Posts By: Joe Hiland

On Openings and Intrigants

With this blog post I’d like to return to the subject of wading through the slush pile, though I’m on a less curmudgeonly mission this time.  Once you’ve read enough submissions, it’s fairly easy to diagnose the many ways stories can fail.  It’s far more challenging, however, to explain why successful stories are, well, successful.  My project with this blog post is to try to identify at least one shared trait of successful stories, with the hope of helping some of you as you revise and refine your work to submit it to IR and elsewhere.  (Speaking of submitting, don’t forget that you still have time to submit to our fiction contest.)

As far as I can tell, every good or great story must have a good or great opening.  Perhaps this is a fairly obvious observation, but I can’t think of a single good or great story that opens with a mediocre first page.  When you submit your fiction to journals, the opening pages of your story are absolutely essential in determining whether or not your story makes it beyond the slush pile.  The opening convinces a reader to devote his or her time to reading the rest of your story, rather than moving on to another story, and editors are readers with a virtually limitless supply of other stories to move on to. Read more…

An Interview With Dana Johnson

We’re just past the halfway point of our submissions period for Indiana Review’s 2012 Fiction Prize, which will be judged by Dana Johnson, author of Elsewhere, California and Break Any Woman Down.  If you’re unfamiliar with Dana’s work, you should put down that copy of IR (just for a little bit) and pick up one of her books.

Recently, I got the chance to ask Dana a few questions about the many ways stories can succeed and fail, and about the importance of literary journals like IR.  My favorite line from her responses:  “I don’t have the patience for stories that are clever but have no heart.”

I’m going to have that printed on my business cards.

Here’s the entire interview with Dana:

Read more…

On Submitters and Subscribers

I suppose this post is something of a riff on Michael’s first rule of good literary citizenship: read literary journals. It’s good advice, and Michael rightly invokes the communal spirit of journals in support of his point. I’m not going to be quite as nice, however. Consider this the grouchy old man version of the argument.

Two questions: 1) Do you submit work (poetry, fiction, or nonfiction) to literary journals? 2) Do you subscribe to any literary journals?

If the answer to Question 1 is “yes” and the answer to Question 2 is “no,” then we have a problem. Read more…

Three Stories Unlikely to Make it Beyond the Slush

This post is for fiction writers thinking about submitting their work to Indiana Review. We receive somewhere between 3,500 and 4,000 fiction submissions each year, and I spend a good deal of my time digging through those submissions to separate the bad stories from the good-and-potentially-great stories.  So I thought I’d offer some insight into how I decide which stories make it out of our slush pile and which are rejected quickly.

Some stories are easy to reject.  I’m always amazed by the number of stories we receive with typos, grammatical errors, incorrectly punctuated dialogue, and other glaring mistakes in the opening pages.  Those stories almost always get dumped right away.  Same goes for stories with blatantly racist, homophobic, or misogynistic language in the opening pages.  If, for instance, a female character is introduced on the first page and all we learn about her is the color of her hair and the size/shape of her breasts, I’m unlikely to read the second page.

I also reject certain stories from our slush pile not because they’re poorly written, but simply because I read the first three or four pages and say to myself, “I’ve read this story before.”  There are a few recurring subjects that come up in so many of our submissions that they verge on clichés, and it’s rare for stories that deal with these subjects to distinguish themselves from the crowd of stories in the slush pile.  That’s not to say that these subjects can’t make for fine stories; it’s just that I rarely come across unique takes on these subjects.

The three types of stories I most often reject because I feel like I’ve read them before: Read more…