Saturday, February 26, 2011

It Only Takes One Mistake, editor's essay, Winter 2011


IT ONLY TAKES ONE MISTAKE. After one mistake in a manuscript, they can reject you. Definitely if it happens in the first sentence, foooghetabouit. That’s what we think when we’re reading through your short stories. We’re looking for just that one mistake and then we’re ready to move on. Well, not really “Us,” because, at Our Stories, we read every page in order to give you honest feedback. However, I mean “Us” as a literary community. Rather “Us” as the collective editors out there in the free world. I’m letting you behind the curtain and I want you to pay attention.

It takes one huge mistake somewhere on the first couple of pages. Some sort of confusing line, or a word order issue. An unclear sentence or two that leaves us scratching our heads. You can’t get away with too many of them then the ball game is over. Maybe your character’s dialogue seemed too dramatic, too confusing. Or your story goes nowhere in the first three pages and that editor is thinking about the other one hundred and fifty two stories they have to read before they go to bed tonight. Maybe because you decided to do a flashback inside of your flashback. Or you used flashback at all. I certainly can't stand flashback.

Maybe you get rejected because the font looks extremely childish. Because you decided to use a cover letter in front of your story. READ and FOLLOW the submission rules! Maybe your bio is near the beginning of the story and they can tell you're trying to overcompensate. Maybe you don't know how to use a break, or you use too many breaks. Some editors would reject you because all of your paragraphs and spacing are not aligned. That you have no pattern as to where your paragraphs end and how wide the margins are. You put things oddly. Your grammar is a mess. The writing was rushed WW and the sentences were too long and you said and too many times and you don't have a clue that you are using run-on sentences and your audience just needs a chance to rest. Phew. You’re using quotes for dialogue. You're not using quotes for dialogue and prefer italics. Listen up! You're not using italics for dialogue you're too old-school and underline instead.

Because you know nothing of poetry. Because you're too poetic. Some would reject you because your first lines sound stock, too simple. Or that you're trying to overplay your hand at language as opposed to tell us something straight ahead. Some would reject you because you dropped too many shock and awe bombs on the first page and forgot about the art of language. Some would reject you because you wrote something sexist, homophobic, racist and well, maybe you should've been rejected for that if it had no point whatsoever. Some would reject you because you had too many points you were trying to make. Some would reject you because you never got to the point.

Some would reject you because you decided to take Chekov's gun out too early, or that you decided that that the gun was really a bazooka tube. Or because the gun came out too early and it never went off. The ending isn’t dramatic enough, where is the gun?

Some would reject you because they think you're culturally ignorant. Because you are culturally ignorant. Because they have no idea what your aesthetic is all about. Because they haven't read anything from Latin authors or African American authors or Asian authors and the just don't know. They haven't figured out that all literature has to be workshopped from the aesthetic that it comes from. Because you're PoMo. Because they are too PoMo.

Maybe they read the New Yorker too much or not enough. Maybe they stopped reading the Atlantic and never looked back.

Because you're not writing about terrorists. Because you are writing about terrorists. Cuz' your grammar sucks, see? Because your writing is too informal. Some would reject you just because they thought your name reminded them of an ex, a mortal enemy, a bad character on TV, or maybe the doctor that treated their VD.

Some would shoot you the old email stock bullshit, trite rejection email because they had a bad day themselves, after they received some same old email stock bullshit, trite rejection email.. They only publish their friends. Some would reject you because, you know what, because they decided, just cause. Some would reject you because they don't really know literature or how the short story is supposed to work and they haven't a clue. Some would reject you because they were behind on their reading and needed to catch up. They read too fast. They read too slowly. Someone spilled coffee all over your story and they couldn't read it so, rather than ask you for another copy, they decide they probably should reject you. Some would reject to feel better about themselves. Some would reject you because your address was New York City and that scares them. Some would reject you because your address was in Wichita, Kansas and that scares them. Or maybe because you are too Southern, too northeastern, too California new-agey and that editor doesn’t get it. Or because you're too Cormac McCarthy. Because you're too Eugene McCarthy. Maybe you're too gay, too straight, too damn conservative, too damn liberal, 2 many emoticons :-) OMG WTF IDK TRU DAT.

They don't accept anything longer than 6000 words. They don't accept anything over 1000. Too brief. Jealously. You’ve already published too much. Dark. Too much light. You blew the opening, you have no ending. The ending is too dramatic: get rid of the guns. Too much like Carver. Too drunk. Too much like Eggers wants to be. Too much like Eggers should be. You're not Jhumba Lahiri.

Because you take yourself too seriously. You need to lighten up in your writing. It’s repetitive and high-minded and it thinks it can actually make a difference. Because your grammar sucks. Too ambitious don't set it in Greece, set the story in New Jersey! You think you can make a difference. Idealistic. Because your writing is too informal. Too repetitive. Because you are some sort of arrogant, cocky jerkface editor at some no name literary journal with bizarre editorial policies and some sort of high minded, holier than though attitude that thinks everyone should sing koom-by-ahhh my lord and get along crap fest.

It’s a wild world out there in English letters and they do all this. We reject people for some of these reasons but the thing is--we have to tell you what we were thinking when we read your manuscript. Honest to God, that's what we do. Sure, I'd say others journals read your work, at least till they find that one mistake, the first mistake and then they have their reason. Once they find the reason to reject you, well, your manuscript goes in the recycling bin and then they mail you back your SASE. They don't have to tell you any thing at all. That's the way it works for everyone else. Not us.

Our Stories literary journal has been giving personalized feedback to every short story we’ve received for five years. Every last one. That’s a lot of stories. We’ve made a lot of friends. We’d like you to tell your friends about us. We like people. We like stories. We read every page and go through your entire story so you know what we thought. You should try us if you never have. We just gave you about a hundred reasons why you should—it might be worth it. We don’t claim to always be right when we send a rejection notice to someone, but at least you know why we came to our decision. Heck—maybe, just maybe after all the money that we took out in loans to study this stuff in MFA programs and the years of working on this literary journal—we might be able to help. There may just be some thread of feedback that may help, if not with the next draft, maybe the next story you work on.

Don’t buy into the literary panzi scheme: Learn to Receive. We have abilities for your needs.

I’ll be on the blog or find me, I mean “Us,” on Facebook. Include links to these here.

Alexis E Santí
editor in chief and founder

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