Friday, February 26, 2010

Six Questions for Stefanie Freele, Fiction Editor, The Los Angeles Review

The Los Angeles Review publishes short-short stories to 500 words, fiction of 1000-4000 words, poetry, reviews, and translations. The editors seek compelling prose containing rich details and told in a distinctive voice. Read the complete guidelines here.


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

SF: Originality, lovely language, and lately humor/absurdity.


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

SF: Unoriginal, tired topic, cliche'd writing.


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

SF: Melodrama, sappiness, cutesiness, predictability in plot/character/scene/setting/subtext etc. and also the opposite end: trying-too-hard-to-be-edgy with dialogue or plot while leaving the characters empty.


SQF: What is it about the characters in a story that make them pop off the page and grab hold of you?

SF: They feel quirky, real, and I want to get to know them better. I don't already know these characters, they are new people that interest me. I don't know what they are about to do, or say, or think, or feel. They are the folks I'd people-watch.


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?

SF: I don't mind a polite question now and then, but most writers don't ask because they already know that editors are overwhelmed with submissions and don't have the time they'd like to take to offer suggestions or feedback. I've only had a few people respond to a rejection in a less-than-professional manner, which is just plain idiotic. The numbers alone tell a writer that a magazine can't possibly accept EVERYTHING. They just can't. Someone has to get rejected. It is just a fact. So, you send out more submissions and keep on writing.


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

SF: Q. How on this God-given rich-soiled earth can people subscribe to the bountiful Los Angeles Review? A. Go here!


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

NEXT POST: 3/1—Six Questions for Ramon Collins, Micro Fiction Editor, The Linnet's Wings

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Six Questions for E.S. Wynn, Editor, Weirdyear

Weirdyear publishes flash fiction to 1000 words. Stories in the 500-800 word range are ideal. The editor is interested in stories that contain "progressive material that stretches the boundaries of fictions." While open to any genre, weird, horror, and slipstream are preferred. Read the complete guidelines here.


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

EW: The absolute most important thing I look for in a story is originality, beyond-thinking. I’m no grammarian. I like English because it’s not math, because it is capable of wonderful variation—so I’m not going to reject a piece out of hand if it has a couple typos. I prefer clean, proofread material; but if the story is new, unique, fresh, badass or so far out there that it flies in out of left field and smacks me right in the noggin (artistically), it’s pretty much a guarantee that I’m going to take it and clean it up just to see it get some literary light and readership.

The second most important thing is imagination and creativity. Your story may be totally original, something no one has ever conceived of before, but its also got to be more than just a really cool looking skeleton of a story. Likewise, the idea might be totally unoriginal, and I might pick it up wholly based on the creativity and imagination put into it. Consider the film Avatar for example: While the story was one I’ve seen a million times, clad in the flesh of a million different genres and writers, the imagination and the creativity, the very research that was put into the story totally sold me. Originality, the concept itself, is a great framework, but it is less than it could be if it isn’t padded with the meat of imagination.

The third thing is effort. People think that you can’t see effort, that if you just slap a couple of lines on a page and call it poetry, no one will be the wiser; but as an instructor and someone who has worked within the education industry for over ten years, I can say that nine times out of ten, I can tell the difference. What says “effort” to me? Well developed ideas, proofreading, specific word choice and writing devices (alliteration, etc.). If your story were a cake, the previous two would be the layers—this would just be the icing.


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

EW: Honestly, the number one reason why stories get rejected from Weirdyear is because they aren’t weird enough! Now, I know weird is relative, and I’ve seen a lot in my life, so let me give you some hints. Farm life, Blair Witch-type spookiness and Buddhism are not weird. People with skunks and/or chickens for pets are not weird. Crossdressers are not weird. Scripture-selling alien Crossdressers landing in your yard in a chicken-shaped spaceship are weird. Chickens talking eloquently about their relatives in the fifth dimension is weird. Just take a look at the magazine and see some of the strange things that we’ve published.

The number two reason is attachments. I know it's irritating, but I like to err on the side of caution when it comes to attachments, so I rarely, rarely read them. It’s in the guidelines.  :)

The third (and most unfortunate) reason is the violence and sexual content. Like most magazines, Weirdyear is trying to keep its content mostly within a certain optimal readership zone. We can’t take stories that are so gory they make axe murderers gag, and I’ve had to turn a few away that were basically everything but hardcore pornography. I’m not saying there’s no art in porn and gore, but it’s just a little outside what we can take as content for the magazine.


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

EW: Stories that feature people rapping about something in an attempt to catch the attention of younger readers irritate the fuzz right out of me. Another one is 3+ grammatical errors in the first line. (I’ll still read it to be fair, but dang!) Also, preachers giving sermons while slaying pagans (slaying vampires, especially sparkly ones, and sinners is OK though.) Other than that, I’m pretty open-minded. Send it on in and I’ll tell you if it works or not. I don’t bite. Hard.


SQF: Your guidelines refer to stories that stretch the boundaries of fiction. Can you provide an example of this?

