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Editor Interview: Tom Howard/John H. Reid Fiction & Essay Contest

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

A: Contemporary short prose

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

A: New Millennium Writings, Graywolf, Sibling Rivalry Press, Barrelhouse, DIAGRAM, Saddle Road Press, Alice James Books,

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

A: Some of our favorite fiction and nonfiction writers include Robert Olen Butler, Alexander Chee, Ruthanna Emrys, Roxane Gay, Barbara Kingsolver, Daniel Mallory Ortberg, Matt Ruff, George Saunders, Wesley Stace, and Angie Thomas.

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

A: Winning Writers accepts previously published work, unlike most other contests and journals with a similar prize pool and prestige. Our website gets 1 million page views annually, and over 100,000 Twitter followers.

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

A: Read past winners, especially those from the most recent 3-5 years, because editorial staff and tastes may have changed. Do a little research on this year's guest judge. Read the judges' essays from previous years, because we always give advice on common problems with the submissions. Be extra conscious of racial, gendered, class, body type, and mental health stereotypes (we list our pet peeves about these in the judges' essays). Don't gratuitously sexualize or exoticize your characters. A strong ending to a story doesn't have to tie up all the loose ends, but it should feel as though a central question has been settled, a definitive change has been made, or an important moment in time has concluded.

Q: Describe the ideal submission.

A: See past winners for a general idea of our tastes. We are always eager to receive more work from perspectives outside the white, cis-hetero, middle class "majority". (I put that in quotes because it is the majority in the publishing world, but not in THE world!)

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

A: Please make sure that the version you send us is the one that you want judged. We don't generally accept revisions to winning entries, and we prefer not to spend extra time making corrections to entries during the judging period.

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

A: All entries are judged anonymously.

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

A: We don't read every single piece all the way through (I doubt that any contest does). How much we read depends on the individual screener and the quality of those first paragraphs. A first page with a lot of typos or cliches will usually knock you out of the running. Other times, we have to read all the way through to see if you stick the ending. Finalists will be read in full by the screener and the final judge.

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

A: First-round screeners look at each piece. The final judge reads some or all of each piece on the shortlist that the screeners put forward. I may consult with the final judge about the rankings of their top picks and whether to add extra runners-up.

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

A: I'm not active in the judging of this contest, so the best way to get a feel for the process is to read our interview with the judge and their comments on past years' winners.

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

A: Online submissions have made it possible for us, and many other small publishers, to run a cost-effective and environmentally friendly business. We're happy to see this trend take off. Over time, we hope that e-books and POD will have the same prestige as traditional inventory publishing. Bookstores and critics should not pre-judge the quality of writing based on the publisher's adherence to an obsolete business model.

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

A: We don't believe in editing accepted work, except to clear up minor typos. Out of fairness to the other entrants, we have to take the piece as we find it, not as we wish it could be. The author has final say on suggested fixes.

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

A: We nominate our winners for Best of the Net, and are happy to nominate for other eligible awards that the author may suggest. Jocelyn Pihlaja's "Family, Edited" was a 2016 Best of the Net essay that we nominated: