Friday, October 17, 2014

Six Questions for R. Leigh Hennig, Editor-in-Chief, Bastion Science Fiction Magazine

Bastion publishes science fiction 1000-5000 words in length. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

R. Leigh Hennig: I love science fiction short stories. I’ve been in the scene for a while, as both a reader and author, and just kept coming across so many fantastic stories that were going unnoticed or otherwise passed over. Sci-fi readers have a voracious appetite, and it’s just not being satisfied, despite the many fantastic markets that already exist. I wanted to do something that mattered to people, something that was meaningful, rather than just spin my wheels with another social media connect-authors-and-readers kind of site. It was only natural from a number of angles that I create a science fiction magazine. This time however, rather than publishing issues which contain a few fiction stories, some non-fiction pieces, interviews, podcasts, etc., I wanted to deliver to the readers a higher dose of pure, uncut, classic science fiction. Like a good story, I wanted the magazine to get as close to the reader as possible. No distractions. That’s why when I created Bastion, I decided that we would focus solely on science fiction short stories. No advertising appears on our site, or in our magazine. When you read us, or visit our site, there’s just nothing that gets in the way between you, and the content. Of course, that makes things a little harder for us. We turn down ad revenue which would go a long way to keeping us afloat. I think it’s worth it, though. Bastion is absolutely unique in these regards.

SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?

RLH: Firstly, the story needs to be compelling. That’s a polite way of saying we don’t like boring. It has to hold the reader’s interest. More than that, it has to captivate the reader, to the point where they’re almost falling over themselves to get to the next word to see what happens. Secondly, there has to be a strong emotional engagement. On some level, you need to really care for the characters, and the plot. If the reader doesn’t care about your protagonist, then the story is dead in the water. We don’t publish stories where the readers feel “meh” about the characters. I want to read stories that just make your heart ache, one way or another. Finally, we want stories that challenge something, or is otherwise forward looking. Science fiction is about imagining what could be, so the same plots and tropes just won’t fly here. Think about the future, and come up with something new, some different approach to your characters, ideas, or plot.

SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission (besides the converse of the above)?

RLH: Juvenile writing. Stories that don’t take themselves seriously. It’s okay to have fun, humorous pieces that are light-hearted. We love those. But we’re not interested in submissions where the author is acting like a fool. Don’t just throw needless vulgarity or filth into a story for the shock factor. If you’re going to have graphic scenes, then justify them, and treat them with the weight they deserve.

SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a submission?

RLH: Absolutely. We try to be a contributor-oriented publication wherever we can. This means, in part, that each submission received gets a meaningful, personalized response within a reasonable amount of time. If a story gets rejected, then the author is notified why, and we try to be specific. This isn’t license to argue with us on our thoughts for a piece, however. As much as we’d like to discuss with authors what they did or didn’t do correctly, or how something could be interpreted differently, we just don’t have the time. 99 times out of 100 this isn’t an issue though, and many authors are thankful for our comments. We wish we could do more, but for now we do what we can.

SQF: Based on your experience as an editor, what have you learned about writing?

RLH: After reading hundreds or thousands of short stories, you get to see trends. You learn to identify very quickly whether or not the story is going to be a good one, and why. You also learn about what works, and what doesn’t. For instance: novice writers will use death or despair as an emotional hook for a story, which is a fairly cheap tactic, easy to implement. However, if you can write a story that’s uplifting and about life or something positive, where it’s not all gloom and doom, then you’re going to be in a much better place to make your readers (and editors) happier and more excited for your work (provided that it’s well-written to begin with).

SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?

RLH: Ask us about how readers can best support us. Ask us what we need! My answer: we need of course readers to buy copies of our magazine. Donations are naturally welcome (and we even have some benefits for various donations, which you can see at at the bottom of the page), but even more important for a new market is word-of-mouth. If someone reading this stops by our site, enjoys our sample story, and picks up an issue, fantastic! That’s at least one issue sold. But if that reader then tells 10 of their friends, and even one friend out of those 10 goes and buys a copy, then immediately we’ve doubled our sales and subsequently our ability to support and pay our authors. So, what can you do to help Bastion? Tell your friends and family to check us out. You can even share your own PDF/mobi/epub copy of our magazine freely—we are DRM-free and want to engage our readers. If someone you shared your copy with decides it’s a worthwhile publication and picks up their own copy, then we consider that a huge win.

Thank you, Leigh. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.

NEXT POST: 10/24—Six Questions for Johnny Damm (Founder and Editor) and Matthew Nye (Editor), A Bad Penny Review

Friday, October 10, 2014

Six Questions for Dawn Lloyd, Editor in Chief, The Colored Lens

The Colored Lens publishes speculative fiction and non-fiction to 20,000 words (shorter preferred). Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?

Dawn Lloyd: I really have two main priorities, which are probably the same for most magazines. I look for good writing and a good plot. I don't care how good the writing is, if it doesn't have a good hook and a well-paced plot, it's not going to hold my attention. Conversely, it doesn't matter how good the plot is if the writing isn't also strong.