EW: Stories that truly stretch the boundaries of fiction are stories that look like they were written by an alien. No joke. Almost all the writing we read these days is linear prose from a first or a third person perspective which follows a basic formula. I encourage writers (and readers) to think outside of the box. Try writing from new perspectives, try something that makes your reader go “huh?”, and then make it short enough that they’re compelled to go back and read it again in order to understand it. There is no one right way to stretch the boundaries—just pick one and then push it. Experiment in everything you can. It’s literary, it’s progressive, it’s random, it’s Tom Stoppard, it’s Daniel Grandbois, it’s Rikki Ducornet, it’s Storm Constantine. Be the change, and make something that is so unique it will just blow the socks off of and bewilder everyone that reads it. That is creativity in its truest sense, and creativity is exactly what we’re looking for at Weirdyear.


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?

EW: Wow, a blacklist? That’s intense. I usually just ignore them, but then, I’ve only gotten two or three, and they weren’t all that bad. No death threats, yet. I usually don’t mind getting polite questions about my comments/rejections, but only if they’re more developed than “What do you mean it's not weird enough?” The important thing to remember is that if I reject a story, it doesn’t mean that it’s garbage or even that I think it’s garbage. It’s just not right for Weirdyear and the direction the magazine is going.


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

EW: Someone asked me a while ago why I chose to work in flash fiction, and honestly, the primary reason is because I love it. I love the idea of a story so well designed, so precise and strong in imagery, that it can be delivered in the space of a couple of sips of coffee. With flash fiction, you can go to another world in the space of a breath, and that's perfect because that's really all we have time for these days. It's really the angle we need to play if we want people to read in this age of highly compacted schedules and whip-snap attention spans. I've heard people refer to flash fiction as fiction for the internet generation, and that's really what it is. It's fiction for a generation that doesn't go further than reality TV and Facebook to get away from the natural stresses of everyday life in this century. It's the most promising key to the level of literacy and imagination we so sorely need in the electronic age.

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

NEXT POST: 3/26—Six Questions for Stefanie Freele, Fiction Editor, The Los Angeles Review

Monday, February 22, 2010

Six Questions for Kimberlee Williams, Managing Editor, Vanilla Heart Publishing

Vanilla Heart Publishing is an independent house "looking for special novels that tell age-old stories with a splash of flavor that makes them as unique as our readers and authors themselves." Learn more here.


SQF: There’s been quite a bit written about the demise of the paper book and the decline in the number of books published. What is your view of the current state of the book and the book market?

KW: It is rough out there—for everyone, and the book industry is no different. Publishers have to adapt, adding markets wherever they can, marketing and promoting their titles and authors even more; and they must tighten their fiscal belts to survive. Just recently, BordersUK has suspended their online book sales and the company is in financial turmoil all around. We’ve seen such moves as small publishers closing their doors, and big brand name companies setting up collaboration with vanity press…Lots of changes.


SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a manuscript?

KW: Adherence to our submission guidelines. Don’t skimp on following guidelines. If an author can’t do that simple requirement, it is unlikely we’ll even bother reading the manuscript, since it is a factor in how well the author works with editors and publishers.

We want to see a smashing first 3 paragraphs, something that will catch a reader’s eye quickly and cleanly. If the beginning bores us to tears, the rest won’t be read at all.

Absolute scrupulous self-editing. And not just running spell check. If we’re reading it and see glaring usage, grammar, and yes, even spelling errors, that is a no-brainer; and the use of the phrase ‘I don’t edit my work, I am an author’—well, let’s just say not a good plan.


SQF: What major mistakes do authors make when pitching their books?

KW: Telling us ALL my friends LOVE it and it will be a Best Seller! We don’t care if your friends, your mom, or your dog loves your book. We need to see the potential and feasibility of our investing time, effort and money into it—basically, we’ll decide if it has potential to be profitable to our business, which, after all, the bottom line is we ARE a business.

Demanding $10,000 advances before we’ve even read through your query letter, lol. It has happened just that way.

We believe that each author needs to really practice their short and longer pitches—know your book, understand the conflicts, the motivations, etc.; and then stand in front of a mirror and chat it up until you are entirely comfortable that you know everything about the book and can easily and interestingly share that information.


SQF: Of the books your company publishes each year, how many are by previously unpublished authors?

KW: Less than one quarter of our titles each year are from authors previously unpublished in novel length fiction. As our wonderful group of authors grows, from twenty five awesome authors now, and with the tightening of financial constraints due to the state of the industry and the economy worldwide, we fully expect that percentage will dwindle, as our experienced authors write more exceptional novels.


SQF: What is your advice to new, unpublished authors looking for a publisher or agent?

KW: Get your writing to the highest quality you can manage and don’t give up. It may take longer than you wish, it may be harder than you thought, but don’t give up—and don’t stop improving and writing!


SQF: What question do you wish I’d asked that I didn’t? And how would you answer it?

KW: What do you read for pleasure?

I’ve been a rather eclectic reader since I was four years old, and I enjoy everything from history and historical fiction, to romantic suspense, dictionaries, encyclopedias, and all of the Pippi Longstocking books by Astrid Lundgren. Pippi  is my hero—strong and caring, protective of those around her…and she can lift a horse over her head!


