Idle Ink is an online magazine which features short stories, artwork, reviews, articles, personal essays and interviews with fellow creatives. Idle Ink wants the genre fiction that’s too weird to be published anywhere else, articles that poke fun at modern life, mesmerising artwork, challenging personal essays, book/film/TV show reviews full of unpopular opinions. If it’s strange and questionable, Idle Ink wants it. Read the complete guidelines here.
SQF: Why did you start this magazine?
J.L. Corbett: I started Idle Ink because I wanted to be involved in a creators’ fair that was being held in my city, but I had nothing to sell. So, I contacted the organiser, pretended that I was an experienced zine-maker, and they gave me a table. I’d never even read a zine! I quickly wrote a short story, begged a few writer friends to do the same, convinced my then-boyfriend (now-husband) to design some cover art, and spent a couple of days printing and stapling roughly fifty copies.
I only sold about four copies at the creators’ fair, but it ignited a love for publishing and collaboration. I sold more zines at a couple of events across the North of England before deciding to move Idle Ink online. From there, it snowballed into something that now makes me immensely proud. I’ve been fortunate enough to publish all types of work from writers all over the world.
SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?
JLC: There are no top three things. I don’t think it’s possible to distill all the characteristics of a great submission into a list of criteria. Writing is an artform – the last thing I would want a writer to do would be to read a checklist on my website and try to write a story to fit all the points perfectly, because that wouldn’t be authentic.
I never thought I’d publish a story with a twenty-eight-word title, or a philosophical analytical essay, or a lengthy time-travel story about Loch Ness, but they were too good to refuse. My point being, Idle Ink is all about originality and inclusivity. The best piece of advice I can give to writers would be to write for yourself, not for anybody else, because the most fascinating pieces are the unrestrained ones. It’s also much more fun.
SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission?
JLC: I like to think I’m a laidback and forgiving editor, but there are a few things which irk me.
I don’t enjoy reading offensive stories. Luckily these are in the minority, but I’ve had submissions before that are openly sexist or feature unpleasant scenes that serve no purpose whatsoever, and there’s just no way I’ll ever publish anything like that.
A few times, I’ve received submission emails from writers which include an Amazon link to their book and a request for me to buy it. I can understand the need for indie authors to market their books, but a submission email is not the place to do it.
I think the most frustrating type of submission I receive are the ones that are a little undercooked. The plot is promising, the characterisation is almost there, but it’s not quite up to publication standard. I think a lot of these submissions come from writers that are just starting out, and quite often I think to myself, “this writer’s gonna be brilliant in two or three years’ time.”
Oh, and you wouldn’t believe the amount of emails I get addressed to “Mr Corbett”. I’m a woman, and I’m not exactly hiding it!
SQF: What do you look for in the opening paragraph(s)/stanza(s) of a submission?
JLC: Something unusual. A lot of writers try to imitate other writers, and it rarely works. I sound like a broken record, but I really do believe that originality and faith in what you’re doing is the only real way to succeed. As an editor, I’m looking for the stuff you won’t necessarily find in many other lit mags, and the readers really seem to appreciate that.
I also love a distinctive narrative voice. I don’t care whether the narrator is likeable, unlikeable, an enigma – if you can write in a way that makes me feel invested in the speaker, that’s a big plus.
SQF: If Idle Ink had a theme song, what would it be and why?
JLC: “You’re Not the Only One” sung by Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
JLC: “What advice can you offer to aspiring writers?”
First of all, stop calling yourself an “aspiring writer”. Published or not, you’re a writer.
Don’t be afraid of writing terrible stories. Not everything you produce needs to be up to publication standard, so mess about with new ideas and writing techniques. If it works, fantastic! If it doesn’t, who cares?
When you’re sending out submissions, don’t get freaked out by the process. I often read submissions in my pyjamas, and I’m sure other editors do too. We’re all just normal people who love a good story.
Don’t get hung up on rejections. We all get them. It doesn’t mean we’re crappy writers, it means that our work isn’t suited to a particular magazine/publisher. Don’t tether your self-worth to your craft.
Remember why you started writing. We’re all guilty of getting caught up in the “business” side of writing, and it helps to remember the reason you started this: to tell great stories.
Thank you, J.L. We all appreciate your taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.