Friday, November 9, 2012

Six Questions for Michael S. O'Connor, Editor, Primalzine

Primalzine is an online publication showcasing trauma-based fiction, poetry, and artwork. Read the complete guidelines here.

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

MO: First, every story has to have something going for it. At least one thing, preferably more than one thing, but it’s that thing that makes you forget that you are reading it and makes you remember that you read it long after you finished reading it.

In other words, it is the thing that grabs you or touches you or punches you in the stomach with an emotional wallop. Or makes you laugh or whatever. These are the qualities that I look for in a submission.

Second, every story must be connected to the theme or subject matter of Primalzine. My guidelines explicitly state what Primalzine is looking for, material that deals with the concept of trauma in some way. I think this can encompass a wide range of fiction, but sometimes it does not, and I do get submissions that have nothing to do with the subject matter. Those, no matter how good they may be, tend to be rejected.

All writers need to research the markets that they want to submit to. Read the magazine. Follow the submission guidelines. This is just common sense. Yet, so many don’t.

And third, every story should be an easy edit. Since Primalzine has become a one-man operation, and because the actual editing is the most labor intensive and time consuming part of the process of putting out a magazine, I tend to favor work that has been well edited already. Putting out a magazine is a labor of love for me, but please forgive me for wanting to reduce the labor part of it as much as possible.

I’m only being honest here.

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

MO: Well, besides the lack of the aforementioned qualities, many of the submissions that I reject are simply sloppy presentations of half-realized stories. My acceptance rate is probably a little better than most, but at just under ten percent, the odds are still against you. To me, it’s just common sense--there’s that phrase again--to present your work in as finished and polished a state as possible and in a format that is clear and easy to read. If the submission is too much of a chore for me to read and evaluate, I am not likely to accept it. Almost without exception, the stories that I accept are the ones that look professionally presented.

The same applies to half-realized stories. Writing is rewriting, right? I have received too many submissions that read like first or second drafts. Primalzine and most other literary magazines are not workshops, so please send only work that you honestly believe is ready for publication. Or at least, almost ready.

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

MO: Almost never. However, if I have enough interest in a story, and I think that the story is almost ready--and again, I want to stress almost ready--I may provide a suggestion or two that if followed, may persuade me to accept the submission. The writer obviously has the choice of following my suggestions or not.

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

MO: Technically, if something is posted on a blog, it is considered published. I’m not normally interested in reprints, but in the case of something posted only on a personal blog, I may bend that rule, provided that I really really like the story.

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?

MO: I’m not saying anything new when I say that writing is a tough business, and it is at least twice as tough for writers of fiction. We all need to get used to rejection. It’s not personal. Stories are rejected for any number of reasons, some of which I have explained, but submitting stories for submission is still part crap shoot, a matter of getting it to the right person at the right time. Just because I rejected a submission doesn’t mean that another editor will do the same. So if you honestly believe that your story is ready for publication, simply keep trying. Still, make sure that it is as good as it can be before you submit it anywhere.

Personally, I don’t expect responses from authors whose stories I have rejected, but I occasionally I get some. A few have been rather snotty. One guy told me that it was obvious to him that I just didn’t “understand” his brilliant piece of work, and this was evidenced by him telling me that his story was just accepted by another magazine, apparently one more insightful than mine, according to him anyhow. He didn’t say which magazine it was, but I thought, hey, good for you anyhow. 

Maybe I thought Asshole, too. Good for you, Asshole. See, editors need thick skins, too.

Having said all that, if a writer asks politely about why I rejected his or her submission, I’ll do my best to respond constructively.

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

Hmm. How about this one?

Do I pay a lot of attention to a writer’s publishing credits when considering a submission for publication?

In a word, yes. I ask for them, and I will check and see where they have work published even if they don’t include them. Some people have sent me lengthy lists of publishing credits with their submissions, and I do mean lengthy, some of which have included the likes of the Paris Review. On one hand I feel honored that they chose my humble little fledgling magazine to submit to, and if they have a recognized name, they might lift my again humble little fledgling magazine to a new level of acceptance. However, I can’t and won’t guarantee that their submission will be accepted. In my book--er, magazine--it’s the work that gets accepted, not the writer who wrote it.

Still, if someone like Joyce Carol Oates or someone else of similar stature decided to grace my humble little fledgling magazine with their presence, I will be honest and say that I do not know how scrutinizing I will be of their submissions.

Then again, I could say that I rejected Joyce Carol Oates. Hmm. I wonder how she would react to that. Maybe say, who is this asshole?

Anyhow, verifiable publishing credits go a long way to establish a writer’s track record and professionalism. So I do consider them to some extent. But it’s still the work that counts, and an unpublished writer has just as good a chance. And if you do want to say that you were published by the Paris Review, make sure that you have before you tell me. Because I can find out if you have or haven’t. I’m just saying. It has happened before. It is best to keep the fiction in the story.

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

NEXT POST: 11/13--Six Questions for Douglas Pinson, Editor and Publisher, Spinozablue

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