Thursday, January 14, 2010

Six Questions for Dianne Kochenburg, Editor, Clever Magazine

Begun in August of 1998, Clever Magazine prides itself as being a publication for the "neglected demographic." The magazine features essays, short stories, humor, recipes, travel, humor, photo essays and more. Read the complete guidelines here.

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

DK: Writing that fits the tone of our ezine: quality counts. We prefer careful writing—the writer has taken the time to spell check the piece, has thought about the composition, and has something interesting to say. We love stories with a subtle sense of humor or irony, no matter whether it's fiction or travel essay, dark humor is great, be sarcastic if you are good at it. We'll eat it up. Why, you ask? Why not, we're not on the Internet for the money or fame; we do this because we love the idea of publishing quality work. The longer we are around, the pickier we can be. Hopefully, writers who appear on our pages will appreciate the fact that being on Clever is worth bragging about.

We like stories that grab our attention from the first sentence. Lately we've looked at a lot of flash fiction. To us that means stories less than 500 words long. It's difficult to write a story with a great beginning, middle and end in only 500 words, but when we get good ones we are happy to publish them. It's the mark of a very good writer to be able to put flash fiction together.

We like genres: romantic stories that are not overly sentimental. There's a wide line between sappy romance writing and what we are looking for. Our heart strings are tightly strung so they don't tug easily but when they do, we'll publish what you've got to say. We love mysteries too, keep them short and hard boiled. We love armchair travel writing—don't tell us about what hotel you stayed at or what you had for dinner, but do tell us about who you met and what you learned.

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

DK: Uninteresting stories that do not fit the tone or current theme of our magazine. Why not publish everything that comes along? Nobody would read us if we published boring stuff. Writers are not objective about what they write. We all think that once we've filled a page with words that somebody else will want to read it. Sometimes the title alone will put off potential readers. If our website is loaded with uninteresting stuff, we suffer.

Poor writing. Standards seem to be slipping. We can easily identify writing that hasn't been properly edited. We don't "fix" other people's work. If the work isn't ready to copy and paste, we're not interested in publishing it. We have asked writers to work on their pieces and resend, but writers are seldom interested in doing that. Sorry. We both lose if you can't do the tough work of editing and rewriting.

The piece is interesting but is too long: web surfers have short attention spans. If you don't get to the point of what you are trying to say right off the bat, readers won't stay with you. You cannot assume the reader will stay with you for the big finish. Hook them quickly or they are gone.

We don't publish religious or political writing. Too easy to hurt somebody's feelings. There are lots of blogs these days for junkies to get their fix. You won't find it in Clever.

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

DK: Sending us writing assignments from your writing class. Even if you got an A, we can usually tell that it's student writing and a class assignment. We're not interested in it. Write something from your own soul.

Formula writing. If it isn't fresh and quirky in some way, it's probably not very good.

Writing about your parents, grandparents or other dead relatives. Readers are more interested in reading about dead pets than about granny, no matter how much you loved her.

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

DK: We used to give comments, but it doesn't usually go over very well, so we've stopped doing that. It's the medium, we're all strangers here. People can be very caustic on email and some writers, especially amateurs, have not yet learned how to take criticism. Better to just say no thanks than unintentionally hurt some strangers' feelings.

Most of the time we're rejecting stories for the reasons I've already mentioned, but once in a while a good story just might not work with the rest of the stuff we're publishing. Sometimes we'll hold a story and try to build a theme around it, but often that doesn't work.

SQF: I read a comment by one editor who said she keeps a blacklist of authors who respond to a rejection in a less than professional manner. I'm sure you know what I mean. What do you want authors to know about the stories 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?

DK: We don't blacklist anybody. 99% of those we reject we never hear from again. I have a good memory, if I read a story twice, I just tell the writer that we are still not interested. Now that we don't do comments with rejections, we don't have any problems to speak of. If an author asks for comments, we remain fairly vague. The last thing we want to do is hurt feelings. This is a tough business. The writer could write another story that is smashing. We'll read it. It seems like a good idea to remain sort of neutral with everybody so writers can have a second chance.

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

DK: It seems to me that under the surface, what you really want to understand is why it's so hard to get something published. The publishing business is going through a dramatic transformation from the "written word" in a book to all electronic. The old style publishing business is in trouble, even though there are thousands of books being published every year. Reliable published writers are doing okay but those trying to break in are having a more difficult time than ever. Writers have to resort to publishing their own stuff if they want to see their writing in book form. It sucks. So writers turn to the internet, and ezines for publishing clips. And they still have a hard time breaking in. The bottom line is always about the writing, but that's not to say that all good writing will be published. All said and done, it's the luck of the Irish as to whether you see your work in print of some form. In the meantime we just enjoy the ride.

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

NEXT POST: 1/18—Six Questions for Robin Stratton, Editor-in-Chief, Boston Literary Magazine

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