Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Six Questions for Laura Shovan, Editor, Little Patuxent Review

Little Patuxent Review is a community-based publication focused on writers and artists from the Mid-Atlantic region, but all excellent work originating in the United States will be considered. LPR publishes fiction, non-fiction and creative non-fiction to 3,500 words, poetry, art and photography. Read the complete guidelines here.

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

LS: First, I want to be caught up in the world of the story or essay, whatever that may be. By “the world” I mean the emotional world of the characters, as well as the setting. Both should be believable and compelling.

Second, we (each submission is read by at least three people) appreciate clean writing because typos, grammatical errors and inconsistent diction can pull a reader out of the world of the story.

Third, a shift in the protagonist’s interior life is something I look for in a short story. Even a decision not to act can be an important decision for a character.

Our poetry top-three is a strong voice, language that sings (with a tone that suits the poem’s topic), and something for the reader to chew on.

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

LS: Submissions that are over our word/poem limit or from authors outside the U.S. are declined outright. Just as potential contributors expect a thoughtful reading of their work, journals expect authors to read and respect submission guidelines.

Little Patuxent Review has a theme for each issue. Occasionally, we receive several submissions that explore the same topic, e.g. poems about homelessness for our Social Justice issue. Authors can avoid this by sending their best work, but also by looking at the theme from a unique or unusual point of view. Such pieces make an issue of our journal richer.

We usually pass on fiction and poetry that is didactic and/or spells everything out for the reader. Don’t tie it all up with a bow. Give the reader space to engage with your work.

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.

LS: The last is true for us. A writer may come up with a plot first and then develop the characters, or the opposite might be true. By the time the piece reaches LPR’s inbox, these elements should be integrated and balanced.

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

LS: If possible, take your work to a critique group for feedback. Read at least one issue of the journal you are targeting.

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

LS: I am still learning from the experience of being an editor. Drafting and revising work can be a solitary process, but polishing and publishing is not. There are people out there – writers, writing groups like our local Maryland Writers Association, editors – who are willing to help their peers and cheer on fellow authors. The best part about being involved with a community-based journal like LPR is the community. Meeting, reading and corresponding with poets and prose writers, I’ve met fascinating people, made good friends, and shared my own work. These are the people who recommend great books, tell me about new journals, and let me know when there is a can’t-miss reading in town.

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

LS: A poet friend sent me an email recently, asking for advice. An editor at another journal wanted to publish one of his poems, but had given him revision notes. He felt unsure. There was a tug between liking the poem as he had written it and wanting to be published. How should a writer handle feedback from an editor?

I told my friend that, as an editor, I am always willing to negotiate with an author whose work I like. If a writer disagrees with suggested changes, I like that person to take the time to explain why. A curt reply (“That’s how I wrote it”) leaves no room for discussing the work. Remember that editors want what you want: the tightest, richest piece of writing possible. Consider their feedback carefully and respond in kind.

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

NEXT POST: 11/9--Six Questions for Michael S. O'Connor, Editor, Primalzine


  1. "Don't tie it all up with a bow." Yes to a little mystery! Thank you, Laura and Jim.

  2. Thanks, Irene. Jim and readers -- I posted some additional editorial pet peeves and tips on my personal blog today. Here's the link: http://authoramok.blogspot.com/2012/11/six-questions-for-expanded-version.html


  3. I just came across from an author (don't remember who) who said the first story he ever got published was terrible, but the editor saw something in it and went over it line by line with him to make it into something good. He said that any editor who only copies and pastes whatever is sent to them shouldn't be called an editor.

    So obviously any writer who doesn't want the input of HIS EDITOR probably should find another line of work.