Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Six Questions For Ronna Wineberg, Senior Fiction Editor/Founding Editor, The Bellevue Literary Review

The Bellevue Literary Review seeks high-caliber, unpublished prose and poetry, broadly and creatively related to our themes of health, healing, illness, the mind, and the body. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF. Why did you start this magazine?

RW: I’ve always felt the experience of illness is filled with universal truths, and I explore this in my own writing.  When the opportunity arose in 2000 to create a literary journal that focused on the intersection of literature and medicine, I was excited to be involved.  I began to work with Danielle Ofri and Jerry Lowenstein to develop the concept.  This was a creative venture, to build a literary journal from scratch.  We were propelled forward by our enthusiasm. We sat in a small, windowless conference room at Bellevue Hospital hammering out the details of the journal.  The Bellevue Literary Review was just the germ of an idea then, and we didn’t know it would become a recognized and credible literary journal.

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

RW: I look for: 1. Strong writing. This has grace, authority, sensitive use of language, and is a pleasure to read.  2. A distinctive voice, including well-developed characters. Voice and characters create a compelling story.  3. An original approach to a story’s themes.  I’m interested in a fresh, honest perspective, a story that draws me in and stays with me after I’ve read it. The style doesn’t matter. A story can be lush or minimalist, but the writing and plot need to pull the reader forward.

SQF. What common mistakes do you encounter that turn you off to a submission?

RW: Each story has its own set of problems that the writer has to resolve.  Clichés, stiff dialogue, one-dimensional characters, unearned or weak endings, and a lack of tension are common problems and affect how I view a story.  Some manuscripts have a lot of typos or errors in grammar and spelling, and this colors my view of the piece. Stories that don’t touch on our themes aren’t viable for the BLR. Stories that are longer than our word limit for prose won’t work for us either.  A writer needs to look at our guidelines for submission as well as the guidelines of any literary journal where he or she sends work.

SQF.  Do you provide comments when you reject a submission?

RW: I provide comments as much as I can. I’m a writer, too, and I know rejection is discouraging.  But we receive so many submissions and, unfortunately, there’s just not enough time to comment on every story.  So I have to use form rejections. But I give comments if a story has promise or if I find the writing strong or if I was moved by the piece. I always comment if a story has made it to our “final pile” and also if I have specific suggestions for revision. And once we accept a story, we work closely with the author, editing and making suggestions for revision.  

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

RW: I’ve learned the importance of engaging a reader right away, on the first page. I’ve also learned about the need for clarity and honesty, for tying up loose ends, and shaping the story so the ending feels earned and inevitable. And I’ve learned that strong writing, well-developed characters, and fresh and revealing dialogue can make a story sing.  

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

RW: The question that wasn’t asked: why are stories rejected?  Stories are rejected for many reasons. Rejection doesn’t necessarily reflect the quality of a piece or a writer’s ability. I reject stories because they need shaping, development, and revision. Some pieces don’t explore our themes, and won’t work for the BLR. I have to reject excellent stories because we’ve recently published pieces on a similar theme. Or we may have too many stories written in first person or narrated by a child. We like to vary the point of view and subject matter of the pieces in an issue of the journal. A literary magazine has to feel cohesive, and the gestalt of the issue has to work.

Sometimes rejection is a matter of taste. Certain stories appeal to me more than others. Every editor has a preference for the kinds of stories he or she likes. And I’ve reluctantly rejected stories that have moved me but won’t work for a particular issue of the BLR. I still think about some of these stories and hope they’ve found a home.

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

NEXT POST: 9/20--Six Questions for Michelle Augello-Page, Editor, Siren


  1. This is a great idea! I look forward to reading more interviews. I love the concise, "do-able" format of 6 questions. Do-able in terms of time (away from writing) for the editor , the reader, and the interviewer. Thank you Jim.

  2. You're welcome, Carey. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. I have submitted a few times unsuccessfully to BLR and am gearing up to try again. I love the subject matter and wish more people chose to read it over the romance and adventure stories that are so popular but so devoid of meaningful material.

  4. I'm wondering if/ how the Submittable format will change the process of reviewing submissions -- will it change who does the reviewing? Will the criteria for either submissions or acceptances change?

    1. I'm not sure if Ronna will see this. In my experience, the only thing changed by Submittable was the process. The criteria remained the same. Depending on the subscription level, there may be fewer reviewers.