Full of Crow publishes poetry, fiction, flash, interviews, reviews, audio, opinion, articles, ebooks, chapbooks, and art. You can find out more at: www.fullofcrow.com. Fashion For Collapse is an eclectic mix of web and print content, and can be found at www.fashionforcollapse.com. Blink Ink publishes short fiction, “blinks”, in the fifty word range. You can find out about Blink Ink at www.blink-ink.com.
SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a story and why?
LA: The top three things that I look for in a story are difficult to come up with, because I will probably get a story tomorrow that I love that defies my “prefab” notions.
Maybe that is what I look for, something that catches me off guard with elements of the unexpected or experimental. I like stories that use language in interesting ways, with ideas expressed with both beauty and economy—which is not easy to do. I like stories that catch my attention and keep me reading until the end because I want to—not because I have to.
SQF: What are the top three reasons a story is rejected, other than not fitting into your answers to question one and why?
LA: Thinking back, the majority were not proof-read, or worked on as long as they could have been. They did not seem finished, or polished, or they were sent out into the world prematurely before the timer had buzzed. I don’t mind some minor errors or typo mistakes, but I don’t like to overhaul. I feel strongly that submitted work should be finished, not “workshopped” through the submission process. I know that many editors out there will ask for major changes, some practically rewrite the story themselves. I don’t like that practice personally because from the start it presumes a level of authority that many editors simply cannot claim, or should not claim as the work of a writer should be his or her own. Sometimes what one editor calls a mistake is actually an artistic decision and that needs to be respected. If that isn’t your thing, ok, just pass. But pressuring a writer to make changes presents a dilemma for the writer seeking inclusion. What if I don’t like the changes, or I am dealing with arrogance, or a relationship hangs in the balance? I say keep it in the workshops.
Again, rejection often has to do with a writer’s ability to hold a reader’s attention with purposeful content. If I just cannot get through a story, even when I take a break and go back, I won’t accept it.
Another reason that comes up a lot is the failure to read the submission guidelines. We have the right to our process, and you have the freedom to decide if you want to accept the terms and submit.
One previous respondent mentioned the slow turnaround time for editors, and I hear where he is coming from but those guidelines are key. One thing that made me decide to delay notification is the fact that despite guidelines stating “no simultaneous submissions or previously published work” we get it anyway. The delay gives the author some time to fess up to the fact that they submitted the same story to ten other places and one has picked it up already.
I am no longer apologetic about the turn around time. If I will choose fifteen stories over the span of three months for a quarterly issue, how can I fill an issue right away? Is that fair to people who submit later? I think it is fair to confirm and then select from the pool of submissions when the deadline hits and then notify at that time. The most a person would wait is the quarter, and I think that is not about jerking people around but about the frequency.
SQF: What other mistakes do you encounter that turn you off to a story?
LA: I am turned off by overused cliché themes and characters, unless it is done in jest. I am turned off by stories that are hilariously pompous. I am turned off by stories that are blatantly stolen from existing stories or concepts. I mean, most of us read and we know that “The Bell Jar” has been done before.
SQF: What is it about the characters in a story that makes them pop off the page and grab hold of you?
LA: Most characters don’t, but in a strong story they don’t have to. I know that a character resonates when I remember them or whole parts of dialogue.
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?
LA: Well there are authors who keep lists of rude editors as well, and a fair amount of trash can come from either side. I suppose some people are also just prone to retaliation. I am not. I am not sure where things break down, each situation is different. It also depends on perspective: I work for the writers, the writers work for the readers. If I can do something to make that interaction more positive, I would want that feedback. I don’t want to take writers for granted.
I think it is important for an author to respect the decisions made, even if they don’t agree or understand it. Sometimes it comes down to space, or other limits, or just subjective taste. Sometimes an author is incredulous: How could they NOT publish it? How can they have stories like (insert story they deem inferior) and NOT take mine? Sometimes an author will complain that it is a clique issue with small press, and that can be true.
But instead of jumping to the victim role, submit it elsewhere. Find the right home, and move on. Or try again, we all have hits and misses. Check out the publication and get a sense of the work.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but I would encourage anyone who submits or who might be thinking about it to write and ask as much as they need to and hold me accountable if I don’t hold up my end of the deal in all this.
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
LA: I think these were good questions, and I hope the answers that we have been providing are helpful. I wish you had asked “What makes an editor an editor”—not because I want to tackle that but because I would like to see how editors answer that question. Right now with the ease of the internet, anyone can be an editor—which is not necessarily a bad thing—but it is something we could explore. Is there a criteria, is there a skill set that we expect? There are all kinds of things we could think about.
Thank you, Lynn. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.
LA: Thank you, Jim. I appreciate this opportunity to share my views on some of these topics, and if anyone wants to discuss these questions or their own they can feel free to correspond with me at any time.
NEXT POST: 4/19--Six Questions for Frances Badgett, Fiction Editor, Contrary Magazine