SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?
GD: 1) Complexity 2) Narration and 3) Experimentation
I want complexity because I want to see that the narrator is attempting to understand something—there needs to be a forward-driving idea for the essay to work as a narrative and the narrator must open up. For example, an “I made the winning shot” essay is not what I’m looking for. However, if the narrator endures struggle in the locker room, at home, on the bench, etc., and then makes the winning shot, well, it changes things.
I say narration because, with the writer assumedly dealing with complex subject matter, it becomes increasingly important that the prose itself be centered around the simplistic. That doesn’t necessarily mean one-hundred one-clause sentences in a row. Just don't try to wow me with your vocabulary. Instead, tell the damn story.
To clarify experimentation, I want to say that I don’t hold anything against submissions that do not play with form. However, I do like to read them and I think it’s because I equate experimentation with the writer playing on the page--footnotes, images, spacing, white space, etc. While it’s a risk/reward thing, I feel the reward is much higher if executed properly.
SQF: What common mistakes do you encounter that turn you off to a submission?
GD: I’m sure many other editors can relate when I say line editing. Often, I receive submissions that haven’t been proofread and it can be frustrating, to say the least, as it registers with me as unprofessional and revealing a lack of concern for the work.
Another common mistake I see is in character description. While eyes most definitely can be important, each character’s eye color (usually) does not deserve sentence after sentence of description. I like to see writers stray from the norm here (again, risk/experimentation). For example, describe the eyelashes instead of the eye itself. Or look to their body or voice for something that is a truly defining characteristic. Readers will remember the 'abnormal' more than they will eye color.
SQF: Will you publish a submission an author posted on a personal blog?
GD: I feel like it would depend on the submission. But typically, no, as we seek previously unpublished material.
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?
GD: I’d like them to know that just because the submission was rejected doesn’t mean that we didn’t see any potential in the piece of writing. That said, as a writer, I’ve been on the receiving end of the “potential” claim and know that it can be painful to hear time and time again.
If they feel the urge to reply with a question, concern or comment, I would strongly encourage them to do so. But I’d also like them to understand that we may not respond immediately, as we’re on a quarterly deadline and forced to prioritize in order to meet said deadline.
Lastly, and along the same lines, I’d want them to know that we most likely will not be able to provide in-depth suggestions as to how they can improve the piece of writing. Such a thing would require several more in-depth readings of the material. Such a thing would require much more time and, as mentioned, that’s hard to come by under deadline.
SQF: What magazines do you read most often?
GD: While I browse McSweeney’s and Tin House quite often, I’ve been really impressed with WhiskeyPaper, Split Lip, Pithead Chapel and Five Quarterly. I tend to enjoy lit mags that push boundaries in either content or design, or both.
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
GD: Do you take past achievements into consideration when evaluating a submission? I ask this because, before I became an editor for Squalorly, I tended to think there was some literary bourgeoisie that wanted nothing to do with me. I was wrong and, truthfully, no, we don’t apply favoritism to a cover letter packed with past publications and current fellowships. In fact, we’ve actually turned down quite a few “accomplished” writers, and for one reason: the piece just wasn’t doing it for us. It's important for all parties to remember that the submitted piece of writing will continue to carry the most weight.
Thank you, Garrett. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.
NEXT POST: 11/05--Six Questions For Pete Stevens, Fiction Editor, Squalorly