Suspense Magazine publishes suspense, thriller, and mystery stories. Learn more here.
SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?
JR: The first thing we look at “Is the story within our word count.” Many times we get stories outside of our 5000 word count and have to tell the author to either shorten it up, or we won’t consider it. When reading a submission, it is very crucial to see if the author flows the story and has good character development. Even though it is a challenge to develop characters in a 5000 word story, it can still be done.
SQF: What are the top three reasons a submission is rejected, other than not fitting into your answers to the above question and why?
- Grammar is very poor. It doesn’t take a lot of time to edit a short story, so it better be perfect or very close to it.
- The story doesn’t have a clear voice or is very choppy. The author needs to make sure when they read the story they are doing it from a readers point of view. Remember the reader knows nothing about your story, so don’t assume anything.
- The third reason would be it just doesn’t tell a story. Many times we read submissions that leave us wondering, “What the heck is the story about?” Very important to make sure within 5000 words you make entertaining.
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.
JR: If you are talking about a short story, then plot would be more important. Otherwise you spend all 5000 words just developing the characters, but they don’t do anything. With a book, I say 100% character is the most important part. Characters are what give the reader an emotional attachment. There are very few stories that have an original plot, so building new characters that we haven’t seen is very crucial.
SQF: What advice can you offer new authors hoping to publish their first submission in Suspense Magazine?
JR: The number one thing to do is have someone read your story that isn’t a family member or friend. Post it on a blog and see what people think. Authors need to have constructive criticism, not the American Idol pat on the back from your family. Also, keep writing, writing, writing! You will not hit a home run on the first pitch, at least the odds are against you, so you have to keep writing and writing to find your voice. Also knowing exactly what type of author you are is very important. Are you a fast paced thriller author, or a suspense building author, or maybe a solve the mystery author. Then you will be better prepared to let your story have a clear concise voice, not a story that is all over the place.
SQF: Based on your experience as an editor, what have you learned about writing?
JR: Writing is a full time job. You need to work at it as hard as your nine-to-five job. Anytime you put half effort into anything, you will only get half a story.
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
JR: “What can you truly expect to get out of your writing?” I feel that many authors have false expectations and think they are writing the next NY Times Bestseller. Here is the problem with that. Just because your book is not high on a list or selling that great, doesn’t mean you can’t write. Authors have to remember that anybody can now publish an EBook on Amazon or Barnes and Noble. What does that mean? That means that readers now have to navigate through thousands of more books to find one they like and readers only have a certain amount of money to spend. If you don’t have thousands of marketing dollars behind your work, then you have to spend triple the amount of time marketing to fans than it took you to write the book. Writing the book is the easy part, getting paid from it is the difficult part. Authors should expect to not retire off their work, but instead write for the love of it, because it is your passion. Writing and music are the same thing, you see a great band in a bar and say “They are better than anything I hear on the radio, why aren’t they signed?” Writing is the same way.
Thank you, John. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.
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