Monday, March 29, 2010

Six Questions for Fiona Robyn, Editor, A Handful of Stones

A Handful of Stones publishes "very short pieces that precisely capture a fully-engaged moment." Learn more about writing small stones here.


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

FR: Firstly, that it gives me a difficult-to-define 'ah'—a frisson of recognition or surprise, a tingle of pleasure or disgust or humour. Secondly, that it's well written—not just grammatically, but that it uses all the right words in the right order. Thirdly... I don't think I have a thirdly.


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

FR: A lot of what I receive just doesn't appeal to me—that's not the fault of the writer. I have a particular taste, and I like close observation, quirkiness, brevity. Other editors will have different tastes. Although having said that, some of the small stones I receive are overly sentimental, or haven't been polished very well.


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

FR: Anything that doesn't surprise me.


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

FR: That's a very difficult question as it's a very intuitive thing for me. I think good authors learn to bring their characters to life because they just KNOW them.


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?

FR: Although it's difficult to do, I don't think it helps to take it personally. For me the writing process (which includes getting as much feedback as possible and learning to be a better writer over the years) should be kept as separate as possible from the submitting business. I wouldn't mind people asking for feedback but may not be able to respond. I need to be aware of time or I wouldn't get my own writing done, and I get a lot of submissions.


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

I'd like to be asked what would make my job easier. You'd be surprised at how many people don't read the submission guidelines and don't include their blog addresses or their URLs. This makes my job much more time consuming, which adds up over many submissions. I'd encourage people to read the guidelines carefully.


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

NEXT POST: 3/31--Six Questions for Caren Gussoff, Co-Editor, Brain Harvest

Friday, March 26, 2010

Six Questions for Charlotte Rains Dixon co-founder, The Writers Loft

Charlotte Rains Dixon is a free-lance writer, novelist, copy writer and creative writing teacher. She earned her MFA from Spaulding University and co-directs The Writers Loft program at Middle Tennessee State University. Learn more about Charlotte here and The Writers Loft here.


SQF: Your undergraduate degree is in journalism. A number of successful fiction writers started as journalists. What are the qualities journalists bring to fiction that make them successful?

CRD: First of all, journalists are trained to write fast and well on a regular basis. Writers write, and they write daily. I know, duh. But you’d be surprised how many people I run into who say they want to write but haven’t set pen to paper in years. The best way to get a novel written is to work on it a little every day and so journalists have an advantage, since they are already accustomed to doing this.

Second, journalists learn to interview and research. Not that fiction writers need to excel in this, especially with the internet at hand, but I think that this training facilitates an eye for the telling details and for getting to the heart of the story.

And third, when I went to journalism school, the profession was treated as a sacred duty and trust. J school instilled a love of the written word and a fervor to be a responsible writer in me, and that spills easily to the realm of fiction as well.


SQF: You co-founded The Writers Loft, which offers a three session certificate program. How does the program differ from an MFA (besides the cost of $1250 per term)?

CRD: Let me give credit where credit is due. A wonderful man named Roy Burkhead founded the Loft, and I became the first mentor there. When Roy took another job as a technical writer, my partner Terry Price and I took over as the directors of the Loft.

We sometimes describe our program as “MFA lite” meaning that it is modeled after a brief-residency MFA program, but is a bit lighter on both pocketbook and requirements. Just as with the MFA, our course of study is based on one-on-one mentoring, which I believe is the best way to learn writing. Our students turn in three packets per semester, with each one consisting of original writing and an essay based on reading. In a typical MFA program, you’d be responsible for five packets. Our mentors are no less rigorous in their responses, however—I’m always amazed at the quality of teaching and the support they gave our students.


SQF: Why would someone choose The Writers Loft offering over an MFA program?

CRD: Many of our students have gone on to earn MFAs after completing our program. Often we get writers who want to go for their MFA but realize their skills are not quite up to par. Our mentors help them to hone a body of work that will be MFA-worthy.

But we also get people who have always wanted to write, and for various reasons finally now have the time or courage to truly commit to it. These students don’t care so much about the MFA. What they crave is support, honest criticism, community, and a sense that their writing is important. They find a welcoming home at the Loft.


SQF: The application process requires a two page, double-spaced writing sample. What do you look for when reviewing these samples?

