For the last two years, I have served as a prose editor for a student-run literary magazine. After evaluating numerous submissions from Angeleno writers, I’ve cultivated a personal taste—and several distastes. You see, I believe that writers should explore their creativity in whatever way suits them. But when it comes to publishing these works, there must be some guidelines. Here are some things that will make me, as an editor, exile a story to the NO pile.
Some editors try their best to find something, something, that they like about a submission. They’ll power through that painfully slow beginning that describes every pore on the character’s face, every potted plant in that family’s front yard, every mundane thought circulating through the narrator’s head. I won’t. If I get bogged down by the first paragraph, there’s a chance that I might not even read on, because if I don’t want to read on, a person flipping through the pages of our journal won’t want to read on.
Manuscripts that use illegible fonts/are too font-happy
There have been a few times that I’ve evaluated submissions that I could barely read, because the writer chose an indecipherable font. Perhaps s/he wrote a fantastic story, but I would never know. One of my fellow student editors once shrugged and said, “That’s more of a typographical thing, not really the writer’s responsibility.” I completely disagree. It is most certainly the writer’s responsibility to submit a professional and readable manuscript—if they want to get published. Use a common font like Times New Roman or, the industry’s standard, Courier New. And when it comes to using multiple fonts in one submission…this depends on the publication’s personality and the editors’ preferences. Personally, I think that it can be distracting and unnecessary: if a change in font is meant to convey a tonal shift, you should be able to create this change through the writing itself.
Before you submit your story for consideration, read it over. Read it out loud. Rewrite it. Revise it. Give it to a friend to read. Revise it again. We may be called “editors,” but we are not here to change their to they’re.
Stories that exploit sensitive subject matter for shock value
(Triggers ahead) So you want to write a story about rape? A school shooting? Suicide? Okay. Then you must remember that you have a responsibility to treat these subjects with respect. Why do you want to tell these stories? From what perspective are you telling these stories? I do not want to read another rape story that depicts it as hard core porn. I do not want to read another school shooting story that humanizes and excuses the shooter. I do not want to read another story that romanticizes suicide. You are not edgy or revolutionary or mature for writing these narratives. If that is why you are writing them, choose another topic. [I wrote a post about handling sensitive subject matter, which you can access here.]
The Disney Channel Movie, the Existential Musing, and the “Cool Concept”
These are three story models that I would like to see less of. A young girl wants to become a fill-in-the-blank, but she must overcome her parents’ pressure to be [something else]. Every Disney Channel movie ever. Disaffected young person interacts with other disaffected peers, smoking and drinking, talking about nothing. Nothing happens, and his life is meaningless. This Brett Easton Ellis-esque/existential approach is common among university students, and it is presumably meant to be deep and thought-provoking in some way. More often than not, it isn’t. A man falls in love with a half-animal/half-human and it doesn’t go well. Now, Franz Kafka made a masterpiece out of an eccentric concept (man wakes up as a bug), but he used the concept for a well-defined purpose. I’ve seen one too many stories that rely on the quirky premise to keep the reader engaged; often the characters are flat and pale in comparison to the concept. Remember: the cool concept does not make a good story. Character development, narrative structure, and the quality of the prose have just as much if not more importance.
These guidelines are based on my personal preferences and pertain to the selection process for publication. That said, write for yourself. Write in a way that allows you to best express yourself. That is of utmost importance. I would suggest you wait until after you’ve written to evaluate your work for “publishability.” Publication is a process that inherently involves an audience apart from the writer and his or her hand-selected readers. Your story may be rejected because it does not fit the framework of someone else’s preferences. In that case, it might be about finding an editor/a publication that shares the same tastes as you. For the diversity of writers out there, there’s a diversity of readers to match.