Thursday, May 31, 2012

Six Questions for Cetywa Powell, Editor, Underground Voices

Underground Voices publishes poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and flash fiction. 

(Ceased publication)

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

CP: Is it entertaining, is it well-written and does it fit the style of Underground Voices? I read a lot of submissions that clearly come from talented writers, but the stories are often lackluster and tedious to finish. I consider myself to be the first audience, and if I can’t get through it, I assume the average reader won’t be able to either.

Thirdly, does it fit the style of Underground Voices? I always encourage writers to read a few stories and poems from the magazine before submitting because Underground Voices has a particular style. Sometimes stories get rejected simply because they aren’t a right fit for the magazine.

SQF: What are the top three reasons a submission is rejected, other than not fitting into your answers to question one and why?

CP: Bland writing. A lot of submissions fail to resonate. There’s nothing particularly bad about them but there’s nothing particularly interesting about them either. They’re grammatically sound, decently written, but they suffer from mediocrity. Unfortunately, it’s the main reason submissions get rejected.

Cliched writing. Across every written spectrum, there are phrases and words that are overused. It’s easier to justify clichés in blogs or social media, but literary fiction needs a higher bar. Additionally, the style at Underground Voices is quite specific, so I tend to weed out writing that leans on clichés. Impressive submissions are always writers with a strong voice and distinct writing style.

Finally, rhyming poetry. It’s just a preference thing.

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

CP: Writers who submit too much: 10 attachments with 10 different stories, 102 pages of poetry (it’s happened), novellas instead of our 4,000 maximum word count… overkill is a big mistake.

I guess because of the name, Underground Voices, some writers misinterpret this to mean a magazine that will print anything with excessive violence or offensive language. They mistake this for being edgy. So there are always submissions where offensive language seems randomly peppered in. Violence or offensive language isn’t off-putting, but it has to be earned and it has to enhance the story not degrade it.

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

CP: I’m hesitant to provide feedback because writers, like all artists, are a sensitive bunch. It’s important to let them know that I rejected it because it didn’t fit Underground Voices. However, it may be perfect for another magazine. I don’t want to discourage writers from sending their work out again and I don’t want to discourage them from writing, writing, and writing. Another reason I don’t provide feedback is because I know the pass is final. No amount of revision is going to change my mind about the submission. I’ve read it, I’ve passed. If I passed for minor reasons, however, I’ll provide a few comments. In these cases, I usually encourage writers to submit more of their work.

SQF: I read a comment by one editor who said she keeps a blacklist of authors who respond to a rejection in a less than professional manner. I'm sure you know what I mean. What do you want authors to know about the stories 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?

CP: Any level of rejection stings. However, the most important thing to take away when an author is rejected by Underground Voices is that it’s not the be all and end all. Underground Voices is a small magazine and a rejection here counts for very little in the bigger world of literary magazines. Put the rejection in a larger context and keep sending your writing out.

Along this same idea, is it okay for authors to reply with polite questions about the comments they receive? Sure, but I’ve never offered suggestions on how to fix stories. I think writing courses and online writing forums do a better job of guiding writers. The decision process is very narrow at Underground Voices because it caters to one style: the style of the magazine. Many stories simply don’t fit that style. A rejection doesn’t always mean “bad writer.” It could mean “wrong fit.” It’s important for writers to remember that too.

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

CP: This will seem like a relatively simple question, but it’s deceptive. How honest should writers be about having their previously published stories re-published elsewhere? Does it matter? It does matter. I think writers should be careful about being disingenuous. Many magazines, Underground Voices included, won’t publish work that has been previously published online. Yet, a couple of times, we’ve had to pull stories down when an irate editor from another magazine said UV had republished a story from one of their writers. Clearly the writers knew they were being dishonest when they submitted their work, and they suffered the consequences. Both were blacklisted from the previous magazines and had their writing taken down at Underground Voices. I think writers have to understand that this rule is a courtesy rule amongst magazine editors. Writers should respect that rule too.

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

NEXT POST: 6/4--Six Questions for Peter LaBerge, Editor-in-Chief, The Adroit Journal


  1. Good interview, and it's nice to get some solid ideas about what publishers are looking for/not looking for.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Scott. Glad you found this helpful.

  3. Re "no simultaneous submissions" from a handful of magazines, often quality magazines, then they may take several months to respond to your exclusive submission - what do you think of magazines that demand exclusivity?