SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a story and why?
- An actual story to tell. I receive many stories that don't fulfill this requirement. If I find myself scratching my head after the end and wondering what exactly the point of the story was, it's not right for Liquid Imagination, no matter how well written it is. I notice this more in flash pieces, which are a particularly hard sell with me. There's such a fine balance between a well-written flash that tells a complete story and one that would be better suited for a longer format.
- Intensity. The story has to evoke some kind of emotion as I read, whether it's tension, suspense, humor, sadness, whatever. But emotion has to be a part of it. Make me laugh, make my heart race, bring tears to my eyes, just make me react physically to the words on the page.
- Good writing skills. This doesn't mean it has to be 100% error-free, or contain prose that would make Steinbeck envious, but I want to see evidence that the writer has studied the art form at least a little, has a decent grasp on the basics such as punctuation and grammar, and takes his or her work seriously.
SQF: What are the top three reasons a story is rejected, other than not fitting into your answers to question one and why?
KW: This answer coincides closely with my answer for question 1.
The story needs to be complete. In other words, it needs a beginning, middle, and end. This may be one reason why I don't accept too much flash fiction. So much of it feels incomplete to me; and although I've been told by flash writers that I am merely ignorant of the art form, I can't help but feel that way. I want a complete story. This doesn't mean the ending has to be spelled out and wrapped up neatly; I actually prefer the opposite--ambiguity, mystery, leaving some things to the reader's imagination.
I also reject many stories that are so full of typos, grammar mistakes, and punctuation errors that it would take me too much time to correct. Inattention to the details leads me to believe the author either does not take his or her work seriously, or does not take Liquid Imagination seriously. I am more than happy to edit the story and correct a few inevitable mistakes here or there, but I now receive enough quality submissions that I can afford to pass on stories full of errors.
The number one reason I reject stories is probably due to lack of intensity. We state in LI's guidelines that we are looking for intensity and awe, so I find myself passing on more and more stories that don't elicit these emotions as I read, regardless of how well-written the story may be.
SQF: What common mistakes do you encounter that turn you off to a story?
KW: This isn't so much a mistake, but I don't usually accept unoriginal stories. In other words, if a story is cliched, or involves a plot line seen a thousand times before (The narrator turns out to be a ghost! It was all a dream! They're really on Earth!!!), it's gonna be rejected.
I really don't adhere to the standard "rules" when deciding if a story is worth accepting. I don't scream every time I see passive voice, or throw a manuscript in the trash because the story starts with dialogue. If it's an intriguing and emotional story and is well-written (not perfectly written), then it is strongly considered.
SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a story?
KW: Always. If LI ever gets to the point where I'm receiving fifty subs a day like some of the big dogs, maybe I'll have to resort to the dreaded form rejection; but I'm gonna do everything in my power to avoid that. Having a rejected writer respond with gratitude for whatever advice I might have given is one of the reasons I love doing this.
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?
KW: Anyone who has ever received a rejection letter--and I've received hundreds more than I've given out--knows that thick skin is a necessity in this business. That being said, I encourage replies to my rejections as long as it is done professionally. It's never personal. I've had many rejected writers reply, either asking for clarification as to my reasoning, or if they can send more work, although I usually state in a rejection if I'd like to see more from a particular writer.
I've been lucky, however. To date, I have had only one rejected writer respond with anger and ego, and his reply was so arrogant that I could only laugh.
As for blacklisting, I don't really believe in it unless 1) plagiarism is involved (I had to deal with a case of plagiarism several months ago), or 2) an author has repeatedly proven difficult and unprofessional to work with. In those cases, I would simply write the offending person and ask him or her to stop sending me submissions.
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
KW: Who has been the biggest influence on your early writing and editing career?
John "JAM" Miller and AJ Brown have easily been the two biggest, most positive influences in helping me become a (hopefully) competent editor and writer. I owe them more than I can repay. I hope to buy them a beer one day; but since neither of them drinks, I plan on drinking their beers and buying them Diet Vanilla Coke Zero. Or anything but Kool-Aid. Never let AJ drink Kool-Aid. It's . . . not pretty.
Thanks a million for your time, Mr. Harrington. I sincerely appreciate it.
Thank you, Kevin. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.
NEXT POST: 6/2--Six Questions for Ellen Parker, Editor, Frigg