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Friday, July 15, 2011

Tweeted Questions: Answers Revealed! (Part I)

Recently, we asked our Twitter followers to tweet some questions to us, and herewith are a few of them answered. Keep the questions coming, and we'll make a point of answering them every so often. For those of you who've already asked, we'll have more answers up soon!

Two questions from our pal EthanChatagnier:

1) If I've received an encouraging rejection from a mag, how long should I note that in my future cover letters?

To be honest, Ethan, I've never considered this before. But my gut is saying there's no statute of limitations. You might say something like, "Thanks for being encouraging about my work in the past..." if it's been a while. But I think it's always fair to mention. Here at HFR, we get thousands of submissions. We'd like to give personal feedback or some kind of encouragement to everyone, but it's just not feasible. Any time you get feedback or encouraging words, an editor has gone out of his/her way to make sure you submit again. Even if your next two, three (or 40?) stories/poems don't make the cut, that editor saw something noteworthy and accomplished about what you sent, and that's a point of distinction. To my mind, that's always worth a mention.

2) I know most editors frown on story summaries in a cover letter. Do they want one sentence on what the story is about?

I don't. I think we frown on these because we want your story to speak for itself. If you feel like you have to tell me what it's about, then I'm worried you're afraid I won't "get" it. And if that fear is there, maybe the story isn't ready to be submitted. Since we've moved the HFR submission process online, we actually don't ask for a cover letter at all. The submission manager has a "comments" section that many submitters use for that purpose, but our readers are instructed not to look at the comments before reading the work. We don't want publications or biographical information or any other commentary to interfere with our reading of the work itself.

A here's one from bravenewlady: How do you determine your staff & editors? democracy? dynasty? divination?

We've got an amiable oligarchy here. I (Beth Staples) am the Managing Editor for HFR, the only permanent (and paid) staff member, and I control--well--mostly everything. Each year I choose six new genre editors who are all MFA candidates at Arizona State--two for poetry, two for fiction, two for our international section, and one for art. These editors have paid their dues reading submissions for the first two years of their study here.

Our reading staff is a little more open, but also monitored by me. Our bottom tier of readers is comprised of interns and community volunteers. Our next tier of readers is more experienced: former editors, MFA students and alumni, volunteers with some previous reading experience. Put all these people together, and the process looks like this:

1) A submission comes in, and is reviewed quickly by our "first looks" editor, who gives the submission a priority level (1-4) based on a reading of the first few pages (prose) or first poem (poetry). This is not a fool-proof process, but it does help us get to the most exciting work more quickly. This editor has been reading for HFR for YEARS.

2) I assign Priority 1-submissions immediately to the genre editors.

3) The other submissions I assign to a first-level reader, who reads them (in priority order), makes comments, and gives the submission a "yes" or a "no."

4) I then assign the submission to a second-level reader, who does the same.

5) A submission with two "yes" votes goes to the genre editors. A submission with two "no" votes gets declined with one of four different rejection letters. A submission with one of each vote goes to a third reader (another second-tier reader) to break the tie.

That was a bit of a digression, huh? But hopefully a helpful peek at the process. For people who want to act as volunteer readers, I ask that they send me an email ( saying why they're qualified, and then I'll assign some sample submissions for review. After I've taken a look at their comments, I'll let them know if they can come on board.

So, divination, I guess.

Thanks for your questions! Find our Twitter feed here and ask away!

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