Monday, March 28, 2011

Six Questions for Amy Burns, Editorial and Managing Director, Unbound Press, responding for Spilling Ink Review

Spilling Ink Review accepts year-round submissions of previously unpublished fiction and creative non-fiction to 3,000 words, and flash fiction and prose poetry to 1,000 words. Read the complete guidelines here.

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

AB: Hemingway said that one thing about truly good writing is, no matter how many times you read it, you can’t figure out how it is done. I look for stories that avoid the formulaic; stories that are character-driven as opposed to plot-driven. I look for stories that aren’t easily summed up; stories that must be read in their entirety if one wants to understand what they’re ‘about’. I look for stories that don’t rely on gimmicks or twists-in-the-tale or heavy-handed declarative endings; stories that leave room for interpretation and, therefore, leave room for the reader.

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

AB: By and large the stories rejected at Spilling Ink Review fall into a couple of categories. I reject stories that are over-written and that overuse adverbs and adjectives. This is a common mistake, one that can ruin an otherwise strong story. Have confidence in your writing, it isn’t necessary to flex your muscles all the time. Also, proofread your story before submitting. This is one of the most elementary of stumbling blocks. As an editor, it is difficult to invest my time in a story that is disadvantaged by basic spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors. Another common problem is repetition of theme. For an editor, like me, who is an advocate of character-driven over plot-driven, the most straightforward way to avoid this problem is to avoid ‘themes’. Distinguish your submission from the pack. Don’t send me yet another moralising tale about adultery. If you must write about adultery, send me a story that reveals something honest, horrible, beautiful, profound about the adulterer.

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

AB: Caricature. One of the most common mistakes is the presentation of a caricature rather than a fully-developed character. By ‘caricature’ I mean a one-dimensional, stereotype. The Sinner. The Saint. The Abused. The Abuser. A story can accomplish so much more when the villain doesn’t wear black and the heroine doesn’t wear white.

SQF: What is the best part of being an editor?

AB: The best part of being an editor is that ‘YES’ moment when you read a story that works. When you are able to get in touch with a writer and say, most definitely, we’re proud to provide a home for your work.

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?

AB: One thing that I would like for writers to know about Spilling Ink Review is that, while I rarely have time to reply in detail as to why I am rejecting a story, I do spend a fair amount of time with each submission. If you receive a rejection letter from me, it hasn’t been sent without due consideration. On the occasions that writers have answered my rejection letter with further, polite queries, I have tried to answer in as timely and courteous a way as possible. On the occasions that writers have answered my rejection letter in a vitriolic or offensive way, I have ignored them.

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

AB: Let me see… another question that I wish you’d asked… You could have asked: Why do you operate a small publishing house (Unbound Press) and a small online journal (Spilling Ink Review) when there are countless other small publishing houses and small online journals struggling to keep their collective heads above water? My answer would have to be… because I can’t help myself. As a writer I know how difficult it is and I want to make a difference. It’s a brilliant feeling to send an acceptance letter or, better yet, to send a cash prize to one of our competition winners. As long as I’m able to keep my humble, little company afloat (Arts Unbound Limited) then I’ll continue to look for excellent fiction; I’ll continue to look for ways to pay our authors.

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

NEXT POST: 3/30--Six Questions for Sarah Miniaci, Editor in Chief, Burner Magazine

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