The Lincoln Review Interview with Alex Shenstone

Have you ever wondered about the ins-and-outs of a University-run journal compared to unaffiliated ones? We did. And Alex Shenstone, the editor of The Lincoln Review, was kind enough to answer all of our questions. Like, what sorts of extra considerations should you be making? And, who is making the final decision to publish your work? Learn the answers to these and more below.

If you could sum up your magazine's vibe in six words or less, what would they be?

My six words of choice to sum up the vibe of The Lincoln Review would have to be: Contemporary, Diverse, Elegant, Introspective, Atmospheric and Sobering.

What—in your mind—sets a university back journal apart from journals run by individuals or organizations? Let’s say “pros/cons” style for clarity.

I think there are lots of things that set University journals apart from other publications. The main pro is the amount of readers involved. The editing cohort I was part of involved approximately 40 students, and we all read each submission that came in – i.e. even if you were only credited as a Fiction Editor on the Masthead, you still got to read all the poetry, nonfiction, and other work. Having so many readers meant there was a diverse range of people reading submissions, and I believe these different perspectives allowed for more diversity to be showcased in the eventual issues.

On the other hand, a con is that because editing for the journal is part of the Creative Writing MA, it’s harder for the student readers to find time to properly communicate and share in the experience. It is a brilliant opportunity for students to get a better understanding of the industry, and the experience of reading people’s work from around the world was always super exciting! However, because the process was strictly timetabled with weekly deadlines, it didn’t leave much room for widespread communication and discussion amongst the cohort.

How does the structure of a University run journal differ from that of a regular publication? Who has final say, who are the readers, editors, etc.

Something key about a University journal structure is that the main readers, aka all the students, don’t actually get the final say. Though this may be typical with bigger journals in general, who also pass work up the chain to senior editors, the original readers often aren’t even told the final decisions until the issue’s actual release. Once a student reader submits their decision and the process rolls forward, they won’t receive much communication on decisions that happen after that point.

What sort of advice might you give university students looking to start publishing their work?

I would advise students to really get involved with the writing community on social media, especially Twitter! This is where you can get the most information about submission calls, the kinds of publications out there, and you can connect with fellow writers from around the world. Connecting with others who are on the same journey as you can help with your confidence too I think, which makes the process of submitting work WAY less nerve-wracking!

Is there anything different on the writer’s side that they should consider before submitting to a University run journal?

On the writer’s side of things, I think things such as correct grammar and spelling need to be faultless in submissions, even in cover letters! In my view, one or two spelling mistakes just prove that you’re a human being, and sometimes it’s hard to spot every little error because we always look at our own writing through such a close lens. However, it’s not something forgivable for a University journal, and submissions will often be dismissed based on a spelling error in someone’s cover letter – so making use of a spell-checking software or having a beta reader is definitely something to consider!

For students at a university, what advice would you give for them to get more involved in the lit scene besides sending out their work?

Read as much as possible! There are so many journals and mags who curate issues and make them available for free in online formats, so there are so many opportunities for you to read incredible work without worrying about costs (however, if you CAN afford to buy a journal’s issue or donate to a journal then please do it, every little helps!). Also, if you read something you like then don’t be afraid to talk about it on social media! Sharing your thoughts and feelings on someone’s writing and raising awareness for your fellow writer is not only a lovely thing to do, but it will allow you to properly connect with more people like yourself!

Are there any common mistakes writers make when they submit to your magazine?

Yes, 100%. The most common mistake I see is people not including a cover page with their submissions, as per the guidelines – also, far more people deviated away from Times New Roman than I expected, and a lot of submissions were rejected on that basis.

Is there a specific kind of project you haven’t seen in your current submissions that you’d love to see come in?

I would personally love to see more flash fiction! I personally enjoy encasing feelings and concepts in under 500 words or so, and I would love to see more writing like that. Though longer stories can suck you in and captivate you, I think if a writer can send you reeling with very few words, it can be so impactful.

What do you see as a deal-breaker in a submission, regardless of the quality of the writing? (For example, poor formatting, vulgarity, etc.)

For me a deal breaker is formatting. I don’t want to open a document and see a title whose font size is six times bigger than the story text size (unless it’s a visual piece and therefore necessary). If the font type or size is wrong, if individual pieces don’t start on new pages, or if the line spacing isn’t as we requested, then it makes it difficult for me as a reader to focus on the content of the submission. It may sound picky, but these guidelines for formatting aren’t there because we just felt like putting them there – they’re there because when work comes to be published, to make it readable to the public they have to be formatted this way. So yeah, formatting is my deal-breaker.

There are the well-worn (for good reason) pieces of advice like "read submissions guidelines" and "read the journal you're submitting to," but do you have any other advice for prospective writers looking to get their work published?

I would advise any and all writers to read your submission out loud to yourself before you send it. When you read your work aloud you can far more easily gauge the effectiveness of your sentence structure, your grammar, tone, and it makes it far easier to spot spelling errors when you suddenly have to process speaking your words aloud – the amount of mistakes I’ve found in my own work thanks to doing this has honestly been staggering, so I cannot recommend it enough!

If you could add one question to this interview, what would it be, and how would you answer it?

I would add the question: Who is the author who inspires you most as a writer? My answer to this is Daniel Handler, who is more commonly known as Lemony Snicket, because the way he writes has captivated me since I was a child, and continues to do so now. Also, I’ve been lucky enough to meet him and talk at length about writing, which was a major dream come true!

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The Lincoln Review

"An international literary journal published annually by the Creative Writing programme at the University of Lincoln and sponsored by the School of Creative Arts."
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