Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Six Questions for Eirik Gumeny, Editor, Jersey Devil Press

Jersey Devil Press publishes a monthly online journal and an annual print anthology. The editors look for "funny, offbeat and absurd" stories. The occasional heart-breaker or thought-provoking piece has found its way into the publication, also. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a story and why?

EG: Being well-written is key.  I'm a "hands-off" kind of editor.  I want to start reading a story and immediately feel that the author knows her world, knows her character and that she doesn't have any doubts about that piece.  I want finished, beautiful pieces that I don't have to touch.  That I'm afraid to touch.

Humor's pretty important too.  Maybe not something I look for, specifically, because we are open to a lot of different styles, but being funny doesn't hurt.  If a writer can make me laugh, it's a safe bet to say he's in.

I'm not sure if there actually is a third thing I look for.  It's much easier to pinpoint the specific reasons why a story fails than why it soars.

SQF: What are the top three reasons a story is rejected, other than not fitting into your answers to question one and why?

EG: Not being finished is a big offender.  If it comes in looking like a rough draft or like it wasn't proofread, I'm turning that sucker right back around.  And there's certainly a difference between something being not that well-written and something that's just not done.  I'll work with the former if it seems promising--especially writers new to the game--and I get that typos happen, but I'd prefer not to have to do a massive overhaul of every story I publish.

Unconvincing dialogue kills me.  I want the slang, the dropped g's, people talking like actual people.  If the words between the quotes don't sound real to me, I'm out.

The third biggest thing is really just me not being a fan of the subject matter.  We tend toward humorous and speculative fiction.  A ponderous relationship drama, no matter how well-written, just isn't going to fly.  Unless they're giant lizards or something.

SQF: What other mistakes do you encounter that turn you off to a story?

EG: Within the story?  Besides the above, the only other major turn-off I can think of is the story being boring.  If I honestly don't care how it ends, if I have to fight to finish it... that's probably not a good sign.

External to the story, I'm not a big fan of a writer copying and pasting a cover letter and forgetting to type Jersey Devil Press over the last magazine's name.  I mean, come on.  If you can't proof your cover letter, you really think I'm going to trust you with a full story?  OK, yes, it's probably more a matter of personal pride and not editorial integrity, but, still, getting our name wrong isn't recommended.

SQF: What is it about the characters in a story that makes them pop off the page and grab hold of you?

EG: Believing in them, not second-guessing them.  I don't want a character to do something and my first thought be, "Why the hell...?" instead of "Oh, no, I hope they're OK."

I don't care if a guy has four arms or if he exists in a world made of cotton candy, a well-written character doesn't leave you wondering about motives or trying to figure out why he did something.

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?

EG: I try to include some kind of polite criticism or reason in every rejection if I can.  Even if it's as simple as, "It just wasn't right for us."  So, yes, sometimes they're pretty vague, but I'd like to think they're at least slightly less demoralizing than The Form Letter.  Not that I don't have a form letter.  Sometimes stories are bad beyond the point of fixing.

I don't mind author replies if they're asking for clarification or suggestions.  It's when they try to convince me I'm wrong that I get annoyed.  I'm not sure why they think arguing with me is going to sway me to their side.

I'm also not a big fan of when an author replies to a rejection with another story.  Don't get me wrong, I don't mind if they submit again, in fact I encourage that in most cases, but it should be a new submission, adhering to our submission guidelines.  A direct reply to my e-mail with nothing but an attachment isn't going to win them any points.  And an immediate reply really makes me question their motives, not to mention the quality of the new piece.  It would be nice if they at least pretended to take what I said into consideration before sending me the first thing they find on their desktop.

SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?

EG: Nothing significant really comes to mind.  Maybe, "Are you really as crotchety and annoyed with writers as you made yourself out to be?"  Something that would let me back-peddle and ingratiate myself with them again.  Because my response would clearly be, "No, no.  I love them all.  I am patient and caring and when a writer commits one of the above-listed sins my response most certainly is not to try and scream at them through the computer before huddling into the corner and waiting for the end of days."

Thank you, Eirik. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.

NEXT POST: 6/25--Six Questions for Amanda Raczkowski and Joseph Reed, Editors, Caketrain Journal and Press

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