Archive for May, 2012

Learning from Submission Guidelines

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

jungleBeaumont Hardy is a huge fan of Duotrope and its extensive, detailed lists of print and online publications seeking author submissions. Besides acquainting authors with fine journals and magazines they might not otherwise find online or on the newsstand, Duotrope allows writers to focus their submissions on publishers that will be the best “fit” for their writing. Duotrope includes interviews with the editors of many of the publications on its lists; these interviews are extremely helpful to authors who might want to know more about a publication’s style and interests.

Here at Beaumont Hardy, I am also fascinated by the submission guidelines that accompany some of Duotrope’s listings. The guidelines are indispensable to authors who want to know whether their writing is suited to a particular publication. But the guidelines also serve as mini-lessons in writing–reminding writers what makes a story work or obliquely guiding them through a final revision. What follows are some of the many instructive guidelines I have found through Duotrope.

The submission guidelines section for Third Wednesday, a journal that publishes poetry and fiction, provides some useful tips about fiction writing in general. George Dila, the journal’s associate fiction editor, explains why stories that open with description can be problematic. He also expresses his dislike for dialogue at the start of a story. (Read Beaumont Hardy’s take on this dialogue controversy.) Mr. Dila also asks interesting questions about what drives a story’s plot, what keeps a reader’s interest and how writing style contributes to a story. He mentions stories that, to him, don’t “work,” and he mentions hackneyed ideas that editors see far too often. Even for writers who never plan to submit to Third Wednesday, these guidelines are extremely useful in conceiving or revising a story. George Dila’s suggestions are thought-provoking and very valuable.

Bourbon Penn is a journal of “the odd,” and its editors seek surreal, magical stories. But the Bourbon Penn guidelines are useful to writers of any kind of fiction. The editors want stories with honest, complex characters around which the entire story hangs. Based on these guidelines, writers can review their own stories, determining whether their characters have enough complexity and contradiction to breathe life into the story. The journal also seeks “mystery”–stories about which the reader will demand answers. Although not every story is mysterious, writers should always consider whether their stories create this same demand in their readers.

In its submission guidelines, Spilling Ink Review provides an entertaining and illuminating list of what they do not want to publish. This e-journal from Glasgow seeks well-written, original writing, and its list of “don’ts” is very instructive for writers. The editors mention plots that are less-than-successful and grammatical constructions that writers might want to rethink. Knowing what not to do can be incredibly helpful to a writer.

Even if writers never plan to submit to literary magazines with these kinds of detailed submission guidelines, I think there is a lot to be learned from the thoughts and suggestions of journal editors. Anyone contemplating a story or doing a final revision would be wise to listen to the opinions of the professionals at magazines like these.

Duotrope survives on user donations, so be sure to contribute when you use their listings.