Friday, September 10, 2010

Six Questions for Sandra Ruttan, Editor-in-Chief, Spinetingler Magazine

From the website:

Spinetingler publishes stories that could, within the broadest definitions of genre possible, be categorized as crime, mystery, thriller, suspense or horror. Stories should be 1500-5000 words in length. You may submit a shorter story, but there is no payment for stories under 1500 words. Read the complete guidelines here.

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


  1. Strong, consistent writing that gives me a clear visual impression of the events unfolding or the situation being described.
  2. A compelling beginning that draws me in and makes me want to keep reading.
  3. A memorable ending that concludes the story without confusion.

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


  1. It's completely predictable or unoriginal.
  2. Inconsistent character development.  
  3. The story meanders, or is incomplete and leaves the reader confused or frustrated.

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

SF: I won't even read a story that doesn't include the release and bio or follow the submission guidelines. If writers don't take the care and attention to ensure they follow the guidelines, they likely won't put the work in that's needed to polish their story for publication. That's been our experience. A few years ago a writer refused to make basic corrections to their work. They'd gotten the name of a band wrong, and a few other references were technically incorrect, but wouldn't change them. We changed our policy after that to indicate that writers who will not complete their edits can have their work "unaccepted."

If writers want to be treated like professionals, they need to act like it.  Excessive grammatical errors that show the writer hasn't taken time to properly edit their work show they're lazy or unprofessional.  We all understand the odd typo that slips in, but excessive spelling mistakes will make me stop reading.

SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a story?

SF: We used to. As a writer myself, I was frustrated early on by the lack of feedback that could have helped me improve my own work, but we have found that many writers then decide to argue over the comments. This isn't an approach that will convince us to change our mind, or entice us to work with the writer. In fact, it usually clearly indicates the writer is incapable of being professionally edited. Spinetingler's editorial staff is currently comprised of published authors, and we know how it feels to be edited, too. However, the objective is to produce the best possible work, and I know personally that being edited by my agent and my editor has helped me improve as a writer.

I won't work with prima donnas who have more attitude than talent. We get too many strong stories to waste our time with that.

Another recent incident we had was with a story that was accepted. Our editor worked with the author to improve the story and re-write the ending. We were about to publish the story this summer, but then the writer told us they were withdrawing it because they'd entered the edited version in contests. That writer is now permanently banned from Spinetingler, and we will not consider future works. We worked with that writer and invested time and energy in them. That time and energy could have been used to help someone else see their story published. Our staff are volunteers and don't get paid for their time. We won't invest time in a writer who does this again.

SQF: Based on your experience as an editor, what have you learned about writing?

SR: Clarity is critical. If readers are confused because the narrative is vague, they're more likely to stop reading. Characters need to come across as real and believable. Motives are crucial; readers need to believe the characters will make the choices they make and do the things they do. Many readers also need things clearly spelled out for them. I personally appreciate subtlety, but if it confuses a reader about the events that transpired, then it’s failed. A truly great story reconnects dots you didn't even identify as dots along the way and changes your interpretation of the events once the ending's been revealed. Think of the movie FRAILTY as a great example, or THE USUAL SUSPECTS.

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

SR: What pet peeves do you have that come from working with writers?

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

NEXT POST: 09/13--Six Questions for Richard Helms, Editor, The Back Alley