Editor Interview: Flash Fiction Online
Q: Describe what you publish in 25 characters or less.
A: Flash--500 to 1000 words
Q: What other current publications (or publishers) do you admire most?
A: I have to admire any publication that puts out a quality product just for the love of it. Most of us out here don't do this to pay the rent. For some, the publication is perpetually in the red. But we do it anyway. Why? Because somewhere out there are some absolute gems--stories that stay with you, stories that leave you breathless or teary-eyed, scared witless or laughing out loud. Somewhere out there are tomorrow's Ray Bradburys and Patricia McKillips whose first story could just as easily be published in one of those small-press startup publishers as one of the big guys.
Q: If you publish writing, who are your favorite writers? If you publish art, who are your favorite artists?
A: I've already mentioned my top two--Ray Bradbury and Patricia McKillip. Very few authors I know can weave a fascinating story with such beautiful language. I like Orson Scott Card and T C Boyle for their ability to make characters come to life.
Q: What sets your publication apart from others that publish similar material?
A: We are unique in being a professional-level flash-fiction-only market. At least the only one I know of. There are so many new publications out there--new ones coming all the time.
Q: What is the best advice you can give people who are considering submitting work to your publication?
A: Read the guidelines. Read the guidelines. Read the guidelines. As I was raising my children I discovered that if I told them to do something three times, it would increase the probability of them actually remembering to do it. So there you go.
Q: Describe the ideal submission.
A: The ideal submission begins with a fantastic opening paragraph that accomplishes three primary things--1) introduces a character by name, 2) introduces a conflict, 3) makes me care enough about both to want to keep reading.
Of course a fantastic opening paragraph isn't quite enough. That paragraph needs to be followed by a story that fulfills the promise of that opener.
The ideal submission uses withholding masterfully, uses language that drips deliciously off the tongue, and leaves me awestruck, breathless, horrified (but not grossed out), amused, or crying.
Q: What do submitters most often get wrong about your submissions process?
A: We use a blind reading process here. We ask in our guidelines that authors strip all author information from the text document to ensure that our slush readers give every story an objective judgment. We still have quite a lot of authors who fail to scrub their document of author information. It's an easy problem to solve. Authors just need to be sure they read a market's guidelines before submitting.
Q: How much do you want to know about the person submitting to you?
A: Cover letters don't matter much. First of all, in our submission process only a few staff members even see them. Second, we're really all about the story. Third, I've been faced with impressive lists of publication credits only to read a mediocre story. It's disappointing sometimes.
I most like to read cover letters that make it clear the author has read our guidelines.
I least like to read cover letters that detail a long list of the author's accomplishments that have nothing to do with their writing career.
In between, I don't want cover letters to waste my time. I want them short and sweet and to the point. Really a single, polite, introductory sentence, like: "Dear Editor, I respectfully submit my story, "Story" (600 words) for your consideration. Sincerely, Author."
Q: If you publish writing, how much of a piece do you read before making the decision to reject it?
A: I read until I lose interest. For some that's after the first paragraph. For some it's all the way to the last word. If I make it to the last word, that's a good sign. If I get to that last word with a smile on my face, that's a REALLY good sign.
Q: What additional evaluations, if any, does a piece go through before it is accepted?
A: We have a multi-tiered evaluation process. At the first tier is a team of slush readers who read portion of all the stories submitted. They vote on the stories they read, and the stories with a respectable amount of votes--or passionate support by a single reader--move onto our next tier, the winnowing round. In winnowing the entire staff reads and discusses all the qualifying stories thoroughly. Then it's up to me. Do I listen to my staff? Absolutely I do. I've published stories that didn't ring my bell, but had the support of the staff. And I've published stories that the staff didn't find particularly wonderful, but struck a chord with me.
On occasion, I ask for some minor editing to be done by the author. Very rarely I ask for some more significant changes.
Q: What is a day in the life of an editor like for you?
A: I think most editors out there don't do this as their day job. I don't.
But when I'm 'on the job' editorially, I check my email first. I take care of my staff and authors by answering questions and taking care of issues. Next, I check into the submission queue at Submittable, watching for the progress of the slush reading. Sometimes I rummage through the slush pile a bit, checking for problems with submissions, randomly picking stories to read. I assign slush to my team every other day or so. I'm busiest during our monthly winnowing round, checking in on the discussions there, reading and writing comments on each of the stories in the month's group. Then I have to break the good or bad news to the authors. I try to ease the receipt of bad news by providing a more personal rejection to those authors, including helpful and encouraging comments from our winnowing discussions.
Q: How important do you feel it is for publishers to embrace modern technologies?
A: More so all the time. It's been encouraging--both as an editor and an author--to see some of the old standard publications converting over to electronic submissions formats. It makes the entire process so much faster and easier, not to mention easier on the forests. *grin* I know quite a lot of authors (amazing authors) who don't waste their time on hard-copy submission anymore. It just isn't worth the trouble when there are several markets that pay as well or better than the hard-copy-only markets and allow authors to submit via email.
I'm still a hard-copy book reader. I admit to owning a Kindle, but as much as I like it, it just isn't the same. But the times keep pressing forward, and if we (as an industry) want to compete, we have to keep up. We don't want to be found still manufacturing whale bone bustles when skinny jeans are all the rage.