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Editor Interview: Suburbia Journal

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

A: Strange, weird, brutal.

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

A: There are several! The Forge, Jellyfish Review, Taco Bell Quarterly, Rust+Moth, Waxwing, Storm Cellar, Booth, Room, and Ghost Parachute all post some exceedingly powerful content. We're particularly drawn as editors to the explosive power of flash fiction, and typically gravitate to publishers that make room for flash. Overall, we appreciate publishers that strive to sledgehammer walls and reveal new, absurd, and strange pieces of fiction, whether that's through content, form, or a mixture of both.

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

A: Favorite writers—the list, just like our favorite publishers, is endless. Some of our recent favorites include K-Ming Chang, Ottessa Moshfegh, Jean Kyoung Frazier, Kathy Fish, Ocean Vuong, Matt Bell, Amal El-Mohtar, Hugh Behm-Steinberg, Miranda July, Mary Oliver, and Aimee Bender. Of course, there are so many more to mention.

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

A: As a very small literary review ran by two individuals and not associated or funded by a university, we have some disadvantages, but one of our greatest strengths is our freedom and agility: we try to invent new methods of publishing and create original opportunities, and rapidly implement them at a pace whereas other magazines may get bogged down by bureaucracy before they can launch something. We're deeply committed to innovating the publishing industry and not accepting the status queue, or falling behind from complacency. It's all about the future with us—how can we make the impossible accomplishable?

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

A: It's often repeated, but it stands true: read what we've previously published (our issues are always free to read on our website). Touch your finger to the pulse of what we're excited about on social media. We definitely lean into the strange and different compared to other literary magazines, and are always excited to read innovations in form and language, or to explore a mixed-media piece. Jennifer Egan told a story through a PowerPoint presentation, and recently, Nibedita Sen wrote one of our favorite pieces of all time in Strange Horizons called "First Times." Those are examples that have knocked our socks off, and we'd love submitters to attempt the same. The stranger, the better. Of course, we don't just publish the completely uncanny. Exceptionally written fiction and poetry, no matter what, will capture our attention.

Q: Describe the ideal submission.

A: The ideal submission mentions us by name in the cover letter along with a story of ours they've liked. They tell us a little about who they are. They don't explain the piece they're submitting. They include a third-person biography. Most importantly, they send us something that fits with what we've previously published. There's no shame in imitation, either—if you love one of our published stories and have taken that essence and imbued your own flavor or advanced it, we get excited. In Issue IV, someone sent us a poem dedicated to one of our previous contributors from an earlier issue, and it was incredible. If you care about us, we notice.

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

A: Following guidelines is critical. We've received submissions that are written in 50-point bold font, or smudged purple Chiller, and after reading 100 other submissions, that's likely going to be a quick decline—our eyes are sore enough already to try and read thirty pages of something like that. Also, and I know this is repeated a lot, but really pay attention to who you're submitting to in your cover letter. We've been addressed as a different magazine so many times. But more importantly, for example, we've even had men submitting to us who only mention the men on our Masthead: that's a huge no-no. The final slice of the submission pie is content—we're likely not the best home for Christian fiction, or very calm narratives. If you've read our previous work, you know we like turbulence, disruption, the weird. We can easily tell if something wasn't written with us in mind. If I had to distill it down to one phrase, I would say: Be cautious, and be attentive, when submitting.

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

A: We always like to see a bit of flair and personality when someone submits—who are you? Why do you write? If you have a strange background, even better! We actually prefer someone who doesn't have a literary background—that's far more interesting most of the time. And we DEFINITELY love when unpublished people submit to us; let us know you're unpublished in your cover letter. We're big champions of trying to bring unheard voices up to the microphone, and usually look more favorably on someone who has zero publications and submits a great story compared to someone who's in the New Yorker and submits a great story. This is a community, and everyone deserves to have a seat at the dinner table. Of course, what matters most is the story or poem's quality. It begins with that. The cover letter is just the spice on top of the main course.

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

A: It's kind of a blend of both. We try to read everything fully, but if a piece hasn't captured our attention by the first few pages, we're likely to reject it and move on. This is especially true for the content of the submission—again, if you're sending us something that isn't the textural fit for our magazine, we can immediately tell, and unfortunately it's just not going to find a home with us, no matter how well written it is. We read a lot of stories and poems, and if you're playing it too safe, it's not going to advance. We want to be surprised by what we read.

