Colorado State University Center for Literary Publishing

We Want Your Fiction!

Oct 10, 2012

After a year on the job, our fiction editor, Steven Schwartz, offers some reflections on submitting stories.

 

Reasons we accept stories:

You had us at the title. (Okay, the first sentence.)

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Not a cliché to be found, not even close; indeed, the authority of the voice feels immune to the very idea of the commonplace.

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Is there a difference between craft and style, the former slightly emphasizing what is told, the latter how? Makes no difference to us. Both are equally welcomed and must serve a goal of organic unity (see below).

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 We never doubted that the story could only be told this way.

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Meaning and event are so entwined that they’re inseparable. Subtext acts as a gravitational force. One finishes the story and thinks, I’ve just been taken somewhere with a good solid reason to go there.

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We laugh, but not at just anything (certainly not dumbness). We laugh in appreciation at how smart the author is about her characters’ vulnerabilities and struggles. The cleverness catches us off guard, as much for its fragility as its sting.

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We are set down in the middle of a place and time with characters whose lives come to us fully on the page in only pages.

 

Reasons we turn down stories:

Great observation, nice one, another nice one, caught that one too . . . um, is anything going to happen in this story?

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Characters are gratuitously mean, stupid, crazy, violent—in other words, like real people. Yet when did “But I know people like this!” become an excuse to shortchange your characters?

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And on the other hand: Why, author, must you try so hard to make me like you! Or your characters? They’re only people.

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Premise is engaging in the beginning; premise is carried out; premise dies on the page without being refreshed by a single element of surprise.

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Will you please be quiet, narrator/author, and let your characters have their say? Could we have one less three-page paragraph?

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Unicorns.

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So close, yet so far. Let me explain: We have an informal “ninety-percent” rule at Colorado Review. If the story is ninety percent there, we’ll work with the author on revision. But when in our very subjective view, the fiction needs more work than that, we’re reluctant to commit for several reasons: (1) we don’t have the time to do more extensive revisions; (2) the author often feels pressured to revise just for us, forcing changes out of line with the genuine shape and intent of the work; (3) we don’t like turning down the story if the process end up not working. In short, the fiction needs to be realized enough that specific suggestions can be followed through to a satisfying conclusion for both writer and editor.

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Not enough consensus. Which is code for, yes, yours truly isn’t biting. Here’s what you don’t see: how much a given reader in our process might love your work. Because of the volume of submissions (you’ve heard this before), we can’t individually critique works and have to mostly let a form slip speak for us. But that doesn’t mean the story hasn’t been championed by someone. Don’t second guess a rejection slip and assume there’s a monolithic block of contemptuous, unfeeling readers against your work. Individuals read and respond to stories, not Group Think, Inc.
 

Reasons we don’t turn down stories:

The fiction doesn’t live up to the expectations listed under “Reasons We Accept Stories.” Like any journal, we’re happy to publish the best work we receive, and—can it be said enough?—this is a subjective business.

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The author is unknown/has no credentials/didn’t attend an MFA program/isn’t a subscriber/includes a cover letter that begins: “Dear Missouri Review.” Even then we will persevere and ask delicately if the submission is truly intended for us (and, yes, we do read simultaneous submissions and give them the same consideration as exclusive ones).

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The setting isn’t Colorado.

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The first page doesn’t grab us (we give it more of a chance than that).

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It’s too experimental; it’s too traditional; it’s not like our fiction editor’s writing. Or is.

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We’re jaded. Let’s set the record straight: we are hungry and looking hard. Submit, please.

 

Steven Schwartz is fiction editor of Colorado Review. His most recent book is the forthcoming collection of stories, Little Raw Souls.

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