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

NEXT POST: 2/24—Six Questions for E.S. Wynn, Editor, Weirdyear

Friday, February 19, 2010

Six Questions for Camille Gooderham Campbell, Managing Editor, Every Day Fiction

Every Day Fiction publishes fiction of 1000 words or fewer. All genres are acceptable, as well as stories that don't fit neatly into any category. The magazine caters to an adult readership, but is not interested in publishing stories containing gratuitous sex and violence. Since much of EDF’s readership may be reading from work or over a meal, anything that you wouldn’t feel comfortable reading on a workplace computer or wouldn’t want to read while eating is unlikely to be suitable for this market. Read the complete guidelines here.


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

CGC: The very first thing I look for is competent prose. Almost anything else can be addressed in a rewrite if the piece overall seems worth it, but if the basic word-stringing skills aren’t there, the piece won’t be salvageable. Online flash fiction depends on readable prose—either sparse/clean or lyrical/poetic styles can work particularly well, so those are usually what we look for. Dense hard-to-read prose is a killer with an online readership, even if it’s well crafted; while a literary novel might get a careful close reading and complex prose might be appreciated, an online flash fiction piece has only seconds to hook a reader and stop him or her from clicking away.

Provided that the prose is up to standard, I have to see a story arc (also known as a plot). Because we deal exclusively with flash fiction, often the story arc can be implied, hinted at or sketched in, but it has to be there. Something has to happen, or we have to be able to tell that something has happened leading up to (or will happen as a result of) the part of the story that is given to us in the flash piece. Subtle plots are okay (as long as we get them), and internal story arcs (also known as character arcs) are fine too. I know this is a tough one—a frequent point of debate in our readers’ comments is whether something is or is not a story—so it comes down to a judgement call: if two out of three of us agree that there’s a story arc, then there’s a story arc.

The other key thing that I need to get from a piece is a theme or purpose. I’ve got to take something away from reading it, whether it’s as simple as a good laugh (or groan, or shudder, or warm fuzzy feeling), or a complex point that leaves me thinking all day. Stories that leave me thinking “so what’s the point here?” are always a fail for me, no matter how nice the prose is or how technically solid the story arc might be.

In all honesty, though, the very best stories just carry me away and I forget to look for these things or anything. If I can forget to be an editor and just read, then the story has won me regardless of anything else.


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

CGC: Usually, the plot is one we’ve seen too often and/or doesn’t bring anything new to the table. This can be a short-term thing or a long term thing. In the short term, it’s maybe just bad luck or bad timing—we might have just accepted a similar piece, or sometimes we’ll see a run on something really random, like insect’s perspective stories or seniors finding romance. Actually, runs like that lead me to wonder whether they are a result of some writing prompt somewhere on the internet, so if you are writing from a very specific prompt that’s also available to thousands of other writers, that’s something to be aware of. In the long term, there are plots we always see way too often—a particular least-favourites of mine is wise superior beings/aliens/gods passing judgement on bad humans and destroying the earth—and standard stock that doesn’t add a twist or say something new (vampires, werewolves, and fairytale retellings run a strong risk of falling into this category).

Fairly regularly, we see pieces that are clearly excerpts from novels in progress. Even when there’s a nice self-contained story arc, excerpts often betray themselves by references to other happenings, overly familiar references to characters we’ve never met, relationships too complex to explain without a lot of backstory, and chunks of exposition brought in to explain things a novel reader would have picked up earlier.

We also get stories that are very good, but that we can’t accept because they won’t suit our readership. Since the majority of our readership is coming to EDF either from a workplace computer (presumably on a break!) or over a meal, or both, we try to avoid anything too stomach-churning or sexually inappropriate. We get all kinds of cannibalism and other gruesome horror, and erotica pieces, but unless they are incredibly understated and subtle, we can’t publish them. While we occasionally take a chance on a borderline piece, usually these types of stories are automatic rejections; we even have a slush folder for inappropriate submissions.


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

CGC: Probably the most common culprit we see is the trick-you twist, where the reader is deliberately misled at the beginning to prime a twist ending. For a twist to work, the clues have to be there. Character A can’t be genuinely frightened of the murderer at the beginning if it turns out she’s the murderer at the end.

Another common problem that we encounter pretty regularly is the rushed ending. Since our word count limit is firm at 1000 words, we often see a good story spoiled by an ending that’s either so condensed as to be hardly an outline, or else tacked on so randomly that it’s almost a non-sequitur. Additional clues that the author squeezed the piece down to fit are: a word count right up there at 999 or 1000, and prose and pace that are consistently well-handled throughout and then deteriorate in the last couple of paragraphs. If a piece isn’t staying nicely under 1000 words, then do it justice and go for a longer form—squeezing will ruin it.

My personal least-favourite issue is the dead narrator. When a story told from the first-person point of view ends with the narrator dying, how is the story being told? Unless the narrator is quite clearly speaking from a ghostly post-death perspective, or has left us the story in the form of a letter or diary entry, this one’s a major credibility buster for me.

Finally, both all-dialogue stories and second-person point-of-view stories are extremely hard to pull off and take a lot of skill to deliver effectively. The best are brilliant, but most don’t make the cut.


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

CGC: Always.


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?

