Tips to Help Your Short Story Succeed at TTR

Tips to help you succeed with your short story at TTR:
1. If a story has been declined without a request for revision, please do not send it again, even if it has been a number of years. Submittable has a button to click on that pulls up, in seconds, all of the submissions by any one author. Inevitably, one of us remembers the story.
2. We are currently not interested in stories that focus on the POV of a male who is afflicted with toxic masculinity. We’re not interested in spending time inside this type of person’s head. However, a story in which toxic males are present and there is pushback against this attitude and behavior will be considered. A fine example of this is the 2018 winner of the Tillie Olsen Short Story Award, which you can read on our website.
3. We are not interested in stories that are not cognizant of language when referencing American Indians and are not truly authentic to their experiences. Comparing American Indians to animals (even if trying to elucidate the government’s racist policies), using the word “savage” to describe them, writing about their spiritual or religious beliefs or cultural practices when you have only researched this from afar, writing in their POV and when the character becomes violent saying something like it is their “Indian blood” coming out, and so forth are big no-no’s at TTR. Some stories told by American Indians are considered sacred to them and not to be shared outside the tribe. If you are non-indigneous and have worked hard to be authentic (and not just by reading books written by other white people) and have vetted your story with a number of important people within the tribe you are writing about if you are writing about the tribe’s cultural and spiritual practices and beliefs, please feel free to send it.
4. See number two but insert a racist or homophobic POV.
5. Please do not send angry, defiant, defensive, demeaning, rude cover letters. If you don’t like our submission guidelines or our hard work to be inclusive to all peoples, send your story somewhere else.
6. We won’t publish you story if there is objectification of women within it. This is when the story focuses on women’s physical attractiveness and describes women according to how a male judges their body and appearance. Sometimes these narratives will compare women to animals. In these stories, often the male characters are then described according to their character and personality traits but not their physical appearance. Sometimes the main character is not the stereotypical toxic male, but this objectification sneaks into the narrative. See number two about toxic masculinity and the need for pushback against this.
7. Sometimes we still see stories where the characters are stereotypes. Don’t send those.
8. Make sure your main character has a problem or dilemma they need to try and resolve in the story. This makes your story interesting and engaging. We aren’t interested in pieces that are just descriptions of someone’s life. The short story is an art form and all readers expect writers to honor this form, no matter how experimental the work, no matter how young the reader or modern the reader or old the reader. The number one complaint amongst readers from all walks of life that have been staff at TTR is lack of narrative arc. Make sure the character’s problem becomes apparent to some degree by page 2. This is called “tension.” A narrative arc is what makes a piece, a short story. How this is done is open to an enormous amount of leeway. Read William Maxwell’s short story “The Thistles in Sweden” which is seemingly about nothing, but is in fact, a short story.
9. If you send us fantasy, science fiction, or historical fiction, please make sure the story is focused on character development rather than plot. For historical fiction, please be cognizant of language.
10. Do not front load your story with exposition and backstory. Start your story as soon as possible to when the tension (see above) enters the character’s life.
11. The stories we publish at TTR have what we consider to be substance. Substance makes us respond either emotionally or intellectually or both. Substance has weight, even in humor.
12. Be careful not to send us stories that are for children. We get a surprising number of good stories that are suited to children and teenagers and not adults. The focus in the story is only on what children concern themselves with. While important to children or teenagers, the concerns are boring to adults. This is a tricky balance. But see “The Gun Rack” by WA Polf in TTR October 2016 and “The Cigarette Thieves” by Renee Macalino Rutledge in TTR April 2017 for examples of a main character that is a child, but the story appeals to adult readers. Also, Flannery O’Connor’s “The Lame Shall Enter First” and Edward P. Jones’s short stories often have juvenile characters but are written for adults. Maybe one way to analyze this is to think about how shallow the story is; the more shallow the less likey to engage an adult.
13. Did we say character, character, character? Fleshy and whole. Alive on the page.
14. We do care about language usage at the sentence-level. Prose that appears wrought with the need for line edits will be declined. Numerous typos and grammatical errors are off-putting.
15. Finally, make sure your story knows what it is about. Is it a victim of thematic hoarding? Our heads are spinning. Does it need a spring cleaning? Too much clutter, with plot lines, characters, themes, makes for a messy story that still reads as if it doesn’t know why it exists yet. Take the time to find out. The shorter the story, the tighter the focus.
16. These recommendations are very specific to TTR. There are lots of journals publishing fabulous stories and they may or may not disagree with us entirely or in certain areas. This makes for a thriving, committed, and passionate literary world. Seek out the publishers and editors who will appreciate your stories.