CRD: We look for a basic facility with words. If someone turns in a sample that is rife with errors and shows no basic understanding of grammar, we might suggest that they take a composition class at the community college. But that rarely happens. Most of our applicants are writers who need just a wee bit of encouragement and guidance to blossom.

Honestly, what I believe to be the most important trait to see in an application is desire. Writer A might have all the talent in the world but not write regularly, while Writer B might not have so much talent, but works hard at writing every day. Guess who is going to get the farthest? I’ve seen so many students come through our program who can move me to tears with their writing—but they simply don’t commit enough time to it to truly master the craft. (Of course, the great thing about being a writer is that it takes a lifetime to master the craft, and thus you never get bored, as there is always something else to learn.)


SQF: What advice would you give new, unpublished authors?

CRD: Write. Then write more. Then write again. This answer sounds facetious, but it truly is the best thing any new writer can do. Find a way to write something every day, even if it is just one sentence. Writing regularly helps you develop an ease and a fluency with putting words on the page that simply doesn’t come any other way. It also helps you keep the momentum and the motivation going.

I do also believe fervently in the power of connection, which is always the first thing I talk about when I give my Writing Abundance workshops. Writing is a hard, lonely job, so find a way to connect to something bigger than yourself—be it a writing group, an online community, or a coach or mentor. And also take time every day to connect with the divine, whatever you consider it to be. Authentic voice comes from connecting to our deepest, true selves, and connecting to our deepest, true selves comes from a connection to the divine.

And finally, read like crazy. There’s no better way to teach yourself to write than to read books similar to what you want to write.


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

CRD: I love your questions! The only thing that occurs to me is this: You also write fiction, can you tell us a bit about that?

I’ve just finished a novel called Emma Jean’s Bad Behavior, which is currently being considered by an agent, so think good thoughts for me. Writing fiction is my true love, and I hope this book gets picked up so I can spend more time on it.

Thank you so much for these thoughtful questions, Jim, it has been a pleasure.

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

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Six Questions for Kevin Morgan Watson, Founder and Fiction Editor, Press 53

Press 53 is an independent publisher of literary fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. They accept material from established writers for single-author books, and from new and established writers for anthologies and the Press 53 Open Awards writing contest. Press 53 also republishes out-of-print classic novels and memoirs. 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?

KMW: I believe print books will go out of style when blankets go out of style. There is something about holding a book, a connection with the author that you don’t get with an ebook. Still, I think ebooks are viable and here to stay. But I also think ebooks can help bolster print book sales. If it’s a book the reader truly loves, the reader will want to hold the book, really own it, not virtually own it.

As for the current state of the book and the book market, it’s too soon to tell. I read recently that the Internet has done to publishing what the Guttenberg press did 560 years ago. The moveable-type press created an environment where lots of people besides monks and priests could publish, and it took decades for balance to be achieved. I think that’s where we are now. The keepers of the gate to the publishing kingdom have had their keys copied.

I hadn’t heard about the decline in the number of books being published. I think more books are being published today than ever. I also think if we want to see where the book industry is headed, we should watch the music industry closely. What is happening there now is where the book industry will be in few years. Ten years ago, for example, mid-list music artists began begging out of their contracts with the major labels to produce their own CDs, book their own tours, and take back creative control of their careers. Now there is a thriving indie market in the music industry. More and more authors are choosing a similar route today, thanks to print-on-demand technology, social networking, blogging, websites, email, and online payment systems. Right now the publishing industry is being sucked into a wormhole of sorts, and who knows where it will be and what it will look like when it pops out the other side. These are exciting times.


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

KMW: First, the voice has to resonate with me, capture my attention, really demand my attention. There are times when I am two or three pages into a story and nothing seems to be happening, yet I’m still reading because the voice has my attention, promising to deliver something worthy of my time and attention. Second is subtlety. I don’t like being hit over the head and having action and dialogue explained to me. I prefer the writer plant a seed, not a whole damn tree. Let the characters live their story, and allow me to watch the story unfold without the benefit of the author’s insight. Lastly, the story has to play like a movie in my head; I want to experience the setting with my senses engaged; the characters have to be real to me, the dialogue natural, their actions unpredictable, their problems interesting. There has to be something at risk, no matter how small. All three of these elements—voice, subtlety, and a sensory-rich story—have to be there.


