Editor Interview: Black Heart Magazine
Q: Describe what you publish in 25 characters or less.
A: Literary mutinies
Q: What other current publications (or publishers) do you admire most?
A: Arsenal Pulp Press, Branch Magazine, Clockwise Cat, The Fiction Circus, Haggard & Halloo, No Media Kings, Microcosm, Soft Skull Press, St. Petersburg Review, too many to name them all, but any publishers and editors willing to take a chance on the new, the untested, the "not commercially viable," the marginal, the strange and the downright rebellious
Q: If you publish writing, who are your favorite writers? If you publish art, who are your favorite artists?
A: Leonard Cohen, Jeanette Winterson and Salman Rushdie are my stock answers for fiction writers. But I've been reading a lot more indie writers lately, and my hats are off to all of those that have completed wild and crazy works on their own, who have the guts and the stamina to sit their asses down and write until it's done, and then make things (publishing, marketing, etc.) happen on their own terms.
Poets include Charles Bukowski, our patron saint. We dig poets who say what they mean, with great imagery and a love for the language, who are experimental without barring readers entry into their worlds by deliberate obfuscation. We're pretty populist, in that we like stuff that readers can understand on a first reading; we avoid snobby poetry that reeks of the academy.
Q: What sets your publication apart from others that publish similar material?
A: We publish at least twice a week, with poetry every Monday and prose every Friday. We also publish book reviews, interviews with authors and editors, and "character crushes," which introduce books via their main characters and a specific author's "crush" on said character. I think people sometimes misinterpret our focus as being horror-based, but our concept is more about the darkness within everyone, and we're interested in how this is expressed. Without using trite terms like "edgy" or "honest," we're looking for pieces that show that depth of emotion, that ability to see both light and dark/yin and yang, and either circumnavigate those simplistic binaries or somehow come to terms with uncertainty in life.
Q: What is the best advice you can give people who are considering submitting work to your publication?
A: I know every editor says this, but read the website! Read our submission guidelines, and read some of the work of your peers so you know what you're getting into by getting published with us. We're not interested in your heart and flowers poetry or your so-called literary fiction where nothing ever happens, so if you send us that shit, you're going to get rejected. We're giving you lots of clues, lots of tips. We publish interviews with people we really like, who will tell it like it is. Everything on our site is something we enjoyed reading, and something we wanted to share with our readers. So if you don't read it, how will you know? Even if you're only reading the featured story at the top of the site, you'll see what we're into. So please, for the love of ninjas and pirates, just READ OUR SITE before you submit.
Q: Describe the ideal submission.
A: Obviously, we want your submission to be as clean as possible: no misspellings, no typos, no egregious grammatical issues. Keep your tenses straight. Beyond that, the ideal submission is something that'll make us jump up and shout "Where the hell have you BEEN all my life?!" We want meaty submissions from authors who have something to say, and know how to say it.
Q: What do submitters most often get wrong about your submissions process?
A: Trying to bully us into publishing your work is not a good idea. Comparing yourself to prominent authors and then failing to deliver the goods is also irritating. Basically, when authors start talking smack about how great they are, we question their abilities. We honestly don't care where you've been published before (if ever), so a long list of credits isn't going to get you into the club. Tell us where your favorite work was published, and limit your list to the top 3 if you feel inclined to include things like that in your cover letter. But please, stop telling us about how great you are, and how your work compares to something else. Just let us read the damn thing and decide for ourselves. And then, don't take it personally if we say no thanks. It's not personal; it's just our opinion, and maybe the editor at the next place on your list will have a different take.
Q: How much do you want to know about the person submitting to you?
A: Honestly? No. We usually don't even read the cover letters, unless we are wondering where this person is coming from (i.e. usually in the case of people who've submitted work that completely doesn't match up with what we're looking to publish). Previous credits don't matter to us at all. We judge the writing that you send us, period. We get a lot of MFA students and grads, a lot of teachers of creative writing, and we'll still tell them they need to go back to the drawing board. We don't care about your credentials; we care about good writing.
Q: If you publish writing, how much of a piece do you read before making the decision to reject it?
A: We can usually tell within the first few paragraphs or lines of the piece whether we like it or not, so yes, the hook is important. But we read through to the end, because we think it's unfair to the reader not to give them that time and effort. Often, we can tell by your title whether we'll like the piece or not. So first impressions are quite important to us, but we always give the writer a chance to surprise us.
Q: What additional evaluations, if any, does a piece go through before it is accepted?
A: Usually we keep the editing to a minimum. We go through and make sure it's all cleaned up for spelling, grammar, typos, but we try not to mess too much with the content. If the piece doesn't strike us as quite there, we may ask for revisions, but usually writers are resistent to the idea, so that more often ends in a rejection. We usually publish pieces we feel are already done.
Q: What is a day in the life of an editor like for you?
A: Wake up, make a pot of coffee, fire up the submissions engine and sort things by date to get to the oldest stuff in the box first. Think about mailing out hundreds of apologies to the people who've been in the box since November (seriously, we're sorry!). Power through as many of the flash pieces as I can, accepting and rejecting as I go, until I get the box updated for at least the most distant month (like, say, all of November is done). Email my readers to see if they're ready for another set of 10 to evaluate. Re-assign submissions to them. Email my new Poetry Editor to see if he has any questions, or ask about book reviews/interviews he's got planned. Email a bunch of indie authors and publishers to see if they'd be interested in doing an interview with us. Send out questions to those who've accepted our offer to interview them. Wonder what else we can include on the site to shake things up. Does anyone even read book reviews? Drink more coffee. Accept and reject more pieces. Get excited about the ones I'm accepting. Search for interesting and unusual graphics to highlight the pieces I've got lined up for the next few weeks. Try to remember to update our Twitter account with links to the latest pieces we've published. Add new links to websites that share our indie values. Tweet about pieces I've read on those sites that caught my interest. Tweet or re-tweet about some of our favorite authors' comings and goings. Think about re-doing our header, our theme, our lists of links, our submissions guidelines. Keep on slogging through the tides of emails. Wonder if we should publish daily during the week instead of just Mon, Wed, Fri. Wonder if anyone ever even looks at our store. Wonder why we bother putting out this much free stuff, anyway. Wonder if we should do an anthology of the best of the site, and charge money for it. Wonder if we're doing anything worthwhile. Decide I don't care because it's fun, it's free, and we're supporting indie authors while we're doing it. Get off the computer and go outside, because sitting at a computer all day is bad for your health. Rinse, repeat.
Q: How important do you feel it is for publishers to embrace modern technologies?
A: I'm always amazed by publications that say they don't accept digital submissions. My first reaction is usually "What is this, the 18th century?" I've pondered it, and I think they probably assume that the people who will submit by hauling their asses down to the post office and physically mailing something are more "committed" and "serious" writers than those who can submit at the click of a button. This may or may not be true.
I guess my question is why an editor would deliberately make it difficult for themselves. To me, embracing new technology is about simplifying the process. If it's fast, cheap or free, and easy to use... why wouldn't you use it? There's no sense in clinging to the old ways just to be stubborn. But then again, I've lived my life online, so I don't know why people are so emotional about the "old" ways.
Yes, I love print too. I love reading actual books and magazines. But I also love my Kindle, and reading people's blogs, and chatting on Twitter, and interacting with people online. Our magazine has always been digital, so it's hard to say what it would be like if it had started in print and switched over. I do know that I really, REALLY love the publications that remain in print but also offer various digital options. That's important to me: being read by as many readers as possible, in as many ways as they are interested in reading. It's not really traditional vs. modern, it's how can we reach those readers in their favored forms?