Paper Nautilus publishes poetry of no more than seven pages, fiction to 6500 words, and aphorisms up to 160 characters. "Our only criteria is quality, so whether you specialize in hybrid genres, minimalist experimental short stories, or 100% true-to-classic-form sonnets, if it’s done well, we want to see it." Read the complete guidelines here.
SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?
Lisa Mangini: For me, I think I am most drawn to the language a piece uses, and the careful attention to it really matters to me. Sometimes this means musicality, or precision, or doing something unconventional with wording, but language itself is my foremost concern when I'm reviewing submissions. I'm also concerned with clarity: can I grasp what the author's purpose is in writing this short story or poem? Does it seem likely that someone picking up an issue of Paper Nautilus would been drawn to whatever ideas or topics this piece explores? And honesty is also a key component for me. What I mean by that is if the writing really does that hard work of going after the complex heart of human moments and is willing to talk about hard truths; this, to me at least, is the difference between a tired story or poem about a crumbling marriage/loss of a loved one/birth of a child - the "big stuff" - and one that really address those themes in a fresh way.
SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission?
LM: There are a few things that I have a bias against, but the biggest one I would say is a story that has a writer as a protagonist, or a poem that mentions "poem(s)" or "poetry" in one of the lines. I just find that it's too easy; that's why we have writer friends, so that we can complain about that first draft of a novel or brag about this transformative moment that we felt while writing a villanelle, right? However, I have published work that includes writers as narrators/speakers in the work itself, (and I'm sure I will again,) but those pieces were still able to illustrate something meaningful for a broader group of readers who may not be writers themselves.
SQF: Will you publish a submission an author posted on a personal blog?
LM: Yes, I would. I know some journals aren't flexible on that, but I don't see a problem with it.
SQF: I notice you have a poetry chapbook for sale on your site. Does Paper Nautilus plan to publish other books?
LM: We do, but limited to chapbook-length. We just accepted two manuscripts from our most recent chapbook contest: "Mother, Less Child" by Jason McCall, and "From the New World" by Oriana Ivy. The contest was initially for only one collection, but it was so successful this year that the entry fees made it possible to undertake a second one. I've been considering a "Debut Series" of chapbooks, where only writers who have never had any full-length books or chapbooks published are eligible to submit, since I'm especially interested in supporting emerging writers. Still working out the details on that one, so we'll see.
SQF: What is the best part of being an editor?
LM: Being an editor is like being the first person someone goes to when they need to tell a secret; there's a weird intimacy in reading someone's writing, knowing how hard they worked on it, and being trusted to evaluate it - all without knowing this person. I get to read a really wide variety of writing, and even if it's not a good fit for Paper Nautilus, I'm always grateful that I get to be one of the people to see this work - some of which I'm sure is kept away from the eyes of colleagues, family, significant others, etc. And then of course there's that moment when a story or poem is just perfect, and the excitement of knowing that you're going to help make it easier for other people to access this work a great feeling.
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
LM: Well, probably what the worst part of being an editor would be. Aside from layout of the finished product (that really, truly, is the worst thing), it is always hard knowing that there will be submitters that I have to deliver disappointing news to. I'm pretty thick-skinned when it comes to my own rejection, but I know many people take it really hard, and I hate being the force behind that. There is an intense imbalance of power in the submitter/editor relationship, and I'm always conscious of how unfair that is for the writers sending me their work, and try to be as compassionate as I can about it.
Thank you, Lisa. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.
NEXT POST: 12/20--Six Questions for Jolene Paternoster, Publishing Consultant and Editor