Blog Archive

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Learning from an Editor, an Interview with Will Allison

You’ve worn a few different editor hats from being an executive editor to and editor at large and also a freelance editor. What makes you so in demand as an editor?
I guess I've been lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time several times. Back in the fall, I joined the staff of One Story as a contributing editor. It's been great working on a magazine again, especially one I admire so much.

One of your editorial jobs was for the annual research publication, Novel & Short Story Writer's Market. How did you get involved in that? What were your duties?
I moved to NSSWM after STORY ceased publication. Both were part of F&W Publications, in Cincinnati. My duties involved making editorial assignments and putting together the listings. It was an eye-opener to see how many magazines were publishing fiction. And that was in the early days of the Internet, before online magazines really took off.

You also did editorial work for Zoetrope: All-Story which is a quarterly literary publication founded by Francis Ford Coppola. On their website it says they receive 12,000 submissions annually. Did you read the submissions?
For Zoetrope: All-Story, I solicited stories and read the stories that made it to the editorial board; I didn't read unsolicited manuscripts, which had been one of my duties at Story, where we received about 20,000 submissions a year.

Many writers are unsure of how to submit to literary magazines. Can you give any tips as to what worked here and what didn’t?
My tip for submitting to magazines is: Try not to get discouraged. Getting a story published is often a matter of sending the right story to the right editor at the right time (i.e., there's some luck involved). The only part that we writers can control is the quality of the story itself, so that's where our energies should go.

In your experience in being an editor, what is the most common error or most repetitious problem you’ve seen in manuscripts? What do you want to see in the first page of the manuscript?
I think a lot of writers tend to overwrite and could benefit from what I call "editing by subtraction."
On the first page of a manuscript, I want some sense of what's at stake in the story, and I want to feel like I'm in the hands of a storyteller who knows what she's doing.

I’ve heard agents say they want something with impact, but they are at a loss as to how to explain it. What would you say makes for impact?
Not necessarily the sort of life-and-death things that might first spring to mind. I think impact has to do with the degree to which a reader cares about the characters and situations on the page.

From all the editorial duties you’ve handled, which do you think that most beginning writers fall short on – setting a scene, dialog design, choppy story line or something else?
All of the above? Certainly that was true for me, and often still is.

In teaching creative writing, what were the most important points that you wanted your students to learn and use in their writing?
I think it's important that students understand stories as a form and develop a working knowledge of the conventions that most successful stories share.

You’ve also been the recipient of grants, fellowships, and scholarships. I know many writers freeze when they look at the application forms and then wonder what to send for writing samples. How did you choose what to send for your sample?  
 I choose my writing samples based on feedback from my main reader, i.e., my wife.

What did you learn in these programs that really made an impact on you? 
I've learned not to take rejection personally. Of course, anyone who has ever submitted to magazines or contests learns this lesson very quickly. 

That's it for today's interview with Will. On Thursday we will continue with the interview and learn about the books he's written. If you would like to know more about Will and perhaps hire him as an editor, here’s the way to do that.  Website  or  Facebook


  1. Thanks for conducting this interview. I'm glad I found this blog.

  2. Nice interview with some helpful and interesting points.

    1. Keep up your workouts! I do good with just getting through a morning walk!

  3. Bravo for this interview. You asked all the questions I would have.

  4. Mirka, Glad you liked it! I see from your blog that you are also a fan of the book, The Little Prince.