Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Six Questions for A.J. Huffman, Editor, Pound of Flash


Pound of Flash publishes fiction to 750 words. Read the complete guidelines here.

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

AH: Most importantly, I look for originality.  I want to be surprised.  I want a monkey that teaches cha cha on Venus.  I want to find out at the end of the story that the narrator was really an egg sitting in the refrigerator and the cute little tale I thought was about coming of age in suburbia, was really a tale of two vegetables.  Okay, maybe those are extreme examples.  But I do like the surprise twist ending or a good unique character.  And that does not mean to say, a story about spending summers with your great grandmother at her house on the lake won't be accepted, because I love stories like that too, but it has to be special.  It has to have something that makes it stand out from the other 27 stories from other authors about how much they loved spending summers with their grandmothers.  The best advice I can give towards achieving this, is push yourself, just a little bit.  Get the story out, then go back and take it just one step farther.  Add that one personal element that is only you.  That is where the special will come from.

Secondly, and I know I sound like an old English teacher when I say this, but . . . SHOW DON'T TELL!  I am not looking for directions to the Dairy Queen.  I want to see the Dairy Queen, taste the ice cream on my tongue, feel the eyes of the hot guy at the next table checking me out.  Don't just tell me he's there.  Bring him to me.  And the advice for this also leads me into another thing I look for, vocabulary.  Please, do not think I mean turn into a human thesaurus.  There is such a thing as vocabulary overkill, but when you read your final story and you are using words like "sad" and "dark" and "beautiful,"  it's time to revise.  To me, those are telling words.  I don't want a dark sky.  I want midnight drippings of illuminated silver weaving a blanket over my head.  I get the dark sky is there, but I want to crawl into the blanket.  It's a matter of degrees.  Another telling/vocabulary pet peeve of mine is when I see dialogue that is consistently followed by the word "said."  I know it has to be there sometimes, but truth is, if it's in quotes, we assume it's been "said."  Use the opportunity following dialogue and breaking the dialogue to let us see inside the character's thoughts or show us what they are doing.  Something besides just telling us it's been "said."


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

AH: The biggest mistake I find in our flash fiction submissions is that some flash authors believe that because the pieces are so short, they don't have to have a point.  Wrong, wrong, wrong.  I do not want a 750 word description of a baked potato, just because it is what you had for dinner.  If you're giving me 750 words (or less) about a baked potato, make sure there is a reason your are telling me about that potato, even if the reason is because you really love baked potatoes.  That's a reason. 

Conversely, the second biggest mistake comes from authors who think they can turn the plot of the DaVinci code into a flash fiction piece.  750 words does not hold enough room for a ten-character conspiracy theory, at least not one that is going to make sense to a reader.

My advice here:  Keep it simple, but purposeful.  Make each word count.


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

AH: I do not provide comments when I reject a submission.  I am a writer myself, and I know how hard the submission process is.  I also know that what I might absolutely hate, the next editor might love enough to nominate for a best of prize.  Our art is incredibly subjective.  To me, telling another author what they did "wrong" would be like drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa.  Okay, maybe that's extreme, but my journals are about giving work that I find enjoyable and creative out to the world.  Just because I reject something, doesn't mean it's not any good.  It just means that it is not what I an into at that moment.


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

AH: I waiver back and forth with this one.  Truth:  yeah if it's good enough I probably will.  But I really dislike doing that.  To me, and again, this is just my personal opinion, authors who put their work on personal blogs are shooting themselves in the foot.  It is so hard to get published as it is, to give your work that strike against it when so many journals refuse to post work that has been on such sites, is career suicide.  Make your personal blog about how you write your work.  Or post the pieces that have already been published elsewhere (with appropriate accredidation to whoever published it).  But give your original, unpublished pieces a fighting chance and keep them to yourself until you've given them a fair chance with the editors.

I will say, authors that consider a submission a link to their personal website/blog and a statement saying things like, here's my work, publish what you like, will NEVER get published by me.  I find that not only rude, but exceptionally lazy.  Rude because they have shown no indication that they even know what kind of work I publish and are just lumping me into an anonymous glob of faceless and countless other editors.  Lazy because, as a writer myself, I work very hard and put a lot of time and energy into selecting which of my pieces go to which journal.  Publishing is not easy, and I don't believe in rewarding someone who is "phoning it in" when there are hundreds and thousands of other writers who are just as good, if not better, who are busting their butts to do it properly and professionally.


