The world is a small place. The publishing world smaller still. SmokeLong Quarterly gave me one of my first publication credits and I’m proud to say something of mine has appeared in their excellent annual every year, although I’ll have to get my finger out for this year, as I haven’t subbed anything yet! Excellence in publishing is rare – in online publishing rarer still, but every time they put up a new issue I find at least one outstanding piece of flash fiction; a story that turns the world inside out in a thousand words. So when I was looking for an online publisher to give me the skinny on how the ‘zine world works, I couldn’t think of anybody better to approach than Dave Clapper. He’s one of those writer/editors who somehow finds time to do both things well, although as he reveals in his interview, it’s not easy, and he has the ability, along with his team, to spot the unique voice of an emerging writer. You can read one of his stories, which is a personal favourite of mine at Unlikely Stories. So I asked Dave the dirty dozen:
How did you get into publishing?
I suspect my story is similar to a lot of publishers of lit mags. As a writer, I was frustrated by the magazines to which I was submitting. Some of the editors were great about responding to submissions, but many weren't. In one case, I only found out that my work had been accepted for publication when the published work turned up in a Google search. There also seemed to be an alarming death rate among the magazines where I appeared. Twice, for example, accepted pieces never appeared because the magazines went defunct before the stories were published. I wanted there to be at least one market that responded to writers quickly and kindly and that wouldn't disappear suddenly. Since starting SmokeLong, of course, I've realized that there are a ton of great editors and publications out there - I just didn't seem to have much luck finding them.
What’s the best thing about being a publisher?
I love presenting outstanding work to a broad audience that may have never heard of any given writer that we're publishing. We're very lucky to register between 150,000 and 200,000 page views per issue, so our writers get read a lot.
And what’s the worst thing?
Having to reject submissions. And unfortunately, we have to do this a lot. We get about 500 submissions per issue and publish only 20, so we have to say "no" much more than I'd like.
What’s the one mistake you made, when starting out, that still haunts you?
I don't think there's any one thing that really haunts me. Every mistake provides some sort of learning experience. Or at least it should. And we had a great staff from the beginning. Lisa McMann co-founded the magazine with me, and we both had so much passion for the project that I think our enthusiasm made it easy to forgive any mistakes we might have made. And since that first issue, we've been really blessed to have incredibly talented and passionate people on staff: Nance Knauer, Thomas White, Amy Sparks, Ellen Meister, Kathy Fish, Marty Ison, Randall Brown, Steven Gullion, Katrina Denza ... and that doesn't even touch on the folks who were with us for one issue as guest editors.
I think it's pretty telling, though, that only a few of those folks are still on staff. It's fairly unusual for a piece not to be read by everyone on staff, and reading about 2,000 pieces a year can become difficult to balance against the rest of our lives. I think almost everyone on staff has seen their own writing production slow down at one point or another. And short of people eventually moving on, I'm not sure that there's any good way to combat that while still giving submitting writers the attention they deserve. Maybe cloning?
Who do you most admire as a writer, and why?
Admire? Man, I admire any writer who gets his or her work out there, whether it gets published or not. It's such an intimate thing to share with people we've never met. That said, if I have to hone it down to one writer, I have to recognize Ellen Parker, first because her writing is among my favorite stuff to read, but second (and maybe it should be first) because I know her and can see how much of her self is in every word she writes. There are probably other writers who peel their words right from their inner organs, but I don't know them well enough to observe it.
What advice would you give somebody who is thinking of entering the world of publishing?
Research. It's an incredibly costly venture. I don't mean that so much in a monetary sense as I do in a time sense. Think seriously about how much time you have and how publishing is going to affect your other passions. In the year before I started SLQ, I think I had something like 30 pieces published. In the three years since, I've had maybe 10. It may not be writing that has its time cut back for every publisher, but be aware that something is going to take a time hit.
And what advice would you give writers hoping to be published?
Read. In particular, read stories in any magazine to which you're going to submit. If you don't like what you're reading, move on, because the odds that the editors of that magazine will like what you're writing are slim. That's not to say that your writing is bad - rather, there's a better match for your writing out there somewhere. Keep looking until you find it.
Write. Write a lot. Give yourself permission to suck eggs, because a lot of your writing is going to suck. Sorry. It will. But you have to write the garbage to get to the good stuff. And the more you write, the less garbage there'll be.
Edit. First drafts aren't perfect. Have patience, though. Learn to put your stuff away for a little while after you write it. Come back to it later fresh. You might be surprised. Some of the stuff you thought was brilliant will be in the garbage, and some of the stuff you thought was garbage will be brilliant. You'll also find mistakes that you won't find upon first read. Fix 'em.
Submit. Get rejected and submit again. Learn not to take rejections personally. You know the writer you most idolize? Rejected more than you can imagine, I'll guarantee it. Maybe not so much once they're "names," but they've been rejected.
Is there something else you can see yourself doing if you weren’t a publisher?
My paying gigs are split pretty evenly between editing and web development, so I guess web development would have to be at the top of that list. And my degree is in theater, which I often miss, so I could see getting back on stage.
If you were abandoned on a desert island, with just one book for company, what would it be?
Oh, hell. The Bible, I guess. Lots of stories in there, many of which I don't understand as well as I'd like to. And if I had all that time to read it, by the time I was rescued, I could probably do more than a half-assed job of telling the Pat Robertsons and James Dobsons of the world the myriad ways in which they're wrong.