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

KMW: The authors who make mistakes aren’t paying attention. They don’t read the submission guidelines, they don’t familiarize themselves with the publishing house and the types of books the editors want. There’s no excuse. Anyone wanting to publish with Press 53, for example, can easily find stories and poems online that will offer an idea of the kinds of writing we publish. Google any number of our authors and you’ll find plenty of things to read—stories and poems published in lots of different journals and magazines—and it’s all there online. I know it takes time to do all this research, but a few extra hours of research can increase an author’s chances for success.


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

KMW: Of the single-author books we publish, all of the authors are previously published. And I’m not talking about previously publishing a book; I’m looking for writers with publishing credits in journals and magazines (print or online), anthologies, newspapers, you name it. It all counts. That’s a requirement. For our survival we have to work with authors who are active in the literary community, meaning that they are submitting to magazines, journals, and contests, and are earning recognition through publication and awards. Since we publish mostly short story and poetry collections, it’s important that we work with poets and authors who are constantly putting themselves and their work out there. Besides a strong manuscript, these authors can deliver blurbs for their books, a marketing plan, an audience, and the energy to help us sell their books. It’s a partnership. Very few people are going to buy a book just because we publish it. Someday our small press might be in the position to make a writer’s career just by publishing his or her book, but we’re not there yet, so we need experienced and active authors who can help us get there.

We do publish some first-time published authors in our anthologies, like the every-odd-year Surreal South series edited by Laura and Pinckney Benedict, and our yearly Press 53 Open Awards Anthology, where we publish the top three winners in each of our six categories, except novella, where we only publish the winning entry. So there are opportunities for unpublished authors, and it’s exciting to find and publish these authors. But for single-author books of short stories, poetry, and even novels or memoirs, we need an author who can deliver experience along with a great manuscript.


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

KMW: If you have a novel or memoir, but have never published a few shorter pieces somewhere, your chances of finding an agent or landing a publishing deal for your book are slim. That’s just the way it is. It’s difficult for writers with lots of publishing credits to land an agent or a publishing deal. So my advice is to send out some shorter pieces to magazines, journals, and contests, and to use this time to hone your craft and learn how the editing and publishing process works. Your best calling card is a publication credit. The more the better. A writer with no publishing credits delivers a lot of unknowns: Does he understand the business? Will he be receptive to edits and rewrites? Are his expectations realistic? After his book is published, will he make me want to jump in front of a train?

Don’t bring publishers or agents a manuscript, bring them a package: a great manuscript and an experienced author.


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

KMW: What are three things that will earn a manuscript a rejection?

Sloppy editing, preaching, and clichés. I will forgive a misspelled word and some questionable punctuation here and there, but too much of either tells me the author hasn’t given the story the attention it deserves. And I’m not interested in being convinced of something or being taught a valuable lesson: tell your story and let me take it and keep it with me. If there is a lesson in the story, I’d like to find it on my own. And let there be no mistake, clichés hang on a story like a cheap suit so writers should avoid them like the plague. 


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

Thank you for the invitation. I’m going to use this blog as an example in my Creative Strategies for Writers workshop. Great idea, and a valuable tool.

NEXT POST: 3/26 -- Six Questions for Charlotte Rains Dixon co-founder, The Writers Loft

Friday, March 19, 2010

Six Questions for Jeff Chon, Editor, vis a tergo

vis a tergo publishes one poem, one piece of prose, and one comic every two weeks.  It's built for speed and has no genre limits. A good story's a good story. The editors accept fiction and nonfiction to 3000 words, poetry, and comics. Read the complete guidelines here.


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

JC:
  1. I want to see the sheer joy of creation in the stories. If you’re not enjoying yourself, then why should I?
  2. Be distinctive. It's like the old joke: Do you know why Charles Bukowski wrote the way he did? So you wouldn't have to. Play to your strengths and not someone else's.
  3. Have something to say. Not necessarily "deep" and "profound"—give me something compelling. Tell me something I need to hear. Give me a great story and not just empty calories.


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

JC:
  1. Affectation: I pride myself on being a very sincere person, so I respond to sincerity in others. If I think you’re doing more posing than actual storytelling, then I’m out and I’m gone. It's very important to me that you serve the story and not yourself.
  2. Lack of imagination: This one kills me, because a little imagination can work to mitigate the worst of crimes.  Clichés are definitely a symptom of a poor imagination. Keep in mind that it’s fiction.  Make stuff up and have some fun.
  3. It just doesn’t do it for me: Sometimes, I’m just not going to be that into your story. I’m a writer as well, so I understand the arbitrary nature of all of this. You just kind of realize that you can't please everyone and move on. Outside of the context of inclusion in vis a tergo, my opinion of your story is meaningless.


