The Editors of Cahoots
Magazine Want Your
We were delighted when we received an email from Sarah Stefanson, Assistant Editor of Cahoots Magazine, asking if we could share a call for submissions with WOW! readers. Already familiar with their fabulous women’s magazine, we decided to take their call one step further and ask the editors what they are specifically looking for in submissions. Both the editor, Carla, and the assistant editor, Sarah, graciously agreed to the interview that we bring you today. You ladies are in for a treat!
Carla Atherton, editor, has a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Master of Arts in English from the University of Saskatchewan, the work for which was squeezed between writing, mothering, building a house, and running businesses. She founded and currently edits and manages Cahoots Magazine as well as various other ventures, including teaching and working in the field of academics. She lives and works in the family's almost-built home in Saskatoon with her three young children, Nicholas, Olivia, and Isabel, and husband, Brent. Carla can most often be found harried and haggard, decked out in a babushka and yoga pants, feeding watermelon to her children, niece, and the dozens of children in her neighborhood.
Sarah Stefanson is the assistant editor and writes a regular column called Sense and Sensuality (a sex column for grownups) for Cahoots Magazine. She is also lead editor and a weekly columnist at TheSoko.com, editor of LiveDress.com, and a contributor to Suite101.com. Her background includes various careers such as singer/songwriter, art model, nanny, and business owner.
WOW: Welcome, Carla and Sarah! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions today. Cahoots Magazine is a wonderful publication, and we are so lucky to have you here with us. How would you describe the purpose of Cahoots Magazine?
Carla: Cahoots is a place for diverse, interesting writing with flavor, some cheek and edge as well as personality. It was created by a small group of women who saw a need for a magazine (now website) that gave women inspiration through publishing art, literature (including prose, poetry, lifewriting, and essays), honest and interesting articles, and information about things that are relevant to them, things that matter. The last thing women need or want is another magazine telling them how to apply that perfect pout or how to lose 10 pounds before the holidays. The first thing women need is a magazine that celebrates them in any shape, size, color, or class; hears what they have to say; and makes them think, grow, and conspire. Like a good coffee session out with friends, Cahoots aims to be a place for connection, exploration, and an exchange of ideas.
As Michele Rowe, one of the founding members of Cahoots, said, “We don’t want to fix you (women) because you’re not broken.”
Sarah: I've always seen Cahoots as a women's magazine dealing with issues that everyday women actually care about. There are enough women's magazines in existence already to cover (to death) the fashion and beauty tips that most of us will never use. Cahoots takes a broader look at the world of women.
WOW: Cahoots sounds like the magazine many women have been waiting for! What types of pieces are you specifically looking for right now that you are not receiving?
Carla: We’re always looking for things you wouldn’t typically see in publications aimed at women (because so many people think women are interested in only certain things, or they think a publication for women would only be interested in publishing these issues—but not Cahoots!) We’re looking for original, fresh, thought-provoking writing of any genre with personality that pushes the envelope, that reaches out and challenges our readers.
There are, of course, issues that are heavily explored in the media, which we would be interested in (take, for example, body image), but we’re looking for a fresh perspective—what is your take on the subject, what can you bring to the subject that is new, interesting, thought-provoking? What mark can you make on the subject that will make it your own, yet more universal in that others can relate to it unlike the cold, personality-less, formulaic, how-to articles? We’re looking for diversity, originality, and creativity. We want to learn something and pass it on to our readers.
Sarah: The pieces that stand out for me are either deeply personal or very well researched. We receive a ton of fiction and poetry, but I'd like to see more factually based feature pieces on women's issues.
WOW: Thanks for sharing those details with us. It helps writers to have an understanding of what editors want to see. How can a writer catch your attention with a query letter or manuscript?