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?

AH: What an author needs to know about my rejection (or any editor's rejection) for that matter, is that it is subjective.  I accept what I like at that moment in time.  I never know what I'm looking for until I see it.  I may like and accept three pieces by an author today, and reject three just as well-written pieces by that same author next week.  It all depends on what I like at the moment I read it. 

I don't mind if an author asks a question now and then.  Not at all.  And I will do my best to try and explain rejection.  I don't like confrontational or accusatory questions like, well, such and such over at acme magazine edited this and thought it was wonderful, why don't you? kind of thing.  That's just sour grapes.  But an author, especially someone just starting out (as we get a lot of those), who is curious if there was something specific that I didn't like, absolutely, I will happily respond in the kindest, thoroughest manner I can. 

I started these journals because I know how hard it is to get your work out there.  I want to see younger writers have more opportunities to do that.  And I will help them as much as I can in the time I have.  Obviously, I cannot edit every single piece of work I receive.  But I have no problem answering, professional, kind, straightforward questions from authors.


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

AH: How important is it to read the submission guidelines?

I don't know about other editors, but I spent a lot of time working on my guidelines.  There are things in my guidelines that are there to help authors know what I am looking for.  Specific things I do and do not want.  Word count being the biggest.  I find it very frustrating when I get submissions that state their word count is 973, when I have specifically stated I am looking for 750 words and under.  Both my time, and that of the author, has been wasted by not reading the guidelines. 

There are things in my guidelines that are there to help me be a better editor, a faster editor.  I am currently editing seven online journals of various types and styles and our press puts out an additional seven anthologies a year.  So far I have been able to keep my response times to under two weeks.  I know how frustrating it is to have your work pending for months and months.  I don't want to do that to my writers.  So it's very important that they follow the subject heading guidelines, so I know which journal they are submitting to.  It's there for both my convenience and their priority.  It won't do an author any good if I open a submission to one of our anthologies three months after the deadline because they didn't follow the guidelines and put the anthology title in the subject line.

Quite often, it is the little things that take only a few minutes, like reading the full guidelines, that can make a difference between acceptance and rejection.

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

NEXT POST: 5/3--Six Questions for Gary Markette, Editor, Anotherealm

Friday, April 26, 2013

Six Questions for Sara Rajan, Editor-in-Chief, Literary Juice


Literary Juice is a bimonthly, online literary magazine that publishes fiction to 2500 words, flash fiction between 100 and 600 words, pulp fiction, and poetry. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

SR: I founded Literary Juice as an outlet for writers of unconventional works of fiction and poetry. We publish both experienced and first-time authors. Many magazines prefer a writer to accrue credentials before his work is even considered; however, we accept everyone who shows potential! We love to publish works that you normally would not find in typical literary magazines.


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

SR: The first thing we look for in a submission is proper grammar. If there are too many grammar or spelling errors early on in the story, we will discard the work without reading it all the way through. If a writer cannot take the time to proofread his work, we do not want to waste our time trying to figure out what it is his story is trying to convey among all of the mistakes. If the story is well-written, however, the second thing we consider is the plot. Does it hold our attention from the very beginning? Do we experience any emotion when reading it? All of these things we keep in mind when reading the story. Finally, we want to make sure the story offers some sort of element of surprise, or that it comes full circle. Don't just write about a deer eating grass in a beautiful meadow, surprise us with a twist!


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

SR: As mentioned earlier, grammar mistakes are a huge, huge turn-off. I think writers really need to understand that most editors of any magazine WILL immediately reject works that are riddled with mistakes, no matter how brilliant the storyline. It is the job of the writer to make sure a story is written to perfection.


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

SR: Unfortunately, no.


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

SR: I think Nathaniel Hawthorne summed it up best: "Easy reading is damn hard writing."


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

N/A


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

NEXT POST: 4/30--Six Questions for A.J. Huffman, Editor, Pound of Flash

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Six Questions for Christine Chesko, Editor-in-Chief, Snail Mail Review


Snail Mail Review accepts previously unpublished fiction to 1500 words and poetry of no more than 35 lines. Learn more here.

