Liminal Editor Q&A

In celebration of our upcoming submission window, we solicited questions on Twitter. And we got some great ones! If you've ever wanted to know a little bit more about what we're looking for, this is your chance. We've included answers from all three of our senior editors. Shannon and Kelly select our fiction, and Helena selects our poetry.

 

What styles or forms do you particularly like?

Shannon

We're pretty open to experimentation, as long as you do it with panache.  I have a particular love for stories that speak between the lines (like Barthelme's Concerning the Bodyguard) and leave things unsaid.

Kelly

Personally, I have a real love for second person. The language of a piece is important to me; I pay a lot of attention to the rhythms and texture of the prose.

Helena

I really love a straight-forward almost plain language style that nevertheless feels poetic. The kind of writing where you want to quote a line but never can find one that seems to capture the essence of the whole.

 

What are some hard sells?

Shannon

First things first, there's nothing that's so hard a sell that we won't look at it, so don't self-reject!  I find, though, that some topics seem to come up frequently in my to-read pile, and I can sometimes get a little burned-out on those.  Last time, it was pregnancy stories and evil dolls.  The time before, cancer and revenge stories.  Stories that hinge on a pun or a punchline can be a bit of a hard sell for me, as well.

Kelly

As Shannon mentioned, a hard sell in the fiction queue isn't an instant no. I've loved, and held, stories with elements that I'm about to mention. That said, there are some story elements and tropes that rarely connect with me. Drug trips and dream sequences tend to bore me, and they're particularly likely to lose me if they open the piece. I also have a thing about stories that hinge on simple miscommunication. If a conflict could be resolved by two characters having a five minute conversation, I tend not to see the point. 

Helena

Rhyme schemes. And by hard sell, I mean impossible.  Rigid rhyme scheme is the zombie to my Neil Clarke.  

 

In your experience, what separates the truly excellent stories from the ones that are merely good or competent?

Shannon

Voice!  I know we talk about voice all the time, but it's absolutely vital for a Liminal story to have a spark and a life to its prose.  For me, it's also important to have an ending that is emotionally resonant.  If all your ending does is tie up the loose ends of your story, it's not doing enough work.

Kelly

Shannon's hit the main one. Of every 100 stories we receive, about 75 of them are perfectly competent and probably publishable. 10 might be seriously flawed, requiring more work. The last 15, which we'll look more closely at, are set apart by their voice. The prose sings or crackles or snaps. They feel special.

Other than that, a willingness to give in completely to a concept, to be as brutal or as sweet as the idea requires, is important. Don't pull your punches, don't have the hard stuff happen off screen.

Helena

The ones that win you over despite the fact that you're tired and in a bitchy mood.  These are also the poems that you think about the next day, or that one of the other editors randomly texts you about.  

 

When a story is not quite there, and you realize there just might be an easy fix, do you meet the author half way? Or does that end in a rejection?

Shannon (with Kelly signing on in agreement)

The answer, of course, is: it depends on the story.  In general, our policy is not to accept a story that we wouldn't be happy to run as-is -- we're both writers, and we appreciate a delicate editorial hand!  However, we have offered one rewrite request for a story that we thought was strikingly original, but not quite there.  In that case, the author accepted our request, and we published the story after two rounds of edits. It's not something we plan to do on a regular basis, however.

Helena

Rejection.  If I'm not willing to publish it as-is, I won't buy it.  This is mostly because poems are so short that any "easy fix" isn't something that's keeping me from buying it as is.

 

If you were to create a mix tape of songs that capture the essence of Liminal, what would be your top three songs to include.

Shannon

I tried to answer this with three, but it was impossible (I'm a huge music nerd).  So you get a nine track mix tape instead:

  • Lavinia, The Veils
  • Seven Months, Portishead
  • Milk and Black Spiders, Foals
  • Pyramid Song, Radiohead
  • Low Halo, Lemolo
  • Heavy Metal, White Rabbits
  • Wolf Alice, Erin Tobey
  • We Share Our Mothers' Health, The Knife
  • Chemical Reaction, Whitney Monge'

Kelly

I think I'm the least cool editor in terms of musical tastes. You'll have to forgive me.

  • Country Feedback, REM
  • The Beauty of the Rain, Dar Williams
  • High Lonesome, Gaslight Anthem

Helena

  • It Wasn't Me by Jenny Lewis
  • So Long, Savannah by Eric Bacchman
  • California All the Way, by Luna

 

What kinds of stories is Liminal looking to tell?

Shannon

Liminal stories are often deeply weird, but they express an emotional truth.  We are interested in things that are honest and difficult, in varied viewpoints and unheard voices.  We are interested, in other words, in your story, the one that no one but you could tell.  

