Editor Interview: SAND: Berlin's English Literary Journal

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

A: An open map.

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

A: We are huge fans of literary magazines because that is where some of the most innovative work is published by both emerging and established writers. Think George Saunders’ “Sea Oak” or Karen Russell’s “Reeling for the Empire” or Steven Millhauser’s “Arcadia” or Emily Mitchell’s “Biography.” Many of us enjoy journals that aren’t afraid of taking risks on new writers and new approaches. Being an international magazine ourselves, we certainly appreciate journals that actively include work from diverse, global, and under-published perspectives, which includes work in translation. I’ve actually made the decision to subscribe to and unsubscribe from magazines based on the VIDA count, which is brilliant. It’s difficult to name just a few, but gun to my head, I’d say Alaska Quarterly Review, Ploughshares, Asymptote, and PANK.

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

A: Selecting what work to publish is very much a group effort, so it’s hard to say – or agree on – who our favourite artists or writers are. Generally speaking, we look for committed artists and writers whose work explores uncharted territory. We feel particularly strongly about publishing work from perspectives that are generally underserved in art and literature, including work by women, people from the LGBTQ community, and people from the wider international creative community.

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

A: As an English-language publication based in Berlin, we see the language and subject matter of the work we print from an unusual vantage point – our international enclave of English (and many other languages) in the German capital. So we don’t take anything for granted. Everyone who shows up either in SAND or in Berlin brings along a unique set of experiences.

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

A: The answer here is probably a bit of a cliché, but we like submissions that are clearly the result of having read the magazine. Targeted submissions – as opposed to the blanket kind – are better for everyone: writers don’t have to wait around for responses, and editors don’t have to reject otherwise good work that just doesn’t fit the publication. And because we want everyone – especially writers – to have access to the work we publish, we make free previews available on issuu as well as selling both print journals and PDFs.

Q: Describe the ideal submission.

A: Every submission we've published. (See Ashley's last answer.) But also every submission we have yet to publish – which, when they're inspired, might be entirely different. We like to be surprised. Sorry if that's no help at all.

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

A: A frequent mistake is when writers blurb their own submissions, or even include something like a synopsis of a poem which is longer than the actual poem. While we love to get some context on the project – it's from a series of sonnets, it's from a research-based novel on the platypus, and so on – we want the work to speak for itself. While reading hundreds of submissions, we don't need to see writers describing the success of their own work ("X makes heartbreak palpable through the use of…").

A more straightforward and frequent transgression is sending a submission over the page limit. We simply want to give our submitters equal attention. SAND likes to start a conversation with our writers and offer edits, so sending in 80 pages doesn't bode well for the kind of dialogue we like to foster.

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

A: We have several readers, so I cannot speak for the rest of the team, but I’ve basically imposed blind submissions on myself. If the story is good, the story is good. I don’t need to know where the writer has published before, whether they have an MFA, or whether they’re also a poet. Good writing will stand out and stick with me. That being said, when it comes to making final decisions, diversity is very important to us. When two stories are equally compelling, the writers’ biographies might come into play. As Steph said, we’re quite active in working to receive more submissions from people of color, people in the LGBTQ community, women, and people from around the globe.

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

A: Again, I can only speak for myself because of the number of readers we have during the submissions process, but I read as long as the story actively engages me. If I am so deeply immersed in the story world that 5,000 words feel like 500, that story will get my go ahead for the next round.

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

A: One of the things I love most about SAND is how democratic we are. On the fiction side, both Florian and I read all of the submissions and give a tiered short list to the team. Then everyone has a chance to chime in before Florian has the final say. It’s beautiful to see how certain stories resonate with so many people who have such different tastes. It’s also beautiful to see the passion that comes out of the team when fighting for pieces to be published. Because we believe in building up the writing community, we always let those shortlisted writers know, even when we do not publish them. And it’s something that other writers should know when submitting: even if you’re getting rejections on good work, there’s an honest chance that someone is fighting for you behind the scenes at some stage of the editing process.

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

A: We select the fiction for our issues based on the strength and vision of the stories, and over the two months or so between a story’s selection and its ultimate publication we closely engage with the author to make sure the text conveys that story in the best possible way. This means that, for lack of a better distinction, we believe in the sanctity of the story, not necessarily in the sanctity of the text. Aside from simple typos, grammatical issues, or logistical confusions, our editing process thus also takes on the rest of the textual fabric, with most texts undergoing only minor, cosmetic changes – the author at all points having the final say, of course. Over the past 5-some years, we are pleased and honored to say that the authors and translators whose work we published have enjoyed these editorial conversations, the stories on publication exactly the same in spirit as when they were submitted.

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

A: We do! Though our geographic location prohibits us from submitting work to many competitions limited to US or UK territories, we loyally nominate pieces for the Pushcart Prize and are very honored to be able to say that flash fictions originally published in SAND have been included in the Best Small Fictions anthologies (and also among that competition’s runners-up) for the past three years straight.