Monday, January 18, 2010

Six Questions for Robin Stratton, Editor-in-Chief, Boston Literary Magazine

Boston Literary Magazine publishes "thoughtfully-crafted fiction that incorporates traditional elements of setting, characters, conflict, and a satisfying resolution." The magazine publishes flash fiction (under 250 words), drabbles (exactly 100 words), dribbles (exactly 50 words), poetry, and haikus.  Read the complete guidelines here.

Robin, please feel free to edit the above or add any additional information you’d like the reader to know about your publication.

RS: As of Nov 13, each issue will be available in chapbook form, in addition to being on-line.

Thank you. Now let's get to the questions.

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

RS: Characters, a well-thought out plot with a satisfying resolution, and writing that has obviously been gone over and stripped of typos.

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

RS: I pass on anything that is just descriptive and lacks a main character... anything with a cliche theme like deathbed scenes, abusive husband/parent plots, and people in mental institutes... and densely-written material that has meaning only to the writer.

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

RS: When someone sends something that is clearly not what we look for—genre fiction like horror or almost-porn... using the F word doesn't impress us too much...  when someone sends an essay, a translation from something in another language, or an excerpt from their novel.

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

RS: At BLM we don't say "reject," we say "pass on." And yes, I always provide a ton of feedback about why something doesn't strike me. Many writers have the grace to send back an e-mail to express their thanks, and that means a lot to me, it really does.

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?

RS: Oh where do I begin! I can't stand it when I get a submission from someone who doesn't even tell me their name—makes me feel they are not serious about the submission process. I don't like it when they begin, Attention: Editors. My name is right there on the site... take some time and address it to me! I can't stand when someone sends something, I write back, call them by name, give them feedback... and within an hour they've sent something else, and still address it, Attention: Editor; and it's basically the same as what I just passed on. I have blocked several poets who were guilty of that. And of course the worst thing is when a poet gets angry. I've had them say I have no right to "judge" their writing (why send it then?) And once someone told me that he hoped "a penis-shaped meatloaf" would fall on my head. I never ever engage with people like that, I just block them. If a writer or poet responds seeking clarification, of course I am glad to elaborate on my feedback. I love when a poet is more interested in fixing something than in trying to convince me their way is "right."

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

RS: What would you like to see in the query letter?

I would like to be addressed by name (shows you've actually gone to my site) and if you comment on a story you read, then I am going to give your material a VERY good read. I might even accept you just because you've taken the time to be professional. 

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

NEXT POST: 1/21—Six Questions for Tara L. Masih, author, instructor, and editor of The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction


  1. Robin Stratton is one of the finest editorial voices that cares about the written word reaching the world in all the right write=ways. That wiley, wonderful editor/writer/bon'vivant, Doug Matthewson introduced this literary lady to me and many. Integrity marks her works well.

    Great 6-Q concept, Mr Harrington.
    Thorough, helpful interview for writers on the rise (not the meatloaf-makers of strange surprise)

    ~ Absolutely*Kate, believing in believers

  2. PS ~ Allie Dresser of Gloom Cupboard, Sphere, Six Sentences, disenthralled, other places and soon . . . AT THE BIJOU, sent a whole bunch of us here.

    I'd use up your comment space and go on the ramble, if I started throwing some praise her way -- but just know - she's one of the Great Minds in writer/editor lingo around WebCity. Glad she bumped into you and began to spread the beguine of your interview scene. ~ Absolutely*Kate