Editor Interview: Zest Literary Journal

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

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

A: Edgy, innovative work

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

A: Muriel Spark
Joyce Carol Oates
Stephen King
Albert Camus
Jeffrey Eugenides

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

A: I read every single submission the whole way through - usually multiple times. Regardless of whether a submission is accepted or not, I always strive to provide some useful feedback as this is an important part of my role as editor. I am never looking for something specific and every piece is treated individually. I am looking for something that stirs me: amuses, devastates, troubles, impresses, shocks me. I want to feel something. I want to wish I had written the piece. I want to get excited about including a submission in the next issue. I want to help the author improve and shape their piece. I want to work with like minded, creative, innovative, quirky, insightful people. This open-minded, friendly, approachable ethos is what I hope helps to set Zest apart from other publishers.

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

A: Please read the guidelines and please use my name and/or Liz's name in your inquiry email. I am responsible for reading and replying to every single email and it's nice to be addressed directly. I would never send a potential contributor a cold, impersonal email and it would be nice for this to be reciprocated. When I accept work it is the start of a working relationship, which sometimes grows into a friendship - don't be afraid to treat us like humans!
It can be incredibly frustrating to find that people haven't read the guidelines, which are clear, specific and up to date. A lot of time and consideration is given to developing every piece of work; it takes a minimal amount of time to have a quick read through our site to ensure your work meets our basic requirements and it is a courteous to do so. Work that has been previously published will not be regurgitated in our journal, so please be mindful when submitting material. Similarly, although it is my job to edit material, you should never submit work which you know does not pass your very own highest standards. If you know there are flaws or basic errors it is crucial that you clean them up first. Having said that, if you have polished your work, but know there is something not quite right about but you are struggling to pinpoint it or make an appropriate change, don't shy away from voicing that when you send through your work.

Q: Describe the ideal submission.

A: Is there such a thing?
Unlike other publications, I don't dictate or even advise that you must read a previous issue of our journal. It can be beneficial, more from the point of view of allowing the contributor to figure out whether they want to make Zest a home for work that they have laboured over. For me, every issue is unique and I am never willing a specific type of story or poem or essay to arrive in the inbox. Quite the contrary: I am looking for that which is new; different; weird; normal; unpredictable; something that might challenge the way I look that the world. I want your art work and your writing to affect me in some way - not a specific way - just in some way.
I love the personal approach. Please call me Kate. Please ask me how my day's going, or tell me how you dropped your sandwich on the floor at lunch time and after wrestling it from the slabbering jaws of your dog, you decided it still looked too tasty not to have a munch... Seriously, though, I love randomness. I want to know that I am being approached by another human being, with their own personality. It's always lovely to hear that you've enjoyed the literary and artistic offerings within Zest before, but it is certainly not essential. Just be yourself.

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

A: I have been so lucky to have met some really fantastic folk through Zest. I continue to be overwhelmed by the positive feedback and the loveliness of the people that I converse with, whether it is readers or contributors.
There are very few people who 'get it wrong' with regards to the submissions process and for the most part I will continue to be open minded and approachable. I won't go ballistic if work is submitted in the wrong font or size, as that is easily rectified. However, signing our permissions form without acknowledging that your work is not your own or that it has been previously published elsewhere is a big no-no. All we ask is that you are submitting previously unpublished work. Simultaneous submissions are, of course, acceptable, but it's appreciated if you let us know if you've had a better (or quicker!) offer elsewhere.
Make sure that you submit work with the appropriate information listed within the Subject line. i.e. your name/Genre of work submitted/issue work is being submitted to i.e. 'Issue 5' or 'It's Complicated Issue' - something which will help me to separate it from the other emails that come through.
I have no problem with you checking up on the status of a submission. Sometimes my life can be very busy and I am not able to devote as much time to the magazine as I would love to. Write me back and ask me how it's coming along. It's always my aim that you won't have to do this. When a piece of work is submitted, an automated response is fired out explaining that I will try to get back to you within a certain amount of time. It's customary to allow that time to elapse, however, if some weeks have passed and you are curious or concerned, there is no harm in checking in with me. It will not affect my decision on whether or not to accept your work!

