Editor Interview: Toasted Cheese

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

A: Tomorrow's literary stars

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

A: Brevity, Apex Digest, McSweeney's, One Story, The Atlantic, Keyhole Magazine, Southern Review, Georgia Review, Word Riot, Foliate Oak, The Gettysburg Review, Tin House, Myslexia, The Sewanee Review, Prairie Schooner, (no longer publishing: Shock Totem & Bound Off)

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

A: My personal favorites for fiction (other editors have other favorites) include Stephen King, Tawni O'Dell, Daphne DuMarier, Robert Louis Stevenson, Ernest Hemingway, Amy Tan, Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, Flannery O'Connor & Alice Walker. For poetry, my favorites include Langston Hughes, Rita Dove, Billy Collins, Marge Piercy, Mark Strand, Lewis Carroll (fiction as well), Anne Sexton, and Gwendolyn Brooks. I also read a lot of nonfiction and memoir.

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

A: We are not only open to new writers but we encourage their submissions. A list of publishing credits doesn't impress us but a well written submission does. Because we edit as a collective, your work has the opportunity to appeal to a variety of people. We also allow our editors to chose one piece per issue for publication that the majority did not. As long as one editor strongly supports the piece, we publish it. At the same time we are extremely selective (please see our acceptance rate).

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

A: Write well. Read our submission guidelines as well as back issues of the journal. Following our simple guidelines will put you ahead of the pack. If your piece is rejected, try again with another. Post it to our forums (or to another community's boards) for feedback, rewrite and resubmit. Editors want to publish your work, not dash your dreams. Keep writing well.

Q: Describe the ideal submission.

A: It has the correct e-mail subject, is sent to the correct address, and has no attachments. It has a brief professional/warm cover letter introducing the author. It has not been simultaneously submitted. For poetry, the work is concise, fresh and engages the senses, creating clear images while saying something beyond the surface of the poem(s). For fiction, word choice is particular and the piece is technically good while the story (flash or short fiction) follows a traditional arc and is complete in plot, theme, and idea. Storytelling is essential; the reader must be engaged from the first line of the story.

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

A: Beyond simply not following our guidelines (which are in line with other journals' guidelines), our biggest reason for rejection (or blacklisting) is simultaneous submissions. We don't accept them and don't appreciate getting replies to our acceptance notices that read "this has already been accepted/published elsewhere." This is a surefire way to make sure we don't consider your future submissions.

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

A: We like to see publication credits but they have no bearing on whether a piece is accepted. We also like to see "I have not been published" or "this is my first attempt at submission." We like the introduction aspect of a cover letter from an etiquette standpoint but lack of a cover letter will not torpedo a submission's chances. If yours is an under-represented literary voice, feel free to let us know in your cover letter or through the bio you include.

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

A: We have a two-cut process. For first cut, the work is read by me and our editor in chief. When I read first round submissions, I look for basics like whether the piece was properly submitted, the quality of spelling/grammar, whether a work is engaging, whether the feel is a fit with Toasted Cheese, whether we publish what's been submitted, etc. I also weigh whether or not the piece may appeal to someone on the editorial board. If a well-written piece isn't my particular taste, I'll put it through to the next round. I can usually tell by glancing or a quick read. For second round (and our Dead of Winter contest), I read in detail to the end.

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

A: Submissions that make first cut go on to our editorial board. Pieces that get a majority of votes are published. Pieces that do not get a majority of votes but have the strong support of at least one editor are eligible as "Editor Picks," which are also published.

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

A: I read submissions throughout the month but not always as they come in. At the same time, another editor also reads each month's submissions. We e-mail each other a list of picks, usually between 8-12 pieces we would like to have make first cut. Once those choices are made, we notify authors as to whether this piece has been rejected or is still in consideration. We then contact the rest of the editorial board during our reading month. We share a communal vote sheet so we know when an editor votes and which pieces that editor chooses. We make our editor picks (if any) after all votes are tallied. An editor notifies the authors of the status of their submissions, both accepted and rejected. We love replies to our acceptance letters and all of the editors read them.

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

A: I believe that electronic publishing is the new "traditional." Toasted Cheese was established exclusively online in 2001 and we try to use all available relevant networking to appeal to writers and readers alike.

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

A: We do basic copy editing and proofreading. If the piece needs more work than this, we don't accept it. The work should be polished and ready for publication when it's submitted. We've noticed a marked change in the technical quality of submissions in the last few years and find ourselves accepting fewer pieces on first cut because of it. If your talent doesn't extend to basic punctuation, spelling, and grammar, please develop these skills before submitting. A simple pass through a word processing program can solve a fair number of the technical issues we encounter in submissions.

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

A: We have nominated in the past (on occasion, our nominees have been selected as winners) but we can't guarantee nominations going forward.