An Interview with Coty Barrett, Fiction Editor
By Mara Cobb
What are some key elements you look for in fiction submissions?
Conciseness is key. You might have an incredible twenty-page story, but if it could have been told just as effectively with ten pages, that’s going to severely hurt its chances for publication. This is a big generalization, but I think we’ll always lean toward the writers who respect our time the most, considering the sheer number of submissions we read in a fairly short amount of time. That’s not to say that you should avoid longer pieces, but make sure that every word of it is essential to the story you want to tell.
If I’m talking about my personal biases and tastes (which every editor unavoidably has, whether they admit it or not), I’m a sucker for comedy. It doesn’t have to be entirely comedic, of course; my favorite stories are the ones that can expertly blend the funny moments with the somber, more serious bits. It’s nice enough if you can pull off either of those elements effectively, but when you can do both, they emphasize each other through contrast and give the story balance. That said, having some well-done humor by itself is also enough to impress me!
What do you love about helping writers edit their work?
Even when we reject certain pieces, I often see a lot of potential in people’s writing, and I love to encourage those writers to keep going and resubmit in the future. Even for the ones we accept, we often have suggestions for improvement before we publish them. I love watching someone’s writing morph into its own thing and feeling like I played a small part in their development.
Is there a resource (website, book) you’d recommend to potential contributors thinking about submitting for the first time?
In my first creative writing class with our own campus’s Jean Harper, she had us read Stephen King’s On Writing, and it changed the way I think about my own creative work. Even if you’ve never read any of his other books, this one is worth your time. He aims the book at anyone interested in writing and not just those with experience, so it’s easy for anyone to get into and understand. He talks a great deal about the importance of conciseness, revision, and grit, and his advice often applies to writers of any genre or style, so don’t hesitate if you’re working in an unusual area.
Also, read the previous editions of Tributaries! If you don’t have physical copies of them, you can find the PDFs on our website. As I alluded to before, we all have our own biases and preferences, so as with any creative journal, looking at previous work we’ve published should give you some insight into what we’re looking for and what we value. That said, don’t hesitate to submit to us just because your work is different from what you see in earlier journals. We might be pleasantly surprised! Or not. Only one way to find out!
Who’s your favorite writer and why?
I can’t pick just one (I know it’s a cop-out), but some of my favorites, in no particular order, include Terry Pratchett, Kazuo Ishiguro, Kan Gao, and Toby Fox. The first two primarily write (or wrote) fiction novels, and the latter two write, direct, and compose for video games. Not that we accept games, but the writing in their work has had a huge impact on my own style, and I highly recommend them even for people who aren’t primarily interested in games.
Pratchett was not just a master of humor, but of incorporating the humor into a larger, more meaningful story. Ishiguro has a knack for unreliable narrators, allowing his characters to inadvertently reveal their tragic flaws through their flawed perceptions of their own experiences. Gao is great at subtly weaving contemporary and philosophical issues into his narrative without them overpowering the basic human stories. Fox knows how to weld mind-bending meta elements into seemingly straightforward games in a way that doesn’t distract from (and actually adds to) the game itself. If you’re for some reason interested in understanding my tastes, or if you tend to like stories that are simultaneously lighthearted and heartbreaking, each of these writers has my highest recommendation.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
I’ve always thought flying would be amazing. Not for the convenience, but because it just looks like so much fun! I’m one of those weirdoes who loves flying in planes, and I’m devastated if I don’t get the window seat. Looking down from a birds-eye view, you get this new perspective on the world below you that a map can’t really provide. I’d love to be able to see that every day.
Coty Barrett is a senior English student at IU East with a focus in Creative Writing. His poems “Philanthropy” and “Vegetables” have been published in the Tributaries journal of the creative arts. His nonfiction piece “Elementary, Dear Watson” and poetry collection “Family” have also been accepted at the International Sigma Tau Delta Conference, where he has presented his work. In addition to taking classes, he currently works as a fiction editor for Tributaries and a consultant at the IU East Writing Center.