• The Selection Process

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    Selection processes vary from editor to editor, publication to publication, but your manuscript (if you’re lucky) will go through four stages:

    1. After sitting in a pile on a desk (or on the floor) for several weeks/months, it will be read by an underling (called a “reader” in the biz)

    2. The reader will pass it along to a higher-up. The manuscript will again sit in a pile on a desk (or on the floor) for another few weeks/months, and then the higher-up will read it.

    3. The higher-up will pass it along to other higher-ups, and they will discuss the merits and faults of the manuscript, and compare it to others that have made it to this level.

    4. Your manuscript is selected for publication.

    If you make it past Stage One, you’ve done very well for yourself, because Stage One is where manuscripts go to die.

    At Fringe, I would say that we receive around forty short stories per week. Of those forty, our readers pass along probably 3-4. Less than 10% make it past that first stage. And for publications that receive dozens and dozens of mss every day, that percentage drops even more.

    Consider these readers like the gatekeepers in Joseph Campbell’s monomyth—if you want to escape into that new realm and get your boon, you need to get past these readers.

    Having spent some time as a reader, I can tell you some of the factors that made me pass along a story to the higher-ups. First, there are two hard and fast rules, the breaking of which will get your manuscript trashed before it’s even read. To wit:

    1. Format your manuscript according to the publication’s specific guidelines.

    2. Do not have typographical errors on the first page.

    Breaking either of these rules is a sign of carelessness, and carelessness rarely, if ever, translates to a good piece of writing. Always remember: you are asking another human being to donate his or her time to your work. A reader’s (or editor’s) time is as precious as yours. Earn his or her attentions.

    Among the factors that can get you kicked up to a higher editor … well, basically all of those things we’ve been going over in the workshop. Strong character, vivid settings, confident narrative, the dreaded “showing vs. telling.”

    What it boils down to for most editors is, “Will readers of my publication enjoy this piece?” That is why knowing your market is among the most important steps in the submission process.

    Example: Fringe publishes experimental work, often with accompanying themes such as Feminism, Environment, and the upcoming Working. Now, there is a fairly well-known writer who keeps sending short stories to us. He’s a talented writer, has been published in dozens of literary magazines all over the country, teaches writing at the Master’s level … but his fiction is fairly traditional. His stories are good. Damn good. But they’re wrong for Fringe. Our readers would not enjoy his work, so I have to reject him again and again.

    So know your market.

    And have a strong opening. If you can get someone to read into Page 2, you’ve made it further than 70% of the other writers who have submitted to the same publication. Grab your reader immediately, and don’t let him or her go.

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