Author: Glenn Shaheen
As editor for the journal NANO Fiction (Subscribe now! Don’t delay! Operators etc.!), I read a whole lotta flash fiction. We get hundreds of submissions a month, and have to whittle those down to a nice sharp journal-stick of around 35 pieces every half year. It’s a team process, and my terrific co-editors are probably why I haven’t gone insane, but I still bring a certain number of preconceptions and biases to the process of creating each issue of NANO Fiction. So why not share them, I ask myself, and also I ask you, the reader, and presumably you won’t object since you clicked on this article in the first place. Here’s some tips to make the journey to publication a little easier presuming every editor has my exact tastes!
1 – DON’T JUMP RIGHT IN IF YOU JUST HEARD OF FLASH FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER
A lot of cover letters we get start with a variation of the line “I discovered flash fiction in my writing workshop two weeks ago, and thought I’d send in my work to you!” Woah, hold on there a second! Obviously, as editor of a flash journal I’m happy word of the genre is getting out there. But remember, though, back to when you first discovered poetry, or full length stories. Would you have immediately presumed your work of publishable quality just two weeks later? Ok, some of you would presume that, sure, and I’m not saying you need years and years of study, but by immediately sending out your brand new flash fiction (and of course by telling us that in your cover letter), you kinda disrespect the genre. Like it’s not worth the study that “real” fiction and poetry deserve. Not really good to show your hand like that in your cover letter, that’s for sure. That brings me to the second tip.
2 – REVISE YOU’RE FLASH FICTION
In addition to my editorial duties at NANO, I used to be nonfiction editor at Gulf Coast, and presently serve as poetry editor for Third Coast (no plans to change name of NANO Fiction to NANO Coast [yet]). So much more often with submissions for NANO Fiction we end up getting pieces that clearly haven’t been revised. Grammatical errors. Spelling mistakes. Stylistic inconsistencies (you’d think that’d be tough in 300 words or fewer!). It’s the kind of thing that makes us feel as though these pieces were dashed off in less than an hour and then sent out immediately to let the CV lines roll in (more on that in tip three). As with all good writing, however, you’ve got to revise! Just because it’s shorter doesn’t mean it takes less work or less care.
3 – DON’T JUST BREAK A LONG STORY UP
Look, you shouldn’t be engaging with a form if you don’t believe in and aren’t excited by the myriad of possibilities it offers. Another one of the common kinds of submissions we get is the obvious story that’s been broken up to fit our guidelines. We even get several pieces of the story at the same time, like one of those old Flash Gordon or Batman serials from the 40s. There is a difference between the project (the longer sequence of flash fiction comprised of pieces that stand on their own) and the broken up story, which just doesn’t work in pieces. What’s the point of this, though? It seems like the attitude of a lot of people (even friends and mentors) is that a flash piece is easy to publish, whereas a longer story is not. Ha, we’ve all got stacks of rejection letters that show flash is not really that easy, though I can admit that it is probably easier to get a good flash piece published than a good story, when considerations of space are involved. Publication should not be your ultimate goal, though. Especially not when it comes at the cost of chopping up a piece that you intended initially to be read intact. A true engagement with your form should be your ultimate goal, and if people read and enjoy what you intended, then great. But as I said, an endless array of CV credits is the goal of a lot of “writers,” and I don’t know what kind of pure psychological damage compels that, but whatevs!
4 – TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE FORM
If you look at flash as just super-short stories, then why bother writing them? Laziness, or to appeal to the ever-shrinking attention span of an ADD riddled readership? Ugh, puke city. In flash there is such an amazing opportunity to balance lyricism with plot and linearity in a way that wouldn’t sustain over the length a normal story. Likewise, I’ve seen a lot of authors do some really compelling musical repetition or voice work in 300 words or less in our submission pool. If you’re going to write flash, really take advantage of the compression at work – don’t look at it as a crux (why would you cripple yourself if that’s how you’re seeing it???), but rather as something you can play with and take advantage of in fascinating ways.
5 – READ A LOT OF FLASH
This advice is the same for any genre, really – read a lot of everything, and particularly read a lot of flash. Maybe the entire list could just be distilled down to this one entry. Read Lydia Davis, yeah, and Thomas Bernhard, but also read great small press writers like Kristina Born and James Tadd Adcox. I could name a million! Read the journals that have true dedication to flash, not just the big journals that run the one page winner of their flash contest once a year. Great journals that give flash real weight like wigleaf, PANK, Word Riot, and SmokeLong Quarterly. Pay for some collections of flash fiction. Tiny Hardcore Pressdoes great work. Gold Line Press is younger but also pretty fantastic (admitted bias). You can’t be a hobbyist when it comes to writing, or you won’t be participating in a dialogue that moves the art forward. Also you’ll be kind of a jerk, and you don’t want to be a jerk, do you? DO YOU? Ha, jk, just read and revise and etc. NANO Fiction accepts year round!
Glenn Shaheen is the author of the poetry collection Predatory (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011) and the flash fiction collection Unchecked Savagery (Ricochet Editions, forthcoming 2012). He lives in Michigan where he edits the journal NANO Fiction and serves as poetry editor for Third Coast. His work has appeared in Ploughshares, The New Republic, Redivider, and elsewhere.