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

A: I will never judge a submission based solely on the quality of the cover letter. It's really nice to receive a quirky, friendly message - but that is not key to getting work published at Zest. Similarly, although it can be a little off putting to receive a submission with absolutely no personal engagement - including even a 'Hi/Hello/Dear Editor', the work will always be considered fairly, on its own merit.
It makes absolutely no difference if you are previously published and have an impressive string of credits to your name, or if this is your first tentative submission. I am looking for fresh, thought provoking, unique work that moves me in some way. There are no restrictions in our guidelines, anyone is welcome to submit work and this is one of the reasons how Zest has managed to embroider such a rich tapestry.
Having said all of that, I love nothing more than to receive a friendly email where I can gauge a little bit about the individual who has been so kind to share their work with us. Sometimes a little nod to why you have created the piece, or perhaps how you came across Zest or just something completely random about your day - that last one usually tickles me!

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

A: The whole thing. Usually multiple times. It's generally pretty obvious when a piece feels right. If something is going to be rejected it is often obvious early on; however, I always read it. For some pieces it can take a while for the writer to find their voice and their confidence using it. On occasion I have accepted a piece but have suggested editing or removing the first section if it doesn't add power to the piece - so fear not, everything has a fair chance. The pieces that may end up being a rejection are very difficult, because sometimes there is a very thin line between acceptance and rejection. Sometimes I struggle to find the right words or reason for knocking back a piece. It's never easy and sometimes unfortunately, it's as vague as the work just not having the right impact on me at that time. Every piece is always given significant consideration and is treated with care and respect.

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

A: Aside from a rigorous editorial process, concerning consistency, appropriate grammar and spelling usage (if work is accepted in American English it will not be switched to UK English and vice versa) I also engage in a personal dialogue with the author. Although it is not essential to the development of a piece of work, I am interested in the motivation of the individual and also into questioning how our readers may think about the message or feel of the writing. This, to me, leads to a far richer editorial conversation. I have to think about the place that each piece will take within any given issue. How will it be physically, thematically, metaphorically positioned alongside the other accepted work. It's important to me that each accepted piece does fit and that it will have some sort of impact on our readership.

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

A: I lead a hectic life and as of yet I do not have a strict schedule for focusing on editing. When I get the opportunity to concentrate on Zest my work is intense - to the extent that I will spend hours, sometimes days considering pieces, responding to and editing work and doing all sorts of administrative tasks related to this project.
I respond to every single contributor personally and will always acknowledge emails (particularly if my response rate has slowed down) even if it is just to assure the contributor that I shall soon be in touch. In the past I would consider all of our poetry submissions as well as do some share of the editing. Now I read all of the poetry entries, but pass them straight to Liz Bury, our poetry editor, for her full consideration. From then on I am the go-between for correspondence, which is nice because it means I still get to build a working relationship with every contributor.
I use Track changes in Word when I make edits. It means that I and the writer in question can engage in a conversation directly on the page, right next to the work. It also allows for more minute changes to be made as well as providing space for me to explain the suggestions I am making. When Amy Sibley and I first created Zest, one of the most important things to me, was to be able to build an editor/writer rapport. I am a writer and I understand the difficulty of submitting work to publishers. It's personal and it can leave one feeling quite vulnerable. I never wanted anyone to feel as if their writing/art work is not dealt with care, true consideration and sensitivity. Similarly, that is why I always provide a proper reason why I acccept a piece, or why a piece unfortunately is turned down. How else can we expect to understand how we can improve our work (or simply find a publisher that is better suited to our work) if honest, careful feedback is not given? For this reason, the editing process is thorough and can be time consuming. Every aspect of this project is rewarding for me. I have been so fortunate to connect with people who are willing to share their work and to accept feedback which, after all, is just one person's opinion. I make all of our contributors aware that any suggestions I make are just that - they can be discussed and discarded as appropriate! The process is about working together, not just one person making the decisions.

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

A: Amy Sibley and I set up Zest Literary Journal for our love of creativity. We simply wanted to make space for other people's imaginative, artistic offerings. This is not a financial venture and so embracing modern technology has made it possible for us to produce our magazine in an affordable manner. The most expensive outgoing that we have as editors is our time, but in my opinion mine is well spent on this creative endeavour. One day I would love to be in a position to be able to publish Zest in print as there's nothing quite so satisfying as holding a text as you appreciate it. For the time being, the internet is a wonderful tool as it allows us to reach a far wider audience on a global level. We are linked up to twitter and facebook so that we can notify readers quickly and easily of any updates and changes. As conversation via the net is free it also makes communication that much quicker and easier.
After our first issue we were approached by a local coffee house wanting to know if we had any reading events planned. This was a wonderful opportunity for us and this traditional approach allowed us to get a few of our authors in person to perfom in public, which was such a rich experience. Had we had appropriate technological tools - a proper video camera or skype/facetime facilities, we could have created a live web link or even just a better quality recording of some of these highly entertaining performances. And so, a blend of traditional and modern approaches really can complement one another beautifully.