CGC: Generally authors don’t need to reply to rejection notices at all, though it’s a nice gesture if someone feels like thanking us for our time or telling us that the comments we made were helpful or some such polite response—it’s not necessary at all and we don’t expect responses, but a “courtesy” reply of that sort does no harm.

I have no problem with genuine questions about our comments—if an author doesn’t understand a comment, is interested in more elaboration, or wants to clarify whether s/he has understood what we said correctly, that’s just fine and I will always take the time to respond to those sorts of questions. However, we occasionally get “questions” that are really a thinly veiled disagreement, which I do find off-putting. Answering the same question four or five times and then seeing the same issues/problems with the author’s submissions over and over frustrates me as well because if the author isn’t learning from the answers and yet keeps asking the same questions then I feel like I’m wasting time, talking to a wall. Sadly, these are often the same people who don’t read submission guidelines.

The most futile sort of post-rejection email is the one in which the author feels a need to explain something post-rejection (e.g., “I understand that you wanted to know more about X’s motivation, but my intention was to show that X was mindless and had no motivation…”) because if the author’s intent wasn’t clear from the story in the first place, then it didn’t work.

The blacklist? I would guess that most editors have one, at least a mental one if not an actual list. When someone swears at you and disputes your fitness to be an editor, cites a girlfriend/boyfriend’s or parent’s opinion as a reason why the piece should have been accepted, accuses you of “harassment”, and tells you that your rejection doesn’t matter because your magazine isn’t so great anyway… you can’t help thinking, “I don’t want to deal with this person again.” I don’t think anyone is likely to get on an editor’s blacklist (certainly not mine, anyway) for a minor faux pas, an accidental simultaneous submission or something, but there are individuals out there who don’t seem to realize that swearing and threats are inappropriate in a professional relationship, and my only option as an editor is to choose not to deal with them.


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

CGC: One thing you haven’t mentioned is the issue of revisions and resubmissions: what does a revision request mean, and is it okay to resubmit a revised version of a story after the original version has been rejected?

If we’ve requested a revision, it means we’re seriously interested in publishing the piece. If the author is not able to tackle that promptly (i.e., within a week or ten days), it’s a good move to send a quick email letting us know that s/he is willing to revise the piece and estimating when s/he will be able to get to it. Alternatively, if the author isn’t interested in making changes (and choosing not to revise is a legitimate option; no offense will be taken) a polite note letting us know that is much appreciated as we can then close our file on the story and move on.

What about revising after a rejection? Usually, no. Generally we do not take unsolicited resubmissions—if we’re interested in seeing it again we will ask—because we’re already overwhelmed by the number of new submissions. Taking a second look at everything would quickly swamp us altogether. However, if an author has made substantial changes and really feels the revision merits another look from us, the best course of action is to send a query first and convince us that it’s worth our time to see it again.

Finally, for anyone who isn’t clear about what constitutes a revision as opposed to a new story, if we’re likely to recognize it as the same piece then it’s a revision.

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

NEXT POST: 2/22—Six Questions for Kimberlee Williams, Managing Editor, Vanilla Heart Publishing

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Six Questions for Jay Faulkner, Editor, With Painted Words

With Painted Words publishes poetry and fiction to 1000 words. Each month the publisher provides an image for authors to use as the inspiration for their works. Art works may also be submitted to be used as a monthly prompt. With Painted Words ranked #10 in the fictionzine category of the 2010 Preditors and Editors Poll. You can read the complete guidelines here.


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

JF: Creativity in approach to the inspiration artwork is a must. With Painted Words is slightly different from other publications in that there is a very clear and direct ‘prompt’ for the story which means that each writer is starting with something in common. How they interpret the image, however, what they actually take from it and ‘see’ in the image, is completely and utterly unique. As long as I can tell that they have been inspired by the art, and not simply submitted something that they have had sitting around gathering dust (trust me, that has happened), then I am happy; reading through all the pieces and seeing the variety of paths taken from the same starting point is wonderful.

Now, forgive me for seeming a little contrary here; but even though all of the pieces submitted to With Painted Words are born from the same prompt, originality is always welcome. There is a school of thought that there is nothing new in the world; and, to some extent, that may be true, but an old story told with an interesting twist is still very much doable. I relish seeing new and interesting situations and characters or, at the very least, a different perspective on the old and familiar.

If I get both of the above things then it leads into the third thing that I look for—a hook. I want to want to read the piece. Simple as that. If the writer can make that happen within a few words, or sentences, then they probably have a very good chance of getting published at With Painted Words. I deliberately set the word limit at one thousand words as I think that it is much more challenging to write something short and still make it compelling. So compelling, creative, original works of fiction that make me think are always going to win me over.


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

JF: As I alluded to above, if there is really no clear link between the piece and the artwork, then it won’t matter how good the writing is—it won’t fit With Painted Words. There are numerous publications out there (online and print) that accept ‘open’ fiction and poetry. I will even point the writer to a few of them to be helpful; but part of the challenge at With Painted Words is not just in writing a great story but in writing a great story that is obviously inspired by the artwork.

