50 to 1 publishes stories of around fifty words and first lines. Read the complete guidelines here.
SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a story and why?
PM: The biggest thing I look for (and this applies to both) is impact. In my opinion, with something this short you can go one of two ways: make it really dense and powerful or make it flowing and sort of poetic. Either way, because it is so short, it really needs to stick with the reader, so providing some kind of punch -- whether it's a fantastic turn of phrase, a funny side or a crazy, twisty ending -- is a big plus. For first lines, something that makes me quite fond of a submission is thinking, "If this were at the beginning of a book or longer story, would I bother to read the rest?" If the answer is yes, you can bet I'm publishing it.
SQF: What are the top three reasons a story is rejected, other than not fitting into your answers to question one and why?
PM: I'm a journalist by trade, so one thing that really turns me off to a submission is bad grammar or spelling. It might not totally kill the submission for me, but it is certainly a strike against. Another reason is if the story/1st line is too "out there," for lack of a better phrase. I try to be as open-minded as I can when reading things, but there are still times when a submission escapes me. Perhaps it's my own lack of imagination, but I try to publish things that will be as widely appealing as possible. The flip side to that is that a story can also be a bit too boring -- whether because it doesn't really have that punch I look for or because it doesn't tackle a subject that holds much interest.
SQF: What common mistakes do you encounter that turn you off to a story?
PM: Most times (besides the grammar/spelling problems I mentioned earlier) it's because submissions don't follow the rules. For instance, unless I am absolutely, outrageously, inappropriately in love with a story, I won't keep it if it's below or above the 50-word mark.
SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a story?
PM: Generally I don't. More often, if I think a story is right at the cusp of acceptance, I write back to the author asking them to tweak it ever so slightly to bring it up to where it needs to be for publishing.
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?
PM: I don't receive too many return comments, actually, so no blacklist here. The one thing authors should know is that my rejection is not a "please don't send me anything else" type of message. I'd love to see people who don't make it keep reading 50 to 1 and then resubmit at a later date -- and that brings up a good point. The more you read what goes up, the more familiar you'll get with what I'm looking for. And no, I wouldn't mind questions. I like dialogue very much (it's actually something I wish I got more of in my own rejections, but I don't want to bother editors who are far busier than I am).
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
PM: "When will 50 to 1 do something bigger and more awesome?"
Well, this is actually something that Glen, the previous editor, spoke to me about when he handed over the reigns of 50 to 1 this past March. One of the things he expressed interest in (and regret that he never got to do it) was put together the kind of "Best Of" compilation you see bigger publications come out with. I think that's an interest I share, but first I have to figure out a good time to stop and go back!
Thank you, Paul. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.
NEXT POST: 12/29--Six Questions for Mandy Ward, Editor, Welcome to Wherever