Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Interview with Julie Ann Dawson of Bards and Sages Quarterly

We always like to feature editors of fine short story venues here at Write1Sub1, just in case you're looking for a great market to feature your work. Today, we're honored to welcome Julie Ann Dawson of Bards and Sages Quarterly for an insightful interview.

W1S1:  First off, how would you describe your role(s) at Bards and Sages?

Mom.  The Quarterly is my baby.  I started it in 2009 with the goal of providing a quality showcase for speculative writers.  I guess I was growing frustrated with the rise of ezines that only pay in "exposure" and accept anything and everything to "support" writers.  I don't see how either action supports anything other than bad writing and egos.  The journal is not about generating an artificial publishing credit. People want to post their stories for free online, they don't need me to do that.  So what I try to do with each issue is not just publish fiction, but to put the stories together in such a way that they compliment and feed off of each other.  My hope is that my authors don't walk away thinking "Hey, I got published" but rather "WOW, look at these people I was published with!"

W1S1:  What are the top three things you look for in a story?

Most of what we publish is what you would call character-driven narrative.  I have to care about the characters.  I either need to like them enough to care what happens to them, or hate them enough to anxiously hope they get what is coming to them.  The very worst thing that can happen for a story is for me to finish it and have no opinion on the characters.

The second thing is that the story needs to pass the minnow test.  Gary Gygax once said that a reader will swallow a whale but choke on a minnow.  Truer words have never been said when it comes to speculative fiction.  Readers will buy into a story with vampires an aliens and such.  But miss the little details and you lose them.  It is the attention to detail that makes speculative fiction work.

Finally, one of the things I am seeing a lot of recently is writers getting too clever for their own good.  I get the impression that some writers are more concerned with demonstrating how witty they are than telling a story.  Using ten-dollar words when there are perfectly good 2-dollar ones, if you know what I mean.  Or writing convoluted sentences that go on for an entire paragraph when two or three shorter sentences would have flowed together much better.  The point of storytelling is not to demonstrate how smart you are.  The point of storytelling is to tell a good story.  A lot of writers forget that.

W1S1:  Typically, what makes the difference between a story's acceptance or rejection?

We actually have a very specific scorecard that we use to judge stories.  We look at characterization, dialogue, plot development, pacing, world-building, mood, and grammar.  And then we assign each aspect a score.  It isn't a hard science, but it helps us focus on what works and what doesn't with a story.  A lot of times, the problems are easily corrected and we invite the author to make the changes and resubmit. About 40% of the stories we accept we rejected the first time.  Ultimately, it boils down to whether or not a writer knows how to engage in the art of storytelling, and not just writing words on paper.

W1S1:  What fresh story ideas/themes/genres would you like to see submitted to Bards and Sages this year?

I don't buy into the notion of "fresh" or new themes.  It's been said all stories fall into a limited number of categories: man against man, man against nature, man against society, man against God, and man against himself.  Whether or not the man in question is a human or a werewolf or an alien doesn't make it "fresh."  I think some writers worry too much about being different and not enough about practicing their craft.  They get lost in the gimmicks or fads of the day and don't pay attention to the nuances of storytelling.  It is one of the reasons we have a very firm policy against hybrids or "furries".  People start submitting stories about a girl who is half-cat/half-fairy who falls in love with a boy who is half-vampire/half-demon but their families keep them apart and think they are being so original, but actually all they are doing is writing a variant of Romeo and Juliet. 

W1S1:  If you could change anything about the publishing industry today, what would it be?

The animosity coming out of some segments of the writing community worries me more than anything "the industry" is doing.  If the community would spend less time slamming the Big Six and more time supporting the thousands of small presses that aren't in NYC, we'd be golden.  There is this militant faction forming in writing communities that classifies all publishers as the enemy, and it is counter-productive to the industry as a whole.  I was having an argument recently with some self-publishers who were starting a new ezine to "support indies." Again, like I mentioned before, one of those non-payment but think of the exposure sort of things where it accepts everything and then the contributors are expected to promote it.  What about supporting the hundreds of small publications that actually pay writers?  How about instead of recreating the wheel, pull your head out of the sand and take a look at some of the amazing publications that are probably going to go out of business soon because you and your ilk are more worried about generating faux publishing credits for exposure instead of buying and supporting publications from paying markets? 

W1S1:  Great points, Julie. We do need to support each other. Thanks!

So for all of you Write1Sub1ers out there who just might have a story to submit, go check out Bards and Sages' submission guidelines here. And if you'd like to receive a FREE PDF copy of each issue when it's available, go here to sign up for their free newsletter.


  1. Thanks for the great interview, Julie and Milo.

  2. Enjoyed this! I especially liked the part about the "minnow test." :)

  3. Great interview, Julie and Milo!

  4. Great interview. Julie is a pro.

    So true about "publishing credits"--a single publishing credit didn't get me through any doors.

  5. Excellent points throughout this piece. And a great reminder to us to worry less about language and mood and more about story. It really does make a difference. And, please, please, please lets do our part to support the paying markets.

    Thanks, Julie. And thanks Milo for making this possible.

  6. Wow! I can't remember a time I read an interview (or essay or article) that hit the nail on the head so many times! I found myself agreeing with each and every point Ms. Dawson made, whether about storytelling, writers, publishing, small presses, etc. I can't find fault with anything she said, not even a little bit.