A generally weak, bland or problematic plot or characters. A thousand words isn’t very much to work with; and if a writer struggles at the outset to not only grab my interest but to maintain it, then they are going to get rejected. Two of the biggest issues are with a plot that really goes nowhere at all, meandering along until its conclusion, or characters that are not memorable or easily distinguishable from one another. Imbuing characters with personality, with life, is something that makes a story stand out.

Overwriting, or focusing on the technical ‘craft’ of writing rather than simply telling a good story, tale or yarn, is a bugbear of mine and a sure-fire way to end up in the rejection pile. I would honestly prefer to take a great story, and have to edit it for a few hours to iron out the grammatical (or other technical) issues, to something that was obviously written by a professor of language but had no depth or emotional hook. I want to be entertained by the story, not dazzled by a person’s ability to put words together.


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

JF: As much as this sounds contrary to my answer above there are occasions where the sheer amount of problems with spelling, grammar and punctuation makes reading (let alone enjoying) a piece next to impossible. I would never tell anyone to give up writing but there are people—as harsh as this will sound—who need to work hard on simply improving before they submit to any professional (or semi-professional) site. 

For the writers that are ready to submit to a publication I would always advise a final proof-read before hitting the ‘send’, ‘submit’ or ‘print’ button. Sometimes it is the little issues that are the most annoying, and these are normally ones that could/should be caught and fixed by the writer themselves. Something that I like to do, and think works really well, is to read the piece out loud. If it doesn’t sound right, then it is a good indicator that something needs fixing.


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

JF: The honest answer here is that I try to do so. Sometimes time gets away from me; and the reply is more akin to an automated rejection than anything else but, thankfully, this doesn’t happen too often. At the very least, I try to give a personal response that lets the writer know what I liked and didn’t like—but am not always able to give the in-depth analysis, feedback and critique that each and every piece deserves; real life and other commitments just don’t allow for it, unfortunately.

One thing that I am always clear on, no matter time constraints, is that in the majority of pieces it is not a case of poor writing or storytelling at fault but simply that other pieces were better. When you only publish a small number of pieces each month, you are always going to have to reject someone, unfortunately; and—so far—I have been lucky enough to have only rejected a handful of pieces based on their quality (or lack thereof) as opposed to the number rejected simply because I cannot accept them all.


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?

JF: I don’t keep a blacklist of authors though this may simply be because With Painted Words is still new and has only had eighty nine authors so far (6th December 2009), so I may have to keep it in mind for the future. ;o)

The closest that I have come, so far, is to contact a single person who has twice submitted work belonging to other authors. Both times he has been up front about it and stated that as the author is dead he wondered if it would be okay to submit it. . .. I am hopeful that my polite emails to him, letting him know that it isn’t okay, will put it to rest.

I hope that all authors realise that a rejection is never about the writer but always about the writing itself. Normally, the reason for rejection is simple: it isn’t what I am looking for (as in it doesn’t relate to the prompt), or it simply isn’t as good as other pieces. If it is something different than that—if, for example, it actually isn’t very good at all—then I will explain that in the rejection letter as gently as possible. 

I don’t mind at all if authors reply to my rejection letters; and if they have a specific question, then I will do my best to answer it—time willing. 


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

JF: What made you want to do this?

I come from an art background (educationally, at least, I would be classed as an ‘artist’) and find that my own writing can be quite cinematic and visual. Combining great and interesting artwork with equally great and interesting writing, is something that appealed to me; and thinking there was a very real ‘need’ in the market for an art inspired literary publication, I decided to use what little time I don’t have (two young children, two martial art classes, and a very busy ‘real’ job, not to mention a beautiful wife that I don’t spend enough time with) to fill that gap. 

The fact that I have enough artwork sent in already to keep me going through to August and am getting submissions—not to mention simple well wishes, feedback and comments—from more people than I imagined this early in the fledgling publication process makes me think that I made the right choice.

Only time will tell, of course.


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


NEXT POST: 2/19—Six Questions for Camille Gooderham Campbell, Managing Editor, Every Day Fiction.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Six Questions for Robert Neilson, Editor, Albedo One

Albedo One, based in Dublin Ireland, publishes science fiction, horror, and fantasy. Stories of all lengths are read, but the preferred length is between 2,500 and 8,000 words. The magazine also includes interviews with high profile authors and media personalities, and book reviews. Read the complete guidelines here.


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

RN: Character, plot and good writing. But most importantly that wow factor. The reason we reject most stories is that they just don't jump off the page and grab you. It's hard to explain but you always know the stories that are really going to be popular with readers.


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

RN: The writer has never read an issue of the magazine and has no real idea of what we are looking for.

Mediocrity, I'm afraid. We would prefer a flawed story that attempted greatness than an ordinary one that 'ticked all the boxes'.

A number of very good stories die on the last couple of pages. It is the most common problem with stories that get close but just fail to make it. I might call it the Stephen King problem. Writes great books but not always great endings, like THE GIANT SPIDER FROM OUTER SPACE in IT.


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

RN: Mistakes, whether in language, or grammar or spelling or punctuation. We spend a lot of time reading stories (a lot of which are less than you would hope) and the least the writer can do is proof his story before sending it off.


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

Only if the story is very good, but not good enough.


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?

