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Editor Interview: Fourth Genre

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

A: Experiments in nonfiction

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

A: Everything by Graywolf ... Sarabande ... Ovenbird (also Two Sylvias Press), and all the nonfiction by University of Iowa Press. For literary journals, I love Under the Gum Tree ... River Teeth ... and Brevity ... and Image.

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

A: Read the journal, of course! Read the submission guidelines on the inside back cover. If you read these, you'll know we are looking for a particular type of nonfiction--we are really-really starved for experimental forms, for graphic essays, for essays rather than memoirs. We look for essays that take up a subject to explore, to dig deeper, to reflect, and then explore some more. Patrick Madden's "Spit," which we published a couple of years ago and which was named by that year's Best American Essays as a Notable, is a great example.

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

A: Although Submittable asks for cover letters, we don't really need or care about them. I ask the editorial staff not to read them until after reading and deciding upon the submission itself (and we ask for blind submissions). Lots of submitters ignore the submission guidelines, surprisingly! I don't care about previous publications.

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

A: Every single submission is read, all the way to the end, by an editorial staff of six, and by me. If any one of us likes anything about the essay, we discuss it at weekly editorial meetings. I make a preliminary decision either to say no at that point, or to hang on to it. We review those again a month or so later, sifting through and making decisions again. Any piece that survives this process is then sent to a group of consulting editors and readers. I try to send essays to readers that I think are best for the piece, but our readers are pretty diverse in how they respond to work. Sometimes I get the full range of responses back to a piece! If any one of them, or of my staff, makes a strong argument for an essay, I'm usually, eventually swayed. I also usually share redacted comments from the consulting readers with authors, and sometimes ask authors if they're willing to re-visit the essay with the comments in mind. Often this results in a revision I'll accept for publication. We like working with authors to make the piece the best it can be. I should add that if a piece of writing is racist or homophobic in its depiction, or cluelessly ignorant in its choices of language, I know immediately I won't publish it, but I read it to the end nonetheless.

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

A: This depends entirely on the piece. Some authors are meticulous stylists, while others would clearly benefit from an editor's ear and eye. If that's the case, I engage the author in a conversation (usually, but not always, before accepting the piece), and try to get approval for any substantive change I want to urge on them. But more often, I ask writers to consider feedback and make the change and choice themselves. In production, I copyedit for the small stuff, someone else proofreads and formats for the journal's style, and the author sees page proofs for any further changes.

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

A: Bob Atwan at Best American Essays receives a subscription to Fourth Genre, so that the essays we publish are considered each year by him and his guest editors. I nominate the full allowable number of essays for the Pushcart Prize each year as well.