Black Denim Lit publishes short fiction to 7500 words and artwork. Most genre are acceptable, but general, sci-fi, and fantasy are preferred. Read the complete guidelines here.
SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?
CTG: We watch for submission guidelines, cover-letter decorum, craft and execution. You'd think that was a given, but folks miss it. Whether or not a piece is "genre" is secondary to us. Above all, the piece has to achieve truth, complexity and resonance ... that is, lasting artistic merit that resonates with the aesthetic of our venue and the hearts of our reader-base.
The fact that we print "genre" alongside "non-genre" may cause problems down the road. For example, this variously bothers either the Lit or the Scifi/Fantasy community, and we may be relegated to the edge of both. You can read Ted Morrissey's "Scent of Darkness" and discuss all day whether it's a true fantasy piece based on your reading of the crow. The readers we appeal to won't care to argue about "genre." They're on about deeper truths, which is what we like to hear.
When it all goes right, it's mystical. When it goes wrong you can point to any one of a thousand things, looking at Bartleby Snopes' rejectionletter tag cloud, for example.
SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission?
CTG: Again, there are lots of complaints from editors about following format guidelines, decorum, craft and execution. That aside, I'll say that my biggest gripe within the words is lack of development. There has been a gag image going around the boards for years of Michelangelo's David "photoshopped" to look a hundred pounds overweight. It's gorgeous, arguably just a beautiful as the original, in every detail of the artisan's expression of their sculpting skills. Despite this, the fat David has a variation that is better: it's argued that Michelangelo's original is the ideal.
A piece of writing can be like that fat David. Stubborn writers are often too engrossed with detail to see an insufficient choice in development early on. An editor comes along and says, "stunning detail, beautiful choice of stone. Why is he fat?" When the author has failed to answer that kind of question within their narrative (considering that there is a variation that could be better), then I say that the piece lacks development. About a fourth of our decline letters include some variation of "good idea, keep developing."
SQF: Will you publish a submission an author posted on a personal blog?
CTG: No, I would be sad if a reader recognized a piece and skipped out, missing whatever other new material we offered. With around 5000 venues listed (spring, 2014) between Duotrope, The Submission Grinder, P&W and other indexes, it's clear that any magazine even remotely similar to ours is looking to make a unique and lasting impression on potential readers.
We're paying semi-pro rates (penny a word) for licensing new material from new and established authors. For that effort, we'd like to be the first publication of record. We may acquire the license for reprints at some point, but for now the writers and readers seem to have an unending appetite for new material. We are open to any option though. For example, we're considering producing some public domain classics and discussing with the readers what still works today.
SQF: You published your first issue in February. Do you have a favorite story from the first three issues?
CTG: Mmm, Jerry Seinfeld wouldn't identify his favorite episode, saying (roughly) it's like breathing—you don't have a favorite breath, since it's each one that gets you to the next. Cute answers aside, as an editor, I hunger for that one piece that "hits the spot," since it's one that may mean more readers. As we get closer to award deadlines we will be nominating a number of our pieces to Pushcart, Million Writers, etc for various reasons. After beating out 90% of the other submitters, not everyone gets a ribbon, unfortunately. It's maddening to listen to an editor say, "we'll know when we see it." It's even more maddening to say, "we like Tim," and then get a flood of submissions that are just like that Tim's.
SQF: What magazines do you read?
CTG: I hope "Pre-Campbellian" counts, even though it comes out annually. It's astonishing to hold so much quality new-writer material from around the world in a single massive tome. For e-Books, it's probably obvious we have an affinity for Beneath Ceaseless Skies. For print, it's Asimov's. For Lit it's Bartleby Snopes. Many, many others.
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
CTG: There are a number of topics being considered today: reader attention spans are getting shorter; the writer/publisher bar is lowering; literacy of authors and readers is declining; readership is shrinking...and a hundred other points about the direction of academics, industry or creativity. So the question is, as a publisher, what impact do you hope to have?
Great joy comes from connecting a writer and a reader. The writer's first and greatest hurdle is getting from brain to paper. For left-field inspiration, read some of the things that Carly Fleishman has said about autism. Then you can guess the level of frustration being a young writer trying to get someone to understand your work. So, looking back at the author, we're trying to read and re-direct. Looking forward to the reader, we're trying to meet halfway. Electronic publishing is part of that solution. Bottom line, we're working on any larger problem you could bring up by working with one reader/writer at a time. (http://www.positiveregard.com/starfish/starfish.html) That's in the "approachability" part of our charter.
Thank you, Christopher. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.
NEXT POST: 5/20--Six Questions for Shweta Sharan, Founding Editor, The Affair