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Editor Interview: 34 Orchard: A literary journal that takes you dark places

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

A: Dark, visceral work.

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

A: Personally, I have found so much awesome in ORCA LIT. I can’t wait to get my hands on it every time a new issue comes out. ORCA was, in fact, the impetus for 34 ORCHARD—I stumbled across it while on a market search for my own stories, and I thought, ‘this is exactly what I’ve always wanted to do, and look…this can be done!’ I also enjoy HALFWAY DOWN THE STAIRS (I also found it while looking for markets for my own work). THE FICTION DESK—especially the ghost story anthologies—is another addiction for me. On the book side, I really like what Crystal Lake Publishing is putting out. Honestly, there are many lit mags I truly admire and read on a regular basis, but the ones I mentioned, at the moment, are my favorites.

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

A: We’re short story and poetry lovers, and our favorites include Joyce Carol Oates, Edgar Allan Poe, Daniel Pearlman, Haruki Murakami, Koji Suzuki, Gina Ochsner, Die Booth (we were lucky enough to get one of his stories in our first issue!), and Mary Oliver. Mostly, though, we love discovering the work of new writers. We find so many gems in our inbox.

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

A: We’re not afraid to publish things that are intense. A couple of pieces of work we absolutely adored and bought immediately we found out later had been turned down by several other markets because of the subject matter. We also find that we gravitate toward things that are sad.

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

A: Read a couple of our issues is always the standard answer here, and while we recommend that, sometimes it’s best to just take a stab at it. We like stories and poems that evoke a strong emotional response in our readers, and we love stories that are multi-leveled—it’s got to say something and not just be entertaining.

Q: Describe the ideal submission.

A: Word document (not docx), formatted to industry standard, very brief cover letter with bio and contact information. Work is extremely polished and shows solid command of the craft, and is so engaging we forget we’re reading.

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

A: We don’t ask for much in the way of guidelines. Some subs ignore them completely, which tells us that’s probably not a contract we want to enter into. I think some writers might believe markets have guidelines to torture them. That’s not true. Guidelines are there to make the workflow smooth so the market can respond as quickly as possible. Following them to the letter sends the message that there’s a dedication to the craft and the desire to work with a particular publication.

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

A: We ask for just a bio—and that’s mostly in case of acceptance so we already have it on hand. Honestly, we don’t even look at who’s sending it until after we’ve read the story. The work is what counts—although we do like some experience, so that they know how to work with an editor and what that process entails.

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

A: We’re looking for work with a very specific vibe, and we can usually tell if it’s not going to be for us sometimes as early as the first couple of paragraphs. The rule we follow is “read until we’re sure.” That said, there are many wonderful stories that get read right to the end even if they may not be for us. Sometimes, we’ll get a story that’s fantastic but not our “vibe,” and we’ll ask the writer to send us something else—and it hits the nail on the head.

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

A: It’s really a gut reaction—we either know it’s for us, or it isn’t. Sometimes if we love the work but something may need fine-tuning—like the ending, or the opening sentence, or something like that—we will discuss it with the writer before we even make an offer to make sure they’re willing to work with us. A couple of times we’ve worked with something extensively because we loved it, but that’s the exception, not the rule. Most of what we take requires very little work. We really look for something that’s highly polished, and we have turned down pieces we loved because they’d require too much effort. On a couple of occasions we’ve asked the writer for a rewrite, but that’s also rare. We have to really love it to ask for that.

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

A: During our open submission periods in January and July, we have readers who screen out the pieces that obviously aren’t for us, or didn’t follow guidelines. Then I read what’s kicked to me for the final decision. If the writing is awesome but the piece isn’t our vibe, I will sometimes write a personal note and tell the writer what I loved about it, but only if I have the time. The rest of the year is spent sending out contracts, editing pieces that might have been purchased for future issues, layout, looking at art from our staff contributing artists (we don’t accept art through open call), writing the upcoming issue’s editor’s note, copy editing (we have someone who does only that), and proofing the final issue. It gets proofed by three people, and I also proof it a couple of times by reading it aloud. That’s usually where I catch most of the errors.

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

A: 34 ORCHARD only exists because of the rise of new technology—the ability to put out a publication as a PDF so it’s easily available and doesn’t cost much (we’d rather pay our writers than pay for expensive printing)—is how we’re able to do this. So I think it’s very important to embrace as much new technology as possible—but in addition to traditional methods, not as a replacement, necessarily. I’m a writer myself and still remember when an e-zine wasn’t even considered a legitimate credit on your CV, and I also remember when simultaneous submissions were the exception, not the rule like they are now. I remember how thrilling it was, in the earlier days of the web, to be able to send in a submission via email. I remember when most writers I knew didn’t even have an email address. In addition, technology allows the publication to reach more people, usually conveniently, instantly, and affordably. So it’s crucial to embrace new technology. It’s why we have so many avenues to feature work, and, as an editor, it makes our jobs faster and easier.

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

A: It really depends on the piece, but we prefer as little editing as possible—we really look for pieces that are just about perfect. Each piece gets copy edited and proofed a few times. We reserve the right to correct typos, punctuation, and Chicago style without consulting the writer, but if a sentence, word, or paragraph needs changing or adjustment, then we work with them so that both parties are happy—and in that case, yes, the writer gets final approval.

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

A: Currently, we nominate for the Pushcart, the Shirley Jackson, and Datlow’s Best of the Year anthologies. We plan to expand this list, but nominations are our choice and aren’t automatic—we may not nominate work for each award every year; in addition, we have someone not connected with our selection or editorial processes who decides what to nominate, as we feel it’s the only way to ensure a completely unbiased nomination.