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Editor Interview: The Florida Review

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

A: Relevant, tough, spirited

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

A: Agni, Ninth Letter, Brevity, Creative Nonfiction, True Story, Gulf Coast, New England Review, Numero Cinq, and many others.

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

A: Isn't that a little personal, like what kind of bra I have on? There are writers I keep close to my heart, but any time I answer this question I cringe because I leave out some of the best. Let's say instead here are a few terrific writers I've read in the past year or so. That way I'm not going to harp on the past. Paul Lisicky, Rigoberto Gonzales, Claudia Rankine, Stephen Kuusisto, George Saunders, Toni Morrison, Joan Wickersham, and, okay, a little of the past I've been rereading, Flannery O'Connor.
I love writers who revel in the language, but who also have a gritty, steely-eyed quality about them. I love writers who have a wicked sense of humor, but who know that humor is there to protect us from the sadness of our mortal lives. Yet, of course, every time I outline what I love there comes along some writer who does something completely else, and I love that, too.

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

A: I'm in my second year as editor of The Florida Review, and so I am feeling my way toward a new definition, one that respects and builds on our fine history, but that brings us forward as well. We were one of the first literary magazines to recognize graphic narrative as a literary art form, and I hope to bring recognition to even new forms of narrative. I hope to create a place where the arts can engage each other. Right now, however, we are only beginning these efforts and what sets us apart at this point is a spirit of survival against all odds. That conveys in our affection for tough work that can be very dark or very funny, but that exists at multiple levels, isn't afraid of depth, and is always, always beautiful even if what it describes isn't.

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

A: I know it's almost a cliche, but: Read it first. Online submissions are a great convenience for both writers and editors, but writers have a tendency to over-submit--to dozens of publications at a time with a few clicks. They have no intention of reading most of the publications to which they submit, which is a huge irony. If they don't see that irony, they shouldn't submit to The Florida Review.
Also, please be patient and kind. Educate yourself about what it's like behind the scenes at literary magazines. Some have more resources than others, but almost all of us do this as a labor of love. Most of us get paid nothing and do our editorial work on top of other jobs and job responsibilities. Most of us are also writers, who are taking time away from our own work to make opportunities for other writers. We do our best with very little. If you don't understand these things, we will consider you an egotistical rank amateur.

Q: Describe the ideal submission.

A: There is no one ideal submission, though all of them will share in qualities of insight and a high level of skill in terms of all levels of writing from the overall shape of a piece to the finest details of diction, punctuation, and syntax. The ideal submission will evoke gasps, tears, laughter, and contemplation past a first reading.

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

A: We see many pieces that show talent, but in which the writer has clearly not taken the revision process seriously. These are our saddest rejections--pieces that show so much potential, but which just aren't quite there. There are, of course, others that we reject where clearly the author hasn't respected our guidelines or doesn't have enough skill to yet be submitting at all, but, for us, the hardest ones are the ones we like but that just aren't yet perfected. Just the other day, for instance, we were discussing a set of poems that contained some absolutely fabulous lines and images, but the poems just didn't hold together--they needed a couple more rounds of revision. It was hard, but we had to let go of them.

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

A: We like cover letters. We don't pay a lot of attention to them before work is in final rounds, but if we can help someone at a critical point in their career, that can tip us in a close contest. In that case, yes, publication credits matter, but it's never the most important thing.

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

A: This varies. Sometimes we can tell in the first page or two that a prose piece just hasn't got a clear direction or is so poorly written that we need go no further. But most of the time, multiple editorial assistants or manuscript screeners read each submission completely. Not every piece has to rocket out of the gates. That would preference a certain flashy type of writing, and we like that sometimes, but not all the time.

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

A: We have a somewhat complex process involving a number of different layers. I make the final acceptance decisions about prose in conjunction with my fiction and creative nonfiction editors, Victoria Campbell and Nicole Oquendo. Likewise with graphic narratives with which I consult with my graphics editor, Nate Holic. Ken Hart, the poetry editor, makes his own final acceptances, sometimes in consultation with me. Ken, Victoria, Nicole, Nate and I are the only four who are allowed to reject work. But we have numerous other staff who are reading, commenting, and voting on submissions and who draw our attention to pieces they think are worth an editor's look.

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

A: This past year and a half have been a time of rapid change and a steep learning curve for me, so I'm not sure if they will become typical. However, I balance my editing with teaching and writing, and it's highly variable and busy and certainly depends on the day of the week. One day I may be reading and grading work for a course I'm teaching, as well as spending time in the classroom. The next day I may be holding meetings with our website designer, sending in specs to get print bid estimates, and meeting with MFA students who are working on social media projects or other things. I may spend an hour or two on Submittable reading submissions, usually in the evening or on the weekend. But this will also depend on where we are in the production schedule--so some weeks are more devoted to reading submissions, others to doing final editing, others to instructing my editorial interns on how to proofread or setting up manuscript copies for them to proofread. As we get closer to release, we are working more on the layout and cover design, as well as coordinating with the printer. It's a constant juggling act with new objects being thrown in all the time!

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

A: I believe that if we want to survive, we need to adapt to the way people are reading now. Thus, I believe it's very important for publishers to embrace new technologies. Narrative will always be with us, but forms will change. I'm a traditionalist myself, but I recognize that we need the new to thrive, and so I am working to create a whole new online supplement called Aquifer: The Florida Review Online. Because I work for a large, slow-moving institution, I can't promise the date of our launch, but we will be trying to create synergy between our beautiful print magazine and the online environment to the benefit of readers and our authors.

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

A: This varies as well. We don't accept work that isn't already well written, but we do sometimes do some line editing, and we almost always copyedit. If we only do copyediting and fact checking (place names, brand names, and the like), we do not get author approval. If we make more significant line edits, we do.