The First Line, a quarterly print publication, provides the opening sentence for a story as a prompt. The four prompts are posted on the website at the beginning of the year, with the deadlines for submissions. Stories are accepted in all genres and must be from 300 to 3,000 words long. The editors also accept 500-800 critical essays about favorite first lines from a literary work. This is a paying market. Read the complete guidelines here.
SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a story and why?
DL: Apart from the obvious answers (good story, good writing, and a beat you can dance to), I would argue that a good editor doesn’t know what he or she is looking for until they see it.
SQF: What are the top three reasons a story is rejected, other than not fitting into your answers to question one and why?
DL: Messing with the first line. Call me Ishmael is not the same as “Call me, Ishmael.”
Not taking your craft seriously. Edit twice, submit once.
Not taking us seriously. We are fun to write for and fun to read, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t serious/passionate about what we do.
SQF: What common mistakes do you encounter that turn you off to a story?
DL: Repeating the first line at the end of the story.
SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a story?
DL: I try. If someone is inspired by one of our sentences, the least I can do is be candid about their attempt. If the story is rejected for any of the reasons in question 2, I send out a form letter. If we liked a story but couldn’t use it, I’ll add a personal note.
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?
DL: In the twelve years we’ve been doing this, I’ve only received two nasty notes. Both came after I rejected stories for the Spring 2009 issue, and both because I mistakenly transposed the authors’ names on their rejection notices. They were honest mistakes, and the writers had every right to be annoyed, but their vitriol was uncalled for. Mistakes happen. A polite note asking for clarification goes a lot farther than an angry screed. And yes, I certainly welcome questions about comments.
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
DL: I would only add one more general piece of advice: Write what you want to read.
Thank you, David. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.
NEXT POST: 4/26--Six Questions for Andrew Bowen, Founder & Editor-in-Chief, Divine Dirt Quarterly