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

CC:
  1. First impressions are a big deal, and if I notice right away that the writer did not follow submission guidelines, I'll be cranky even before I get to the poetry/short story. I know it can be a pain to include an SASE, but if you'd rather be notified through e-mail, make note of that in your cover letter. If I open a submission and find no SASE and no other form of contact information, I'm liable to just toss out the submission. It's also important to me that submissions look professional. Don't distract me with bright paper or stickers on your cover letter. Using fancy/fun font on your poetry/short fiction submission won't impress me; let the work speak for itself. 
  2. How a poem/short story opens is really crucial to me. I once had a short fiction professor tell me that if your readers don't "hop on the train" after reading the first paragraph or page, then you're going to leave them at the station. I apply the same philosophy to poetry as well. If I'm not "on board" by the first stanza, I'm likely to pass on the submission.
  3. I  look for attention to craft, focus, strong/innovative use of language, and cohesion.  


SQF: What are the top three reasons a submission is rejected, other than not fitting into your answers to the above question and why?

CC:
  1. As stated above, I'm likely to disregard a submission if it's unprofessional or does not follow the guidelines. Typos and mechanical errors in a submission are also a really quick way to put me in a cranky mood. If it's obvious to me that you didn't take the time to proofread your work, why should I take the time to read it seriously? I am first and foremost an editor, and I don't mind correcting a few grammar mistakes in a submission, but I do expect the pieces submitted to be polished and mostly ready for publication.  
  2. Use of cliches, archaic language, unimaginative or mixed metaphors.  
  3. Usually, I do not accept work that can be considered experimental. It's just not my preferred genre of literature. Similarly, if I feel like the writer is using an unconventional form or using language in such a way as to just sound esoteric and 'artsy,' I will most likely reject it.


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. 

CC: Plot and character are equally important. A good story needs momentum and character development.  


SQF: What advice can you offer new authors hoping to publish their first submission?

CC: Don't be discouraged if you don't have any publications to list in your bio section. I don't take a writer's bio into consideration when looking through a submission. Generally, I don't even give the cover letter much attention until after I've first read the poetry or short story. I have rejected writers who have had an exhaustive list of previous publications, and I have accepted writers fresh out of their first creative writing class. Also, when you're looking to submit to a journal, it's not a bad idea to do a little bit of research. Maybe buy a copy of the most recent issue or browse the website to see what kind of work is generally accepted.


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

CC: Never underestimate the power and importance of revision.


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

CC: Who are some of your favorite writers of poetry and short fiction?

Dorianne Laux is definitely one of my favorite contemporary poets.  I love her use of language and narrative. I also really enjoy Jeffrey McDaniel's work. His ability to craft crazy original metaphors and similes consistently impresses me. I love getting lost in his word play. I also enjoy Adrienne Rich and Sylvia Plath. Charles Bukowski, too, will always hold a special place in my heart. 

I could go on for days about how much I love the short fiction of Joyce Carol Oates, Raymond Carver, Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut, and Flannery O'Connor. To me, each utilizes their craft in very different ways but all to very, very effective ends.  

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

NEXT POST: 4/26--Six Questions for Sara Rajan, Editor-in-Chief, Literary Juice

Friday, April 19, 2013

Six Questions for Jacob Denno, Editor, Popshot Magazine


Popshot is an illustrated literary magazine that publishes short stories, flash fiction, and poetry from the literary new blood. Read the complete guidelines here.

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

JD: Firstly, the basic criteria is that it's a story that reads seamlessly. If we're having to stop every few lines to try and work out what the writer is saying, we're not going to get lost in it. Secondly, you shouldn't want to stop reading. We get submissions that you have to battle with to continue reading. However, if the first line makes me want to read the second line, and the second line makes me want to read the third, that's a good basis of a story and chances are, I'll arrive at the end and realise 10 minutes have passed without even being aware of it. Thirdly, the story has to have some sort of bizarre/surreal/paradoxical/unexpected element to it, something that markedly separates it from the stories we tell each other on a day to day basis.


SQF: What are the top three reasons a submission is rejected, other than not fitting into your answers to the above question and why?

JD: There probably aren't another three reasons. Most of the time it's as simple as the fact that there was a story that was better for us, or better for that particular theme. Otherwise, it's because it doesn't fit into the three things mentioned above. Make it read beautifully, make it difficult to stop reading, root it in an interesting concept and an original idea, and we'll struggle to turn it down.


