If you’ve ever watched a reality TV competition, you’ll understand the premise of The Great British Baking Show (this editor’s personal favorite!). Each week, the bakers tackle a new challenge—breads, pies, pastries—and are judged by baking legends Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood. As the bakers craft their recipes for each episode, they make little alterations to please the judges: Mary Berry doesn’t like spicy foods, so one baker dials back the chipotle and cayenne pepper. Paul Hollywood is fanatical about “crumb texture,” so another baker experiments with her kneading techniques until her hands are raw and her bread is perfect. Both judges look for a golden-brown finish on all baked goods, and so the bakers sit cross-legged in front of their ovens watching for the perfect moment to pull their creations out, knowing that a few seconds could be the difference between winning and being sent home.
Though we at Barnstorm are not reality TV judges, we like the idea that the contestants know something about what the judges are looking for, and we’ve decided to share what we look for as we read your submissions. Like any group of readers, we each have individual tastes and preferences (and that infuriatingly ambiguous sense of “I just know what I like when I see it”), but there are a few commonalities that are helpful to keep in mind as you consider sending us your work.
We like writing with a strong narrative voice. The first question we ask when reading submissions is “Am I connected to this narrator?” We like it when we feel like the narrator is sitting in the room talking with us.
We like tight, well-developed scenes. Some pieces call for multiple scenes, some only one or none—we get that—but when we read scenes, we appreciate when the writer lingers in moments that carry significant weight and condenses those that advance and connect the narrative.
We are not afraid of risk-takers. We read with open minds, so don’t be afraid to send us a piece that experiments with form or convention. That being said, take care that your piece does not feel disjointed or unfocused; most successful submissions have a unifying thread that ties the various scenes/themes/vignettes together. We are also happy to consider pieces of larger works, but each submission should read as an independent piece.
We like writing that is relatable. We love pieces that take us outside of our own experiences, but we also believe that good writing finds a way to help the reader navigate through an issue or experience he or she has not encountered AND teach the reader something through it. We’re less concerned with the subject and more interested in what new insight you have to share about being a tiny human in this big world.
We are writers too. We know how agonizing it can be to press that “Submit” button and begin the grand waiting game because we do it, too. That is why we feel honored to read the work you generously send, and we give each submission careful consideration.
Thank you for your continued support of Barnstorm, and keep your submissions coming. We look forward to reading your work!