I have to say that I would prefer not to get into a dialogue with an author. If I provide comments it is because I feel the writer is worth encouraging or the story could be publishable with improvements. We very seldom ask authors to make changes and re-submit, but it does happen.

Mostly authors are nice and polite in their emails. Be smart or snippy and you'll never publish in that magazine. The best idea about writing to a magazine that has rejected your story (unless it is to say thanks for the encouraging comments) is don't.


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

RN: Have e-zines damaged the future for hard copy magazines?

No. I think there will always be a niche for hard copy magazines, although perhaps that is the writer in me being hopeful. There is nothing better than getting a magazine or book through the post with your work in it. Apart from football and the love of a good woman.


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

NEXT POST: 2/17—Six Questions for Jay Faulkner, Editor, With Painted Words

Friday, February 12, 2010

Six Questions for M. Bartley Seigel, Editor & Founder, PANK Magazine

PANK is a nonprofit literary magazine publishing a blog, monthly content online, and annual content in print. Read the complete guidelines here.


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

MBS: Passion is first. If the writer hasn't cared enough for the work to really climb inside it, live there, make it work, then how is a reader to stay involved?

Mindfulness is second. I like writers who know who they are, but who understand the contexts within which they craft, and who put the requisite time into producing words worth reading.

Third, I like to be surprised. Good luck parsing that one out.


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

MBS: Bloodlessness, poor craft, and sleep inducement all pretty much seal the deal alone or in combination. But every submission is unique in some way and stays or goes based on a host of criteria that are nebulous at best and nonexistent at worst. I've rejected things I wish I hadn't as I've accepted things I wish I hadn't.


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

MBS: When a writer doesn't give me exactly what I want in exactly the way I want it at exactly the right time, I lose the wood.


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

MBS: Sometimes. PANK's associate editor, Roxane Gay, is more prolific with comments than I am. Because PANK is pretty much a two person show, because it ain't the day job, because we get thousands of submissions year round, it boils down to time. We do what we can.


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?

MBS: Yes, we've received rejections of our rejections. I don't mind, nobody is blacklisted, but we do keep the funny ones on file for our entertainment.

What do I want writers to know? That PANK is a little magazine on a little budget with virtually no staff. That if their feelings get hurt and their egos bruised from the submission process, I'm sorry. That they're welcome to ask questions, but aren't automatically entitled to a response.


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

MBS: Q: PANK makes more people happy than it makes sad?
A: Yes.

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

NEXT POST: 2/15—Six Questions for Robert Neilson, Editor, Albedo One

Monday, February 8, 2010

Six Questions for Kaolin Fire, Founding Editor, GUD

GUD publishes fiction in any genre, artwork, factual articles, and interviews. According to the website, the editors, "read a lot and have seen it all before." They want works that challenge their sense of reality and assumptions about life. GUD ranked #8 in the 2010 Preditors and Editors Poll. Read the complete guidelines here.


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

KF: Something new—as above, while we haven't read even close to "everything," and each of us has our own particular niches we've read most deeply in, we have seen a lot. Chances are whatever the story's context, we've read a dozen similar—so there has to be something new, something innovative about it that makes it stand above the crowd.

Solid writing—the authors should be more than competent with their choice of words, the flow from sentence to sentence. Not every piece should be lyrical, but it should be intentional. The authors should know what they're doing with their words, and do it well.

Something remarkable—literally something that will cause me to remark on a piece in a positive manner, make me share it with my fellow editors. This is the je ne sais quoi that I always wish I had a better answer for. Some of it is, of course, the "something new," and _particularly_ solid writing will also get a nod.


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

KF: If it's got all of the above, including the je ne sais quoi, it's very unlikely to be rejected. I suppose the worst, though, are the stories that build up predicated on something the reader does not know—and fail to pull that off with an ending that ties it all together. This isn't just "a bad ending"—which could possibly be tweaked—but rather the disbelief you've been suspending suddenly collapsing under its own weight because the Emperor convinced himself there was a foundation when there wasn't.

We get a fair number of, "It's beautiful, but so what?" submissions; where not enough changes to make a plot, or the character/setting isn't deep enough, complex enough, visceral enough to make a vignette.


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

KF: Most often the mistakes fall under the category of "the writing isn't solid enough." I'd direct folks to #gudslush on twitter for more specific advice, but the search doesn't go back far enough for a good sampling. We do have them in a widget on our submissions page ~ http://www.gudmagazine.com/subs/submit.php—and we probably should collect those ourselves and turn them into a blogpost.


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

KF: Very infrequently. Sometimes I just don't have any suggestions that I think would be worthwhile, or taken well, but mostly when I'm slushing I'm just trying to get through the 400+ submissions a month and find the possible gems. There's a wealth of writers' workshops where folks can get critiques.

While I'd love to provide feedback to everyone, it's just not feasible to do that, especially with the landmine of folks responding very poorly to honest suggestions. I've been down that road with another magazine, and the burn-out it produces on top of just reading through slush is not sustainable for us.


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?

KF: Polite questions are fine, and we'll try to answer them. One rude response will probably get a laugh, but not result in any sort of black-listing. Folks who are the rudest tend to be pretty poor writers, so that's not much of an issue. Likely they don't take well to criticism on any front, and as such don't improve.


