Friday, March 5, 2021

Six Questions for Rajib Das, Editor, Twist & Twain

Twist & Twain is an online literary magazine based in Assam in northeast India. Founded by Rajib Das, the magazine is focused on emerging writers who are looking for a platform to showcase their works. The magazine is very interested in publishing articles or real life stories from marginalized and disenfranchised people from across the globe. It is also running its 2nd short story contest with three cash prizes. Read the complete guidelines here

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Rajib Das: The story goes back to more than ten years back. I along with an old college mate had thought of bringing out a print magazine in Assamese as English language magazines were not commercially viable in a place like Assam, in my home state here in India. It would have short fiction, poems and essays on random topics. We planned to the last detail, even dropping by at a printing press to find out the cost of bringing out at least a thousand copies every month. We even got in touch with a person who had some experience in bringing advertisements for magazines and newspapers. But the amount of investment required was daunting. We were skeptical if we could even run the magazine for six months. Companies wouldn’t come to advertise their products in a very new magazine. We eventually had to abandon our project. It was soon forgotten. 

Years later, early in 2014, I used to commute almost 79 kilometers to my workplace located in another district. I dealt with judicial work under the State government. As it was an hours-long journey, all sorts of thoughts and ideas would flow to me while looking out the bus window. I thought of bringing out an online English literary magazine for an international audience. It would be cheaper than print magazines and reach all corners of the world. That same year luckily I was selected for another job in the judiciary in my home city of Guwahati which gave me a huge relief. But for some reason or the other I kept postponing the project. Finally in May 2018 I decided to get down to serious business and start work on the magazine. It took me weeks brainstorming the blueprint. Next, I met a writer friend and told him of my plans over a cup of tea. He was supportive of my venture, but wondered if I could give the time since I had a full-time job and I was also busy working on a novel. Well, I wanted to proceed with my plans come what may. It was just a question of time management. After that, I contacted my old school friend Jayanta Baruah who owned a very successful and professional web-designing firm called Thinkcept based in Guwahati itself. I discussed my project with him and he also gave some new ideas from experience. We met frequently in his office to take our project a step further. I came up with 5 or 6 names for my magazine. We talked and debated and finally I decided on the name Twist & Twain. It was a catchy name, we thought, very English, easily acceptable to Indians and foreigners alike and dedicated in the memory of my two favorite childhood authors—Charles Dickens who wrote Oliver Twist and the other author is Mark Twain. 

Finally after months of programming work the magazine came quietly online in August 2018 without any media publicity or fanfare. The launch of Twist & Twain was spread only by word of mouth and emails to select people. We deliberately maintained a low profile. In the beginning month Twist & Twain was known mostly in the United States of America where we detected the maximum hits and very less in India. American writers submitted their works to us. We even conducted our first interview with an author from the United States known to me for years. Our professionalism and the magazine layout greatly impressed anybody visiting our site. Very soon submissions started pouring in from more countries— UK, Russia, Iran, Singapore, Thailand, Italy, Argentina, Nigeria, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Poland, Germany, Trinidad & Tobago and of course India. Our magazine is a launch pad for emerging writers looking for a platform to get noticed. As luck would have it, I came across Briton Christopher Fielden who maintains a comprehensive list of literary magazines and writing contests worldwide in his website. He created the buzz about our magazine and much of the traffic in the initial weeks and months came through him. Another day I was pleasantly surprised to receive a mail from Duotrope, an established and reputed resource for writers based in New Mexico in the US, informing us that it had listed Twist & Twain on its site. So, it had already come to know of us. We’ve published stories of different genres, essays, travelogues, translations, poems, screenplays and book reviews. We even went on to add a book promotion and author promotion section a year later. We also held an international short story contest with cash prizes. We will continue to diversify and come up with new ideas. 

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

RD: Twist & Twain may not even be three years old, but like all magazines or literary agencies we want authors to follow our submission guidelines for speed and convenience. That is Rule No. 1.

Secondly, we want authors to maintain a professional approach. We don’t like typos or grammatical errors. Many, many authors don’t even know where to put a comma or a semi-colon. We expect a minimum standard.

Thirdly, it is the content. We had instances of writers who had a good story to tell, but wrote in a slapdash manner. Frequently dialogues are boring and descriptions of a scene pathetic and vague. Sometimes we do the editing if the story is not too long, and sometimes we ask the author to rewrite it and then re-send it back to us. In the beginning we used to publish almost anything that came our way because we had little choice. But now the volume of submissions made us become more selective. Yes, we encourage new voices, but we expect some professionalism from their end, too. 

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

RD:  We had a few writers who didn’t even bother to read our submissions guidelines before submitting their write-ups. Some mail their stuff directly to us when there is actually an online submission form for doing so. And some use fancy fonts and color which is totally wrong. Vulgarity in language, bad grammar and typos, long sentences and boring content will usually make the submitted piece end up in the slush pile. Then, we had weird cases of writers who wanted their stories taken down after we had published it without giving any particular reason. We blacklist such authors. There are writers who don’t provide their background details. We had one lady writer from a bordering nation who didn’t want to include her profile photo along with her submission, disregarding our magazine’s guidelines. We had writers who griped over spacing between sentences and the like, or telling us to change certain words. We no longer publish poems and still we’ve people continuing to submit poems, which make it obvious that they don’t read our latest submission guidelines. We had our share of frustration dealing with such people. Another thing, we strongly disapprove of plagiarism. We had a couple of writers sending us plagiarized versions of stories by famous authors. Naturally, it won’t be published. We know plagiarism when we see it. 

SQF: What do you look for in the opening paragraph(s)/stanza(s) of a submission?

RD: We always insist on the opening paragraphs to start off well with finely constructed sentences and picturesque descriptions that hook the reader from the start. The first paragraph itself should indicate what the story is all about. It shouldn’t meander. Just get straight to the point, we would always suggest. 

SQF: Your second short story contest is underway with substantial prize money for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd places. What else should authors know about this contest?

RD: I strongly feel that our maiden short story contest held in 2019 was the best thing to have happened for our magazine as far as publicity was concerned. People showed a special new interest in Twist & Twain and because the judges were from different nations. The contest helped us dig up some amazing new voices. The winner of our contest is David Cle’menceau, a French national living in Germany. Here is a quick link to the result of our first contest.

We are the first magazine in northeast India to hold a contest at an international level. We received 59 stories in a matter of months from all over India and other nations despite getting very little publicity for it. Unlike the first contest which had only one winner, this time we have increased the prize amount and there will be three winners. Interested participants may click on this link to know more about the contest: Now, some people may wonder why we ask for an entry fee for our contest. It is very simple. Our magazine makes no money and no organization is funding our contest. Our single objective is to uncover latent talent. Our entry fee is a modest amount compared to other contests and the plus point is that we aim to tie up with a publishing house to publish the selected stories in an anthology. Writers have much to benefit in the long run. 

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

RD: Is our magazine raking in the moolah? 

No, no, no. It is actually a loss-making project despite all the good work we are doing. Perhaps things will get better sooner or later. The joy that a writer gets after seeing his work appearing in our magazine is rewarding enough for us, but staying afloat is a constant source of stress all the same. Wish the day would come soon when we could pay our authors, too.

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

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