"Great Literature Deserves to Be Read." A Chat With R.M. Cooper, Editor of Sequestrum
Sequestrum features poetry and prose from new and established writers. Published on a rolling basis (approximately every two weeks), this online journal offers readers a pleasing mix of concise and evocative writing.
Managing Editor R.M. Cooper shares his thoughts on Sequestrum’s origin story, why writers need to get to the point quickly, and his experiences managing a literary journal.
Interview by Chuck Augello
There’s no shortage of literary journals. How does Sequestrum hope to distinguish itself from other publications?
I think the aim of many journals today is to attract writers, whereas the driving force of Sequestrum is to produce enjoyable, literary-quality work for readers. Maybe that sounds silly, but consider that many journals process many thousands more submissions than they send out in subscriptions and what’s driving that imbalance.
A few things we do and don’t do:
We pay good money to market every single publication of prose or poetry across multiple platforms. We pair every publication with a visual component. We don’t give a damn about cover letters or genres. Once a year we publish the best works which were previously published elsewhere. Every writer we publish has the opportunity to talk about their work and recommend something to read. No blogs on writing tips, no complaints, no soapboxing. We publish great literature and try to get it into readers’ hands.
Great literature deserves to be read. We try and fulfill that goal.
Sequestrum began as a collaborative effort by graduates of Iowa State University and the University of Iowa. If Sequestrum was a superhero, what would its origin story be?
Hero falls into a vat of radioactive waste. Hero displays symptoms of radiation poisoning—hair loss, nausea, skin blistering/flaking, etc. Hero cannot afford medical care. Hero grows despondent, hopeless until a fingernail drifts away in the tub, and Hero discovers a new, beautiful blue skin underneath.
Think Kafka’s The Metamorphosis with a happy ending.
Which other journals do you admire? Are there any specific writers whose work best reflects Sequestrum’s aesthetics?
We’ve published Pulitzer Prize nominees, Guggenheim and NEA Fellows, and new and emerging voices; they all equally reflect the Sequestrum aesthetic. Results from our Reprint Awards are a good indication of journals we admire. We’ve fallen for publications from name-brand journals like Tin House, Boulevard, Glimmer Train, Passages North, and Black Warrior Review to small or even defunct journals like The Nightshade Nightstand Reader and Lavender Wolves. We love writing on a case-by-case basis and think everywhere has gems worth reading.
We don’t give a damn about cover letters or genres...We publish great literature and try to get it into readers’ hands.
Tell us about the New Writer Awards.
In addition to general submissions, we run two contests every year: the Editor’s Reprint Award and the New Writer Awards. The New Writer Awards is our attempt to create a home for the poets and writers of tomorrow. We like to say we found them first.
Are submissions split among the editors? How do you go from reading submissions to assembling the next issue, and what are your responsibilities as Managing Editor?
Prose and poetry submissions are first read by their respective editors and then offered up for discussion. We publish on an ongoing basis, so once we find writing we love, we share it. A few of my responsibilities as Managing Editor are finalizing new publications with editors, working with artists, assembling a visual component for each publication, managing contracts, devising ad strategies for individual publications and the journal as a whole, website coding/presentation, and generally keeping up with publishing trends.
Much has been written lately about the lack of diversity in literary fiction. How does Sequestrum handle this issue?
Our only interest is in great writing. We don’t read cover letters or learn much about writers until after we’ve selected a work for publication. It’s our hope that allowing the writing to speak for itself is the best tool for having a diverse collection of voices.
Has your experience as an editor influenced your own writing?
Absolutely. I mostly write fiction, and being an editor has taught me to get to the point as quickly as possible. If there isn’t a story in the first sentence, there’s work to be done.
Do you see any recurring patterns with submissions? Are there certain character types or narrative elements that pop up too frequently?
There are the usual submissions which focus on sex or death and little else. There are narrators which are flat proxies for the writer. Both are turn offs.
What is the easiest way to get rejected?
Being a bore. If you’re not creating tension quickly, a submission won’t stand out.
Think of your favorite story. Start telling it aloud, from memory. Did you start with seven hundred words about the hydrangea bushes?
Readers today have lots of journals to choose from. They can afford to be fickle.
Forget the hydrangeas.
Do you have any particular advice to writers who plan on submitting to your journal in the future?
Read Sequestrum. Subscriptions are pay-what-you-can, and we always offer discounts. There are free previews of every publication online. Read it. Read it some more. We aren’t secretive about what we love and what we don’t.
Finally, if the planet Earth had to submit one story to represent literature at its best, what story would you pick?
I can’t pick just one. Who could? Humanity’s great story must have not been told just yet.
Chuck Augello lives in New Jersey with his wife, dog, three cats, and several unnamed birds that inhabit the back yard. His work has appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, Juked, Word Riot, Hobart, Jelly Bucket, decomP, and other journals. He has a MFA from Queens University and is the fiction editor at Cease, Cows.