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

JC: Spelling and grammar count. There’s deliberate, which is an entirely different story, and then there’s careless, which is inexcusable. We traffic in words. We should be able to use them correctly.


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

JC: Usually when I accept a story, I’ll make comments or suggestions, but even that’s pretty rare. Otherwise, I’ve learned not to make comments on stories I reject. See Question #5.


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?

JC: I’ve stopped making comments on rejected stories because the lack of civility from a select few jackasses made it not worth my time. Every time I was making comments on work I rejected, I felt I had to walk on eggshells, because who likes getting declined? If someone asks for comments, I’ll be more than happy to oblige, and I’ll definitely try to be as helpful as I can. But on the whole, I don't want to say anything because that way you can just safely assume that it's not you; it's me. I think the best way for an author to respond to a rejection is to shrug it off. I’m sure every editor will agree with me when I say that writers shouldn’t take any of this personally. As a matter of fact, if those same select few jackasses were to submit work I enjoyed, I’d be more than happy to publish them. I don't hold grudges, so why should they?


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

LC: I suppose the best imaginary question to answer would be “Why do you do this?” and the answer would be I love writers and great writing. My only aim with vis a tergo is to showcase great work, and it’s gratifying when a writer grants me the opportunity to publish their stuff. I know that I'm only as good as the work I publish, so the fact that so many talented people have decided to let me be the caretaker of their creations has been a humbling experience; and I am sincerely grateful for the chance.


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

NEXT POST: 3/22--Six Questions for Pamela Tyree Griffin, Editor, The Shine Journal

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Six Questions For Carter Jefferson, The Internet Review of Books

SQF: What is the purpose of The Internet Review of Books?
CJ: Book review sections are rapidly disappearing from newspapers. For non-fiction readers and writers especially, this is a disaster. Some specialized works are still reviewed on sites dedicated to particular subjects, but most readers of print media like The New York Times Book Review want to hear about books they might otherwise miss. So four of us who knew each other at the Internet Writing Workshop started our publication in October 2007 to fill the gap. In our first issue we reviewed six non-fiction books on subjects including literary essays, religion, science, and biography. We included a review of a book that had in the past left a "Lasting Impression" on someone. We began to attract readers right away, but soon figured we'd do even better if we added a fiction section to our site, so we did that in January 2008; thanks to the hard work of our excellent Fiction Editor, the fiction reviews have helped us build readership. Since then we've published reviews on numerous subjects, interviews with authors, and essays on various literary matters. About a year ago we added a section of "Brief Reviews" for books likely to interest a somewhat smaller readership. Very recently we found a Poetry Editor, so we'll soon add a poetry section. We're a serious publication operating on a regular schedule.


SQF: Who writes the reviews and essays that appear on your site?

CJ: Our reviewers come from everywhere. At first we called on friends we knew could write and sought specialists, like college professors in various fields, to fill our needs. We looked at blogs and found good reviewers who didn't get many comments on their work, and asked them to help. Now we have a list of reviewers who have told us what sort of thing they'd like to read and write about, and we call on them when we get a book that fits their preferences. Many are published authors, some are experts in a field, and some are simply good writers who are willing to deal with subjects with which they are familiar. We find new reviewers all the time.


SQF: Anyone wishing to recommend a book for review by your staff is asked to submit a query containing the title, a 100 word description, pertinent author info, the page count, publisher and publication year. What do you look for in 100 words that makes a book float to the top of your to-be-reviewed list?

CJ: We review books six months old or less that we think might interest our readers. When someone recommends a book, we check it out on the publisher's website and decide whether it's worth a review. We don't review inspirational or how-to books, or, usually, fiction other than literary or mainstream genres. The books we're interested in must be likely to appeal to a fairly wide audience. Incidentally, if someone writes an excellent 100-word recommendation, we might ask that person to write the review.


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

Books we review must be the kind that might interest a fairly wide circle of readers. Most of our space we reserve for books that might be missed by other mass media reviewers. That's two. I can't think of a third.  :-)


SQF: Based on your experience reviewing books, what is your advice to people who'd like to become reviewers in any publication?

