SQF: Why did you start this magazine?
Agnes and True: Journals that champion fiction written from a distinctly Canadian perspective are relatively few. I co-founded Agnes and True to be that kind of journal.
SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?
- Unique story. I love stories that feel new, not familiar or reminiscent of something I’ve read before. Characters, storyline, setting, voice, style, tone—all or some of these may contribute to what feels unique.
- Emotional reaction. This can be any strong emotion—fear, sadness, elation, anger, regret, guilt—that is evoked during, and sometimes after a read. When a story has a lasting impression days later that means something.
- Solid technique. This will show itself in many aspects of a story—grammar, sentence structure, dialogue, flow, and tone. When you know the rules, you can break them with confidence, and that’s recognizable to editors.
SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission?
Julie: A promising early draft with a noticeable lack of revisions. An under-revised story often signals that a writer is more interested in publishing than developing their craft. An ending that seems tacked on is another sign that a story needs more work. Submissions to literary journals shouldn’t require a line-by-line copy edit or substantive editing.
I like this excerpt from Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving, a conversation between a student and his professor:
“I’m into writing, not rewriting… I only like the creative part.”
“But rewriting is writing… sometimes, rewriting is the most creative part”
Susan: A piece of fiction that is journalistic or reads as an account, rather than as a tale. A story that lacks insight or tries too hard to exhibit insight.
SQF: What do you look for in the opening paragraph(s) of a submission?
A&T: I want to care… enough to continue reading. I might be spurred on by a unique voice or tone. It may be a setting that I want to spend more time in. A strong emotion that has been elicited may pique my interest. Perhaps it’s a character that draws me in, who I want to get to know.
It’s not always easy to pinpoint what will grab or interest a reader from the get go, as it can often be personal to individual readers. Sometimes the best stories are a slow burn. I also like a beginning to bring up questions that I want answered (e.g., Why is that character doing that? Where is this happening? Where am I?)
SQF: If Agnes and True had a theme song what would it be and why?
A&T: “Carry It On,” by Buffy Sainte-Marie. Because it’s uplifting and realistic at the same time. It celebrates life and inspires us to leave something good for the next generation, and that’s how I feel about writing. I like to think that the best authors write for the future and not just for the gratification of the moment.
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
A&T: What 4 submission tips can you offer to new writers?
- Know who you are submitting to. Many literary journals have their own aesthetic and voice, not to mention genre they publish. Research to find journals that are a good fit for your work or particular story. There’s no point sending your experimental fantasy flash to a magazine that primarily publishes long-form, first-person narratives.
- Read and follow guidelines. Every literary magazine or journal has submission guidelines. They will cover everything from mission statements, formatting, cover letters, submission periods, and response times—take the five minutes to read these, so that your submission is guaranteed to be read. Even if you have submitted to a journal in the past, read guidelines again as requirements often change over time.
- Keep your cover letter short and sweet. Address your letter to the appropriate editor (fiction or poetry) and only include a publication history and/or bio if asked for in the guidelines. It really needn’t be more than a few lines. Exclude any reference to your story—inspiration or synopsis or past rejections—allowing it to speak for itself.
- Practice patience and perseverance. Once you’ve sent a piece out, forget about it and continue on your current work(s) in progress. I like to think of submitting as the business behind the craft—where your focus should be. Responses often take six months or longer, so there’s no point waiting by the mailbox or checking Submittable every other day. Take classes, read, start or join a writing workshop—stay busy while your work is out in the world.