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Editor Interview: The Rumpus

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

A: Artful, authentic work.

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

A: I try to read widely, but am sorely lacking time these days. That said, I love Barrelhouse, and especially admire their new Amplifier award for emerging literary organizations. I have always admired Guernica for the quality and depth of the work they publish, and for continually addressing cultural and political issues. I'm always reading essays (and books) from Catapult. I think the breadth of what they do—with a publishing arm, an online literary site, and writing workshops—is admirable and exciting. Likewise, I'm watching closely to see what Matter Studios does next. I love publications and publishers who are constantly rethinking what it means to be online, how we can use online spaces, and how we can transition back and forth between online and real life in terms of community building and working together to make things happen.

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

A: It's very hard to pick favorite writers, as at The Rumpus we are always publishing a wide array of new voices. I'll focus on our columnists, who write for the site ongoing. Of course, I love Dear Sugar and Cheryl Strayed, though the column is no longer active. But it was one of my first introductions to The Rumpus, and for that alone, it is important to me and definitely a favorite. I'm very proud of our Funny Women section and all of its authors. Our Funny Women Editor, Elissa Bassist, does an excellent job curating her section, too. I think that the very existence of Funny Women speaks volumes about what The Rumpus aims to do as a site. Women are too often shut out of comedy, especially in written form, and as a response, we carved out a space specifically for funny writing by women. Sari Botton's "Writers Who Are Braver Than Me" column always touches that scared writer inside of me and makes me want to try harder and be braver, and for that I love it. Cullen Thomas's "Conversations with Literary Ex-Cons" is another special column that I don't think you'd find anywhere else. A newer column I'm very proud to publish is Deesha Philyaw's "Visible: Women Writers of Color"—this is an important and timely column and Deesha chooses her subjects very carefully and has wonderful conversations with the women she interviews.

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

A: The Rumpus publishes such a wide variety of writing. We have personal essays, critical essays, interviews, book reviews, film and television reviews, cultural commentary pieces, comics and political cartoons, original fiction, ad soon, original poetry. I think we are unique in the breadth of what we publish, and that we seek to do so without compromising quality.

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

A: Read our Writer's Guidelines! Seriously. They are there to help you send in the best submission possible. Oh, and follow the guidelines. You'd be surprised how many people don't. Following that, the best thing to do is read The Rumpus. There is no better way to understand what we like to publish than to read what we've recently been publishing. And please, send a piece in only once you feel it is the final draft. And never be afraid to submit! The worst you'll get is a polite rejection note, and sometimes, we may reject a piece but encourage the author to submit again. Once you've made sure you are following our guidelines and are submitting to the correct section, go ahead and press "submit"!

Q: Describe the ideal submission.

A: I don't think there is an ideal submission, given the variety of what we publish.
If we're talking about essays, which make up the bulk of submissions, we are looking for something new, something fresh, something that might not find a home elsewhere because it's on the edge, because it's wrestling with complicated feelings and ideas. We are always looking for work that challenges the status quo, and that pushes against what the traditional notion of an "essay" might be.

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

A: Submitters often miss that we do not take pitches for essays. We do accept pitches for book reviews and interviews, but we like to see finished essays, especially from writers we haven't worked with before.
And make it easy for us to get in touch! Include an email address in your cover note. And please, please let us know if you are sending a simultaneous submission. We are fine with them, but we do need to know.
Lastly, we do not publish work that has appeared online before, even if only on a personal blog.

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

A: The honest answer here is no, we don't especially care about previous publication credits. It's always helpful to include a brief cover letter explaining the piece being submitted, and including an email address. You are welcome to include a bio, but don't have to. We choose what we publish based on the quality of the writing, not the resume of the writer.

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

A: Each editor would need to answer this herself. But when a piece comes to me, I do usually read the whole thing. There are occasions where I can tell right off the bat that a piece is not for us, but I'll usually read it through anyhow so I can send a kind rejection note that indicates I've given the piece time and thought.

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

A: Again, this will very from section to section. The Essays team has a different process than the Interviews team which has a different process than the Film/TV/Media section, etc. Some sections, like Fiction, will have readers vet submissions and pass along the cream of the crop to the Fiction Editor and Assistant Editors. Other sections, like Music, will be read directly by the Music Editor. Often, what determines if it's going straight to the editor or being vetted by readers and Assistant Editors first is the amount of submissions that section receives. Essays, Fiction, and Books receive a tremendous volume of submissions and it would be a huge undertaking for one individual. Also, the entire editorial staff works on a volunteer basis, and they have real-life, pay-the-rent jobs.

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

A: I begin my day by going through my inbox. This will involve replying to contributors, editors, publicists, etc. In addition to being the Editor-in-Chief of The Rumpus, I'm a mother to a two-year-old and so my work day is broken up into pieces. I'll usually get to scheduling our sidebar columns and checking on the editorial calendar around midday. When my son is in school, I work at a nearby cafe, and use that time to give a final copyedit to pieces sent over from editors and then get those pieces into the system. I'll do more scheduling and copyediting after my son goes to sleep in the late evenings. I work in my car, at the playground, while he naps on me... Wherever I can fit it in! But I always want to give accepted submissions my full attention, so I try to save that work for when I'm alone and can focus fully.

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

A: I think it's crucial for publications to embrace modern technologies, and I say this knowing that The Rumpus has a ways to go in this area. But we are aware of it, and are always discussing possibilities for the future. We are limited by lack of funds, but optimizing the site for mobile readers is a top priority. More than 50 percent of our readers are reading us on mobile devices now. We also want to work to include more multimedia. We are very reliant on email, especially with a staff scattered across the countries, and on apps like Slack and options like GoogleChat and Skype.
I do think we want to remain "traditional" in the sense that we never want the primary focus to shift from good writing. The technology is meant to enhance the writing, not to replace it. We want to be readable and we want to be able to generate revenue so we can continue to grow, but we are traditional in our belief that the story is always at the heart of whatever we are working on.

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

A: This will vary from editor to editor. I keep saying that, I know—but it's the truth. Every editor has her own way of working with her writers. Most of our editors will work closely with the authors whose work is accepted and will suggest substantive edits, and yes, authors approve the final draft. Once a piece makes it way to the Managing Editor or to me, if we copyedit further for site style and grammar, those changes aren't sent back to an author. But substantive edits always require author approval.
We cannot offer editing or even thoughts to work that is not accepted for publication. Because our editorial staff is all-volunteer, they just don't have the time.