First, read reviews in first-rate media. Reviewing is a genre in itself, and that's the best way to get an idea how it's done. Next, think of the readers reviews serve--your work will need to interest and entertain as well as to let readers know whether the book in question is worth picking up. Finally, don't submit a review anywhere until it's been critiqued by several people you trust in order to make sure it's the very best you can do.   


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

CJ: Is there any money in reviewing?

There can be, but most good reviewers learn the trade by writing without pay. I got my first experience writing movie reviews for my college newspaper. Then I got a lot of mass media writing experience by working as a reporter and editor for newspapers. Later, when I was a college professor, I wrote reviews for scholarly journals, and then got paid for writing reviews for newspapers like the Chicago Tribune and the Washington Post, because I knew how to write for the mass media. Nowadays it's a lot harder to find paying venues, but with experience it's still possible. Pay scales vary. The IRB doesn't pay yet, but we will when we get enough readers to attract more advertisers and make money. Because we have good editors who carefully vet every piece we publish, we're a good place to get the experience good reviewers badly need. The bottom line is that good reviewers are, first and foremost, good writers.

Learn more about The Internet Review of Books here.

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

NEXT POST: 3/19--Six Questions for Jeff Chon, Editor, vis a tergo

Monday, March 15, 2010

Six Questions for Timothy Gager, Fiction Editor, The Wilderness House Literary Review

The Wilderness House Literary Review is a quarterly publication containing fiction in three categories -- under 500 words, 501 to 1000 words, and 1001 to 5000 words -- poetry, non-fiction, book reviews, and art. Learn more here.


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

TG: I look for mind blowing twists that could actually happen and not just happen for the sake of blowing someone's mind.

I look for sustaining quality. Someone needs to sustain the interest of the editor completely for 500 - 10,000 words. It only takes one bad sentence or one really bad suspension of my disbelief to kill the story. Editors sit there with a knife to kill a story...don't make them use it.

If it's realistic, I want it to be totally realistic. If it's "out there,” i.e. if a dog is talking, I want it talking for a reason; and I want the story to vamp off that.


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

TG: The tense shifts all the time and the grammar is poor.

The story has a bad arc. It rushes to the end or has a huge drag in it.

Something stupid happens that is not logical to either the story itself or the real world.


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

TG: A really bad ending that ties everything into a cheap little package will.


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

TG: Characters that have an urgency or a desperation can automatically create what I'm looking for. Characters that are painted differently, either by their dialect or background. If the author is aware and can pull this off, it's a big plus. Of course they need to do A, B and C as well.


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?

TG: Ideally, I don't want to have a dialog with them. I feel it's just as difficult to send out rejections as it is to receive them. I've been on both ends. A writer should know that it's a numbers game and that one story you send may not click with that one editor. Another of your stories may click with THAT editor or that story that was rejected may click with a different editor. Sometimes editors are tired and are having bad days...and sometimes that great story about surviving in the jungle you wrote was read directly after another great story about surviving in the mountains. Sometimes it's not you, it's me.


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

TG: Do you read the bios and credits of the authors? Does it make a difference?

I try not to. I don't want to be influenced. Some great writers have written bad stories as well as some unpublished authors have written some miraculous work. Again, if a TC Boyle is submitting to me, I'm really hoping that I like it. Who am I to reject TC.


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

NEXT POST: 3/17--Six Questions For Carter Jefferson, The Internet Review of Books

Friday, March 12, 2010

Six Questions for Jen Michalski, Editor, jmww

jmww publishes prose up to 5000 words (although 3000 is preferred), flash up to 1500, poetry, essays, and solicited book reviews and interviews on a quarterly basis. We also publish interviews, book reviews, commentary, and other miscellany whenever we feel like it on the jmwwblog. Read our complete submission guidelines here.


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

JM: (1) We like strong characters whose motivations are not always known to us but can be explained within the confines of common sense—we like characters that breathe, that do stupid and wonderful human things, characters whose strings we don't see leading back to the author's hands. (2) We like confident, trim narratives with every word in its place. We like stories that start fast. (3) Your first sentence will be the most important sentence you write, in our opinion, so make sure it knocks us off our feet. We love it when we're still thinking about a story the day after we've read it or published it. Often we read your stories aloud to hear how they sound, and you should, too.


