Plasma Frequency Magazine publishes speculative fiction of 100-7,500 words (under 5,000 preferred). Read the complete guidelines here.
SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?
RF: Story: I want an engaging story from the beginning to the end. A story that entertains me. That entertainment can come from humor, drama, action, or really anything else. The stories that I publish pull me into them from start to finish. I have no choice but to finish them, the story will not release me otherwise.
Characters: The story needs to have great characters. I have to want to hear from them. Characters that are multidimensional and essentially real. I have to believe their wants and needs. If these are characters I want to listen too, then there is a good chance I'll enjoy them.
Submission Guidelines: This drives me absolutely insane. And, though I have made some exceptions, most writers who don't follow mine won't get published. Editors put these guidelines in place for their benefit. And authors who won't follow them shows me a lack of taking the process seriously. So, while we still read most manuscripts that are not in line with our guidelines, they rarely ever get to my desk. And when they do, I spend my whole time thinking: They didn't follow my guidelines, they didn't follow my guidelines, they didn't follow my guidelines. The last thing that has really bothered me recently, is how many writers are ignoring the simultaneous submission rule and continue to submit to more than one market at a time. It shows a lack of respect in my opinion. Ignoring guidelines shows a lack of respect for the publications, and a lack of desire to be published.
SQF: What are the top three reasons a submission is rejected, other than not fitting into your answers to the above question and why?
RF: The first reason, by far, is the opening pages. I would guess that 90% of our rejections are because the opening pages didn't hold the First Read Editor's interest. The first 13 lines are the most important, but it continues down the page. If your story can't keep our interest in the first pages, we won't continue reading. Think of the opening pages as your hook. Make them strong. Make me want to read more.
The next reason is because a story isn't crafted well. That does not really mean grammar. That means it just doesn't come together right. This often is caused by a lack of beta readings. Some manuscripts that are sent to me have clearly been read by no one other than the author. Or, at most they have a limited amount of "trusted" beta readers. The problem with this is your friends and family won't tell you you messed something up. Writers groups are a great source for information on beta readers but also on flow, dialogue construction, and story pacing. They will catch these errors and give you a chance to correct them before it ever gets to my desk. You'll stand a higher chance of being published if you get as many readers as possible.
The last reason most stories are rejected, and this is only a few of them, is because they simply came up against stories I considered to be better. If it captivates me and is well crafted, then the story usually comes to my desk for final approval. I am often forced to choose between excellent stories that I really love. I spend a week or more debating which of these I will accept. I often have to get very nit-picky to weed them out. This is where grammar, following the guidelines, and craft really have to shine. In the end I have to choose what I think is best for the magazine. It really boils down to my opinion, and it is by far the hardest part of my job. There are many great writers out there. If a writer submits to my magazine and gets a rejection letter sent from me personally, they should take a moment to reflect on just how far in our process a story had to go to even get to my desk. And remember there are over 4,000 markets listed on Duotrope. You story is bound to fit in with one of those markets.
SQF: Which of the following statements is true and why? Plot is more important than character. Character is more important than plot. Plot and character are equally important.
RF: Plot and Character are equally important. You can't have a great story with cardboard cut out characters. And you can't have great characters that don't really do anything worth reading about. Writers should take time to perfect both of these elements in every story they write.
SQF: What advice can you offer new authors hoping to publish their first submission?
RF: Rejection is part of the game. Expect to be rejected but don't be discouraged by it either. Most places will give you a form letter rejection. Don't go back to revisions just because one editor didn't like it. We are all humans and have our own opinion. Never dwell on a rejection either. Send it to a new market the same day it is rejected from one. Our magazine gives our opinion as to why we rejected it. You may not agree with it, or you may decide to make changes. That is your choice as the writer. But never send an angry response back to a rejection. The best response to a rejection is none. Before you send back an angry response, keep in mind editors talk to each other. You could be damaging your chances with a lot of other publications as well.
Always aim high. Start with your dream publication, the worst they can say is no. Then work your way through all 4,000 listing on Duotrope. Don't stop submitting a story until you run out of markets to send it to. I'll bet you get published before that. And keep writing while you are waiting to hear back. The more stories you have out there the better your odds.
SQF: Based on your experience as an editor, what have you learned about writing?
RF: I've learned this. Opinions don't always line up. And in the end, rejections are more about editor preference than writer talent. Some stories that don't captivate me, may thrill another editor. There are many pro markets who have published stories I wouldn't have considered for my own publication. I don't give up on any story I've written just because it is mounting rejections. Even the masters of the craft gather up rejections.
Writing is an ever evolving craft. The moment you stop trying to learn more about it is the moment you fall behind. You have to always grow as a writer. Continue to learn from other writers.
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
RF: What does your publication do to help the writer get published?
When I started Plasma Frequency, I wanted to help writers get published even if it wasn't by me. I did a few things. I've put our editorial process on our website. This way writers understand all the steps a story has to go through to get published. It also helps them to see just what an accomplishment it is to even get your story on the Editor's "desk" for a final look.
The other was that we try to offer a reason for rejection. If it was your opening pages that lost us, we say so (we even tell you what page we stopped reading at). If it was something else we will say so. This has angered a few writers who felt we were "wrong" but, as a writer myself, I think it is better to know why it was rejected than just getting the "thanks but, no thanks" form letter. It gives the writer an insight as to see why we rejected it. Then they can decide to ignore us or change it. Either way, it is something to learn from. As a writer, I wish more publications took the time to do this.
Thank you, Richard. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.
NEXT POST--10/23--Six Questions for Michael J. Mattson, Executive Editor, The Hellroaring Review