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

KF: Not this one. ;) I'm horrible with this one.

For the sake of promotion, I'll say: "What other magazines do you read and/or recommend?"

I'd like to give a shout out to Shock Totem, Weird Tales, Strange Horizons, Crossed Genres, and Murky Depths. Shock Totem is closest to my heart in terms of what I like to read (outside of GUD), and I really hope to crack them some day; but all of the above are on my hit list. The only one I've broken so far is Strange Horizons.

Murky Depths gets a special nod for pushing boundaries by mixing artwork and fiction (shortform graphic novels, but I wouldn't call them comics unless you knew comics--then you'd know what I meant). GUD's trying to do that to a smaller extent and is very excited to be publishing two shorts in Issue 5.

The small press scene needs "your" support. All of us do, in order to keep publishing. If you're more interested in getting published than supporting publications, maybe you can share us with "one of your reader friends".


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

NEXT POST: 2/10—Six Questions for Katherine A. Patterson, Senior Editor, AlienSkin Magazine

Friday, February 5, 2010

Six Questions for Six Questions for Rick Rofihe, Publisher & Editor-in-Chief, Anderbo

Anderbo publishes literary fiction up to 3,500 words, poetry, and "fact" up to 1,500 words. Learn more here.


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

RR: I want a story to start with either a little bit of action and go quickly to some background, or start with some brief background and then cut to some action. I want to know who the story's protagonist is, and what his or her "conflict" is, within the first half-page. Then I want the rest of the story to narrowly follow whatever its beginning is.


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

RR: A story might be too long—and in some cases, too short—for its actual essence. Also, a story that bites off a little and efficiently chews what's bitten off is better than a story that has a big scope but doesn't fully explore the questions it poses. And then there are stories that might have great endings, but present a tough or unsatisfying slog getting through the story's beginning and middle.


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

RR: I see a lot of stories that start off in bars—those stories never seem to work. And a lot of ones involving pets—animal stories don't seem very promising. First-person stories in which the narrator's name isn't somehow revealed—those can be frustrating (though I did such myself in a story, "Elevator Neighbors", which appeared in The New Yorker.)


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

RR: Everyone on the masthead is invited to comment on fiction stories which are under serious consideration. I share those comments among everyone, and if the consensus is to accept the story, or accept it with revisions, the author would be shown appropriate excerpts of our comments. For non-accepted stories, unless someone at Anderbo has a prior relationship to the author, we never provide comments.


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?

RR: There are simply too many submissions for myself and our all-volunteer anderbo.com staff to deal with to get into any back-and forth, polite or not, with a writer whose work we are not accepting.


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

RR: "Rick, do you agree with the writers Margaret Atwood and Lorrie Moore who each would suggest that it's much more important for you as a story-writer to express the story than to express yourself?" (Yes, I do.)

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

NEXT POST: 2/8/10—Six Questions for Kaolin Fire, Founding Editor, GUD

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Six Questions for Wendy S. Delmater, Editor, Abyss & Apex Magazine of Speculative Fiction

Per the website: "Abyss & Apex publishes the finest in speculative and imaginative fiction and poetry. We are are looking for character-driven stories that remain with us long after the first reading. Short stories up to 10,000 words and flash fiction with fewer than 1,500 words are accepted. There is no length limitation on poetry." Read the complete guidelines here.

WD: Very hard sells: fairytale retellings, vampires, and sword and sorcery (especially of the generic extruded European fantasy variety. Elves! Argh!) We publish them so very, very, very rarely that you are better off sending such stories elsewhere.

I love your story / Please send more soon. But only / ones without vampires


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

WD: Plot, characterization and novelty. Let me expand on each one.

* Plot: slice of life just does not cut it. The person has to change, and/or the situation.

* Characterization: Let me get inside that character's world and feel their peril, pain or pleasure as my own. I like characters our readers can identify with. Character is king.

It was a nice try / But your characters are weak / I am not their crutch

* Novelty: We like things that are new and different. For that reason I am especially leery of the constant raft of open anthology rejects. Believe me, I know what antho just closed, and I received about 20 other stories that were written for it when I got yours. This is not the road to uniqueness, people.

Seen this before and / expect my readers have too / many, many times

BONUS! If you have lyrical prose on top of the above, you're golden. Especially if there is nice thematic structure, layering and circularity.


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

WD:
* As Strunk and White would say, "Omit useless words." Wordiness, especially descriptive wordiness, can ruin the flow of a tale and throw me out of the story.

* And for Pete's sake please do not send us novel excerpts with unfinished plot threads . . .

* . . .or thinly disguised fanfic for popular TV shows.

We can’t touch Star Trek/with a ten-foot legal pole/Read the guidelines, twit

For that matter please, please, please do not take that wonderful storyline from your role-playing game and try to publish it: we can tell, trust me, and it won't fly any better than a lead glider with us!


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

WD:
* Showing instead of telling

* Gratuitous violence or sex

* Slow start -- no hook in the opening paragraph. (If that's all that is wrong I may ask for a rewrite, but usually it is a harbinger of things to come.)

