Today we return to the world of magazines. I’ll be talking to A.J. Odasso, Senior Poetry Co-Editor at Strange Horizons.
SCy-Fy: The poetry department is a team effort, isn’t it?
AJO: There are four of us on the Strange Horizons Poetry Department staff; Sonya Taaffe [Senior Co-Editor], Li Chua, and M.J. Cunniff [our newly recruited Co-Editors] make up the rest of the team of which I’m a part.
SCy-Fy: How do you divide up the workload?
AJO: We split the year into four three-month reading periods so that each one of us gets a turn on-desk. During a typical reading period, each editor can expect to see 200 – 300 poems; depending on our already accepted backlog and our publication needs for the year, we can only accept between nine to fourteen out of each reading period’s worth of submissions.
SCy-Fy: What is your personal approach to reading submissions, A.J.?
AJO: For my part, I read continually as submissions come in, although I make a point of responding quickly on pieces I know won’t quite fit (rejections). Unless I’m so struck by a poem that I accept it on the spot, I generally hold onto pieces I’m taken with until the end of my reading period. Once I’ve narrowed my short-list to the ones I’d like to buy, I send out rejections on the remainder, and then send out acceptances. Each editor is responsible for sending out information sheets and contracts to their accepted poets for completion, and each editor is also responsible for galleying the poems they’ve accepted. As you can see, the work-load is evenly split.
SCy-Fy: What about covering costs?
AJO: Strange Horizons covers its year ’round operational costs through an annual fund drive. We usually aim to raise around $13k – $14k, and, in the three years I’ve now been with the magazine, I’ve always seen us exceed that amount by a small, but comfortable margin. While the fund drive is on (this usually happens in the autumn), we offer bonus content, prizes, and other perks for each funding milestone hit.
SCy-Fy: Does the magazine have any specific future initiatives planned?
AJO: I wouldn’t say that we have any current initiatives except looking forward to the 2015 Fund Drive. Of course, we’ve just been nominated for a Hugo in the Best Semi-Pro Zine category for the third year in a row, so we do hope for an eventual win!
SCy-Fy: I’m sure you have many supporters in that. What do you think will be the major future challenges for SFF magazines?
AJO: Actively seeking and publishing diverse talent, hands down. I read Strange Horizons for around seven years before joining the editorial team, and, while I can say we’re currently doing a better job of publishing diverse work than the magazine was doing even ten years ago, genre magazines across the board have a long way to go. Fortunately, the current crop of speculative poetry publications (I’m thinking of such venues as Goblin Fruit, Ideomancer, Liminality, Mythic Delirium, and Stone Telling in addition to SH) are edited by a diverse group of individuals who are fiercely committed to encouraging submissions and soliciting verse from underrepresented groups.
Another significant challenge we’re already facing, I feel, is that most publications don’t pay poets what their work is worth.
SCy-Fy: Please expand on that.
AJO: In another recent interview at Poetry Has Value, I discussed our pay-rate of $30/poem with Jessica Piazza. Until the trend of assuming that prose is inherently more work (and therefore deserves premium compensation) starts to fade, I don’t think we’ll see as much change on this front.
I do understand that for many magazines the issue is lack of funding; this challenge is one that magazines, regardless of genre, have always faced. I’m proud to edit for a magazine that pays its writers well across the board, and I hope we’ll be able to continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Our patrons and our readership have always been generous.
SCy-Fy: You read hundreds of submissions, A.J.. What advice would you give writers?
AJO: Writing is hard work, so put in the hours. Be brave, be respectful, and be stubborn. Listen to your readers, because they’ll improve the way you listen to yourself and to your text. Ruthlessly self-edit, and read out loud wherever possible.
SCy-Fy: Poems that have had the most impact or controversy?
AJO: Peruse the Strange Horizons Poetry Archives for the entirety of 2014, and I think you’ll find that, in the past year, we’ve published much of the finest and most challenging verse we’ve published to date. I hope that we can continue this trend in 2015, and, if overall quality of submissions continues to rise the way that it has, I have no doubt that we will.
SCy-Fy: I know this is very difficult, but what are your personal favourites among what you have published?
On my personal blog, I have a tag devoted to announcing the names and titles I accept in each of my reading periods. I admit to being biased toward my own acceptances, so glancing at those posts and then seeking out titles via SH Archives search function will leave you with the ones I love best.
SCy-Fy: Thank you, A.J. And best of luck with everything!
AJO: Thank you, SCy-Fy, for this opportunity! Best wishes to you as well.