Editor Interview: The Slag Review

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

A: Writing you wrestle with.

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

A: We love pretty much everyone working to spread good literature and art throughout the world. That being said, here are magazines and publishers who inspired us and who we look to when we want to know if we're on the right track:
Paper Darts
Cotton Xenomorph
Winter Tangerine
Occulum
McSweeney's
Forklift, Ohio
Alice James Books

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

A: Writers: Dianne Williams, Justin Torres, Claudia Rankine, George Saunders, Haruki Murakami (and Neil Gaiman is a guilty pleasure)
Artists: Art Spiegelman, Edward Hopper, Allison Bechdel
In case you couldn't tell, I'm far less literate when it comes to artists. I love graphic narratives, and I want people to submit those, but most of the time we just publish whatever artwork speaks to us.

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

A: Two things:
1) Unlike most new lit mags operating on a shoe-string budget (which we do), we chose to publish in print as well as online. It's not easy, but luckily we've been able to keep at it so far, ensuring that our writers can receive a hard copy of their work, as well as giving readers a beautiful, cared-for product. We oversee every step of the printing, so when you get a copy of the Slag Review, you know it's been edited, designed, folded, stapled, and loved by a small team of dedicated editors.
2) We don't just care about the finished product. We care about the process, the craft. Did your story or poem go through ten wildly different drafts before we accepted it? We want to see those drafts, talk with you about why they didn't work, then publish that so that other writers can see that process. We call these Pieces of Slag, and are not only publishing these conversations on craft on our website, but are also working toward a five year anthology that will include them.

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

A: First off, don't be a dick.
That might sound simple, but if your work shows that you're racist, sexist, or just a generally disgruntled person with nothing to offer but rude jokes and contempt (you'd be surprised how often we get that), then we'd rather not read the work to begin with. Writing and art are about communication and empathy, so works that exhibit these aforementioned traits are worse on a craft level, let alone a human level.
Secondly, and this is the hard part, care about what you do.
When I read a story, I can usually tell the difference between someone who knows how stories work and someone who is really trying to reach toward something beyond their words. I want to read that second kind of story: the one that got away from you. That time you sat down and just started writing, then looked up and realized you were a different person. Or the one that you've had in your head for months, slowly turning over, until finally you can't hold onto it anymore and it bursts out on the page. The same goes for art and poetry, of course.

Q: Describe the ideal submission.

A: I have jumped out of my chair in excitement from submissions before. I have also started a story thinking "Oh great, another one like this," and sank further and further down, unable to move from how surprisingly good the submission was.
After reading a thousand submissions, I still don't know what an ideal submission is. Surprising, I suppose.
I mean, I sort of described the ideal submission in the last question, but if you're looking for specifics, try these:
- A want ad for a new set of arms, "gently used."
- Your mother returns from the dead because you haven't been taking care of yourself.
- There is a room inside of a room, and inside of that room is the reader, trying to get to the story outside.
I don't know, just try something new. You'll know it's new if it's painful.

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

A: When submitters do something wrong in the submission process, it's more annoying than anything else. We have, however, started asking for Pieces of Slag (your notes, journals, drafts, thoughts) along with submissions, and most people don't send those in. We understand, because many people don't keep drafts anymore, and not everyone uses physical notebooks.
If you are reading this and considering submitting, however, we ask that you do send these in. It's an extra step that most lit mags don't ask for, but that's what makes us unique.

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

A: We used to not care about cover letters, insisting that we "read blind."
It's come to our attention, however, that a well written cover letter does two things: gives an immediate impression of the writer as well as helping to identify them in a broader spectrum.
There's been a lot of controversy lately over blind reading, and we've come to the conclusion, along with others, that the idea does very little to actually help include minorities, women, and LGBTQA people in having their voices heard and engaging with the literary world. That being said, we want to know as much as a submitter is comfortable letting us know, as far as it pertains to their identity as a writer. Previous publications are good to know, but try to limit it to three or four. It's awesome if you've been published in more places than that, but it just gets clunky.
Oh, quick pet peeve!
If you say you've been published in "hundreds of other journals" or "over a thousand times" I will wonder why I haven't heard of you. At the end of your pub list, just say "and others," please.

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

A: I read (almost) every piece to the end. Sometimes, I make decisions earlier, usually based on content and writing quality.
I have a bad habit of reading the first paragraph, then the last, and if I can draw a straight line how the characters got from beginning to end, I immediately lose interest. If, however, I have no idea how the story got there, I'm even more excited to read it.
This strategy has failed me numerous times, which is why I read all of a piece.

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

A: Since we have a small team, everyone gets a say. We all have different sensibilities, but really great work tends to overlap with those.
Additional evaluations would most likely be us deciding "This piece is good, but it could be better" and asking to work with the author to edit it before publication. We've had some authors refuse, but most are excited that their work is being handled with care and consideration.
As I mentioned earlier, we want to include all voices in our journal. This means that we sometimes push acceptance off to a later issue in order to achieve a diverse author list for the current one.

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

A: There's not a usual "day in the life." I work on the magazine when I can, and over the course of a quarter my responsibilities change.
Once we release an issue I'm checking the website, updating it if necessary, sharing links from our authors on social media, and then going to our submissions. I try to read everything as it comes to us, but sometimes I'll have a day where it's just reading through a dozen or two submissions. As it gets closer to the next release date, I design the magazine, pick cover art and fiddle with the layout (do we really need page numbers for this issue?), and respond to submissions.
It might come as a surprise, but most days I do exactly what you're doing right now.
I look up magazines, trying to get my own work published. I obsessively check my email, then Submittable, then my email again. I write and rewrite on the good days, and I think about writing and worry about where my life is going on the bad ones. That's one of the reasons I started this journal.

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

A: I almost don't feel the need to answer this.
I'm submitting an electronic interview on a form to a website that writers use to decide where they should submit their work. If that doesn't say that it's important for publishers to embrace technology, I don't know what does.
Other than that, here's the best part of what we do with "modern technology:" we get our writers seen.
Even though we charge for print issues and subscriptions, we still publish online, and share all of it on social media. Print is important, but can only go so far. The reason we have consistent readers in India, Ireland, and Australia, isn't because we have print distribution there.

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

A: Usually, very little. We do basic proofreading, line and copy edits for clarity, and in our Terms and Conditions we state that this is our right. Should we need to do substantive edits, this is something we broach at the same time we decide to accept a piece, sometimes even before. This happens rarely, but is usually something exciting. The author, of course, has right of approval with these, but we do try to explain why we believe the edits are necessary.

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

A: We nominate for the Pushcart Prize, and are actively looking for new contests and prizes that we are eligible for.