Friday, March 01, 2013

Q & A With Los Angeles Review Fiction Editor Yi Shun Lai

Last July, I had the pleasure of introducing my readers to Yi Shun Lai (See "It's A Living: Q & A on Making Money as a Writer"). 

Yi Shun Lai ( has been a writer and editor for over 15 years. She's written or edited for The Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor, the J. Peterman catalog, and Audubon magazine, among others. She makes her living writing corporate copy and executing content strategy.

Yi Shun writes literary essays and short fiction and is the fiction editor for the Los Angeles Review

She is currently earning her MFA at the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts. She tweets as @GoodDirt.

I am grateful Yi Shun graciously agreed to return and answer a few questions demystifying the fiction editor's role.

Q:   What is the most common misconception about your role as a fiction editor?

A: That I live to reject people. Seriously. I like to read and acquire and publish fiction. That's why I'm here.

Q: What do you consider the best part of an editor's job?

A: Discovering new styles, new ways of expression, new and innovative ways of telling a story. (I don't necessarily mean that experimental fiction is my shtick. I mean that words have infinite possibilities.)

Q:  What's the toughest part of an editor's job?

A: Working with an author to revise a piece. Sometimes you get work that you want to accept, but that isn't quite right as-is. There's a huge amount of humility, and a little bit of embarrassment, involved in asking a writer to revise his or her work to fit your aesthetic. Fortunately, every writer I've worked with has been gracious and grateful for suggested changes. If we're suggesting changes, the intent is to make the work better.

Q:   What specific advice do you have for authors to improve their chances for getting their submissions accepted?

A: Please, please, read the fricken publication before you submit. When I was at the Atlantic as a fiction intern I got stories about foot fetishes. Three of them over my eight-week tenure. Okay, really???

And get someone else to look at the thing before you submit. Critique groups are incredible things. So are second readers. Use them.

Q:  If you could permanently eradicate one submission error you see all the time that most pushes your This Irks Me button, what would it be?

A:  Papyrus font. Seriously, folks: Times Roman or Courier. Don't be fancy-pants, m'kay? I can't read fancy-pants. Also, we usually have a few submissions that exceed our 4,000-word limit. Don't do this. It's in the guidelines for a reason.

Q:  In general, how far do you have to read in a submission before you realize you love it and want to acquire it?

A: All the way through. I once got to the penultimate paragraph of something, only to have it fall apart in the last paragraph. Horrors! The same is not true for deciding something's just not for us.

Q:  Why do you feel a writer should publish his or her work in periodicals like the Los Angeles Review?

A: Platform. Everyone says it, no one knows what it means. It means that when I google you, you pop up someplace. It means you have legitimacy, street cred, a background. It means you care enough to support the arts and contribute to them.

You publish in literary magazines because you think your work deserves to be seen. And when you publish, that means someone else thought your work deserved to be seen, too. That's pretty powerful stuff.

More practically, the stuff in literary magazines is good work that sometimes never gets seen anywhere else. That's why we're here.

Q:  You write as well as edit. What has being an editor taught you about your writing?

A: Mostly, that you learn from everything you read. That is, I learn from other writers. That could be something as broad as pushing the boundaries in story-telling, or it could mean something as specific as word choice.

Q:  What are some things you would like to see more of in your submissions in-box?

A: My submissions in-box is pretty great as it is. We have a really lovely mix of male and female submitters, and we have some great minority literature and viewpoints. But I'm always looking for LGBT and minority stories, and work that isn't young adult but that revisits that time in our lives. I'm a softie for the teen years, for some reason.

Q:  If people wish to submit fiction to the LAR, what is the best way to go about it?

A: Once you've familiarized yourself with our publication, go to our submissions page and follow the directions. I'm always looking forward to reading something amazing.


Stevie McCoy said...

I feel inspired to write a short story for LAR... (swoosh) off to write. Thank you for the great post.

Ami Hendrickson said...

Stevie -
Glad you liked the interview. Good luck with your story creation! I'm sure it will be wonderful. :)