Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Six Questions for Mary Stone Dockery, Co-Editor, Stone Highway Review

Stone Highway Review is a new journal of short prose (750 words max) and poetry. Learn more here.

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

MSD: We look for uniqueness, above all else. We get so many poems that discuss nature, mammograms, cancer, and sex that we really look for subject matter that is either new or that has been tackled in entirely new ways. We also look for great care and attention to language. We want pieces that utilize the amazing verbs we know exist in our language – often writers send pieces that show little care for finding “the perfect word” and instead just try to tell the story as quickly as possible. We always look for the language to reveal more than content. Finally, we look for experiments. We want a submission to be trying something, and whether it fully succeeds or not, this will really make us enjoy the reading process even more. By experiment, we mean experimenting with form or language or rhythm, with content, and even within the confines of traditional form poetry.  When a writer tries something different, we get really excited. We don’t want to read piece after piece that simply plays it safe. 

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

MSD: Writers will often submit only one poem. Unfortunately, this isn’t a good idea. Think in terms of odds – the more poems you submit, perhaps the more likely it is one of our editors will find something in there that she likes. We also like getting to read multiple poems because it allows us to get a sense of the author’s voice and what he or she is trying to accomplish.

On the other hand, some people think that submitting all of their poems will ensure publication. This is also not the case. We want five poems or about ten pages max. We simply don’t have time to read 80 pages of poetry to find a gem. We prefer writers read our guidelines, read the journal, then submit the five poems they already have that they think we will love.

With prose, many writers will send in pieces that go far beyond our word count. Our word limit is not negotiable. We have this limit in place because we are looking for a specific kind of prose.

Finally, writers often send in work that is obviously not right for us for a number of reasons – the prose is traditional or does not rely on language, the content is violent toward women or children or minorities, or the content is overly religious. It’s not that we have anything against religious poetry, we just don’t personally like it and won’t publish it. 

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

MSD: Yes. We believe that republishing work is important for authors. Some poems deserve a new audience. We also publish pieces that have appeared in other journals, books, or anthologies. 

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?

MSD: We don’t often reply with specific comments for a number of reasons. Often, a piece receives a rejection simply because it’s not right for us at that time or it’s not right for our journal. We love all the work we read and do believe that authors have it tough finding homes for their work. We want our contributors to know that a rejection is never personal. Sometimes we have developed a theme for the next issue and we may have already accepted other pieces with similar themes or pieces with a similar style. We really work to have as much variety as possible, so if a piece is too similar to another, even if we love it, we will reject it. With three editors, we also have to all agree for a piece to make it to publication. This means we have to argue with one another sometimes. This also means that a piece one editor loves may get rejected because the other editors don’t love it.

We do not mind emails from contributors asking polite questions. We can’t always respond, however, to a writer’s question about why a piece was rejected. Unfortunately, it has not worked well in the past for a writer to hear “It just isn’t what we want.” Sometimes we cannot fully articulate why. When we can articulate those reasons, we do, and we try to be as positive as possible. There is no reason for negative communication between writers and editors. In fact, we want the process to be transparent. We want writers to know their work receives a lot of care and attention and that we do battle it out. 

SQF: What is the best part of being an editor?

MSD: Publishing someone for the first time. When a writer appears in our journal as their first ever publication, we are extremely honored and excited. We want to find these new writers and give them a platform for their work.

Second best part – finding those poems you can go back to and read over and over again. We truly get some inspiring work. 

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

MSD: What have you done with your journal to consider the VIDA Count?

 We work hard to publish women and other underrepresented voices. Our goal is to provide a place where writers who feel left out of literary circles for whatever reason can find a good home for their work.

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

NEXT POST: 9/6 -- Six Questions For Shanti Perez, Fiction Editor, Open Road Review

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