Jim Harrington has a great blog for writers. Each week he features a different editor answering six questions about what they are looking for in submissions. This week I’m up, answering questions about selections for r.kv.r.y..
SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a story and why?
- I look for a story to tell me something universal about the human condition. And by the way, just because we have our theme as “recovery” doesn’t mean all of our stories are about characters who are successfully recovering. Often it’s not the recovery story that says the most about the process of recovering. I like to read stories that show heart and depth of character. Writers should love their characters; even if they don’t give them happy lives, they need to respect them or the story won’t work for me.
- I look for interesting language. Word plays, lyricism, music, these are all very important to me. And bear in mind that when I say “music,” that doesn’t mean only classical. Rock and roll, punk, hip-hop–these are music, too. A story can be hard-hitting and gritty and still have music to the words.
- I look for strong sensory descriptions. Take me there. Let me see, smell, taste, hear the world, the experiences of your characters. Give me something I can relate to with my body.
SQF: . What are the top three reasons a story is rejected, other than not fitting into your answers to the above question and why?
- Because it is too long. We only accept stories and essays that are 3,000 words or fewer,
- Because it doesn’t fit our clearly stated theme of recovery, and
- Because although it may speak to our theme, it does so in a way that doesn’t take into account the larger world.
SQF: What other common mistakes do you encounter that turn you off to a story?
MA: Typos and grammatical errors bug me but aren’t deal breakers if the writing is otherwise sharp and exciting. Poor-pitiful-me stories are usually cathartic to write but not much fun to read and we do receive a lot of those, as you can imagine. I’m not big on navel gazing stories. I like for things to happen, for conventional ideas to be challenged, big concepts explored.
SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a story?
MA: Yes. Sometimes generic ones, sometimes more detailed ones. The farther the story gets in the editorial process the more likely I am to comment personally.
SQF: Based on your experience as an editor, what have you learned about writing?
MA: I’ve learned how important it is to start strong, to grab the reader right away. In my writer’s heart, I wish there was more time for exposition and thoughtful asides, but in reality–at least in the world of on-line publishing–there isn’t. You’ve got to get into the meat of things right away.
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I’d asked that I didn’t? And how would you answer it?
MA: I wish you had asked what sort of stories I would like to see that I’m not seeing. I’d like to see more humor. The fastest road to recovery involves humor and if we can’t laugh at ourselves, or see our foibles in a fictional character and laugh at them, then we won’t get very far down Recovery Road. I’d like to see some stories that address the military aspect of recovery. Recovery from war, for example, either as the service member or the civilian affected by war. I’d really like to see more stories about environmental recovery or lack thereof. Mountaintop removal, ocean degradation, oil spills–these issues are vitally important to me and should be to anyone who, you know, drinks water or breathes air. And yet they are not often addressed in the world of fiction. We should never underestimate the power of stories to change thinking and thereby change the world.