Editor Interview: Terrain.org

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

A: Elegant work of context

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

A: I tend to most admire publications that, like Terrain.org, have a place-based or environmental context: Orion; Hawk & Handsaw: The Journal of Creative Sustainability; The LBJ: Avian Life, Literary Arts; LOST Magazine; Ecotone; High Desert Journal; and Isotope: A Journal of Literary Science and Nature Writing (although Isotope went under this year, sadly).
And then there are those more generalist journals I like because of their quality and rich mix of literature and art: The Georgia Review, Copper Nickel, Southern Review, Mid-American Review, 42opus, and Versal.
These lists seem both long and short, and yet I could gladly add plenty more.

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

A: Our fiction editor Patrick Burn chooses Toni Morrison, Louise Erdrich, Marilynne Robinson, Ian McEwan, Wiliam Faulkner, and Salman Rushdie.
For poetry, my old standby list-toppers are A.R. Ammons, Mary Oliver, the Mexican poet Tedi López Mills (tr. Wendy Burk), E.E. Cummings, and Billy Collins. Recently I’ve read books or sets of poems by Pamela Uschuk, Suzanne Frischkorn, Lex Runciman, Cynthia Huntington, and Derek Sheffield that have knocked my socks off.

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

A: What sets Terrain.org apart is the compelling mixture of literary and technical work in theme-based issues presented in the most attractive and dynamic online format possible. There really isn’t anything else like Terrain.org, online or off. Each issue includes editorials, poetry, essays, fiction, articles, reviews, an interview, the ARTerrain gallery, and the UnSprawl case study. All issues are archived indefinitely, so it continues to serve as a resource and virtual oasis of sorts.

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

A: First, read samples of the work we publish to get a sense of the type of literature we prefer. Beyond our place-based context, we seek fiction and poetry that is delightful and surprising, work that is masterfully written, even if this would be the writer’s first publication. Even though we’ll accept a wide variety of work, we have our tendencies in both genres. That said, we’re seeking more multimedia interpretations in both genres: flash fiction with audio, prose poetry with images, and the like. Second, avoid clichés on the micro and macro scales. We like both strange and literal takes on our themes, but that doesn’t mean obvious, tired, or old.

Q: Describe the ideal submission.

A: I suppose the “ideal submission” is one that makes us laugh, cry, and revel in its beauty and clarity. Or: submissions that follow our submission guidelines, which though long, are pretty straightforward.

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

A: We use an online submission system that’s now pretty common. But the trick, for poetry, is to patch all your poems together in a single document and submit that, as only one document can be uploaded for the submission. Include your cover letter as a first page if you’d like, or otherwise paste it into the Comments area.

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

A: We don’t need a lot, since we care more about the quality of the submission than a submitter’s prior publications. That said, we do require a cover letter, and listing a sampling of previous publications and current affiliations makes sense. A little more here and there is fine, but please avoid long bios or explanations of the work you’re submitting. If the story or poetry needs an explanation, there’s a good chance it’s not the right fit for Terrain.org.

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

A: We can tell within the first few pages whether a submission is a good fit for fiction. For poetry, we’ll read all of the poems, as they often vary quite a bit, though for a long poem if it’s not working over the first page or two, it may not get read all the way through.

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

A: Fiction is read first by fiction editor Patrick Burns and then, if it’s something he likes, he will forward it to the editor-in-chief (me). Sometimes we’ll pull in nonfiction editor Josh Foster, who like Patrick is a superb reader (and writer) of fiction. I serve as the poetry editor, and rarely share poetry with other editors. I make the final editorial decision on all contributions.

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

A: Because Terrain.org is an on-the-side love affair, there really isn’t a typical day, either for me or the genre editors. We try to read and reply on all non-contest submissions within eight weeks, but we also read fairly regularly. The trick is to make sure it’s not the end of the day so we’re not too tired to give submissions the quality attention they deserve. For me, Sunday afternoons are a great time to read and set aside those I’d like to read again. We decline submissions as soon as possible—those we accept we often hold longer so editors can read and comment on them, so we can live with them a bit before making a final decision. Still, every now and then a poetry submission will really sing and then I’ll accept it pretty much right away. No sense in waiting if we know the submission is a good fit—and no sense in risking someone else accepting it, either!

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

A: As an online journal, we obviously feel it’s critical that publishers embrace modern technologies. I think all the time about how Terrain.org must itself evolve to meet rapidly evolving technologies—handheld devices and beyond. How will Terrain.org look on a text reader like Kindle, and how can we make sure a free, fundamentally HTML-based journal will get that opportunity? How is Terrain.org best served on an iPhone, or an iPad, or the tiny projectors that will ultimately be implanted into all of our heads, or so it seems?
We’re doing everything we can within our very limited budget to ensure we’re accessible at no cost across platforms. And from a marketing perspective, we likewise strive for visibility, whether through our blog or e-newsletter or on services like Facebook (“like” us!) or Twitter (follow us!). What’s the next cool tool? Who knows, but we’ll do our best to take advantage of it to get the good work of Terrain.org our there.