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

JM: A lot of stories feel more like first drafts to us; there's extraneous plot or dialogue or unnecessary characters that need to be cut. Often, the dialogue is stale or inauthentic (i.e., expository dialogue). In that vein, we reject a lot of stories because of flat characters—the characters have names and move the plot along but that are widgets or parts and not real characters. "Idea" or "message" stories are also a big no-no, i.e., where the theme or message of the story seems more important to the author to convey than the details or character. Personally, I also rarely accept a story that address me as "sir" in the cover letter.


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

JM: Believe it or not, spelling mistakes, often in the first sentence. Poor cover letters (which are not really necessary, anyway) that address me as "sir," or have a different journal's name in the address line, or give us a synopsis of the story, or enclose five or eight poems when we only accept three. We realize that many, if not all authors simultaneously submit; but please, if you are sending a cover letter, make us feel like the first girl you asked to the dance.


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

JM: We try to, for fiction, at least, although we do personally respond to a lot of poets as well. It's harder in general because we receive many more submissions now, and we'd prefer to keep our response times down. When we do, there's a thin line between being encouraging and discouraging. If there's a lot wrong with a story, in our opinion, we think it does a disservice to mention a few minute issues about it when the whole story should be dismantled. On the other hand, we don't want to send a writer a rejection saying the story was completely FUBAR. Of course, if a writer asked for an honest opinion in his or her cover letter, we would give it, so don't be afraid to ask. Overall, we try to be tactful and encouraging but honest, the same as everyone else.


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?

JM: Most authors are very professional to us; only a few in the five years we've been doing jmww have ever written back to argue or call us names or gloat and say the story got picked up somewhere else. For us, the best response from an author is either "thank you" or nothing at all. Don't send us revisions of stories if we haven't asked for them. Don't send us a new story within an hour, or day, of being rejected. It tells us you haven't done your homework on our aesthetic, that you're just throwing crap to the wall to see what sticks.


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

JM: How can writers better help jmww? We totally believe in the symbiotic thing. We'd love for you to keep reading the issues, even after we've published you! We'd love for you to buy an anthology once in awhile. Please, please report our response times to duotrope’s digest (to keep us honest and fast). But, mostly, you're wonderful. We couldn't ask for a better community of writers/readers. I guess that question really should be "how can jmww be better to you?" Totally let me know! (jmwweditor@gmail.com).

Monday, March 8, 2010

Six Questions for Mark Budman, Publisher/Editor, Vestal Review

Vestal Review publishes a semi-annual print magazine and has a web presence devoted to publishing flash fiction not longer than 500 words on a quarterly basis. The magazine accepts works in all genre except children's stories. Vestal Review has been published continuously since March 2000. Read the complete guidelines here.

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

MB: Brevity, energy and drive. These are the essentials of flash fiction.


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

MB: Cliches, mediocre executions, predictability. These factors sink the story. Publishing is a competitive business. You can't be just adequate and compelling. You need to stand out in the crowded field.


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

MB: Stories written for the sake of "surprise" endings. Easy way out such as a terminally ill character. Stories without a plot. Not following the guidelines.


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

MB: Only if a story has a potential. Comments are a tricky business. Some writers get defensive when getting them.


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?

MB: I don't keep any blacklists, though I do get my portion of "less than professional manners." I prefer that the writers don't enter into a discussion unless I asked them questions.


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

MB: Why did you get into such an ungrateful business of editing?

I wish I knew. It's masochism, I guess. Or maybe just the desire to promote the art of fiction writing, particularly flash fiction writing.


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

NEXT POST: 3/10--Six Questions for Betty Dobson, Poetry Editor, Apollo's Lyre

Friday, March 5, 2010

Six Questions for Martha Clarkson, Poetry Editor, Word Riot

Word Riot publishes experimental and literary fiction (flash fiction to 1000 words and stories from 1000-6500 words), non-fiction (personal essays and very short non-fiction to 650 words), poetry,  and reviews, interviews, and articles (please query first).  Read the complete guidelines here.


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

MC: Vivid imagery/Unusual descriptive voice for this concrete imagery/attention to line breaks

I look for these things because they make good poems.Without them, you have banal poetry and that's not what Word Riot wants.


