SmokeLong is so fortunate to have readers who treat submissions with such respect and care. Each one of our readers in residence read just under 200 submissions for Issue 75. We asked them, as usual, to offer a few impressions/observations that might help potential submitters understand the process better. Thank you so much, Jo, Janna, Kaya, and Vincent. We were inspired by your comments in the queue, and we continue to be inspired by your comments below:
Jo Gatford: Passing judgement on anyone’s flash fiction is a daunting task—it’s so subjective, so varied, and often so personal—but being on the Reader-in-Residence team for SmokeLong has been a truly democratic, sensitive, and balanced process. Reading the stories blind means there are no preconceptions; spreading the load between several (often many) different opinions means each story is seen from multiple perspectives; and getting to read the other readers’ insights and thoughts has been a fascinating insight behind the curtain. The team really care about their writers and their readers, and it shows at every step of the process.
I’ve submitted to SmokeLong many times, been published twice, and now having read for them, I can see why certain stories were (and continue to get) rejected. Over the past few months I have read so many ‘almost there’ stories—some that were sent out too soon, some that were perfectly fine but just not the right fit for SLQ, some that had a strong concept but needed development, some that were vivid and well-sculpted but lacked a narrative arc, some that featured a wonderful character or had a captivating voice but something (often completely intangible) was missing. And while it would be great to have a handy checklist of ‘what makes a great flash’, a lot of the time it comes down to gut feeling.
When you a read a story that really works, you just feel it. And it’s the most exciting thing to send a potential ‘yes’ story through to the next round of consideration; to see what other readers think; to watch it progress to that all-hallowed acceptance stage and know that one day soon you’ll see it up there on the site. I was lucky to read at least one accepted story during my time reading for SLQ, but I read many more that I fell in love with—even if they weren’t quite ready for publication. So if you’re thinking of submitting to SmokeLong, know that your stories are in very appreciative hands.
Finally: read, read, read, until the SLQ vibe is firmly in your head. Get down to the guts of your story. And try not to send it out before it’s cooked.
Kaya Dierks: Thank you to the team for the opportunity to read submissions this quarter. I was amazed by the sheer volume of incredible work in the queue. I know a handful of stories will stay with me for a long time.
Some tips for submitters:
Make sure the story you’re writing is truly a flash and not a longer work. I read many excellent submissions that felt like the beginning of something more, rather than a finished, contained piece.
Flash is short enough that a traditional narrative arc is difficult, but the story should still feel focused, singular. What has changed from beginning to end?
On that note: Beginnings and endings. The start of a great story will make me hungry for more, and the ending will leave me full.
There is a lot of talk about “exciting” language. For me as a reader, that often meant clean and crisp. Language that was sharp—precise. The best images surprised me but also felt familiar; I could say, “I’ve seen this in my life.”
Read SmokeLong – at least a story or two – and make sure this is the right home for your work and your voice.
Make sure to follow the guidelines closely.
Make sure the story you’re writing is yours to tell.
Most of all, though: Submit. Each story is truly given careful consideration. I was humbled by the editors’ insight and dedication. If you are submitting here, I can affirm that your story will be treated with respect.
Thank you again to the team for this opportunity.
Vincent Anioke: Reading for SmokeLong has granted me indelible access to dozens of tiny sacred worlds each week. In the one second that a new submission loads onto my screen, I’m excited by all the possibilities. Each story teaches me something new, perhaps none more so than the stories that almost make the cut. The ones that spark a conversation among the editors. That highlight the divergence of subjective taste, the shared admiration for honed craft.
My one tip for submitters (beyond reading the guidelines): it’s all about an honest and compelling story. That may seem obvious, but consider how your well-adorned sentences, your stack of pretty images, your delightfully playful form may overshadow your narrative. Mentally strip away the artifice, pretend you weren’t the author, consider a stranger telling you your own story in its plainest terms. Would it move you, engage you, bore you?
Story – memorable and authentic characters doing memorable things – is the beating heart of any successful piece; it lingers past the final word. This is particularly crucial if you’re submitting a piece with a well-worn theme (death, grief, fractured hearts) where even strong writing may not make up for the troubling sense of narrative over-familiarity. Story first. All else in its service.
Janna Miller: How exciting, to read for SmokeLong! It’s a bit of a dream to be asked, and even more of one to read the stories that happened to come my way. It reminded me that writers are amazing. It also reminded me that we are, as a writing community, full of creativity and zing. So many stories lodged right up in my throat.
As far as advice to potential submitters – you might try for something different, but also aim to keep it readable. Many stories had similar themes and were executed well, though they swam somewhere near the surface. Other times, I could see a beautiful path to tread, but was distracted with extra shadows.
The best advice I can think of is, above all, to keep your writer’s heart in your words, and show it as only you can.
Thank you to SmokeLong, to each person on the team (who work amazingly hard). I am so grateful for the opportunity to have read for this fantastic magazine!