Story has no hook / Fell asleep on second page / Please excuse the drool


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

WD: * I like to but...not always. Time constraints, you know.


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?

WD: I only blacklist those who make simultaneous submissions. I don't mind a little thanks that I spent time on a helpful comment, but I'd rather not become an author's pen pal. As for the rude and nasty writers, they usually shoot themselves in the foot with no help at all from me.


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

WD: How do you feel about submission guidelines?

Guidelines. We has 'em. Why don't people read them? For example, A&A very clearly states that we have four reading periods. We get submissions outside of our reading periods all the time. We also get non-genre stories when all we publish is science fiction and fantasy.

We have guidelines up / How many times must we ask? / Read them at our site

Please consider making a donation to Abyss & Apex here.

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

NEXT POST: 2/5/10—Six Questions for Six Questions for Rick Rofihe, Publisher & Editor-in-Chief, Anderbo

Monday, February 1, 2010

Six Questions for J.W. Wang, Editor, Juked

Juked accepts stories of any length as long as they fit the magazine's editorial style. Any author wishing to submit a work to Juked should read a few issues before sending a story. A note on the web site states that longer stories have been preferred by the editors. Read the submission guidelines here.


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

JW: I don’t think anyone goes into a story with a specific checklist of things they look for. Or maybe I should just speak for myself: I go into each story with as open a mind as I can. We publish a wide range of material.  Sometimes it’s more “experimental,” sometimes it’s more “traditional,” which I take to be mostly a categorization of form. I suppose the best thing a story can have going for it is a strong, compelling voice.  You look at all the rules being broken by various stories, and if they get away with what they’re doing, nearly all the time you can attribute it to voice. There’s a reason for that: a strong, compelling voice denotes sympathy and understanding for a major character, and if you have a complex and compelling character, we’re likely to follow and see where the story goes. That said, I do look for well-crafted sentences, something to suggest care was put into the actual writing. The language is our set of tools, after all, and it’s pretty apparent whether a writer has spent time working with it. I suppose related to both is the complexity of the writing, whether the sentences reveal nuance and aren’t just direct statements.


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

JW: Much of the time a story gets rejected because the writing’s just not very strong; there’s a lot of overt and direct telling and little subtlety, or the writing consists of clichés and other familiarities. Another big turnoff is this obsession with cleverness that’s really popular for some reason: many people are more interested in sounding clever than they are in constructing a story. There’s little sympathy towards the characters, who feel like they’re just little pawns being pushed around by someone who is more concerned with showing off their wit or writing skills. Closely related to this are stories that are highly conceptual, so that the story’s less a story about people than it is about some great metaphor. And I mean, it could be a great metaphor, but if we don’t care about the people in the story, then there’s little reason to read on. Poor spelling and grammar is always a good reason; chances are if the writer can’t spell or put together a correct sentence, the story’s not going to be any good either. I realize all the things I just said are more or less flipsides to #1, so I’ll offer a couple of other things (that aren’t “top three reasons”): zombies or vampires or other genre elements that do nothing to challenge our conception of these tropes; starting off a story with a line of dialogue is typically risky business; second person storytelling is also risky and hard to do, but apparently quite popular.


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

JW: This is more or less the same as #2, no? On the sentence level, I can offer a few more specific things. People often try to write simultaneity with sentence constructions like “As he sat down in the passenger seat, she slammed the door.” This as-something-something, something-something construction is overused and pretty dreadful, because most of the time it’s used incorrectly—if she slammed the door at the very moment he’s sitting down, he’d be wedged in and feeling great pain. It would be much simpler if people just wrote chronologically:  He sat down in the passenger seat, and she slammed the door. Another thing is describing how people look at another; a lot of weaker stories have abundant lines that read like, “He looked at her,” and “She cut him a look.” The instinct here is to put in something interesting, but looking by itself isn’t enough most of the time. Funny fonts are no good; stick with Times New Roman 12 point. Don’t use all caps to suggest louder voices. Or exclamation marks and question marks together. 


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

JW: No, unfortunately we don’t have the manpower (humanpower?) to do so. 


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?

JW: We’ve gotten plenty of responses that were “less than professional.” I think once someone wrote back and said, “Eat shit.” Rejections are hard, and I feel bad whenever we send one out, but it’s necessary and a part of the process. You don’t ever need to respond to a rejection, but if you do, it can only help you to be gracious. I personally don’t mind when authors reply with questions, but again, we don’t really write comments, so there’s not much more we can say. And no, we don’t keep a blacklist. People change over time, right? The author who wrote us two years ago is not the same author today.


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

JW: Can’t think of any. I’ll offer a thought instead. I personally don’t think it is beneficial for an author to flood a publication, sending in something immediately after a rejection, even if it’s a positive rejection. I believe in waiting some time, revising and working, before sending out something else. These days a lot of journals use Submittable or some other online system, and the readers can see immediately every story you’ve submitted and when you submitted them. If there’s a long list of rejected manuscripts and there’s little time in between, it’s only going to make the reader think this is just going to be another one in a long line of crappy stories.


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

NEXT POST: 2/3/10—Six Questions for Wendy S. Delmater, Editor, Abyss & Apex Magazine of Speculative Fiction