Grant Faulkner & Lynn Mundell are co-editors @ 100 Word Story. For the first installment of our Ask an Editor Series, we asked Lynn and Grant what they typically look for when they consider stories for publication (as well as what tips they could provide for writers interested in publishing their work). Here’s what they said:
1) WHAT SPECIFIC CRITERIA DO YOU LOOK FOR WHEN CONSIDERING A STORY FOR PUBLICATION?
Lynn Mundell: First off, stories and essays really do have to be 100 words. It’s a challenge. But writers might also think of the word count as the guardrails sometimes put up around bowling lanes—it’s a pleasing bit of structure and security!
As to the content: We love to be surprised, of course. It is exciting to find a submission that really bends the language, takes a chance in the structure, or has a distinctive voice. And we do love a good yarn! We don’t receive too many essays. When we get one that really works, it stands out. With such small pieces, all errors—either in spelling or just storytelling—really show. So we appreciate writers who are stylists and who take care with what they are creating.
We join most journals out there by advising that writers read our site and see what we have published previously, just to get a sense of the range and perhaps find inspiration in the remarkable amount a writer can do within a few sentences.
2) COVER LETTER OR NO COVER LETTER?
Lynn Mundell: It is nice to know who the writer is, but that doesn’t require more than a couple of sentences of introduction, such as who are you, where do you live, and what do you care about? It actually can be a bit funny to get a really long letter or bio when the submission itself is just 100 words.
We should also say that while we are as impressed as the next publisher by cover letter with a list of publications or awards, it is not our objective to only publish established writers. We have published lots of new, closet, or even we might say struggling writers. We get a thrill from that.
Really, what we are hurrying to get to is the submission, and hope springs eternal with us each and every time that what the writer is turning in is going to blow us away. In summary, what matters is the story or essay!
3) AS AN EDITOR, I SUSPECT YOU RECEIVE STORIES THAT AREN’T QUITE FINISHED. DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR WRITERS CONCERNING
Grant Faulkner: Revision is indeed recommended. In fact, we urge revision as fervently as dentists recommend brushing and flossing. We urge revision like Godzilla’s mom telling him to live large.
Because 100-word stories are so brief, they can seem easy to write, but it’s difficult to write a good one. Brevity puts an intensity on every aspect of the story because of the compression of the form. There’s less room for error in a 100-word story than in a longer piece—not only does each sentence matter, but each word matters. Do you have a fine-toothed comb? Then you have the perfect instrument to revise a 100-word story.
I’m always surprised when I edit my own 100-word pieces how many times I need to revisit them before they’re ready. I recommend writers write the story, then put it away for a while, then revise it, then put it away for a while, and then revise it again. With each revision, ask yourself if you’re being daring. Notice where you’re being complacent. Figure out how you can make the story genuinely arresting and revealing. Ask yourself if it packs a wallop.
4) WHAT IRRITATES YOU AS AN EDITOR WHEN YOU’RE EVALUATING A STORY FOR PUBLICATION?
Lynn Mundell: When the writer is writing only for himself or herself, either from inexperience or just from maybe seeing writing as a form of therapy, that can be frustrating. The stories and essays that were clearly created as a gift to others, as true storytelling, are what we love. Sometimes the shock topics—crazy drug stories, dysfunctional families, abusive relationships—get old. Once again, if the writer is communicating to the reader, it can work and even work really well! But if the piece has not made that leap, we can’t post that for our readers.
Also, sometimes people are not comfortable yet with the form, and have not been able to tell something completely and with closure within 100 words, which can read like the first few sentences of a very good but full-length novel. Many writers have trouble with the last few words of a 100-word story. We like a story ending that is plausible but also packs a punch.
Finally, others will send us mounds and mounds of submissions in a row, as though they are doing a free writing exercise or a series of rough drafts rather than sending something that they have polished and that means something to them. We would prefer quality over quantity.
That said, we are pretty patient. We read every submission, re-read, vote online, and then meet regularly to discuss and debate the merits of the most recent crop of stories and essays. During this process, even the most rough submissions are valued. We’re writers and we know how hard it is to write and then submit for publication. We would like people to feel safe and respected when they interact with us.
5) WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU PROVIDE TO WRITERS WHO WANT TO PUBLISH SHORT FICTION?
Grant Faulkner: Flash fiction is inherently experimental because such brevity changes the contours of a conventional story. A flash piece can be a prose poem, a list, a letter, an overheard conversation—as well as a story with a beginning, middle, and end. Because flash is such an emerging form with so many possibilities yet to be realized, I’d advise writers to define flash for themselves and consider the ways they can mold short shorts to fit stories that lend themselves more to the ephemeral and the fragmentary.
Do that by reading others—everyone from Borges to Lydia Davis to Hemingway to Stuart Dybeck to Meg Pokrass. There are a number of good anthologies, such as Flash Fiction Forward, which just came out, or The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction. And don’t forget to read the journals you want to submit to—I often learn more from writers I’ve never heard of than the “masters.”
And then submit, submit, submit. It is dang hard to get published. We read so many really solid pieces that just don’t quite make the cut. If your piece is rejected 10 times, revise it and send it out again.
“Always have something in the mail,” a writer told me when I first started out. Keep hope alive, in other words. It can strangely be more nurturing than actual success.