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! (

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