After those two things, there are a whole host of things that makes me like one well-written story over another. These include good, well-developed characters, a unique concept, something that makes me think. If I'm still considering a story hours, days, and weeks after reading it, that's a good sign.

SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission?

DL: Akin to the above, there are basically two things that turn me off. If I read 1000 words and nothing has happened, I'm unlikely to accept a story. I may read another 500 words just in case it miraculously changes and becomes exceptional, but if a story can't hook me in the first 1000 words (ideally 500 words,) it's probably going to be a reject.

The other thing that turns me off is poor writing. This could be anything from poor/repetitive sentence structure to the "don'ts" of storytelling like too much "telling," overuse of adverbs, filtering, etc.

SQF: Will you publish a submission an author posted on a personal blog?

DL: We don't publish reprints, and posting on a blog does count as a form of publishing, so it's exceptionally unlikely that we'd publish something posted on a blog.

SQF: What do you want authors to know about the submissions you reject and how authors should respond? Along this same idea, do you mind if authors reply with polite questions about the comments they receive?

DL: We send personal rejections to all submissions, and occasionally authors respond to say thanks. We certainly don't expect or need it, but I can't imagine a scenario in which someone saying "thanks" would be unwelcome.

If an author asks a polite question about a rejection, we answer; but we don't particularly encourage it unless the rejection was somehow unclear. Of course, there have been times when rejections have had typos or copy/paste errors that made them unclear, and we certainly don't object to confused authors asking us to clarify. If it's a case of general writing advice, authors would generally do better to work with a critique group than to query us. For example, if we say we felt a piece had a bit too much "telling" and not as much "showing," the best course of action would be for the author to send the story through another round of critiques in a writer's group, or to ask on a writing site what's meant by telling vs. showing. Although asking us those questions may be phrased politely, and we don't object to them specifically, we also are more likely to direct the author to a writing group for their answers.

On occasion, an author replies to argue with a rejection and explain to us how we misunderstood the story. These tend to be the best way to assure that we remember the author in a less than positive light. Interestingly, but perhaps not uncoincidentally, the authors who do this tend to be the ones whose writing isn't something we're likely to publish anyway.

SQF: Based on your experience as an editor, what have you learned about writing?

DL: The importance of plot. Although writing style may be the harder skill to perfect, once a writer reaches a certain level of skill, the most common reason for a rejection is a lack of plot.

SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?

DL: What bit of advice do you have for authors just starting to submit stories?

Do it. If you write, then take the next step and submit your stories. However, make sure you revise. Revise a lot. Then after you've revised, have the story critiqued by other writers and revise again.

Thank you, Dawn. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.

NEXT POST: 10/17—Leigh Hennig, Editor-in-Chief, Bastion Science Fiction Magazine

Friday, October 3, 2014

Six Questions for Annabelle Edwards, Editor, Control Lit

Control Lit publishes poetry, flash fiction (to 500 words) and short stories (to 3000 words) in any genre, as well as visual arts. “We are a quarterly publication. We publish music and literature reviews in between issues.“ Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?

Annabelle Edwards:

1. Strong imagery and word choice

2. An original voice

3. Something that makes me want to go back and reread. Something that I'll still be thinking about three days later.

SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission (besides the converse of the above)?

AE: There are some additional things included about this in our submission guidelines.

Nothing previously published.

Also, when it is evident from the work submitted that the writer did not read our guidelines or the magazine.

The content within Control Lit is free and if someone cannot take ten minutes to read a few stories, the chance of us accepting your work is low.

Submitting significantly more words/pages/poems/stories than allowed.

Addressing the wrong editor or magazine.

An obvious lack of editing. A few errors is not a problem, but when the grammatical errors distract the reader from the story that is being told that is when I take issue.

Not having a strong ending. There is a huge difference between wanting more and being left unsatisfied.

Formatting that is so complicated I am not able to read the story/poem in the proper order.

Having plot holes. I am all for leaving things up for interpretation, but it is not the same as vague.

Using hard to read fonts. Super small sizes, or single spaced prose.

Bios that include like ten or twenty places where their work has been previously published. Three of the most recent is good.

Things that are extremely gory/disturbing/violent without a purpose.

Using complicated vocabulary just for the sake of trying to seem smart.

SQF: Will you publish a submission an author posted on a personal blog?

AE: Yes, often the work of my own that ends up being published comes from my personal blog. I feel getting feedback in some way, shape, or form is important before sending something off to be submitted.

SQF: You’ll publish your third issue of Control Lit soon. What has surprised you the most about publishing an online magazine?

AE: A few things have surprised me about it.

1. The amount of work that goes into the magazine. Being naive, I planned to run everything for Control Lit myself. When submissions poured in, I realized I needed help. I am so grateful for my fabulous co-editors: Allison, Chaz, Anne, and Raven. We are also adding two more editors to our staff, Tracey and Chelsey who I am very excited to work with.

2. The process of laying out each issue is more complicated than I originally anticipated. Allison makes each issue beautiful.

3. The support that we have gotten in such a short period of time is amazing.

4. The quality of submissions has been outstanding.

5. The number of connections that I have made in the literary world and all the great people out there doing extraordinary things.

