“(Short) Fiction Collective is an online literary journal based in New York striving to publish the best fiction from new and seasoned authors around the world. Started in May 2010, (S)FC wants to foster an environment where the quality of writing is the most important thing.” Learn more here.
SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a story and why?
PT: The top three things I look for in a story are a sense of craft/attention to detail, originality and a sense of purpose. I think all three tie into one another, especially craft/attention to detail and a sense of purpose. When I read a story, I'm giving myself up to an author and allowing him/her to transport me to another place. In a way I'm very vulnerable while reading, and I want that vulnerability to be paid off by having the feeling that the author has a larger plan at work and that he/she has taken the time to craft a compelling story and that he/she, to put it bluntly, knows what they’re doing. There's nothing worse, in my humble opinion, than to read an otherwise engaging story and somewhere along the line just get a sense of being disappointed by a lack of diligence in terms of staying true to the story/character arcs that present themselves in the beginning. Originality is a bit harder to quantify, but I think it's much more complex than just saying "be unique." I love stories where I feel the author is taking a chance or is putting themselves or their characters out there in a way, either emotionally or physically, that I've never come across before.
SQF: What are the top three reasons a story is rejected, other than not fitting into your answers to question one and why?
PT: Some of the top reasons a story is rejected are that the first sentence doesn't grab my attention, the ending is a huge letdown, or that there is no real feeling of immediacy in terms of there being nothing really at stake for the characters. I have a very short attention span and with every story I receive I give the author one paragraph’s worth of goodwill in order to get me into the story and wanting to read more. If the author can't continue to hold my attention, then that’s a bad sign. Don’t get me wrong, I always read a story at least twice before deciding on whether to accept or reject it, but the stories that don’t capture me make it awfully hard to get through the second time. As far as the ending goes, I don’t subscribe to any one taste as far as loving “happy endings” or “sad endings.” I’m not a huge fan of reading a great story and then the final paragraph/sentence just kind of falls off a cliff or sums everything up way too quickly just to end it in a concise manner. I feel like I was cheated or something, and it leaves a sour taste in my mouth. Finally, if there is nothing at stake with the characters in the story, then why am I reading it? It’s sort of like life, I’m going to move on to the next thing if nothing of real importance is happening in front of me.
SQF: What common mistakes do you encounter that turn you off to a story?
PT: Can't say that I've found common mistakes as every writer is different, but I can't stand it when someone doesn't follow the submission guidelines! Other than that, I think things like basic story/paragraph/sentence structure can sort of get jumbled with any writer at any given time.
SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a story?
PT: Yes. Although this is a labor of love and I'm just a one man outfit, I do personally respond to every submission and try to provide comments with each one. I appreciate a writer opening themselves up to me and sharing their work, and I in turn try and reward that with, hopefully, helpful comments.
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?
PT: I don't mind at all if authors respond politely about the comments they receive. I just ask that it's as concise as possible because I am only one man, and I do have other things I'm trying to juggle. I love corresponding with authors in the hopes to improve a story, etc. I just don't have the time to go line by line and give a detailed response which I've been asked for before.
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
PT: Haha...I guess ask: In one sentence, what should an author know before submitting to you?
Follow the guidelines, be willing to take chances and knock my socks off!
Thank you, Patrick. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.
NEXT POST: 12/22--Six Questions for Calum Kerr, Editor, Word Gumbo