Friday, April 25, 2014

Six Questions for Jenny Bhatt, Founding Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, Storyacious

Storyacious is an online literary, arts and music magazine. We publish fiction, poetry, non-fiction, music, photography, artwork and video 6 days a week. We welcome stories with unusual, eclectic themes, new and fresh perspectives and demonstrating a command of the chosen medium, whether words, images or sounds. Style is just as important as content, voice and form. We’re also very keen on multi-cultural narratives from various parts of the world (in English). We prefer unpublished works with exclusive publishing rights. All submissions will receive responses within 3-5 business days. We don’t offer compensation right now, but, once we’re able to start breaking even, we hope to do so. To submit, please see our submissionguidelines and examples here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Jenny Bhatt: Storyacious started as a humble Tumblr and then moved to a personal blog. Soon, I found others, people I knew, who responded with a similar joy and compulsion for storytelling through different media. Then, strangers started reaching out and wanting to contribute. So, with a couple of my family members, we decided to launch it as a magazine. In July 2013, I gave up my full-time job to focus on it full-time. We’re not breaking even yet, but we hope to continue growing and building a community of storytellers across diverse media - inspiring and connecting with each other.

I think what makes us different from the typical literary magazine is that we embrace original storytelling in all forms of media. There are multi-media magazines out there, of course, but, typically, their focus is not necessarily on original storytelling as much as it is on news, opinions and, well, to be honest, click-bait content. I refuse to call what we publish “content”.


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

JB: First, a couple of general points:

1. I encourage all potential contributors to first review some of the work already published on the site. These are the best examples of the kind of work we’re looking for.

2. Please read our About and Submit pages carefully as they contain specific information that will increase the chances of quicker responses and acceptance.

Now, to be specific regarding poetry submissions:

1. We are big fans of Edward Hirsch and agree with him that poetry has a very close relationship to the musical and visual arts. So, first, we look for that musicality, that rhythm of language, even in free verse, and the uniqueness and vividness of imagery.

2. A poem’s theme needs to be both personal and part of larger, universal patterns. It has to touch the reader and not just to evoke an emotion. It has to leave the reader with questions of his/her own. Poetry is not just about sharing one’s intimate thoughts and nor is it about giving the reader some big answers. The best poetry creates a space that allows the reader to enter, pause to look at something with a new perspective and realize that they care deeply about it - all this while also being aesthetically pleasing.

3. Whichever kind of poetry you prefer, you can’t go wrong with some of Pound’s rules.

With prose (fiction and non-fiction):

1. We tend towards the literary style. That said, with fiction, a well-written post-modern Gothic or a noir mystery will definitely be given consideration. And, we are very eager for stories from different cultures and parts of the world - in English. With non-fiction, we’re looking for literary essays - memoir, travel, reviews. Translations, with the appropriate permissions from the original language author, are always welcome as well.

2. Given the attention span of the online reader, we rarely publish prose that goes beyond 4000 words but there are always exceptions.

3. We look for stories that approach interesting themes and characters in unique, fresh ways - i.e. not already beaten to death in the ever-growing echo chamber of social media. Also, ideally, a story has to grab the reader in the first 500 words - i.e. “something” has to happen by then.

4. Style is just as important as voice, form and story. Aesthetic pleasure is a necessary element of storytelling.


SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission?

JB: So, first, in general terms: There is a difference between writing and creating for yourself vs writing and creating for someone else - an audience. With some submissions, it is very clear that the writer is not writing/creating to invite another reader to experience something new. He/she is either trying to exorcise some personal demons or trying to prove something (mostly, to himself or herself). When a space has not been created for the reader to be entertained, educated or just gain a new experience through the contributor’s work, that’s very off-putting. Yes, absolutely, all writing starts from the personal experience or emotion or expression. And, some writing is about protest or bearing witness. No problem with that whatsoever. It does, though, need to be polished, refined and presented in a larger context so that an external, other audience is able to take a journey, gain a unique, new experience, etc. And, yes, this takes practice, discipline and skill - all worth pursuing if one wants to engage an audience. I can actually forgive a lot - typos, grammar, etc. - if the writer or contributor has worked hard to go beyond that kind of writing for oneself. Never, ever, forget that what makes a work of literature or art amazing, individual and all those superlatives is an external audience’s response to it, not simply the personal act of creating it. Write from your scars, not from your wounds (think that was from The Moth Radio Hour - excellent example of how to tell stories, by the way).

In more specific terms, here’s what’s off-putting with poetry and prose respectively:

Poetry:

We often get poem submissions where someone has just taken prose sentences and broken them up into uneven lines. Even as prose, these lines are not interesting because, often, they give us trivial ideas/epiphanies, clumsy metaphors and random images.

Prose:

1. We get a lot of fiction from men who are crushing on the Hemingway and Chandler style of writing but can’t quite pull it off so that their stories have male protagonists with barely-veiled misogyny and very passive female characters. I’d say, if you’ve got female characters in a story and if they don’t pass the Bechdel Test, we’re not likely to accept it.

2. Non-fiction can get tricky because of the “I” character. If the narrator voice is not a believable, flawed character, then the reader is not likely to trust it enough to go along for the ride. And, as writers, we need a requisite level of self-insight and detachment to achieve that (to paraphrase Phillip Lopate).

3. We’re not fans of gratuitous sex or violence. If the sex/violence scene does not serve the story, then why include it?

4. Politics is another area that needs to be trodden carefully. Ideally, a story should not be all about the author’s politics but about helping the reader discover their own politics about the subject(s).

5. Epiphanies continue to be in style. What we need to remember is that it’s about the reader having an epiphany from his/her reading and interpretation, not about discovering the author’s designed, contrived epiphany.


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

JB: I had a stint as an editor for an online magazine about 10-12 years ago. Things are so much different now. Back then, there weren’t so many people submitting to online magazines. Those that did were usually serious writers. So, I used to give several paragraphs of feedback and it was always welcomed. The internet is a very different place now. So, these days, I play it a bit safer. Usually, the more I really like a submission and want to publish it, the more I will invest in well-meaning and polite feedback - because I’m hoping that they’ll take it and come back with changes. This has usually worked out fine - except on two occasions so far. I have learned from those times to fine-tune my radar for when to give feedback and when to hold back. Nowadays, if I’m not sure how the person will take it, I ask permission to give feedback. If they’re open to it, great. If not, we move on.

I have to admit, though, that, often, I will play the “This work isn’t quite what we’re looking for right now” card and leave it at that. That’s when I think the work is just not a good fit at all and recommending changes will result in an entirely different piece to the one submitted. Many times, with such pieces, it is also very clear that the person submitting has not read our guidelines or previously-published works or got a good handle on them.


SQF: Based on your experience as an editor, what have you learned about writing?

JB: I’ll go with just one here because I think it’s that important: the importance of tightening up a piece of writing. The more I edit others’ work, the more I am able to cut/trim my own work. Almost all writers tend to over-write. We also get repetitive. So, now, after I’ve done all my self-editing for one of my own pieces, I tend to let it sit for at least a week, if not more. And, when I return to it after that breather, I try to cut out at least 10-15% of the words to tighten the piece up. I’d say 90% of the work we get needs this kind of tightening up. And, it’s hard when it’s your own work, of course, to let go of even a single adjective sometimes. That’s where a good editor comes in, though, because he/she is not as attached to the work and can be more objective.


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

JB: I can’t think of anything off the top of my head but happy to answer any questions your readers might have.
Thank you for this opportunity to provide our thoughts.

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

NEXT POST: 4/29--Six Questions for Lori Desroslers, Managing Editor/Publisher, Naugatuck River Review

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