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