feel like looking through their work. We also consider it important for writers to proofread their work before they submit it to a magazine for consideration. Poorly proofread copies are a strict no-no because we believe they demonstrate a careless attitude that we loathe. Further, in a world where tweets and texts rule the day, SMS lingo and truncated words (bowing to character count pressures) are slowly and unconsciously making their way into formal writing – as we said in the previous response, while we understand the fluidity of language, we do not appreciate such a style of writing in our magazine. Lastly, poorly formatted text makes a submission painful to read and follow.

SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a submission?

AK & VV: When we started off we used to provide few basic comments when we turned down a contribution. But now, since the number of submissions that we receive has gone up considerably, we find it quite difficult to provide comments each time we reject a submission. So we get back to a contributor only if we are taking the submission forward to the next step in the editorial process. Otherwise, we either do not respond or in case someone mails in to check with us about a submission that we have not accepted, we get back saying it didn’t meet our requirements. 

SQF: Will you publish a submission an author posted on a personal blog? 

AK & VV: No, we won’t, especially if it is fiction, non-fiction and poetry – we make an exception in the case of art and photography for which we accept entries from photo blogs/photostreams. We are very particular that written work submitted to us is unpublished elsewhere including personal blogs. A few months into publishing Spark, we realised that allowing personal blog entries as submissions was giving space to a not-so-encouraging trend of people bombarding our inbox with blog links rather than formal submissions that have paid close attention to our guidelines and requirements. The problem with most of the entries from personal blogs is that they are highly informal and do not align with our magazine’s writing principles (and therefore, demanding lot of editing effort). In fact, we felt that over a period of time, encouraging such a trend would end up making the magazine look like a collation of blog entries published at different points in time (that sometimes also read stale) rather than turning it into a space that encourages fresh writing. We would prefer something that is inspired and produced after mulling over the theme we announce each month rather than forcefully plugging a previously-written work into the purview of a theme. We feel this makes the entries gel together better as they have been exclusively produced for the theme, and the issue therefore presents a cohesive take on the theme, even if interpreted in different ways. 

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?

AK & VV: Like we mentioned before, most of the time, we do not respond with elaborate comments on the submissions that we reject. Providing detailed feedback to each and every submission is very tough, given the time we have at hand and also the fact that there are only two of us working on the editorial front, turning out an issue every month! 

However, when we talk of providing comments/feedback, a more relevant instance would be when we decide to give a submission a second chance, which means that we feel a contribution can do well with some fair amount of revision based on the comments we provide. In this context, Spark truly has been a learning process for us too as editors, primarily to understand the psychology of a certain category of writers. When we would make editorial changes and raise questions or offer comments, we realised that some of them got really offended and responded in a way not befitting a writer who is willing to work on her or his craft. Politeness would often fly out of the window and responses to our painstaking editing would often be met with hasty and nasty responses that would irk us beyond words. Therefore, we brought in a very important clause in our guidelines and here it is: Editorial changes/comments are also part of this process. Send submissions only if you are open to editorial feedback. (Well, honestly, something that is a given when you submit your work to a magazine. It’s sad that this has to be mentioned explicitly!)

Given that we invest a lot of time into editing every issue in spite of us not earning a penny for the work we do and the fact that we are spending money on hosting other people’s writing purely because of our passion for creativity, we now double check with writers (particularly those who are working with us for the first time) as to whether they would be open to making substantial changes to their drafts, despite specifying the above condition on our site. We go ahead and provide feedback only if the author expresses interest. Once the author agrees, yes, we are open to responding to questions that are put to us politely. We are always open to having a healthy discussion that benefits both parties provided politeness prevails.

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

AK & VV: We would have really liked to answer the question – ‘What are the good and not-so-good experiences that we have had as editors of Spark, especially with respect to the people we have interacted with?’

We think this is a very important question because running an online magazine is, like any other organisation, ultimately about working with people with diverse mindsets. In fact, in our case, most of the people we have/are interacting with are those that we have not even met – so, much of our relationships with our contributors have been forged over the written word and the emails we have exchanged. 

Having said that, we must admit that this magazine has been an awesome platform to meet some of the most amazing writers we have read but are not really well-known in the outside world. We have enjoyed a great working relationship with many of our contributors. We love that our contributors are good writers who are with us for our shared love of creativity; we are so happy that there are some writers who have been working with us for a couple of years now, taking time off hectic work schedules and family commitments to write or contribute for a non-commercial magazine like ours! We think few publications can boast such people. 

On the other hand, we have also run into people who have, to say the least, gotten on our nerves purely because of their attitude. Bruised ego is definitely not a good thing for someone aspiring to get published and we would say, we have ‘wasted so much time’ trying to politely explain a point of view to such contributors who aren’t willing to listen that at some point, we have had to show our harsh side as well. Secondly, we have had people who don’t even bother to spend some time on figuring out who the editors of a magazine are and simply mail in addressing us as ‘Sir’. Well, surely women can be editors too? On a funnier note, there are people who don’t understand the difference between a literary magazine and a creative writing course/workshop and land up mailing us their blog links soliciting feedback or notes of improvement on their writing. Well, these aren’t even submissions! 

An interesting journey it has been, indeed!

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

NEXT POST: 6/18--Six Questions for Meredith Allard, Executive Editor, The Copperfield Review

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