Spark Takes a Winter Hiatus

What’s happening?

Spark is temporarily closing to new submissions from December 1, 2014 to January 31, 2015.

Why is this happening?

If you’ve been keeping up with our submission statistics at SparkAnthology.org/statistics, you’ve seen the new chart we added. Even as the total number of submissions in our queue has grown, we’ve always had more Completed pieces than Active—all while including reader notes in our responses. Here’s what that chart looks like for all submission since September, 2012:

The challenge here is that no matter how steadily we’ve moved forward, even as we’ve added additional staff and increased the total number of responses we’ve sent out, the pool is always filling slightly faster than we can empty it. As a result, we have many pieces more than five months old, and several more than six.

This hiatus gives us a chance to respond to pieces in the queue and bring down our response time for future submissions, too. Our goal is to have nothing more than 90 days old when we reopen on February 1st.

How does this affect the quarterly contest?

We will proceed with all scheduled contests, but sharp-eyed readers will notice that there’s no Contest Nine listed yet. If we meet our goal of reducing maximum submission age to 90 days, or only have a few outliers, we will set a schedule for the next contests and announce the theme for Contest Nine.

Aren’t the contests what caused this?

Not really. We have several projects in progress that we love, and we love the quarterly writing contest. At the beginning of 2014, things had hit a really good stride, and we knew exactly how long each volume takes to compile and how much work each contest requires. Based on that and an invitation from both Poets & Writers Magazine and Writer’s Market to have the contest & publication listed, we went ahead and scheduled the contests for the full year and publicized that schedule. We also committed to releasing Ember and An Unlikely Companion, both of which are proceeding as planned (AUC will be released this month, and Ember next month).

We also continued to bring on additional readers, both for the regular slush pile and for the contests. Contest Six had sixteen readers and two Guest Judges, and most of the readers were not also slush pile readers at the same time. On the regular submission queue, we were already past 20 readers and growing.

Between the time Contest Six opened and the final round with the guest judges, editor Brian Lewis got word that his wife’s elderly grandmother was having health challenges—enough to make the family think she might need hospice care. Brian says:

“As my wife is very close to her grandmother and already felt bad that we lived so far away, we quickly sold our home and moved across two states to be nearby. I actually closed my computer at the end of Contest Six and finished packing the last boxes. Just a few months later, we’re settling into a new house 10 minutes away from Grandma, whose health has actually improved drastically—enough to undergo a successful hip surgery a few weeks after we arrived.”

Because of this unplanned interstate move, for three months over the summer our editor-in-chief was almost completely unavailable. What’s amazing, though, is that since we have a dedicated and reliable volunteer staff, work at Spark slowed slightly but did not stop! In fact, looking at the submission response statistics, it’s almost impossible to pinpoint the period of time affected by Brian’s transition.

With our editor-in-chief back at the helm and a clear plan in place to get ahead of our submission and publishing queue, Spark is stable and we expect to enjoy an exciting longevity.

Why can’t you just stop sending personalized responses?

We could. We’re not going to.

Spark was founded on personal feedback. While we’ve streamlined the process by compiling reader notes into a template (rather than writing each new response letter from scratch), that’s as close to “form letters” as we’re willing to get. It’s one of the things that defines us, and we have no intention of stopping.

There are a few types of submissions that will not get a personal response: submissions that are so far away from our guidelines that it’s clear the submitter didn’t read them and submissions from people who’ve replied abusively to past responses will often receive a form rejection.

Can I help?

Yes, absolutely! If you are comfortable with our guidelines, have read any past volumes of Spark, and are willing to take notes that can be passed to submitters, please fill out our Staff Reader application. Let us know that you’re responding to this hiatus announcement so we can move you to the top of the applicant pool.

Similarly, since we will need to average approximately 23 responses each day of the hiatus, if you would be comfortable assisting our Writer Liaison in compiling reader notes—and editing for diplomacy—to send to submitters, please contact George Wells directly at george@sparkanthology.org for details and to volunteer.

I still have questions.

Feel free to leave public questions and comments below, or to contact Brian Lewis privately at editor@sparkanthology.org. We will add the most common questions and answers to this post.

UPDATE: Most Frequently-Asked Questions

Why didn’t you plan ahead and give us more notice?

Actually, we planned this closure for about two months before it was announced. Brian felt that announcing too early might trigger an acceleration of submissions from people who wanted to get work in before the deadline, so we kept mum—except in a few small circles—until just a week in advance. It seems to have worked well.

Can I “opt out” of reader feedback?

This question is more often phrased as, “You take so long to respond because you always provide reader feedback in your letters. Have you considered an option that lets submitters decline feedback and just have a quick response?”

Yes. We’ve discussed it extensively, and anything we do will have to consider at least these three problems:

  • The readers. We don’t want staff readers to treat submissions differently when they see some manuscripts come in with the “No Feedback” option and some come in without it. As smart people and humans, it may become possible for them to either see a pattern or infer one, and start making judgement calls based on that option before even reading the manuscript.
  • The submitters (and the general public). We don’t want to create the impression that we’re treating submissions differently, or that selecting/not selecting the “No Feedback” option affects likelihood of acceptance, whether positively or negatively—even if it’s not true. A faster response doesn’t imply “consistently faster rejection” or “consistently faster acceptance,” but we’ll need to be careful not to make people think it does.
  • The editor. Brian founded Spark on “personal feedback for every submission, and emerging writers are treated the same as professionals,” and he’s reluctant to change that.

One way or another, there will very likely be some kind of “opt out” feature or option when we reopen in February, but we haven’t yet decided on the best approach.

Can I just get a response on the piece already in your queue?

For pieces already in the queue, if you’d simply like a quick response—accept or decline—without compiled feedback, you may add a note to your submission using the Submission Manager (powered by Submittable). If you can be patient, though, we’re moving through the “slush pile” as quickly as possible, even when we include feedback.

4 thoughts on “Spark Takes a Winter Hiatus

  1. Kudos to you for sticking to your commitment to provide feedback. I edit the “Fault Zone” anthology for the SF-Peninsula Branch of the California Writer’s Club, and our goal is the same as yours: feedback for every piece we receive. But we publish once a year and have only about 70 submissions! As an author, I don’t mind the wait.

    I can also offer to help out with evaluations as long as I can keep it to a manageable number. I never seem able to crawl out from under my own enormous pile of work!

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