Thursday, April 19, 2012

Six Questions for Robin Black, Fiction Editor, Inch Magazine

Inch is a quarterly magazine devoted to tiny poems and tiny fiction. We believe that good things come in small packages, so we focus our eight pages on poems of one to nine lines, or fiction of 750 words or less. Read the complete guidelines here.

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

RB: First thing is just that the read is effortless - meaning, not a slog. Amazingly enough, even a 700 word story can seem awfully looooooong if it's not ready for prime time. But then, after that first read, I look for a quality of gravitas. Even if the piece is light in tone or just plain silly, I want it to carry a certain weight so that a reader will be left thinking for some time after putting down the work. I'm not sure there is a third thing. I would say originality, but frankly, these days, I think if anything people are going for originality - oddness, weirdness for weirdness's sake - too much at the cost of depth. So instead I'll say a sense of new insight - whether the story is about Martian emperors or elderly aunts.

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

RB: Hmmm. Honestly, I don't have a list of "things people can do wrong." I don't care if your cover letter is goofy or your font bizarre. I am open to all forms - traditional and less so. I like being challenged. I can't spell so I don't get cranky about spelling mistakes. I have certain grammar peeves - like, please don't say "I" when the proper word is "me," as in: "He handed the umbrella to Lucinda and I" UGH. But realistically, even a series of horrendous grammatical errors are pretty superficial and mostly I am reading to find what I love, not exclude what irritates me.

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

RB: Uh oh. I think I answered this already. But I'll just add that people should keep in mind that all editors are individuals with individual taste. And just because I (or anyone)  rejects something does NOT mean there was anything wrong or that you did anything wrong. Just that it wasn't right for me. But as long as I have your ear here, please, please when a work is accepted, do notify the other publications to whom you submitted. Please.

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

RB: Without question, helping someone craft their work into its best possible version and then watching how thrilled the author is to see it in print. Especially with authors who have few or no previous publications. It's just such an honor to be able to make people happy that way. And it's pay-back for all the editors who made me jump up and down like a fool when I first saw my own work in print.

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?

RB: I don't mind anything authors do as long as it's not rude. Sometimes it can be difficult to articulate a reason for a rejection because it is so subjective. Sometimes it can be difficult because what I really think is: "This person needs more work, more education, more guidance." And so it isn't a problem with the piece really, just a sense that the author isn't quite there yet. But I understand the impulse to ask about a rejection and will always try to be polite in response - with the caveat that I may not always have time to give much of a response.

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

I wish you'd asked me how an author can know that it's time to send a piece out for consideration and my answer is. . .

Speaking just for myself, I know a piece is ready to go out when I can tell you exactly why every word, every phrase, every sentence and so on is the way it is. Only when I could, if questioned, explain exactly how my intent lines up with what's on the page do I send work out. I'm not saying everyone else should use that standard, but that's the one I use.

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

NEXT POST: 4/23--Six Questions for Alex Korovessis, Editor, Kasma SF Magazine

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