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

MC: If a poem rambles, without purpose, it will be rejected. If it rambles without concrete imagery, it will be rejected. If it is trite in any way, it won't make it in.


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

MC: "Untitled" always turns me off -- make the effort. Figure out a good title. Typos in submissions, while they can be corrected, show a lack of attention by the writer.


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

MC: Sometimes I provide comments, depending. I will make the effort especially if we are interested in a poem but see a couple minor edits that could really help. I hope to have interactive dialogue with the poet about this.


SQF: Your guidelines state you accept "experimental and unique writing that we feel exists beyond the usual categories of fiction, poetry, and essay." Can you provide an example?

No response provided.

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

No response provided.

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

NEXT POST: 3/8-- Six Questions for Mark Budman, Publisher/Editor, Vestal Review

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Six Questions for Dale Wisely and F. John Sharp, Editors, Right Hand Pointing and Left Hand Waving

Dale Wisely is the founder of Right Hand Pointing and Left Hand Waving. RHP, in business for 5 years, features short poetry and fiction under 500 words, and art. Left Hand Waving is a brand new project and features first-person stories.  “We’re looking for stories written about things that happen to the author, or that happened to people close to the author.  We want a kind of urgency and immediacy to the tone, as if something crazy just happened and the author is telling a friend about it in a coffee shop.”

F. John Sharp edits fiction for RHP and is a co-editor, along with Dale and poet Howie Good, of Left Hand Waving. Read the guidelines here.


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

JS: Craft, voice and emotion.

Regarding craft, I look for tightness, efficiency, the use of language. I look for the ability of the author to simply write effectively. I often reject writing that looks like writing, that looks like the writer was trying too hard to make it seem writerly, which more often than not makes it feel false. Some people can pull that style off, but more often than not, it lacks verisimilitude. As for language, take great characters, solid theme, good voice and match it with sloppy language and it falls apart. Language is what connects the page with the eye, it's the go-between. It has to get the message right. Fancy language isn't necessarily good language. Good language is good language. For examples of that, pick up the nearest Best American Short Stories and pick any story.

Regarding voice, my advice is to try to have a strong voice, and be true to it, and I will more often than not find value in that.

Regarding emotion, I like there to be something in the end that pokes or punches or kicks me in the gut. I like there to be an ache. This is not the result of a clever or trick ending, but rather the result of something in the characters and how the story affects them, and how they move through the story, and how they relate to a theme that has been subtly but unmistakably woven into it that makes me say, "Yes!" Emotion is tied into the characters, theme, language, voice, and it all has to come together to make it work.


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

JS:
1. Done to death with nothing new to add.
2. Failed humor (don't try it if you're not good at it.)
3. It's just not a story.

I will add that with the short short form we specialize in, sometimes I will take something that just isn't a story, that is more like prose poetry, that is simply beautiful to read. But mainly, it needs to be a story.

DW:
a.  Preoccupation with self, especially self-pity.. 
b.  Flowery  language.  Gimmicky language.  Opaque language.
c.  Clear evidence that the writer hasn't read our guidelines, paid attention to them, or cared about them.


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

DW:  So far, as we've begun this Left Hand Waving project, we've gotten some good stories that would be appropriate for another 'zine, but not for us. In general, though, I'd say that I'm really irritated when I receive writing which contains grammatical or spelling errors. Anyone can make mistakes and I misspell words and make grammar errors all too frequently. (And I've made several mistakes in these sentences, just to see if you're paying attention.) But a writer ought to read, re-read, and read again. I admit to being a bit put-off by a submission that clearly has been blasted out to multiple magazines at once. We don't mind simultaneous submissions, but sometimes you can tell that a writer is sending their work to LOTS of editors without much attention to fit, and that's a turn-off. Related to that is a submission with no greeting. This REALLY irritates me. My advice to authors: Take time to note the name of the editor, address him or her by name in the email, and write a cover note that lets the editor know you've actually read their journal and you are interested in having your work in that journal. It’s just good manners.


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

DW: This is a tough area and the honest answer is "sometimes." I think I comment most often when the work is quite good and rejecting it is a fairly close call. If a writer gets some commentary from us, he or she ought to see that as a show of  respect. Not to be unkind, but there's not much point in commenting on really dreadful writing. All editors say this, but when you get a lot of submissions, it's hard to find time to provide feedback. I’m not sure how many authors want it, actually.


