Let’s say you’re the editor of a literary magazine. You have ten submissions to review before lunch, a looming press deadline and, on top of everything else, a full time job. What kind of stories do you want to read? The ones with typos, poor formatting, and a nonexistent plot? Or the ones with a compelling beginning, memorable characters, and prose that shines?
Simply put, editors are busy people. From managing the business side of their magazines to reviewing submissions, they have a lot on their plates. As a writer, your job is to make the editor forget about everything but your story.
While you can’t predict exactly what an editor will or will not like, there are a couple things you can do to ensure that your story has a fighting chance when you submit to a literary magazine (and won’t cause anyone to scream and/or tear their hair out in frustration)…
Submit A Unique Story
Obvious, right? Maybe not so much.
I’ve read way too many “boy-meets-girl” stories. All had similar premises: guy meets mysterious girl, they have quirky conversations, they may or may not break up by the end of the story, etc. etc. etc. After a while, these stories get boring and predictable. The same goes for stories about breakups, cheating spouses, manic pixie dream girls, and the like.
Sometimes, though, I stumble across a story that is truly unique.
What makes a story unique? That’s a harder question to answer.
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We all have experiences that make us unique (if we didn’t, then we’d all be the same and that would be an awfully boring world to live in). Some of the best short stories I’ve read have dealt with situations that appear to be based off of deeply personal, life-changing events.
Check out this short story written by Carve Magazine contributor Eric Cipriani. It’s about a relationship, yes, but the relationship between father and son (and what happens when the child must become the parent). What makes this story unique? Perhaps it is the slightly humorous yet heartbreaking conversations between father and son. Perhaps it is the family dynamic within the story, which at times feels very familiar, yet also alien. What matters here is that each element combines to create an emotional, honest, and unique story.
Basing a story off a personal or life-changing experience doesn’t mean that you have to completely recreate an event from your life and write down every detail as you remember it. Instead, pick a specific emotion or moment and go from there. Did you work on a fishing boat during the summer of your senior year in high school? Set a story on that boat. Was your piano teacher a hoarder? Create a character based off of her. You’d be surprised at what kind of stories you can write based off of memories that are unique to you.
So, put a surprising twist on that classic breakup story you’re writing. Wouldn’t it be interesting if the person you were dating back in college wrote romance novels based off your relationship? Probably not the best idea but, hey, I would totally read that story.
Manuela Williams is a Las Vegas native who is currently studying English and Creative Writing at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She is a member of Carve Magazine’s guest reading committee. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in 300 Days of Sun, The Birds We Piled Loosely, WINDOW, Wicked Alice Zine, and others.