FewerThan500 publishes literary fiction to 500 words. Occasionally, the editors may select exceptional creative non-fiction for publication. Read the complete guidelines here.
SQF: Why did you start this magazine?
Ritta M. Basu: I originally established FewerThan500 in 2009 as a way to connect with other writers and to develop my editing skills in the flash fiction genre. I had spent years working in journalism and having been out of the newsroom a few years was missing the camaraderie with people of like minds. As a former journalist, I loved the concept of short, well told stories and found flash fiction to be a perfect genre for me as a writer and editor. Managing editor Kevin Moriarity and I were in a local writing group together and he and associate editor Frank Rutledge approached me in 2014 about joining forces. We have since added assistant editors Brandon Fink and Heather Ruffalo to our editorial board.
SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?
RMB: Each of our editors are looking for different things in a story. We're often amazed when we sit down to review submissions at stories that appeal to some editors and not others. We have outlined our personal preferences on the website, but all of us tend to look for a story that is well crafted, utilizes the negative space creatively and hooks us with a "show don't tell" approach.
SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission?
RMB: Again, this can vary. However, if it is clear that the writer has sent us a first draft and not really spent time with the craft, we can spot that right away and don't even vote on the submission.
SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a submission?
RMB: This is the one thing we pride ourselves on. There is often a story that may not work for us as it is submitted, but we will take the time to determine what works and what doesn't and provide feedback to the writer. Often we ask the writer if he or she would like to recraft the story using our suggestions and resubmit. For me, personally, the editing and rewriting process is the most fun part of working with the writer who submit to FewerThan500.
SQF: Based on your experience as an editor, what have you learned about writing?
RMB: Sometimes the worst pieces of writing come from writers who try too hard to follow the rules and impress the reader. The best writing comes from practice and intuition, along with a strong rewrite.
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
RMB: I think readers might be interested to know about our process for selecting the stories we publish. Our editorial board is made up of writers, poets and editors all of whom work in other professional fields and volunteer their time for this publication. While we are all located in suburban Chicago, we strive to make FewerThan500 a global publication, featuring the works of writers from around the world. We meet at a local Panera every two weeks to read and discuss the submissions we have received. The stories are sent to the editors as they arrive at firstname.lastname@example.org without an author name or bio attached. This precaution protects against potential bias. Once we sit down together, we take turns reading the submissions aloud and each person is given a chance to provide input about the story. We then vote on whether to publish the story, send it back for edits, or pass on the submission. (We occasionally all agree that a story is so exceptional that we want to accept it without discussion.) When we discuss stories, we rarely all agree. We have different tastes and the discussions are often eye opening as we reconsider a story from another editor's standpoint. We have fun with this process and always honor the majority vote. Whatever our decision on a particular story, the writer is always informed of our decision and encouraged to submit again. We have seen writers who have sent us stories that were immediately voted down come back with something new and be unanimously accepted. We believe in writers and enjoy the chance to highlight their work, which is one of the reasons we do the author profiles for every writer's work we publish.
Thank you, Ritta. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.