Kelly

I don't think I can say this better than Shannon already did. We want your strangest, most startling children. The ones that hurt to write, the ones that tell a truth you didn't even realize you know. While voice is important at Liminal, that doesn't mean a single, monolithic voice. We want stories from all over the world, from every perspective and experience. 

Helena

Good ones?  For me it's not about type or kind or subject matter, it's about feeling like someone is ripping into your stomach and rearranging your internal organs.  

Join Our First Reader Team! - Closed

Liminal Stories is searching for a new voices on our first readers team.  Our reading period for Issue Four will be from May 15 to June 15. 

We are looking for individuals who can commit to reading for three or more hours a week during our open periods (two per year).  It is not a year-round commitment -- we like to keep our response times swift, so we tend to work hard for 1-2 months and then rest.  Our open submission periods are a little flexible, but you can plan for 1.5-2 months of work during the early summer and then again in the winter. You're welcome to commit for a single reading period.

The ideal Liminal reader is interested in stories that are unusual, strongly-voiced, character-driven and beautifully written.  They are open to stories that work outside of the usual structures and search for work that shows a diversity of background and tone.

To apply for a position with Liminal, please read at least one issue of Liminal and then send an email to liminalstories@gmail.com with the subject line "First Reader Application."  Tell us a little about yourself, and then let us know:

  1. Which Liminal story is your favorite and why
  2. Which Liminal story is your least favorite and why 

We're looking forward to working with you!

 

Best,

Shannon and Kelly

We Look Forward to Your Next Submission

I have this recurring nightmare. In it, I read a gorgeous, emotionally powerful, unsettling story that isn't quite right for Liminal. I send a rejection, and in that rejection I ask, sincerely, that the author send us more stories.

 And then I never see their name in the inbox again.

As you may have guessed, this is less a nightmare and more a thing that happens all the time. And yes, I notice. If you've ever wondered whether editors remember you, whether they're really "looking forward to your next submission," the answer is yes. Yes they do. Yes they are. Or at least, I am.

Now, there are a lot of reasons why we might not get repeat submissions. Maybe the author doesn't have any other free stories. Maybe they don't like the tenor of our rejections. Maybe they're simply busy.

But there's another possibility that really worries me. Fear. Specifically, fear of disappointing us.

As a writer, I struggle with this fear a lot. Once I feel an editor's gaze on me, I freeze up. What if my next story isn't as good? What if they decide the one story they liked was a fluke? What if they stop liking me?

Friends, this is silly. Honest, it is. If an editor says they like your work, send that editor more stories! And no, they won't connect with all of them. That's ok. Keep trying. They're rooting for you.

I am rooting for you!

I promise, we're not keeping a secret score card. We don't deduct points every time you send us a story we don't publish. I know rejections hurt. And I know rejections from markets that have encouraged you, or published you, tend to feel particularly demoralizing. But those rejections don't mean you're failing. They don't mean your new stories aren't as good.

They mean exactly what they say. "We love your work, but this isn't a good fit. Please, send more."

 .3%. That's Liminal's acceptance rate. So it may take a lot of tries to thread that needle. But trust me, we're on your side.

 

Call for First Readers (Closed)

Note: Thank you to everyone who applied. We've found a wonderful group of first readers. We'll post another call when the need arises.

Liminal Stories is searching for a small, dedicated group of first readers to assist us with managing submissions, starting with Issue Two.  Our reading period for Issue Two is likely to be during the month of June.

We are looking for individuals who can commit to reading for three or more hours a week during our open periods (two per year).  It is not a year-round commitment -- we like to keep our response times swift, so we tend to work hard for 1-2 months and then rest.  Our open submission periods are a little flexible, but you can plan for 1.5-2 months of work during the early summer and then again in the winter.

The ideal Liminal reader is interested in stories that are unusual, strongly-voiced, character-driven and beautifully written.  They are open to stories that work outside of the usual structures and search for work that shows a diversity of background and tone.

To apply for a position with Liminal, please read Issue One and then send an email to liminalstories@gmail.com with the subject line "First Reader Application."  Tell us a little about yourself, and then let us know which of the stories from our first issue was your favorite and why.

We're looking forward to working with you!

 

Best,

Shannon and Kelly

On Sending and Receiving Rejections

According to our submission inbox, I sent my first ever rejection on December 3, 2015, at 11:00 p.m. It was the first of 1,158 first round rejections I sent during Liminal's first open submission period. Meanwhile, as a writer, I've received 96 rejections since I started recording them in 2012. (It's probably around 120, if you count the rejections from before 2012.)  