Carla: Again, personality! If a cover letter can tell me something about that person that a list of publishing credits cannot, I’m hooked. I become eager to read what the writer has submitted. Cahoots is made up of people, individuals whose diversity is what makes Cahoots what it is. Women are interesting! And if I am interested in that woman, I am interested in her story and in the stories she wants to tell. And it’s those women who are not afraid of presenting themselves as they are, those women who don’t cut themselves off from their work, who understand that they must bring what they know to what they do, who know they don’t have to be one or the other: work-woman or real-life-woman, that grab my attention.
There are ways to be professional while still being yourself, and I’m looking for skilled writers who have figured this out (and I do believe that any writer can do this if she lets herself). Because this understanding is what makes their writing interesting and unpredictable.
Sarah: The idea from the outset has got to be exceptional, especially in a query. It's got to be something we haven't heard before. Beyond that, the writing should be vivid, engaging, and relevant.
WOW: These requirements make perfect sense, especially when a woman just has a page to catch your attention and show you who she is. We appreciate your thoughts once again. What are some automatic turn-offs when you are reading submissions?
Carla: A letter devoid of interesting or adequate details turns me off. I’m not looking for a book here, just a sprinkling of information about the writer and the piece she is submitting. As an editor who reads many submissions every month, I need something to help me remember individual writers and their work. Anyone who has to toot her horn too loudly (“reading this piece will change your life!”) indicates that the writing is not strong enough to speak for itself. It is also easy to pick out blanket submissions—submissions that have been sent to any and all publications at once. We always accept simultaneous submissions and have no problem with them, but it is obvious when a writer doesn’t know anything about Cahoots before submitting work to our publication.
I like to see that the writer knows what we do and is submitting to Cahoots for a reason, because she wants to add her voice.
Sarah: My biggest turn-off is spelling or grammar errors. There is simply no excuse for them in a submitted piece. I'm also not impressed by long-winded or rambling writing. It's also a huge mistake to submit something that is clearly not right for our magazine. Take a little time to go over our website, and it will be pretty clear what kind of piece we don't want to see.
WOW: We will definitely try not to do those things in query letters, especially the spelling and grammar errors! Can you give us more details about your upcoming themes "Spirit" and "Plugged In"?
Carla: Well, I don’t always like to define our themes as they’re meant to be a catalyst for whatever each individual writer decides to make of them. The notion of “Spirit” could spark a wide array of topics and ideas such as spunk, resilience, religion, spirituality, goddess, god, mood, depression, happiness, etc., etc., and there are multiple article ideas that would coincide with these topics and ideas (what makes us happy? what makes me happy? religion versus spirituality, societal views of spirituality, workplace morale, trauma and its affect on our outlook on life, etc.).
As for “Plugged In,” there’s a lot to be said on the subject and topics to be explored, as well, such as female bloggers, or the fact that technology has sped everything up—how this has affected women, working from home, can we escape our work, raising children in a plugged in society, exploring un-plugged societies, etc., etc. I‘m just brainstorming here, but that’s what we’d like to see writers do—discover what that theme means to them and send us what they come up with!
Sarah: I wasn't really involved in coming up with the themes, but in my experience with Cahoots thus far, it seems that we basically let our columnists and writers come up with their own interpretation of the words chosen for the themes. So for our "Spirit" issue, we could see anything from a story about a religious experience to a piece about séances! Personally, the first thing that comes to mind when I think of "spirit" is in the context of "free-spirited," but for others it could bring thoughts of "in good spirits," "communing with the spirits," "spirit of the land," or a variety of other possible interpretations. That's why we keep the themes down to one or two words, I think, so we can allow the maximum amount of freedom of interpretation.
WOW: Thank you so much, Carla and Sarah, for giving us an insight into Cahoots Magazine.
Readers, please be sure to check it out at www.cahootsmagazine.com for their submission guidelines. Their next submission deadline is June 1, 2008 for their Fall 2008 “Spirit” issue.
Margo L. Dill is a columnist for WOW! Women On Writing. Find out more about Margo by visiting her website: www.margodill.com