Friday, January 12, 2018

Six Questions for Rob Pockat and Signe Jorgenson, Co Editors-in-Chief, Stoneboat Literary Journal

The biannual Stoneboat Literary Journal publishes fiction and nonfiction to 5,000 words, poetry, and artwork/photographs. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Stoneboat Literary Journal: When our founder, Rob Pockat, was a student in the writing program at Lakeland College, he learned that the college used to have an active, student-run literary magazine. He was interested in reviving it and recruited a classmate, Jim Giese, to assist. Lakeland required the magazine to have faculty/staff advisors in order to receive funding, so Rob and Jim recruited essayist Signe Jorgenson, who taught writing courses, and poet Lisa Vihos, the institution’s alumni director.

As we considered our hopes and goals, we realized that a campus magazine was too limiting. We quickly scrapped Rob’s idea of being affiliated with the college in order to reach a wider audience, solicit a broader range of submissions, and allow Rob and Jim to remain involved after graduation. Instead, we launched an independent literary magazine that is funded 100% by subscriptions, donations, and sales.

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

SLJ: The only thing we look for in a submission is good literary writing. We don’t care about theme, subject matter, or writing style. We just want to be engaged from the first sentence or line, and we want that engagement to carry through the entire piece.

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

SLJ: Bad writing is a huge turnoff. Most often, this means work that’s full of grammatical/mechanical/usage/spelling errors, but it can also mean plot holes, flat characters, unsatisfying endings, and a whole host of other things.

We have other turnoffs, too. A lot of writers start the story in the wrong spot, opening with paragraphs (or pages) of uninteresting backstory. Others create an opening that’s so confusing the reader can’t get oriented. Some writers submit genre work, not realizing that we’re a literary magazine and only publish horror/sci-fi/romance/mystery/et cetera if it contains a strong literary element.

If we can’t get into a story or essay within the first few paragraphs, our readers won’t be able to get into it, either. And if the writer doesn’t take the time to learn what type of magazine we are or send polished, well-crafted work, then we won’t take the time to publish it.

SQF: Do you provide feedback on the stories you receive?

SLJ: If we see a lot of potential in a piece, we’ll let the writer know what s/he could have done differently and offer some brief feedback. More than once, we’ve invited writers to make specific changes and resubmit. If the revision successfully solves the problems we’ve pointed out, we’ll publish the piece.

That said, we don’t provide feedback on the majority of pieces we reject. If a story/essay/poem exhibits any of the “turnoff” qualities mentioned above, the author won’t receive a personalized rejection letter.

We wish we were able to provide feedback to every writer, but we can’t. We are a small four-member team, and we aren’t paid for our work with Stoneboat. We each spend dozens of hours reviewing submissions per reading period; this happens at night and on the weekends, and it takes time away from our families, our personal lives, and our own writing. We don’t have hundreds of hours more to spend writing personalized rejections for pieces that aren’t even close to being publishable or that aren’t aligned with our aesthetic.

SQF: Many editors list erotica, or sex for sex sake, as hard sells. What are hard sells for your publication?

SLJ: Nothing is explicitly off limits in Stoneboat. However, sex, violence, and foul language have to be purposeful to be included in our journal.

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

SLJ: What do you wish that writers knew about literary journals?

We wish writers had a better understanding of how journals operate and how they make their publishing decisions. Most editors are also working writers, or were at one time, so they have a solid understanding of how it feels to receive a rejection letter (including the dreaded form rejection). Editors at literary magazines have amassed hundreds of rejections, just like their submitters. However, because of their experience sending rejections, editors know not to take them personally.

Editors realize that that there are dozens of factors influencing the decision. Sometimes a story just isn’t good—but quite often, that’s not the case. Maybe the magazine just published a dog story in the last issue so every dog story will be rejected this time around no matter how well-written it is. Or maybe the magazine has received 20 stellar stories but only has enough room to publish 10. Or maybe the writer was just published in the last issue so the journal passes over an excellent story in order to get a new voice onto the page. Or maybe the story exceeds the stated word count or otherwise violates the submission guidelines. There are many, many reasons for rejection other than the quality of writing.

Editors don’t take delight in saying “no.” We’re not sadistic people who take pleasure in crushing dreams. We just want to put out the best magazine we can. That means saying “no” to the majority of the submissions we receive, and it means we can’t spend scads of time on personalized rejections—if we did, there would be no time left to design, edit, and proofread the journal, maintain our website and social media accounts, organize readings, sell subscriptions, solicit donations, and participate in interviews like this one.

We also wish that more of our submitters read our journal—or any literary journal. It’s clear from so many of our submissions that the writers simply don’t know what we do and don’t understand what “literary” means. No matter how well-written your sci-fi cowboy story is, it’s not going to find a place in our literary magazine because it’s not what we do.

We’ve also noticed a dynamic where writers expect literary journals to support them but don’t realize that the support has to go both ways. If writers don’t support literary journals by subscribing to them, donating to them, and/or promoting them on social media, the journals will disappear. Independent magazines like Stoneboat are funded 100% through sales and donations. If the money doesn’t come in, we can’t print our magazine, which means that we can’t publish any work. The audience for literary writing is almost exclusively literary writers, so it’s on the writers to keep the journals afloat to maintain a plethora of publishing venues. The fewer magazines you support, the fewer magazines you’ll have to submit to. It’s that simple. (Writers, subscribe or buy a single issue here.)

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

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