Chat with the Editors: Psychopomp Magazine Submission Process
Cole Bucciaglia: We thought we’d discuss our acceptance statistics and submission process so that writers can get a little behind the scenes look if they are sending in their work. There are great resources like Duotrope, which I wish more people used, that track response statistics. However, they’re only able to provide statistics for the writers who give them info. We’d like to use the stats from our submission manager so that you can see ALL our acceptance details. Complete transparency.
So first, what do we do when a new submission comes to us? Well, there are only two of us, which means that every story that comes in is read by both of us. We try to get to each story within 10-14 days, but that varies according to the time of year. Right now, we are assembling a contest chapbook, so we might take a little longer than usual. Also, the more likely we are to take something, the longer we hold onto it, as we want to make sure everything we take for a given issue fits well into the whole.
Initially, we each give a story either a “yes,” “no,” or “maybe” vote. Sequoia, what determines a “yes” or “maybe” story for you?
Sequoia Nagamatsu: For me, language is very important. A close second is an awareness of form. A well-crafted submission that reads well (and sounds good) is going to be met with more sympathy on my end. Those stories, regardless of whether or not I’m interested in the subject matter, almost always get a closer read. Of course, reading through a few issues of Psychopomp Magazine, one might stitch together a kind of aesthetic. What do we like? That’s a tough question and one that really boils down to knowing it when we see it. Cole and I, generally speaking, have similar tastes. I might be more open to more experimental work, but we both love work in the fabulist vein, surrealism, and work that, in some way, evokes discomfort, beauty, and the psychological thought process via the fantastic. An automatic “yes” for me tends to entertain me on the subject matter level while also being close to being “done” (in other words, it’s polished and most of the parts are where they need to be). Sometimes we work with writers on more extensive edits but not often. A “maybe” might be a story that comes close but isn’t quite working for me on all levels. I might be open to working with the writer. I might need to chew on the submission while we read other submissions. At the end of the day, we need to put out issues … and as issue launch time looms, decisions about what works and what doesn’t can shift. This is partly why some of our issues might be shorter than others. And also part of the reason why we want to showcase just a few stories in each issue. We want to present work that we really admire and love and nothing short of that.
CB: We definitely do have similar tastes. I think one of the ways in which we differ is that I tend to favor stories that are a little sparer with their language. We get a lot of very poetic and lyrical pieces, but I’m very wary of stories in which every line is painstakingly written to evoke heart-aching Beauty. I get more excited about fairy tale-esque stories that are economic with their language. I think shorter pieces tend to get away with sustained lyricism more, which is why we do take many short pieces. Also, I’ll often give a “maybe” to something that may not fit in the issue we’re currently working on (for whatever reason: it’s too long, too similar in style to something else we have, whatever), but which I like so much that I’m willing to hold onto it for the next issue. I know it can be perplexing to see that so many others have heard back weeks before you’ve gotten a response to your story, but with us, that isn’t necessarily a bad sign. That said, I think if you haven’t heard back from us after two months (very rare), you’ve nothing to lose in inquiring about the status of your submission.
When we cast our respective votes, we make general summative comments that the other can see, but we don’t sit down and discuss a story until both votes are in. If something has gotten two definitive “no” votes, that makes the next step pretty easy. Even if we both agree wholeheartedly on a story, we still discuss it and why we should take it. It’s tougher when we don’t agree, but I think that, most of the time, if one of us really wants to take a story, it works out that the other person can be persuaded. We usually err on the side of accepting something. Does that sound right to you?
SN: Yes, generally speaking, I think we’re on the same wavelength. I think we’ll accept something that we’re both on the fence about if it’s more accessible vs. something that is wildly experimental (albeit interesting and impressive).
For work we solicit, I generally take point on that. And Cole gives the yea or nay.
CB: And it works similarly with the roles reversed for art, but that’s a whole other kettle of fish.
I want to clarify that if something is interesting and impressive, I don’t think we’ll shy away from it because it’s experimental. It’s when something is experimenting with form for reasons that are indiscernible that we become wary. If the experimentation serves the story, that’s fine. We market ourselves as favoring experimental work after all. If your story is written in llama font, however, it’s probably not for us. Although you never know, I suppose . . . (Click here for a piece Sequoia wrote for the Review Review on submitting experimental work).
Now submittable says that we have 91% rejections, 5.19% acceptances, and 3.81% withdrawn submissions. The withdrawn stories throw things off a teeny bit, because a lot of them are withdrawn immediately to fix some error and then resubmitted. (Which is fine, by the way. We all stuff up sometimes.) I think that strikes a nice balance between selectivity and approachability, considering that we are still fairly new.
I should also note that I don’t even look at cover letters until after I’ve read the story. I think you’re different, though.
SN: Cover letters don’t make or break the submission, but I do tend to glance at them before or during my first read. As a newer journal, sometimes we see writers of a certain pedigree sending us their “B” level work (Real talk: Writers do this. In a perfect world, writers will only send their best work out but even if this were the case, not every story is going to find a home at XYZ journal of choice. And writers want to find homes for their work). As such, I don’t really see cover letters as indicative of a successful submission. Oftentimes, it’s the writer with few or even no credits that impresses us. But, as a mere mortal, if you’re especially fancy (or someone I know) I might take a second glance “just to make sure I’m not missing anything” even if I’m leaning toward a “no.”
CB: I mainly like cover letters because I’m curious to know about the writers who are sending us their stuff. The story itself is what’s being published. The cover letter is not going to get it in or out, so if you don’t know what to write, keep it short. If you don’t have any prior publication credits, it won’t affect your chances.
I think that’s about everything we need to cover. Anything I’m forgetting?
SN: I think that about sums the cover letters up. Really not a big deal (but an interesting treat).
CB: I meant “that’s about everything” for the whole discussion!
SN: Oh! I was ready to keep going. Yeah, that’s good.
CB: OK. You can reach us at email@example.com with any questions about submitting. Thanks for reading!