Monday, November 22, 2010

The Small Press Part Three: Notes from the fiction editor

(Preamble to the Short Story Series)

They come in all forms. They come in looking like something Hemingway could have written. They come in looking like something you wrote for your creative finger-painting project in Kindergarten. They come in complete. They come in as sovereign pieces. They come in with competence. They come in with a level of ineptitude which defies all logic. As I said, they come in all forms. They come in as the huddle masses looking for safety at Ellis Island. Sometimes, when I've punched the ol' time card at Umbrella Factory Magazine, I feel like I'm processing the refugees from far away and strange lands. Other times, however, I feel like I'm reading the next great writer of our day and I can't wait to bring light to this author's work. I wish the latter came more often on my shifts at the factory.

I can put another perspective on the whole business of being the fiction editor. On average, at Umbrella Factory Magazine we will publish three pieces of fiction in each issue. We publish quarterly. It breaks down to this: we publish well under one percent of what we read. It's not that we're exclusive, it's not like our guidelines are impossible to meet. I'm certainly not a difficult editor to please, our jury isn't tough to pass, and I don't think we're that particular. I believe that one percent of writing today is publishable. That's one hell of a thought, isn't it?

A few thoughts have come to me during these rainy November days. I'm quietly whiling away the late fall in a peaceful Northwest place reflecting on my life, my work, and the work of others. During this reading period for the December issue of Umbrella Factory Magazine, I've spent as much time contemplating the process of writing as well as the process of editing. It's such a strange relationship. In fact the whole process from the initial thought through the publication date is strange. We will get into the process more deeply as these weeks go on.

If you have it in you, let's start this series of workshops with one thing in mind: we're going to develop a short story with our editor in mind. Often times when an instructor of writing talks about the short story there is no real goal outside of writing a good short story. What makes a short story, and what makes a good audience and is this the goal? So many writers have this idea of publishing as being the end of the process, and in many ways, that might be true. Other writers want nothing more than to be published, and yet they do not submit work. Aside from being an editor, I too am a writer, and I too want publication. I look at publication as a reward for the hard work involved in writing, rewriting, doing research and developing relationships with editors, and in my case, filmmakers too.

A few things to think about as we start the next ten weeks. First, the condition of our stories will have to be of the highest quality. This is the bulk of our work. We'll take our time working on fiction so that when it leaves our desk, the old world, and hits our editor's desk, Ellis Island, it won't seem so devastated. This is something we can work on together, and this part of the process will be all our own.

Next, we'll do our homework when searching for places, or markets, to send our stories. There are tricks to it. For instance, at Umbrella Factory Magazine, there is a specific word count. When we publish only three pieces an issue, I want good work. Often, I get these strange flash fiction pieces and the author has less than 500 words. Believe or not, there are dozens, if not hundreds of magazines who love flash fiction, Umbrella Factory Magazine is not one of them. So to eliminate rejects, or at least to minimize them, we'll study submission guidelines and read, actually read, some magazines.

Next well look at the cover letter. Believe or not, I've rejected writers because I just couldn't get past the writing in their cover letter.

So, as these process goes along, let's get writing and let's get published.

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