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.  

JD: In very short fiction, which is what Popshot publishes, plot is more important than character. We don't get the time to get to know the characters in the stories, so whilst in a novel I would say they are equally important with a leaning towards character, I definitely think short fiction centres around a ruddy good plot.


SQF: What advice can you offer new authors hoping to publish their first submission in Popshot Magazine?

JD: Pick up a copy of the magazine and read the kind of work we publish. I can't tell you how many people blanket hit us with submissions without knowing the kind of work we publish, and without even really reading the guidelines. There's a definite link between all of the stories/poems we publish, and if you're able to really see that and write something that appeals to that aesthetic, chances are that we'll like it. As an editor, it's very easy to see the writers that give a toss about getting published in the magazine, and the ones that have sent the same stuff to 100 magazines before it made it to us. If you want to get published in a magazine, get to know it, pay attention to it. I wouldn't encourage people to change their writing style just to get published in Popshot, but if you like what we publish and you know how to write something in a similar vein - you're halfway there.


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

JD: That your competition isn't as strong as you may think it is. The good writers burn brightly and there are fewer of them than I originally imagined there to be. I've also learned that it's almost impossible to formulate. Although if someone does everything that I've mentioned in my answers to your questions, it doesn't definitely mean we'll publish it. Some things just hit you in the gut, and others don't, and that bit is very difficult to explain.


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

JD: I think if you didn't ask me, I've answered it anyway. Perhaps you could have asked me whether I have any authority on this subject, to which I would have simply replied 'no'.

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

NEXT POST: 4/23--Six Questions for Christine Chesko, Editor-in-Chief, Snail Mail Review

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Six Questions Robin Silver, Editor-in-Chief, Far Enough East

Far Enough East publishes fiction and non-fiction not to exceed 3,000 words. Poets may submit up to five poems at once; no single poem should exceed 100 lines. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

RS: There're more and more people speaking English in Asia, both because of the exponential growth of expatriates and the huge number of people studying ESL. So literature is a way to delve into that, to communicate in a way that's a little more interesting, to scratch the surface and find the things that make us not necessarily American or European or Chinese, but the things that make us human. After the success of HAL's first two books and scores of events, the community we've gathered in Shanghai and globally, it seemed like a good time to take to the internet.


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

RS: I value honesty in writing above all else—not honesty in the legal sense, honesty in the literary sense. If there is a character, a scene, a phrase or a sentence that makes me stop for a moment, lean back, and think, "well ain't that the damn truth!" then the writer has me like I'm sixteen again.

Of course glimmers of truth mean nothing without coherence and cohesion; a piece that can stand up on its own is really important.

Above all, though, my favorite writing has two components: the reading of it is a pleasure, but the questions that are brought up are the kind that linger.


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

RS: Improper formatting, grammar, etc., are all unpleasant but easy enough to surpass. The number one thing that will get an immediate "no" from me isn't exactly a mistake, per se, but anything that feels like cultural fetishism. Because of where we are based, and our interests, I've seen so, so many submissions that have these creepy, violent and/or sexual Orientalist themes throughout. It's one thing I really can't promote, this commodification of different cultures. There're ways to write across cultures that can be interesting but so often it is both false and ethnocentric; at this point it's antiquated, and the opposite of what I want FEE to represent.


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

RS: Only when asked.


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

RS: Mostly I've learned what not to do—I've seen tropes played out over and over that I try much harder to avoid. And the power of deletion, of implication. "Simplify, simplify, simplify," and all that.


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

RS: People keep talking about the "state of literature" and "post-post-modernism" and all this other stuff, that to me seems a bit... I don't actually know how to answer this question, but I myself wonder a lot when places like the New York Times or The Guardian will be less interested in Bildungsromans by white dudes in Brooklyn and more interested in stories (coming-of-age or not) that deal with the rest of the world. I'm hoping that the next generation of writers are more diverse in both biography and perspective and more sincere in what they're saying without being saccharine.

