NOTE: This interview is being reposted due to a hiatus caused by a server change.
Ink on paper, mayhem on stage - H.A.L. Publishing specialises in publishing exceptional local and expat/postpat authors in China, for whom this country forms the natural backdrop of an at-times mundane, at-times wholly extraordinary existence. H.A.L. is actively seeking new and inspired authors of all kinds of China related texts, be it short stories, novels or poetry for publication, both E and paper. Read the complete guidelines here. Bjorn is also the founder of the literary journal Far Enough East.
SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a story and why?
BW: Coherence. A story must connect through all parts, characters, and shifts. If it doesn't, any brilliant beginning/idea/language you might have become mere ornaments.
Tension. Do not forget the reader. It's all too common for brilliant writers of poetic style fiction to forget that you still need the reader to understand who is currently saying what, and why your story just took a sudden turn.
Writing from the heart. The mistress of said tension: write close to home, even if writing sci-fi. Kafka's formal injury reports from his day job as an insurance claims officer still bear his distinct drive and so should yours, always. Our core subject being China, I consider it even more important to take an angle you actually know, and not pretend.
SQF: What are the top three reasons a story is rejected, other than not fitting into your answers to the above question and why?
BW: Texts irrelevant to the H.A.L. declared field of interest (which is: exceptional stories out of the PR China). If only I had a penny for every photo book/textbook/mathematical thesis I've received and rejected. It's really simple: if you are in need of a dentist you wouldn't go to a heart surgeon, so why send anything but fiction to a publisher of fiction? There is no point what so ever in spamming around a manuscript.
Poorly presented material. I don't read anything that comes in without proper introduction, title, mini-bio etc. On that same note, ridiculous pen names do not increase your odds either.
China bashing. One slight hint of neo-colonial attitude towards China and you're in the bin.
SQF: What other common mistakes do you encounter that turn you off to a story?
BW: Characters named John or Jim taking a walk in the park on the first page. That is, poor beginnings. I can not enough stress the importance of a strong lead-in. If nothing grabs me after five paragraphs or so, I'm already half way to dumping it.
SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a story?
BW: Only to a very selected few texts, and with very carefully moderated comments. Comments are only provided if I feel the text might still work with certain changes/re-writes. In my experience commenting on a definite rejection, regardless of the reasons, only serves to anger the author. You need a dialogue to improve on a text, and rejection destroys the premises for that dialogue.
SQF: Based on your experience as an editor, what have you learned about writing?
BW: Most importantly I would say I've learned the importance of calibrating your work as a whole after reaching the end. Much too often does a writer find the right tone for his story only half way through, but never go back and re-work the beginning. Goes for both content, style and language. I've also learned that you should never consider a story finished until your editor has gone over it. Writing is a solitary type of creative work, and we all develop blind spots for flaws in our work. Allow your editor into the process.
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
BW: What can an author do to follow up after initially submitting?
I recommend to submit, and then call to confirm manuscript received. After that the editor will (hopefully) go through your text in his own tempo, which can be anything between 5 minutes and 1 year. Do not send off email after email to speed up the process which serves only to annoy. Be patient. Move on, and keep writing. It is hard to believe for most authors, but your editor actually needs you.
Thank you, Bjorn. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.
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