Friday, September 7, 2012

Six Questions for Lindsay Dubler, Editor-in-Chief, The Abstract Quill

[Oops. A seventh question snuck in here, or maybe there's a 6A and 6B. Aha. That's it. -- Jim]

The Abstract Quill is dedicated to publishing the best in high-quality fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. Read the complete guidelines here

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

LD: Our staff is a small group of folks who happened to be friends before we ever knew we were all closeted writers and poets – life took us to far reaching corners of the globe and my love of the written word as well as my previous experience as a Copy Editor for the new closed “Oddville Press” were the real inspiration behind wanting to launch a publication of my own. I’m fortunate enough to have such a dedicated group of staff who are also my close friends and willing to launch into the organized insanity that is running a magazine.

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

LD: Engaging story, engaging characters, and an authentic/original voice. I cannot impress upon you the pervasive reality of clichés in writing. “Brilliant rays of the sun” tells me nothing except that your work is currently at the parroting stage. There is nothing inherently wrong with the parroting stage, it’s an important thing for every writer to go through, but it does not mean the work is ready for publication. All it’ll get you is a cracker. Balance is also important. You can swing too far the other way too – trying to be SO original that it borders on absurdity is equally damaging to the work. All things must serve to enhance the qualities of the story and characters, not overshadow.

Characters and plot must also be authentic and interesting. There are lots of cliché templates for characters as well. Explore motivation and develop complexity of character.

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

LD: I’m a stickler for spelling. A lot of editors allow one or two slip ups – but it has been my experience that the authors who have spelling mistakes often have lots of other mistakes as well. It smacks of sloppiness. Commas I’m not as anal about, but they do irritate me when they are scattered around like distracting confetti. Is one mistake going to deter me from accepting a story? No. But as I said it is rarely just one spelling mistake. Take the time to make it right.

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

LD: Being a writer with my own projects on the table I do my best to provide feedback when I am able to. All of our Editors do make an effort to respond with feedback we hope will be helpful in improving a story. We receive a lot of “awww, almost!” stories that just need a little more refining or revision. Typically there’s a response that goes out to those writers. We even did our best to make our boilerplate rejections have some personality and heart to it.

SQF: Based on your experience as an editor, what have you learned about writing?

LD: There’s a story for everyone. That’s one of the many magical elements of the written word. I’ve never met a reader who has never been able to find a story they liked. If they are out there they clearly aren’t reading enough. There’s no end to the imagination and the ingenious ways authors can rope us in to a story line that has been written a thousand times before.

SQF: What do you want authors to know about the submissions 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?

LD: I have written a couple of blog posts about the importance of formatting work and demonstrating professional courtesy. If you fail to do this then you’ve ended the relationship before it’s even had a chance at beginning. When we receive emails with no cover letters, pieces with no quotation marks or paragraph breaks, or a jaunty little “hope you LOVE it!” note, it makes me cringe. As a community of artists we are perhaps accustomed to going with the flow or entertaining our whimsical notions, which, in the privacy of our own office, is just fine. When taking a step into the competitive world of publishing? No.

If you are one of the many we reject, take heart. We do care about your work but we don’t often have the time to pore through each one and provide the specific details on how it could be better. Also remember that sometimes it’s not something you did. Your piece could just be part of the group that “isn’t for us.” Nothing wrong with that. Take professional pride in what you do, take the time to workshop your work, and try, try, and try again. Though we do provide personalized rejections, receiving polite questions in response is not something I would necessarily recommend. At the very least don’t be discouraged if you don’t receive a reply to those follow-up questions. Reading work is time-consuming, and we all have other full-time employment. A simple “thank you for your comments” makes us feel good about having taken that precious time to jot down some concise thoughts, suggestions, or encouragements.

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

LD: I wish you had asked about my recommended resources/strategies for writers. We host a small list of our own personal resources on our website, which we encourage all writers to explore. But beyond that there are many opportunities for writers to seriously engage with their work and maximize the potential of each page. Some of my top recommendations?
  1. Nurture writing relationships with colleagues, students and teachers, or other passionate writers in your community.
  2. Explore online workshops where you can comment on other people’s work and they on yours. You’ll get an excellent idea of how your work will be received by larger, diverse audiences.
  3. Find community writing groups and get involved.
  4. Attend writer’s conferences if you can swing it financially and look to expose yourself to other people’s work via public readings. Libraries and independent bookstores are an excellent place to begin.
  5. Read, read, and read some more. Feed a fertile imagination with other creative pursuits.
  6. Create a writing schedule or at least commit to a writing minimum. Write, write, and write some more.

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

NEXT POST: 9/11--Six Questions for Eddie Vega, Editor-in-Chief, Noir Nation

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