Yellow Mama publishes hardboiled, horror, noir, psychological/horror, cutting edge, and literary fiction to 3500 words. The editor also accepts flash fiction to 500 words. Read the complete guidelines here.
SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a story and why?
CR: Not to come off as a snob, but I love getting a story that reads like I wrote it, myself: a fast-paced, pull no punches story with an edge. I prefer stories 2500 words and under, because many of my own fall within that word count. Professional presentation of manuscripts is a MUST. I can’t stress that enough. Don’t send me what reads (and obviously looks) like a first draft. Indent your paragraphs, punctuate your dialogue. I also look for a “balanced” story where in the end, all loose ends are tied up. And I just love kick-ass closing lines.
SQF: . What are the top three reasons a story is rejected, other than not fitting into your answers to the above question and why?
CR: First of all, I hate a show-offy story that sounds like a spoiled brat wrote it. Some stories contain narrative with zillions of overloaded images that stop the action and draw attention to themselves. I also have no patience for awkward, amateurish dialogue, and characters constantly repeating each other’s names all through the story. In real conversations, people don’t do that.
Another reason a story is rejected is if it contains something blasphemous or sacrilegious, or glorifies Satanism. I’m a Christian—not the best—and Yellow Mama isn’t an inspirational ‘zine (though we occasionally publish inspirational stories), but some things are just too over the top. It’s my ‘zine, and those are my rules. If your story is about somebody who doubts their faith, send it on. If it's a good, old-fashioned "God vs. the Devil" (i.e. THE OMEN)-type story, send it on. But if it’s a sick story about Satanism and orgies, keep it.
Another type of story I often reject is "erotica-for-itself." I can't deal with corny, touchy-feely romances. "Erotica" is only listed under Yellow Mama's needs so writers feel free to submit stories with graphic sex scenes that are part of the story.
SQF: What other common mistakes do you encounter that turn you off to a story?
CR: For some reason, seeing the word “replied” in a story instantly turns me off. (You know… “I love you,” he said. “I love you, too," she replied.) As soon as I see it, I (maybe unfairly) sense the writer is an amateur, and dread reading the rest of the story (though I always do). Also, some writers get so bogged down with clichés, sometimes I think I’m watching a silent movie. For one thing, don’t say “raven hair” for “black hair” (My own hair is black, not “raven.”), and if the character has blue eyes, just tell us once. Why keep repeating eye color, and having the heroine (I hate that word) tossing her auburn curls every ten seconds?
SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a story?
CR: 99% of the time I provide detailed comments, and suggestions for a rewrite, unless it’s hopeless, or super-long. Or both. Sometimes I get stories with lousy narrative but with intriguing, original plots. These stories would work better as movies, or TV episode. I feel bad rejecting them, but I can’t rewrite the thing, either.
SQF: Based on your experience as an editor, what have you learned about writing?
CR: I learned that a ’zine editor is not a writer’s big, bad enemy. The editor wants to like your story, and expects you to send your best work. You should keep trying, even if your story gets rejected. But then send better stories, in the correct format, since mechanics do count. If I tell you to chuck the overloaded images in your first story, don’t send a story with double the overloaded images in your second!
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
CR: I have two.
1) “When should I re-submit?”
My guidelines say to wait 2-3 months before sending another story, whether your first was accepted, or rejected. When their work is rejected, some writers panic. They start wildly sending story after story, thinking if they drive me crazy enough, I’ll scream, “All right! I’ll take it!” But I won't.
2) “Do you accept simultaneous submissions?”
No. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s a publishing hog. I respond pretty quickly, usually within two weeks, sometimes the next day. If a writer can’t wait a few weeks for my response, he shouldn’t be in this business. Even though YM forbids simultaneous subs, I still get them. And what do you know? Ten minutes later, this same writer emails me, saying he needs to withdraw the story, as another ‘zine is going to publish it. Like, what nerve!
But, I must admit, the majority of YM contributors are conscientious professionals.
Thank you, Cindy. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.
NEXT POST: 9/20--Six Questions for Christopher Grant, Editor, A Twist of Noir