Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Six Questions for Justis Mills, Editor, First Stop Fiction

First Stop Fiction publishes fiction of less than 1,000 words--less than 500 is preferred--stories that end at the first opportunity. Read the complete guidelines here.

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

JM: The first thing is a killer ending. If a story ends well, and doesn't tie up loose ends, then that's a very good sign. It also suggests that the author read our guidelines.

The second thing is originality. There are plenty of ways to be original, but there has to be something about the story that I haven't seen before. Inveighing against cliches is itself a cliche, but they really are crucial to avoid.

The third thing is a sense of purpose. If I can feel the writer's passion behind a story, it's easier to overlook smaller reservations. That's not an invitation to purple prose or thinly-veiled political commentary, but rather a willingness to get out of a story's way. I can usually tell when the story someone's sent us comes from the heart. And those ones are what make the whole enterprise worth it.

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

JM: Grammatical errors and typos are always disappointing. One is easily forgivable, but it's hard to take a piece seriously that is sloppy throughout. 

We get a lot of stories over 500 words, which is fine, but those stories have an even greater obligation to end at the first opportunity. A story that's over the recommended length and drags on at the end is pretty obviously just being sent to us for a notch on the bedpost or as part of a simultaneously submitted blitzkrieg.

Some stories try way too hard to make a point. If I know what the author wants me to think at the end of a piece, then I don't want to think it.

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

 JM: Invariably. I also provide comments when I accept one. When someone submits a story to First Stop Fiction, they are also connecting with me as a human being. Even if the story isn't my cup of tea, I take it as my personal responsibility to respond to that connection. If something in someone's bio strikes a chord with me, I'll usually mention that, too.

I mean no offense to highly competitive journals that receive hundreds of stories a week. There is no way they can respond personally to all the pieces they receive. But I can, and so I do.

SQF: Will you publish a submission an author posted on a personal blog?

JM: Sure, I guess. It doesn't make a big difference to me. I'd prefer they not do that, but I don't especially consider it my business. If we make a downloadable anthology, though (as of this writing, I intend on making one for First Stop Fiction's two-year anniversary), previously blogged stories might not be included.

SQF: 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?

JM: Authors can reply however they want, though I'd prefer if it isn't mean. I'm perfectly willing to have a conversation about a piece. Rejections are personalized, but they are not personal. Of course, there's no guarantee my take will be helpful, and I am just one reader. If a writer doesn't care for my opinion, she is also free to ignore it.

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

JM: Why do you do this?

It's a labor of love. I send out my own stories sometimes, and I think it's good to understand what it is like on both sides of the process. Any reader can start a small literary review. Really, anyone. But if you don't care about it for its own sake, then what's the point?

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

NEXT POST: 9/28- Six Questions for Devon Robbins, Editor, Downer Magazine

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