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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?
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