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Entries in The Unofficial Guide to Submitting Short Prose (1)

Thursday
May162013

What Editors Want

Notes from “Submit: The Unofficial Guide to Submitting Short Prose”

Read Aloud. It solves problems. Simultaneous submission is fine. Concentrate on what’s nagging you in the work.

And double space it. Put your contact information on page one. On page two put: 

“Last Name/Work Title/pg 2”

Cover Letter Template

  1. Here’s what I’m sending you.
  2. Here’s where I’ve been published before and who I am.
  3. “Thanks for reading it.”

NO blurbs or bios or endorsements. (Okay, maybe one.) Address your cover letter to an actual editor.

Publishing is subjective. Write for the editors who are going to escape into your story. They will read it, and they are an audience of bookish types who want their teeth on edge. 

Don’t take it personally. Publication is an editor’s taste. The editor wants to help writers. Don’t take a small encouragement as a solicitation for your unfinished backlog. 

Editors read 1000s of stories. They are serious people. Look at the problem in your story. No punchline endings. Pull the emotions with tragedy, not sadness, with ambiguousness slightly in the finish.

Be true to your process, not to “getting published.”

Magazine Types

  • Glossies—the big boys. 
  • Specialty—in-flight, hunting, The SunAmerican GirlU.S. Catholic, etc.
  • Genre—journals with one or two types of writing: sci-fi, mystery, analog, steampunk, literary.
  • Online—little or no pay
  • Zine—little or no pay

An editor at The Atlantic says, I’m looking for a story with a change “where something happens.” Transformation. A shift in understanding or attitude. Something “durable and seemingly worthwhile. Voice in the sense of form should be the aim.

An editor at a literary journal says, Take me into a world. A hook. Interesting characters. Solid craft under emotion where the heart of the writer fills the piece—a story you can’t tell except that it will spill out of you.

An editor at a prose and essay magazine says she wants to see the idea unfolding. Voice can be a synonym for authenticity. Pin down a quality of humanity and document it. Hold a mirror and a lamp to culture. 

An editor at a teen publishing house says, The favorite topics are sex, what will I do when I grow up?, humor, sci-fi, adventure, sensitive, love stories—NOT depression, divorce, cancer or perversion, the most common things adults write for the teen genre.

The Signs of Ineptness or Amateur Work

  • Bad grammar
  • Preceding every noun with adjectives
  • Preceding every verb with an adverb
  • Ellipses or incomplete thoughts
  • Indistinguishable characters
  • Gimmicks or conceits (elaborate, fanciful, and especially strained metaphors)
  • Indistinctive dialogue
  • A “bow” or recap at the end of the story

Final Advice

Write every day. Get in a writing group. Go to conferences. The editors mentioned Sewanee, Bread Loaf, and Squaw Valley, as well as magazines Swink, Hemispheres, River Teeth, and Plowshares.