Editor Interview: Stoneboat Literary Journal

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

A: Literature and art.

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

A: Alaska Quarterly Review, Midwestern Gothic, Beloit Poetry Journal, Creative Nonfiction

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

A: Joan Didion, David Sedaris, Jo Ann Beard, Sherry Simpson, Annie Dillard

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

A: We are a large-format publication that gives writers' work room to breathe. We are big fans of white space and believe that the visual presentation of the work is just as important as the work itself. With every issue, we strive to create a beautiful publication that will make our writers feel good about placing their work in our journal. Furthermore, we also have an imprint press -- Pebblebrook -- so we publish chapbooks, poetry full-length collections, anthologies,and novels as well. Doing both types of publishing has given us a greater appreciation for the importance of aesthetic, layout, and design.

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

A: Send us a polished piece. Novelist Jo-Ann Mapson once told me, "Send your work out in its church clothes." That's good advice. It seems so obvious that the submission should be free of typos, punctuation errors, or missing words, but we get a ton of work that commits these mortal sins in the first paragraph -- sometimes even the first line. Don't be that submitter. Please, don't be that submitter.

Q: Describe the ideal submission.

A: It follows the guidelines. It requires very little copyediting. And most importantly, it's compelling -- it makes me care, it makes me want to turn the page, it makes me forget that I have another 15 submissions to read before I call it a day. It makes me want to email the other editors and say, "We need to take this NOW before some other journal steals it away from us."

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

A: Our guidelines state that we won't publish a writer in consecutive issues, yet we sometimes receive back-to-back submissions from our contributors. That's a good problem to have. We're honored that writers are pleased with our journal and trust us with more of their work. We see it as a sign that we're doing something right.

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

A: We ask for cover letters that include a brief bio. I don't look at the bio or publication credits when I first read a submission, but the info does sometimes come in handy after the initial read. For instance, if I'm on the fence about whether or not to give the submission a more in-depth look, and the editors of a journal I trust and respect have published the writer's work, that can convince me to spend more time with the piece. I wouldn't say that prior publications convince me to accept a piece (nor does lack of publications convince me to reject it), but a publication history can get me to spend more time considering the work.

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

A: I only read prose, so I can't say anything about how the poetry selection works at Stoneboat. However, those of us who read prose have an agreement: if the piece isn't well-written, or if it hasn't captured our attention in the first page or so, we can reject it without reading any further. We are a small team and we have an enormous number of submissions to get through. As much as we'd like to, we simply can't read everything all the way to the end. I try to think about it from a reader's perspective. Readers don't slog through 15 pages to see if a story or essay will eventually get good; if a reader isn't hooked pretty quickly, he/she will turn the page or set down the journal. If I anticipate the reader turning the page or setting down the journal, I'm not going to publish the piece.

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

A: Although every submission is read by an editor, we do have our interns perform an initial screening. They then assign the piece to be read by one of our four editors. I can't speak to the process that the other editors use to evaluate their assignments, but I can tell you about mine. If the interns recommend rejecting a piece, I'll quickly scan to make sure I agree with their assessment, but I don't usually spend a whole lot of time on those submissions. (The interns are rarely wrong.) If the interns recommend accepting a piece, I'll slow down and read a lot more carefully. Our poetry editor reads all of the poetry submissions and makes the poetry publication decisions on her own, but the process is a little more complex for prose. There are three of us who read prose. We each compile a "short list" of work culled from our assigned submissions that we would like to see in the journal. Then, we read all of the pieces on everyone's short list and duke it out from there. We usually end up publishing about 1/3 of the prose that makes the short list.

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

A: It's a balancing act. My "real" job is teaching composition courses at small Midwestern liberal arts college. I teach four classes in any given semester, and almost always have three different preps. (For those of you who aren't in academia: that's a really heavy teaching load.) On top of that, there's committee work, advising, and overseeing the campus writing center. So, my editorial work gets squeezed in around my job and my life. (I have a family! I have friends! I, in theory, have a writing career!) I read submissions late at night, on weekends, during spring break, in airports and hotel rooms. You get the picture.

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

A: The journal is in its fifth year, and we've moved more and more toward modern technology. At first, we were accepting submissions via email, only took check payments, and used a local printer. Signing up for an electronic submission manager changed our lives. Delving into the world of credit card payments has increased sales enormously. Switching to print-on-demand has cut our budget by a ton while giving us a higher-quality publication. That said, we still see the value in hard copy submissions, and we don't do our copyediting digitally. I still look things up in a hardcopy of the SOED and Chicago manual. Technology makes many things better and easier, but there's still a place for doing things the old fashioned way.