What Do We Look For in Nonfiction Submissions?

01 February 2019 on Nonfiction, Storystorm  

We don’t read creative nonfiction just to be informed we also want to be moved. All our readers have wonderfully distinct perspectives, and all are moved by different elements in creative nonfiction submissions.

When a writer can't see the truth they're unveiling in the story, it's nearly impossible for me to get on board, but when they do, magic happens! One of my favorite writers, Anne Lamott, quotes the Gnostic gospel of Thomas in her book Bird By Bird: “If you bring forth what is inside you, what you bring forth will save you. If you don't bring forth what is inside you, what you bring forth can destroy you.” So don't hold anything back, writers! Usually readers can tell if you are doing this and will at best be a little leery of you and at worst just stop reading. Of course, this relentless truth-telling makes writing a lot harder for you, but the payoff is worth it. After all, what's better than reading a story that feels like the narrator is your best friend? Best friends know your best secrets (however scary they may be) and they love you for having them. —Bethany

I'm always impressed by writers who can describe a mundane experience in a way that's captivating, or discuss a premise wholly unfamiliar to me in a way that makes me feel connected to it and invested in the outcome. In nonfiction there needs to be a strong accuracy behind the work, an underlying reflection and clarity of story line, and a sense that the writer has probed not only their sources for the truth but also their own reflection. Good creative nonfiction is not just accurate; it is honest, sometimes even confessional. And it is beautiful. It's not pure journalism; it has a rhythm and an imagery that match its message. To me, great submissions are structured but not formulaic, relevant to a wide demographic but unique to the individual, researched yet poetic, and above all else, honest. —Maggie

I read for the same reason I write: because I want to learn. I want to know more about the complexity of our world, of the beings which inhabit it and how they interact with each other. When I am reviewing a non-fiction piece, I want the author to help me understand a situation, event or perspective in a new way. I want to feel sympathy for a flawed character. I want to root for the underdog. I want to be surprised and challenged and taken to a new place. I want the piece to leave an emotional impression behind, as someone's perfume lingers when they leave the room.  In the strongest pieces, the writer knows exactly what essence they are trying to extract and guides me as a reader to that place. —Christina

In submissions I look for stories that have something to tell that hasn't yet been told or that spins my perspective on things far beyond my wildest dreams. I want to read pieces that push boundaries of genre and take risks. I look for beautiful, lyrical, and well crafted language. Proper grammar and sentence structure and the sense that the author knows what they're doing. It's not about a piece being perfect or having perfect grammar — though those are pluses — it's about a piece sticking with me long after the first read. I want to be able to tell the author was confident in their piece. That they spent the time and energy they thought was necessary before sending it off. —Wes

 For me, the thing that distinguishes “creative nonfiction” from “nonfiction” is the emotion and art behind the writing. With creative nonfiction, the writer must have something to say, and the writer must say it beautifully, with characters, scenery, imagery, structure, plot and some kind of epiphany or emotional change. Word economy is also a wonderful thing. But in order for me to be truly moved, the writer must capture what it means to be human in a certain time and place. — Kelly








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