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

NEXT POST: 4/19--Six Questions for Jacob Denno, Editor, Popshot Magazine  

Friday, April 12, 2013

Six Questions for James R. Gapinski, Managing Editor, The Conium Review


The Conium Review is a bi-annual, literary print publication of flash fiction, longer fiction, and poetry. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

JRG: My interest in publishing started when I edited a zine and worked on a few chapbooks in Wisconsin. That was six or seven years ago. After moving to the Pacific Northwest, I knew I wanted to get back into editing, and I worked as an editor for the Pitkin Review at my MFA program. I finally got motivated to jumpstart The Conium Review after talking with my friend Benjamin van Loon about his project, Anobium.

My goal was to start a journal focused on quality writing rather than logistics. Even among small press publications, plenty of good literature gets slushed because the author is a newbie or word count is off. We consider unpublished authors alongside seasoned pros. And the journal is open to a number of forms and lengths, publishing everything from flash fiction to novellas.


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

JRG: First and foremost, I look for an engaging plot. A good submission should grab my attention early and keep it piqued throughout the draft. If I’m disinterested throughout the manuscript, then chances are our readers will also tune out.

And I look for active characters. Characters shouldn’t just watch a story unfolding around them. Along with plot, character engagement is crucial. Characters who take action are simply more interesting than characters who sit around musing all day. 

I also look for well-crafted language. Every sentence should sing. When language is crisp, each word fuels the story, and the reader can’t help but get pulled along for a joyride.


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

JRG: When writers don’t follow the submission guidelines, it makes my job more difficult, and it’s a turn off. Other than that, the most common mistake is sending work that isn’t polished or ready for publication. A few small errors are expected in any manuscript, but I don’t want to deal with messy, rough-draft-type work. 


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

JRG: I don’t usually provide comments. The same goes for most of The Conium Review’s editors. We read hundreds of submissions every month. Providing personal comments for each rejection would be a daunting task. I try to offer comments when I think they are particularly pertinent, but in reality I don’t usually have time.


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

JRG: I’ve learned to appreciate the writing community more. Every writer has something to learn, and I’m no exception. Through conversations with editors, writers, and readers, an author’s work evolves. Rejection isn’t an insult; it’s part of that community dialogue. Running a literary journal constantly reminds me how important it is to be open to revision, collaboration, and discussion. Writers shouldn’t work in complete isolation.


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

JRG: I’m always curious to learn what an editor reads in his or her spare time. I think it gives insight into personal editorial tastes and preferences. If you asked who some of my favorite authors are, the answer always includes George Saunders and Etgar Keret. A few other writers I admire are Aimee Bender, Sam Lipsyte, Gary Lutz, and Amelia Gray. 

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

NEXT POST: 4/16--Six Questions Robin Silver, Editor-in-Chief, Far Enough East

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Six Questions for Beth Wodzinski, Publisher, Shimmer Magazine


Shimmer Magazine publishes contemporary fantasy short stories, with a few ventures into science fiction or horror. Read the complete fiction guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

BW: I'd always enjoyed working with other people's stories in critique groups, and thought I might be good at it. I also thought there was room in the publishing world for the kind of stories that resonated with me the most: stories with graceful prose, subtle and nuanced characterization, and a strong sense of yearning or loss. Kelly Link and Gavin Grant once described our tone as "elegiac," and I love that.  

Really I was very naive: there's so much more that goes into running a magazine than the editorial side. I've had to learn a lot about marketing and accounting and coordinating volunteers and taxes and printers and a hundred other non-sexy things. It's been a great learning experience, and I continue to learn as we've moved up to the ranks of magazines that pay pro rates. 


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

BW: We're looking for a quality of freshness, for an idea we haven't seen a thousand times already, for a voice that doesn't sound like everything else.  

We look for an elegance in prose—there's a particular tone that always stands out for us and makes a story not just good, but a Shimmer story. 

And we're looking for emotion, told with subtlety and nuance: most often, our stories are full of longing and sorrow, but are never maudlin or nostalgic. Check out the stories we've got up for free (including one whole issue) to get a feel for what we're drawn to.


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

BW: Lately we've been seeing a lot of submissions that start three or four pages too late—there's lots of static world-building and description before the story really gets going. In a 3500-word story, you really can't afford to waste that much time. Start where things get interesting, and work in all that lovely world-building and description as you need it. 

We see story after story after story where female characters are only there to be raped or abused. I encourage everyone to read Jim Hines's post at the Apex blog called Writing About Rape.


