Editor Interview: Shock Totem

This interview is provided for archival purposes. The listing is not currently active.

Q: Describe what you publish in 25 characters or less.

A: Easy. Stories we dig.

Q: What other current publications (or publishers) do you admire most?

A: I read and subscribe to so many, in multiple genres, and enjoy them all for various reasons, that picking favorites is impossible... For print publications, I really dig Dark Discoveries, GUD, Black Static, Shroud Magazine, Quick Fiction, A cappella Zoo, Glimmer Train, and I really liked the newest kid on the block, Bull Spec. And of course the heavyweights, Cemetery Dance, Fantasy and Science Fiction, Weird Tales, and Asimov's... For on-line publications, I enjoy Apex Online, Clarkesworld, Dark Recesses, Toasted Cheese, Strange Horizons, and Subterranean... To name (quite) a few...

Q: If you publish writing, who are your favorite writers? If you publish art, who are your favorite artists?

A: Well, for fiction, Dean Koontz is my favorite. Hands down. The guy is brilliant. But some of my other favorites include Clive Barker, John Saul, R.A. Salvatore, Terry Brooks, Boris Starling, John Grisham, Stephen King, Jack Ketchum, Jennifer Pelland, George R.R. Martin, Naomi Novik... I'm not a huge poetry fan, so I tend to judge the poem rather than the poet. I do, however, love nearly everything Stephen Crane did with his poetry.

Q: What sets your publication apart from others that publish similar material?

A: Our main focus is the story, first and foremost. I think too many publications have forgotten just how powerful a great story can be, regardless of whether or not it's been told before. Let's be honest here, most tales have already been told, so why be so concerned with originality, or a big name, or anything other than whether or not the story will bring joy to a reader? To every reader, originality means something entirely different; what one reader finds unoriginal, another might find to be the most original story he or she has ever read. And big-name authors write bad stories, too. So why care? With Shock Totem, it's the story that matters most. Everything else is irrelevant.

Q: What is the best advice you can give people who are considering submitting work to your publication?

A: "I think the main thing most writers get wrong is that they write for other people and not for themselves. It's not the readers' story until it's in their hands. Before that, it's your story. Too many authors write for the heart and not from it." I gave that answer in a previous interview (D.L. Snell's Market Scoops, October 2009), but I think it applies here. Basically, the standard answer is this: Read and follow our guidelines. The somewhat standard answer is this: Read our magazine. The most important answer is this: Be honest, write honest.

Q: Describe the ideal submission.

A: Simple. Guidelines followed, outstanding story attached, and written by Dean Koontz.

Q: What do submitters most often get wrong about your submissions process?

A: Following the guidelines. Not only do we have very basic guidelines, easy to read and follow, but we also have an automatically generated e-mail that goes out to authors after they submit to us, in which there are additional reminders and tips. And sadly, with some authors, that still doesn't help.

Q: How much do you want to know about the person submitting to you?

A: A little info is good, but it's unnecessary. The story is going to tell us all we need to know. We do need some contact info, and a general greeting should be there. We're not fans of blank e-mails with attachments. And we definitely don't need a bio that's over 1,500 words (yes, there is an author out there with a bio that long).

Q: If you publish writing, how much of a piece do you read before making the decision to reject it?

A: It depends. Some submissions aren't worth reading beyond the first few paragraphs; they're just that bad. But most stories get read through to the end. And most are read by at least two people. We rarely do single-vote rejections.

Q: What additional evaluations, if any, does a piece go through before it is accepted?

A: We're a tough market to crack. Running a small press publication isn't easy, especially when everyone working on it does so on their free time, which is usually very limited. As such, no one person, myself included, makes decisions without input from others on the team. This keeps everyone equally invested; no one feels like they're doing all kinds of work just so someone else can come along and ignore it... But while this keeps the "team spirit" alive, it means our acceptance rate is low... Majority rules with us. Three people have to vote to accept a story. Once accepted, though, we're pretty easy. We do have to come to an agreement on edits, but as long as an author is willing to work with us, there shouldn't be any problems.

Q: What is a day in the life of an editor like for you?

A: Well, I obviously don't make a living by being an editor. I work 10 hours a day as an IT professional and spend two hours a day traveling. I often work five days a week, and every third week I'm on call after regular business hours, which is an additional 21 hours. Then there's my personal life and my own writing to contend with. So things are a bit hectic. If I'm able to spend an hour each day doing "editor things," like uploading submissions or replying to e-mails, it's usually pretty easy to handle. But we get anywhere from 10 to 20 submissions a day, so if I miss a few days it starts to get a bit overwhelming.

Q: How important do you feel it is for publishers to embrace modern technologies?

A: I think it's very important. I'm a music industry transplant, and I saw first-hand how drastically the digital movement changed things. You can't stop it, so there's no point digging your heels in. Embrace it, or at least accept it, because things are changing whether we like it or not... One thing publishers need to avoid is jumping ship on print media altogether. I can't tell you how many times I've heard a musician or some oblivious music exec say, "No one buys CDs anymore!" Well, I do. As a consumer, am I not important? Some people just don't grasp the concept of balance; it's all or nothing with them. Well, they're foolish... Why go all digital? Why not go digital, but also utilize Print-on-Demand technology as a means to accommodate those who'd rather have a physical copy of a book? You please both sides... Embrace technology, embrace tradition, and weave them into one.