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SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a story and why?
TD: First and foremost, I look for stories that connect with me on some emotional level. As I often tell writers: "If you make me laugh, you've got a good shot; if you make me cry, you're IN." Second, I like surprises. If you're going to submit a tale on a familiar theme (vampires, zombies, Nazis, alien invasion, etc.), you want it to have a twist or angle that I've never seen before. This requires a knowledge of the genre. Thirdly, I look for strong characters and mood. All the lofty and poetic description in the world can't take the place of strong characters dropped into the right setting.
SQF: What are the top three reasons a story is rejected, other than not fitting into your answers to question one and why?
TD: Number One: The story doesn't start where it starts. In fiction, and especially short fiction these days, it's vital to grab your reader from the first line. Too many stories open up by painting a picture. I call it the "It Was a Dark and Stormy Night Syndrome." Get to the plot from word one! Number Two: One Trick Ponies—that is: stories that have a unique idea, but that's pretty much all they have. If you have a good concept, explore it! Number Three: Jokes disguised as stories. I see a lot of these and turn them down every time. Sometimes they're cute, occasionally clever; but they aren't real fiction, in my opinion, and just don't work for me.
SQF: What other mistakes do you encounter that turn you off to a story?
TD: Proofread. Avoid technical errors in word choice, spelling or punctuation. It's unprofessional and can fatally taint what might otherwise be a publishable product. Every writer needs to learn how to edit themselves.
SQF: What is it about the characters in a story that makes them pop off the page and grab hold of you?
TD: They need to be PEOPLE! Not plot devices. Not caricatures. Make me feel something for them. Make me cheer when they succeed and grieve when they fail. Nothing turns me off faster than two-dimensional characters who seem to phone in their dialogue and wrap their responses to the goings-on around them with cliches and pithy remarks.
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?
TD: I'm a writer first and an editor second. For this reason, I respect ANY author with the drive to complete a story and the guts to submit it. Every rejection letter contains some comment or critique about the story that's meant to advise, not criticize. For the most part, the writers I work with who respond to rejection letters do so with professionalism. I appreciate that. Never argue with a rejection letter. This is the most subjective business in the world, and one editor's opinion may be wholly different from another's. Also, don't offer a rewrite. If we want such a resubmission, which is rare, we'll ask for it.
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
TD: Actually, I think you've covered it pretty well. This is an excellent idea. Congratulations!
Thank you, Ty. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.
NEXT POST: 4/23--Six Questions for David LaBounty, Editor, The First Line