Clearly, I've added more rejection to the world than I've received from it. And yet, rejection is still difficult for me, from both sides. I don't like sending them, and I don't like receiving them. As a writer, it's easy to imagine writing like a game of soccer. Your story is the ball, and the editor is the goalie. And maybe that's why, sometimes, we feel like we somehow tricked the editors who buy our stories. Because the editor feels like an adversary, someone who has to be overcome to succeed. And how could the relationship feel anything but adversarial? We pour ourselves into stories, and then send them out for rejection after rejection after rejection.


But, from the editor's chair, everything looks different. It's more like a game of Perfection that you're playing blindfolded. You have a series of holes, and maybe you have a general sense of their shape. The submissions you receive are the pegs you're trying to fit into them. Sometimes, you know immediately that a story won't fit. It's all spiky edges, and the holes you have are sort of smoothish. Other stories you're not immediately sure of. They're sort of smoothish, but maybe too spiky? Those you hold on to for a bit, twisting them this way and that, hoping they'll fit. And some stories just slide immediately into a hole. Perfect. 


In this version of events, the editor and the writer are playing on the same team. If a writer sends a story that doesn't fit, you hope the next one will. If a story almost fits, you get all hopeful. That writer seems to know the shape you're looking for! Maybe the next story will be just right. 


I'd like to say working on Liminal has taken the sting out of rejection. After all, I understand just how many rejections are required to get to a few acceptances. I understand it not just as numbers, but as hour upon hour spent sifting through an endless mountain of words, sending rejection after rejection, and hurting after each one. I don't like saying no. And I said no to stories I loved. Stories that still sing in my heart when I think of them. But they weren't the stories that fit, so I had to let them go. 


But rejection still hurts every time. And sometimes, it still feels like I'm on one team, and the editor's on the other.  Or, if I'm being a little more rational, it feels like we're on the same team, but I'm an inept teammate, with handfuls of spiky pegs that I keep handing to editors who want smooth ones. 


I want to say something to all the writers who are reading this, and also to myself. Keep submitting. Editors don't hate you. They're not tired of getting stories from you. Your story isn't broken because it's been rejected. And whatever flaws an editor pointed out in their rejection may be seen as features by the next market. The editor who says, "This has too many pointy bits" isn't looking for pointy bits. But that doesn't mean pointy bits are bad. The next editor you send it to might just be working on a special pointy bits issue of their magazine.
And if we've said no to you, I hope you'll submit to us again. Because what we want to say, what we're hoping to say, is yes.

 

Sadly Ever After

Today I want to talk about endings, and why I like sad ones. And because I need an example, I'm going to talk about the movie The Labyrinth. (If you don't think the Labyrinth has a sad ending, my 12-year-old self would like a word with you.) Do I need a spoiler warning? If so, consider yourself warned.

So, when I was younger, I loved The Labyrinth. I was a fragile little escapist, and it's a movie about escapism, and I wanted nothing more than to disappear into the Labyrinth and never come out. Sarah's growth arc didn't interest me in the least. And that sop at the end where all her friends from the Labyrinth appeared in her room? I didn't buy it for a minute. No. She'd given up magic, and I knew she could never get it back.

I worried at that ending like a toothache. She said no to Jareth. How could she say no? I knew what I'd do in her place. I'd tell Jareth I didn't want his stupid globe. I wanted to stay. He could have Toby too. Why not? He seemed to be taking perfectly good care of the baby, and I'd be there to help. And, to make sure I didn't make my family sad, I'd have Jareth erase their memories of Toby and I. And then I'd live happily ever after, forever.

This whole line of logic is especially distressing because I had two Toby aged siblings at the time.

And yet, even though I came up with this elaborate imagining of how it should have ended, I could never get it to click. It wouldn't tie up into the neat bow I needed. I kept thinking about it, kept trying to make it work, but it wouldn't. Because, of course, while that movie didn't end the way I wanted it too, it ended the way it needed to. (Except the bit at the end in her room. I still don't buy that for a minute.)

Happy endings feel good. I like them. In novels, particularly, where one travels the long and winding route with a protagonist, there's great satisfaction in seeing things end well. But happy endings don't linger. I don't reflect back on any of the stories I've read that ended with a tidy little bow and wonder, "what if" or "why not." Everything's fine, so the story settles easily in my mind.

Mind, there are plenty of sad stories that don't evoke curiosity. When the monster shows up and eats our fair heroes, there's not much space left for wondering. A sad ending is not synonymous with a good ending.

But I love stories where I get to walk in the protagonists footsteps and see every difficult, reasonable, painful decision they make. I love it when, for all their efforts, they're still hurting in the end. They've still lost something, even if they've won it all. My mind holds on to these stories. It builds and rebuilds them, trying to fit a new key in the lock, trying to make everything ok. And when it can't, when the ending is so tragically right there's no way around it, that's when I know I've found a story I'll never forget.

Kelly Sandoval