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Editor Interview: The Dzanc Books Prize for Fiction

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

A: Literary fiction

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

A: We're always impressed by what Graywolf, Milkweed, and Coffee House are up to

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

A: It's impossible to pick favorites - we publish the writers we do because they're stunning, exceptional, and their books are incredibly unique. But for anyone looking to get a sense of authors who best encapsulate what Dzanc does, I'd recommend checking out the work of Lindsey Drager, Lance Olsen, Chaya Bhuvaneswar, Nino Cipri, John Englehardt, RE Katz, Banah le Ghadbanah, Robert Lopez...I could go on and on, but these are some of the folks doing very interesting work, reimagining what a novel can be and breaking the fiction mold in brilliant ways.

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

A: We're a nonprofit, which gives us the freedom to publish books because they deserve it and they're damn good, not because we think they're commercial. A lot of our books are challenging - they ask the reader to work for it, to delve deep into the language and wrestle with an entirely new story structure. That's the kind of work we want to be putting into the world.

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

A: Check out our previous publications, even if it's just by scrolling through the books on our website. If you see books that you feel resonate with yours, in terms of audience or style or subject, we'd love to take a look at your work. If your book is radically different than what we publish, though, spare yourself a little heartache.

Q: Describe the ideal submission.

A: We don't have an ideal submission, because I never know what I'm looking for until it lands in my lap. But I will say, the authors we pick up are almost universally in complete control of what they're doing with language - whether that's laying each word like a carefully aligned paving stone, or reinventing the road like an MC Escher illustration. Words aren't just the medium to deliver the story. They're a vital part of the experience.

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

A: For our contests, we ask for submissions of entire manuscripts, not partials. Please submit the whole thing!

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

A: Your author bio isn't hugely important, as the actual submissions are read blind.

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

A: Generally, we evaluate at least 30 pages of each manuscript. Sometimes it's a lot more than that; sometimes I can tell in the first few paragraphs that a book isn't going to be right for the house, but I read on regardless, skipping around sometimes to make sure I'm not missing anything. The only exception would be if a book is in completely the wrong genre - for example, we don't publish children's fiction, so I don't read children's fiction submissions.

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

A: All submissions are evaluated by a group of three to five readers initially. After that, I look at them myself. From there, the manuscripts are whittled down to the five finalists, which are passed along to our guest judges, who read blind and vote on a winner.

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

A: Reading submissions is just one facet of my job. Most days, I open with deep work - things like content or copy edits, cover design, typesetting, or grant applications - before devoting the afternoon to reading submissions. The only exception is the last few days of September, before the contests close; I read as many submissions as I can get my hands on, before I get inundated.

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

A: You have to meet readers where they are - and that certainly includes online. At some level, ebooks are also about accessibility, which is hugely important. But there's no replacement, for me, for holding a book in your hands. I hope we'll have the chance to keep doing that for a long time to come.

Q: How much do you edit an accepted piece prior to publication?

A: It depends entirely on what the book needs. Some books need considerable developmental editing; some need something more like a strenuous copy edit. But all books go through an edit before publication. The author gets final approval, of course - it's their book, and this is a collaboration.

Q: Do you nominate work you've published for any national or international awards?

A: Yes, we nominate most books we publish for at least a handful of awards. We can't always submit to every award a writer identifies as a possibility, just due to costs, but we do our best to hit the most relevant ones.