The Sun Magazine was founded in 1974 by Sy Safransky. Their motto is “Personal. Political. Provocative. Ad Free.,” and they are proud to be a reader-supported publication that pays their writers. They publish nonfiction, fiction, poetry and photography that evokes “the splendor and heartache of being human.” Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Derek Askey, an editorial assistant for The Sun. Read on to discover what it’s like to work on a vibrant literary magazine that reaches over 70,000 readers, and be sure to check out their website. If you’re interested, you can subscribe to The Sun here!
SARAH HANSEN: The Sun is a highly esteemed publication that pays writers for their work, which probably means that it attracts a high volume of submissions. What is your basic process for working through the slush pile?
DEREK ASKEY: We receive about 2,700 unsolicited submissions a month, not including pieces intended for Readers Write (a recurring section of the magazine where readers/subscribers write on a specific topic) and photography. We have six readers who are the first to look at the unsolicited submissions. If a reader feels a piece has potential, it’s shared with another reader. If there’s some consensus, it moves along to someone on the editorial staff — typically our manuscript editor or managing editor — and, if there’s still interest, to our editor, Sy. Occasionally there will be pieces that Sy is on the fence about; we have a meeting once a month to discuss these pieces.
We take this process seriously and respect and value the unsolicited submissions we receive.
We accept submissions year-round, and do not charge a reading fee.
How do you handle or think about issues of diversity?
Like a lot of magazines, it’s something we think about, discuss, and try to foster. We actively look for and solicit work from writers whose voices may not find a home elsewhere. We recently put out a call for submissions on the theme of “Love and Justice”—a poetry section guest edited by a Sun contributor, Crystal Williams, that will predominately feature writers of color. We’re still in the process of receiving and evaluating the submissions, but our hope is that it encourages those writers to continue to submit their work to us. We’re excited to share those perspectives with our readers.
We also recognize that there are multiple ways of defining diversity. One of the things I’m proud of is that The Sun consistently encourages submissions by incarcerated people. We have published poems, essays, correspondence, and Readers Write submissions that were written by inmates.
How long do pieces take to go from acceptance to print?
We try to publish pieces within a year of acceptance, and pretty consistently meet that goal. As a monthly magazine, we’re able to find the right issue for a piece faster than publications that only come out, say, three times a year.
The Sun markets itself as “reader-supported.” Is this the magazine’s sole source of funding?
Since The Sun doesn’t carry advertising, we’re supported almost entirely by subscriptions and donations from our seventy thousand readers. We’ve recently overhauled our website and digitized our entire forty-two-year archive, a costly undertaking that would not have been possible without a generous donation from a Sun reader.
Do you solicit writers?
Yes. We energetically reach out to new writers all the time.
What is The Sun’s attitude towards publishing previously unpublished writers?
As I stated in the first question, we value the unsolicited submissions we get, much of which is by unpublished writers. There’s a genuine sense of excitement when we accept a piece from someone who hasn’t been published before. The quality of the piece determines whether we publish it; having a “big name” isn’t going to do you any favors here.
What is something you have learned from being an editorial assistant at The Sun? Has the experience impacted your own writing in any way?
I was actually just talking about this over dinner last night. The Sun edits everything that appears in the magazine, often quite heavily. (Of course, we always come to an agreed-upon revision with the author before anything goes to print.) I’m currently working on a novel that I began when I was completing my MFA. Going back to it after seeing how thoroughly we edit a piece has been instructive. To quote The Sun’s founder and editor, Sy: “My father taught me to look at a sentence and, if it didn’t deserve to live, shoot it between the eyes. Ignore the pleas of the women and children. ‘Take no prisoners,’ he said.” I like to believe that’s been my stance all along, but I’m even more ruthless than before.
After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh and working for a health-insurance company (he wasn’t the guy denying anyone coverage, but still), Derek Askey left to earn his master’s at Colorado State University. He lives in Durham, North Carolina, with his wife, Madelaine. Though you wouldn’t guess it, he used to have hair down to his shoulders. (@derekaskey)
Sarah Hansen is a first year poet at Virginia Tech. She is a poetry and fiction reader for the minnesota review.