Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Six Questions for Nathaniel Tower, Founder and Editor, Bartleby Snopes

Bartleby Snopes is an online literary magazine that hopes "to inspire writers to create great works of fiction." The magazine publishes two stories a week and concludes each thirty day cycle with a Story of the Month contest. The editors are interested in unpublished fiction up to 4000 words. Most recent stories have been in the 500 to 2500 range. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a story and why?

NT: We want an original story with a strong voice and a realistic/compelling character. This is a competitive industry with many new journals appearing each week. If the stories we publish seem bland, people are going to turn away from our magazine. The characters and language and plots either need to be things we haven't seen before, or they need to be old things presented in new ways. As an online magazine, we know that our readers are sitting at their computers when they read, so we know that the story has to engage the reader from beginning to end. If the voice is weak or if the plot is loose or if the character is unrelatable, then the reader is going to move on to another source to get that fiction fix. In the end, the most important thing is that the story is something that I would want to read again. If I don't want to read it again or if I feel like I've gotten everything out of it after one read, we're probably going to let it go.

SQF: What are the top three reasons a story is rejected, other than not fitting into your answers to question one and why?

NT: Inconsistent voice, underdeveloped or forced characters, and lack of pacing. Stories need to be fluid in order to keep our attention, and we want characters that we feel will resonate with the readers. I see many stories with choppy section breaks or poor transitions that seem to suggest the author didn't really know where to go with the story or how to bring it to an end. Many authors will focus so much on the prose or the plot that the characters will feel empty, and just as many will force so much development upon the character that he/she/it will feel unnatural. Stories need to have a fine balance when it comes to language, plot and characters. A piece of fiction needs to have life so that it can feel like a real story rather than just something that somebody wrote.

SQF: What common mistakes do you encounter that turn you off to a story?

NT: Obviously it is a turn off when someone blatantly disregards our guidelines. We aren't too picky about formatting, but we are turned off by submissions that look sloppy. Errors in punctuation, especially in the punctuation of dialogue, drive us nuts. Authors need to make sure that their stories are publication-ready before submitting them. We're also turned off by stories written in third person present tense. Most of the time this narrative style just doesn't work.

SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a story?

NT: I almost always include comments regarding why I've rejected a story. These comments sometimes get very lengthy depending on how strong the submission is. I also tend to lengthen the feedback for writers who have submitted to us in the past. As a writer, I know how much time it takes to send pieces out to publishers, and I think writers deserve to know that their story was actually read by a human. In general I try to give the writer a sense of why I didn't accept the piece. I've received a lot of supportive feedback from this, but also a bit of backlash. I receive many emails each day thanking me for my "insightful" comments. Occasionally though, I'll get an email criticizing my reasons for rejection. Of course nothing I say is ever meant to be taken personally. Ultimately, it's really just a matter of personal taste.

SQF: I read a comment by one editor who said she keeps a blacklist of authors who respond to a rejection in a less than professional manner. I'm sure you know what I mean. What do you want authors to know about the stories you reject and how authors should respond? Along this same idea, do you mind if authors reply with polite questions about the comments they receive?

NT: I am definitely open to questions and comments from authors. I typically don't take these comments personally, and I definitely enjoy having open communications with authors. We have no blacklist, but we do get a little annoyed when authors continuously submit pieces that don't follow our submission guidelines, or when authors continue to submit work that has the same "flaws" as a piece we've just rejected.

When we reject a piece, we're happy to receive a follow-up email, whether it thanks us or blasts us. Either way, we typically don't respond to these emails, mostly because of time constraints. If an author has a specific question about something, we'll do our best to get back to him or her. Authors need to understand that even though we send personalized rejection letters, rejection isn't meant to be taken personally.

SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?

NT: Why did you decide to start this magazine?

I started this magazine because I was tired of waiting for responses from editors/magazines who treated the author like he or she didn't matter. I wanted to create a magazine that was friendly to the author and the reader. I'm not in this to make money (and I don't make any doing it either). I'm here to share great fiction with the world. Authors put so much time and energy into their work. They don't need to wait six months to hear that their story "was one of many received" and "not right for the magazine."

Thank you, Nathaniel. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.

Next Post: 12/07 -- Six Questions for Don Webb, Managing Editor, Bewildering Stories


  1. I think this is going to be a very helpful blog. Thanks for taking it on as a project.

  2. You're welcome, Tara. There are a number of excellent posts scheduled for the next couple of months. This is going to be fun!

  3. Nathaniel Tower is a man of his word. I have had the good fortune to publish several stories in BartlebySnopes, but I have submitted twice as many to him that didn't measure up. But he has always been very helpful and specific in his comments, which I find refreshing. So often editors shoot me a form email with a vague sentence or two explaining that the story didn't meet their needs. Thanks for asking Nathaniel your six questions!

  4. You're welcome, Docmeade. I've read a number of compliments about Nathaniel since this post went live. I'm glad you chose to do so here.

  5. A hand-made trackback since I can’t figure out how to do it the auto way. :)

    I linked this article at my blog: in corra’s words