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

BW: We often provide comments; we aim to be friendly and helpful. I recently wrote a blog post in which I revealed the truth about our rejection letters.


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

BW: I've learned a lot about what doesn't work in stories technically—but what makes a story stand out remains magical and elusive. That magical element can overcome lots of technical flaws—but no technical mastery can overcome the absence of magic. 


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

BW: In response to the Weird Tales debacle last summer, Shimmer went pro. What was that like? 

For readers who aren't familiar with the background, here's a link that covers the situation pretty well.

That was an amazing day. One minute I was, like the rest of the speculative fiction community, aghast at the events; and then Mary Robinette Kowal talked to me and offered to subsidize us bumping our pay to professional rates. Half an hour later we made the announcement. Response was overwhelming and supportive; submissions tripled; sales went up, as well. Everyone on staff has really stepped up their effort, too. We're working to be professional in all ways, not just paying pro rates. 

It was life-changing for me: not so much because suddenly we were a pro magazine, but because it showed me that there's always hope, even when things are grim and ugly. You can choose to make things better. You can choose to light a candle, instead of cursing the darkness. You can choose fireworks. 

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

NEXT POST: 4/12--Six Questions for James R. Gapinski, Managing Editor, The Conium Review

Friday, April 5, 2013

Six Questions for Jean Glaub, Casey Mills, and Rachel Bondurant, The Editors, Treehouse Magazine


Treehouse publishes creative nonfiction/fiction to 1,000 words and poetry in any genre. Read the complete guidelines here.

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

Treehouse Magazine: Good craftsmanship, efficiency, and an idea that’s “pleasingly unusual.” While we don’t demand perfection (a typo won’t doom you), we do expect high quality. Reading can be a chore when the words are sloppy and the sentences convoluted, but it’s a pleasure when the writer uses language with exuberance, creativity, and care. 

Efficiency is another crucial point, especially in flash, because of the limited space. We’ve seen a lot of cool stories get bogged down with too many details or characters. We’ve also seen fine, lean writing lose our interest because the premise was too familiar—or simply boring. It’s exciting to find a submission that surprises us. A talented, imaginative writer can make even the oldest themes seem new again.


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

TM: The most common mistake we see in poetry is sentimentality. Poetry can be wonderfully charged with emotion, but if the reader can’t follow the writer into that emotional place, the poem will seem sappy or overdone. 

For essays, a common error is an overly worded introduction and a generalized statement of theme (“People always say that…”/”Have you ever had a moment in your life where…well, this is mine.”/ “I sometimes sit and wonder…”) Many submissions will spend more than half of the story establishing what they are about to say, wasting away a limited word count, which could be used to simply tell the story.

For fiction, clichés are a real turnoff, as is forced figurative language. We look for writers who stand apart, and clichés and common metaphors are a quick way to blend in with other submissions. (On the other hand, we get really excited about fresh and organically occurring uses of imagery.)


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

TM: Most of the time we do not, simply because time constraints don't allow us to. If we send a personalized rejection with advice or encouragement to submit more writing, it means we were very impressed. When we get submissions from writers who are very early in their career, we will occasionally include some brief suggestions--just little tricks of the trade that we wished we'd had when we were starting out as writers.


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

TM: No. Treehouse doesn’t accept work that has been published before, including writing posted on any publicly available blog or website (because hey, we’re an Internet publication).


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?

TM: We've rejected many submissions that were very competently written but just didn't have anything particularly exciting or original going for them. Sometimes we reject a submission because it doesn’t fit our magazine’s aesthetic, or because our editors can’t agree on it. That said, many rejected submissions need work. Writers should make sure their writing is as good as they can make it, then keep sending it out. It’s common for stories to get rejected multiple times before they find a home. We generally don't respond to questions about comments, simply because we don't have time. (If it's a writer we've asked for a rewrite from, that's of course a different story.) 

One thing that's important to know for writers earlier in their career is that, if we send a rejection asking for more work in the future, it's generally a good idea not to send that new work immediately. As a renowned magazine editor once said: Think of it as a first date. Are you going to call your date the second you get home? Or are you going to wait a day or two and give the date some time to enjoy the possibility of getting to hear from you again? (Except, in the case of submitting, a month is probably a good minimum amount of time before sending again.)


