Friday, April 2, 2010

Six Questions for Lauren Becker, Managing Editor, Corium Magazine

Corium Magazine publishes short fiction (1000-4000 words), very short fiction (to 1000 words), poetry (no more than 50 lines), and artwork. The editors want "stories and poems with substance and connection," with "words that touch on nerves and stay with us." Read the complete guidelines here.

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

LB: First, I'd like to acknowledge the others at Corium (Heather Fowler, Poetry Editor and Greg Gerke, who edits Very Short Fiction) without whom the journal would certainly be a disaster!

Top three things I look for in a story:

1. The tagline for Corium is "[e]voke and awaken us." I look for stories that make me feel something while I read and make me want to read them again when I finish. 

2. I want to be pulled in immediately. Though we're new [Editor's note: Issue One went live in March], we have been fortunate to have received a higher influx of submissions than expected; if I don't find the first few sentences compelling, I usually move on to the next.

3. It's not a problem at all if a story is not the first addressing a theme that I've ever seen. Death, love, loss—we are all touched by these things and stories related to them are therefore ripe for the telling. Make it original. Take risks.  Let your experience make it yours. I don't just look for well-written stories. I also look for the writer's personal investment.  

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

LB: The only thing I can add to my first response is that we don't accept stories that demonstrate that the writer did not read the substantive submissions guidelines. I'm far from being the only editor who can tell when someone is submitting their work everywhere, with the hope that the numbers game will work in their favor. Not having produced an issue as of yet, I realize it's a little more difficult to gauge what kind of stories we like, but I think we articulated the general description of our mission quite clearly. And, of course, we do not accept work with typos, grammatical errors or other evidence that the writer did not show care in editing their submission.

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

LB: I am very turned off by work that fails to assume an intelligent reader. Also, though detail and description are great in moderation, they can be rather distracting in excess.

SQF: What is it about the characters in a story that make them pop off the page and grab hold of you?

LB: I am moved by the relatability of a character. This is not to say that the character resembles me, or even that s/he is likable. Rather, I need characters to be interesting and multi-dimentional. I need to care about the outcome.  

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?

LB: I can honestly say that in my experience with Corium, and in my former role as fiction editor at Dogzplot, I have not received any disrespectful or spiteful responses to rejections. I'm sure my streak of luck will change and, yes, at that point, I think it will be virtually impossible to disregard prior bad behavior. My advice to disappointed writers? Complain to a friend, write in your journal, eat some cookies ... do anything but write a negative response to the editor, which will (quite clearly) be to your disservice in submitting to that journal again.

As a writer, even with form rejections, I appreciate the inclusion of my name and the name of my submission. I feel it demonstrates humanity and respect for the writer's effort and takes very little time. As an editor, if the work is well-written and I am able to pinpoint some areas in which it didn't work for me, I try to provide some feedback. On occasion, I recommend other markets for which the submission might be better suited. One of the nicest things that has happened for me as an editor was receiving a thank you note from a writer who let me know that he had never received such a response in his 10 years of submitting. As welcome as it may be to receive constructive feedback as a writer, it is likewise heartening to receive appreciation for your work as an editor.

If I did not provide feedback in my response, it is because I didn't have any that I believed would be useful or I did not have time to evaluate your story in such detail as to be able to provide more information than I did. As such, I don't tend to follow up on those requests.

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

LB: What have you learned as an editor that is useful to you as a writer?

Editors put a lot of time into running journals. Most of us are unpaid and do the work for the love of showcasing great writing, and that knowledge has  provided me with a greater understanding and respect for those editors who consider my own writing. I don't take rejections as personally. Editors have different tastes. If it's good writing, it will find a good home. 

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

NEXT POST: 4/5--Six Questions for CL Bledsoe, Editor, Ghoti


  1. The first issue of Corium was amazing with established wonderful writers, so good I've been feeling a little intimidated to submit. However, Jim, your interview with Lauren Becker has sharpened my desire to try and be a part of this new magazine. Her reminders of what she and the other editors look for will help me to make certain the pieces I send will be the best I can offer. I'm sure others who read this will agree.

  2. Good interview. Corium's future looks bright.