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?

DW: I don't keep a list and, I must say, hostile reactions to rejections just don't happen to us. When we send a rejection, any of the following responses are entirely welcome: (1) No response at all. This doesn't offend us. (2) A response of something like "thanks for taking the time to read my work" or “thanks for letting me know” is quite nice and always appreciated but, of course, the prerogative of the author. (3) A question or request for criticism is fine, when it's requested and not demanded. These responses, though uncommon, bother us: (1) Hostility, which is extremely rare, (2) submitting a revision that we don't ask for, and (3) quickly sending another submission with a, sort of, "how about these?" attitude. Of course, waiting a few weeks and submitting something else, that's perfectly fine.


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

DW: This is a question I would like: "How do you feel about the authors that submit to your journal?"  Answer: We are truly honored by those who send us their work, whether we take it or not. If I have a regret about being an editor, it's that I can't seem to find time to respond as promptly, as often and as extensively as I'd like. I hate that. Authors who submit to us deserve a reasonably prompt response and we truly would like to give everyone feedback (if they want it.) We’re always looking for ways to improve that.

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

NEXT POST: 3/5--Six Questions for Martha Clarkson, Poetry Editor, Word Riot

Monday, March 1, 2010

Six Questions for Ramon Collins, Micro Fiction Editor, The Linnet's Wings

The Linnet's Wings publishes poetry (all forms), micro fiction (to 400 words), flash fiction (to 1000 words), short stories, creative non-fiction (to 1500 words), and essays online and in print. You can read the complete guidelines here.


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

RC:
1.] First, tell me an interesting story.

2.] I’m the filter: tell a compelling story that will interest our readers.

3.] Please don’t submit a half-baked biscuit. Write a story you are proud to put your byline on.

I like to present a diverse group of Micros (about seven; action, romance, mystery, western, etc.). No “Woman Crying In The Bathtub” or “A Boy And His Dog” stories.

It’s my taste and experience that will decide what will interest our readers; what stories they might recommend to friends and family. A successful magazine is very aware of networking.


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

RC:
1.] Pay close attention to the title. An experienced Micro writer knows the first rule, “Every word does a job.” Too many beginning Micro writers just label their stories.

2.] Try for a Hook in the opener. If you hook my attention early on, the opener will probably catch the reader’s attention.

3.] Of course, submit a well-written plot that has a beginning, middle and end. Some character development in mid-story. Come to a conclusion -- many Micros just trickle out the back door. The worst thing that can happen to a story is to have an editor finish it and ask, “So what?”


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

RC: Certainly, spell-check and follow the word limit.

Stop writing when the story is told. A word limit of 400 doesn’t mean you have to pad it out to 394 or 397.

Watch tenses and try to keep in the Present Tense.

Avoid overuse of adjectives and adverbs.

Micro happens fast, but don’t force it.

The writer should stay out of the story, or at least stand in the shadow.


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

RC: I want to “see” the character in my imagination. Show me what s/he looks like (physical description is often a Micro crutch; choose words carefully). Describe any special characteristics or quirks: posture, walking style, tics, nervous habits, etc.

Dialog is spoken, not written. Read all dialog out loud and check for normal conversational flow. The ear often catches what the eye misses.

What does the protagonist really want; what is her or his goal? Make me decide if they succeed or fail. Does the character undergo some kind of change? Round out the character.


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?

RC: Yes, Virginia, there is an e-zine Black List but I want no part of it.

I have three other editors and a Managing Editor who are free to read all Micro subs and comment. Rejection is a hard emotion to deal with at any level. Rejection really means it’s a story that doesn’t fit the LW ambience at this time. The M.E. handles rejection correspondence and she’s very fair and tactful.

If I hit a knot in the log in a story, or have a suggestion, I work directly with the writer.


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

RC:
Q: In your opinion, what’s the future for Micro fiction?

A: I think Micro & Flash will play an important role in fiction’s future. It’s the way people tend to read today and possibly the only way our grandchildren will read. Generally, the majority of people don't read and some, can’t. Studies indicate reading comprehension is almost extinct.

Read an interview with Ramon by Randall Brown on his site, FlashFiction.Net.

Thank you, Ramon. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.
NEXT POST: 3/3--Six Questions for Dale Wisely and F. John Sharp, Editors, Right Hand Pointing and Left Hand Waving