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

TM: Hmm. Not sure. You covered it pretty well with the first five. It wouldn't have hurt to ask us about Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son, simply because we love talking about Jesus' Son http://treehousemag.com/category/jesus-son-retrospective/ (we devoted a whole week to Jesus' Son essays last year to celebrate its 20th anniversary), but you couldn't really be expected to know that. So yeah. Good job. This is a cool project you have going here, and we're grateful to have been included.  

Thank you, Jean, Casey and Rachel. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.

NEXT POST: 4/9--Six Questions for Beth Wodzinski, Publisher, Shimmer Magazine

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Six Questions for Kerri Farrell Foley, Editor, Crack the Spine Literary Magazine


Crack the Spine publishes flash fiction to 1,000 words, micro-fiction to 500 characters, poetry, short stories, book reviews and art/photography. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

KFF: Crack the Spine began years ago, in a most informal way. I am a voracious reader, constantly scouring the internet for the latest independent literary magazines and journals. Whenever I came across a piece that struck me in any profound way, I would feel the compulsion to share it with every writer and reader I knew. I firmly believe that the best way to improve one’s writing ability is to devour as much literature as possible. In the craft of writing, as in life, we learn by example. In this spirit, I decided to create a literary magazine that publishes works that inspire, both by their depth of meaning, and their richness of language. Crack the Spine is designed first and foremost for the readers, but has also grown to take great pride in being a platform for both established and emerging writers. 


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

KFF: 
  1. We want poetry and prose that elicits an emotional reaction.  We call it “punched in the throat” writing. Palpable subtext and unpredictable language get much further with us than blatant shock lit or last-line plot twists.  
  2. We’re looking for literature that sings.  Our favorite pieces that we’ve published in the past (the ones that are usually selected for print publication later on) are works that manipulate language and phrasing in an unexpected way. 
  3. We want living, breathing characters that exist, not as a vehicle for flowery phrases or poetic philosophizing, but simply because they must exist.  That is not to say that we are looking for overly detailed character studies.  We simply avoid “yellow brick road” writing, where the style of storytelling is “this happened and then this happened…”  Characters and their motivations are what make a plot truly relatable.   


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

KFF: We don’t want to be spoon-fed.  Overly detailed prose and poetry generally indicate a distrustful writer who is insistent that an audience see it his or her own way.  Such writing, in our opinion, comes across as under-developed and flippant.  Subtext and metafiction are the keys to our heart.  Successful writers allow us as readers to imprint our own emotional experiences and draw our own lessons from the text.  Don’t tell us who the narrator of a poem is; let your readers decide that for themselves.  Don’t spell out a character’s complete motivation; let your audience assume based on their own experiences.  Trust is the difference between a writer and a person who is just transcribing facts.

Submissions should not tackle a predictable or well-worn subject unless doing so in a very exceptional or unexpected way.  Poetry submissions in particular can seem prone to redundancy.  Your poem about the various hues of fall leaves may be perfectly lovely, but unless it’s the absolute best out of hundreds of poems about seasonal colors we’ve received, we’re unlikely to get excited about it.

We don’t mind violence and profanity, but only if it is serving the poem or story in a meaningful way.

Grammatical, spelling, and/or formatting nightmare manuscripts need not apply.  While our goal is to read each and every submission in its entirety, we will seldom venture past the first page of a document that is not properly proofread. 


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

KFF: No.  Unfortunately, the volume of our submissions makes rejection specifics impossible.


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

KFF: Literature begs for conversation.  While reading is a solitary task, the reactions that a person experiences in relation to a work of poetry or prose beg to be shared.  We encourage conversation amongst our readers, by providing an option to comment on our weekly digital issues.  We find that the best writing comes not from individuals who lock themselves away in a sparsely furnished room under a bare bulb and toil, but rather from people who expose themselves to new writers and engage in meaningful discussion about the trends and methods of modern writing.  


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

KFF:  Is there a Crack the Spine mascot? 

Why, yes - a little Jack Russell Mutt named Butters.  He is our living reminder that, despite what we were taught in elementary school about perseverance, sometimes the best things in life do just wander right up to your front door. 

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

NEXT POST: 4/5--Six Questions for Jean Glaub, Casey Mills, and Rachel Bondurant, The Editors, Treehouse Magazine