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

A: At first, we assign submissions to our readers; if they approve, it moves on to Miranda and I, then we make final inclusion decisions the month of or before the issue release. If a reader doesn't approve, we review it and either side with the reader (and then it receives a rejection) or we personally advance it into that final consideration pool. Usually, we agree with our readers, however, in Issue V, a piece that a reader initially declined actually ended up winning our fiction contest. Constant review and re-assessment helps keep our decisions certain, and makes sure nothing is rejected erroneously. In the final consideration, we try and curate the final pieces down so that our issue represents a wide and delicious variety of content, forms, styles, submitters, and focuses. We don't want to publish two stories about boyfriends made out of peanut butter in one issue, for example. Unfortunately, this means that fantastic stories sometimes have to be pushed out to make room for other flavors. It sucks, but sometimes we have to do it. This is a competitive field, and nothing is ever certain.

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

A: Currently, both Miranda and I work full time on the magazine. We clock in at 9am, take a break for lunch, and then work until 5pm. As such a small magazine, Miranda and I often have to don many hats—tech support, website builder, email responder, finance specialist, first reader, second reader, issue formatter, social media manager, and finally, Editor-in-Chief. Our day depends on that day and that week's responsibilities. Sometime we read five hundred submissions a week, especially in issue publication months, and other times we devote more time to ensuring our website is up to date, or doing taxes. We're both very dedicated to creating new opportunities for our submitters and our writers, and to innovating the publishing industry, so when we have free time, we love to spend it on think-tank sessions and then implementing new projects. For example, we've been working on a Contributor Bookstore on our website that should launch soon. It's going to feature all of our contributors and reader's books, including blurbs and links to where they can be purchased. Another fun recent development is our YouTube, Let's Get Lit(erary). We're building a free creative writing course that we're going to publish weekly on there, along with a version of SparkNotes called DrunkNotes, where Miranda and I get wrecked then try to summarize and discuss different books. As owners, we have the ability to make our magazine fun and different, and that's a goal for us. If it's fun for us, we hope it will be fun for you.

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

A: It's incredibly important to embrace new technologies. Every day, technology is pushing us further into the future. Every industry is staying at the forefront of that current, and it doesn't make sense for publishing to be the only one that resists. There's a danger to that. Magazines and the art of writing began in analogue (paper and pencil) but there's so much opportunity to create a new, more interactive, and therefore more interesting and successful way of engaging both readers and the creation of art itself through technology. Think of the possibilities! Virtual reality short stories, brain-network poetry collaboration, novels that adapt and change as you read. These ideas obviously exist only in the realm of science fiction at the moment, but when they arrive, why would you want to be left out? Embrace the future, and our machine overlords. They can't do a worse job than our current human leaders.

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

A: For us, it depends on the submission. We'd prefer a story or poem to have already been under multiple rounds of editing before it's sent to us, and for it to contain a degree of polish. We usually provide line edits and make a few, critical suggestions; sometimes, we've suggested a title change, or a different last line. There's been few instances where we've worked with the author to attempt a significant, drastic revision, but it has occurred when we feel passionately about the core of a story, especially when it's sent to us by a new or unpublished writer. In other cases, we'll kick a submission back to the writer and ask them to submit after another draft using a few of our general comments (the character relationship isn't working; this emotional trajectory is lacking, etc.). At the end of the process, when we've accepted something and formatted it into one of our issues, we send the proof to the author for final approval. We've caught a lot of mistakes (usually transcription errors between Word and the issue software we use) by working collaboratively with our accepted authors. We've also recently started offering editing services on our Patreon for subscribers; they aren't considered for our issues, but if a writer wants to work with an editor on a story or group of poems, it's something we offer. And, we provide them a list of other magazines to submit to that we think would be great fits for their work.

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

A: Yes, we nominate our stories and poems for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net Award, and Best Small Fictions anthology. We would love to transition into operating as a small press that publishes novels and poetry collections, and when we do, we'll nominate those for various relevant awards, too. If you have any other awards you'd like us to be aware of for nominations, please let us know!