6. How many people have submitted. I appreciate the amount of time it takes to submit your work, the patience that comes with it, and the trust. Out of all the literary magazines out there, I am honored people choose Control Lit.

7. How much I have learned in a short period of time and how much fun I have had working with such talented people.

8. I never thought I'd be setting up music and book reviews in between issues. But that is just as thrilling for me as reading submissions for the issues of Control Lit. I love music and literature, so to meet other people that do too and are able to express that is wonderful.

SQF: [Cliche alert!!] If you were stranded on a deserted island, what three authors (living or dead) would you like to be there with you and why?


1. Tim O'Shei: The author of How to Survive On a Deserted Island (though I may elect to substitute him with Lana Del Rey. She could sing to me and write me songs. Then I would be perfectly content to stay on said island forever.)

2. JK Rowling

3. Maya Angelou

SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?

AE: How has being a magazine editor improved my own writing and my own confidence about my work?

Obviously, one of the best ways to improve as a writer is to read. I have become familiar with so many different styles and forms of writing since starting Control Lit. The different characteristics of a writer's prose or poetry are so rich. I find myself experimenting more because of that influence.

When I first started submitting to literary magazines, I took each rejection personally. I thought I sucked and that it was me. I thought I was terrible and nothing I wrote would ever be published.

Being an editor, I now realize rejections are not personal. Sometimes the piece does not fit with a magazine's aesthetic, maybe it doesn't hit the editor(s) the same way as it does someone else. There are loads of reasons. Being behind the scenes has helped me embrace all the rejection that comes with the submission process. I am more confident now and rejection no longer bothers me.

I also am better at editing my own work. I notice errors quicker and am able to identify grammatical mistakes I would have overlooked before.

Thank you, Annabelle.  We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.

NEXT POST: 10/10—Six Questions for Dawn Lloyd, Editor in Chief, The Colored Lens

Friday, September 26, 2014

Six Questions for Natalie Bowers, Editor/Publisher, 1000words

1000words is looking for previously unpublished flash fiction of up to 1000 words in length. The stories may be in any genre, but must have been written in response to one of the images from our Pinterest Boards. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Natalie Bowers: It was early 2012, and I’d just completed an online writing course with flash fiction aficionado Calum Kerr. He’d mentioned that he was trying to get the first ever National Flash-Fiction Day off the ground and was looking for people to organize events and projects, offline and on. Over the course of the course, I’d fallen in love with flash fiction, and I’d always had a secret desire to run my own magazine, so I put the two together with my enthusiasm for photography and came up with the idea for 1000words. We published our first stories in the run-up to NFFD 2012.

SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?

NB: I don’t dilly-dally when it comes to deciding if a story is right for 1000words. If it grabs me, it goes on the site, and the major factor in determining whether a story grabs me or not seems to be its narrative voice. I need a narrative voice I can trust. It doesn’t have to be confident, but it does have to be consistent. I have to believe in the narrator to believe in the story.

The second thing I look for is a spark of something special. It might be an unusual turn of phrase, a particularly poignant observation, a subverted cliché, a surprising simile, or it might be that the story itself is old, but that it’s being told in a new way … or vice versa. It’s hard to define, but I know it when I see it.

The third thing I look for is subtly of exposition. I believe there’s a place for ‘telling’ as well as ‘showing’ in flash fiction, but I do like to have to read between the lines. I don’t want to be told what to think; I want to be told a story that makes me think.

I also like stories that work synergistically with the pictures that inspired them, but that’s a fourth thing!

SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission (besides the converse of your responses to question 1)?

The biggest turn off for me is an apparent lack of proofreading. We all make a mistake here and there, so I’m more than happy to drop in an extra comma or apostrophe if needed, but if I’m faced with consistently inaccurate grammar and punctuation that doesn’t serve the story, then I’ll most likely give up on the piece.

The other thing that turns me off is when authors toss their stories at me without so much as a ‘Hello’! My name is on our website, but even a ‘Dear Editor’ would be polite.

SQF: In your FAQ, you state, "we believe that the shorter the story, the sharper the bite.” Is there such a thing as too short?

NB: Not for us. I think the shortest piece we’ve published is 75 words long, but if Hemingway (or whoever really wrote it) had sent me his six-word story, I’d definitely have published it!

SQF: Based on your experience as an editor, what have you learned about writing?

NB: Where should I start? The most important thing I’ve learned from being an editor is that I need to persevere with my own writing. Every time I publish a story at 1000words, I’m inspired to open up my laptop and start typing again. The stories we publish always push me to up my game as well. As an editor, I ask myself what I like and what I don’t like about each submission, and this has helped me enormously when rewriting and editing my own stories. I’ve also developed a thicker skin when it comes to dealing with rejection. It’s nothing personal when I decline to publish a story—it’s often just a matter of taste—so when I receive a ‘no’ from a publisher, I simply dust of the rejected story and send it somewhere else.

SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?

NB: The question I wish you’d asked is: “Are there any topics or themes you don’t want to read about?” As someone who’s suffered from depression and anxiety, I don’t like submissions that deal with mental illness in a superficial or stereotypical way–I’ve got too much first-hand experience to believe in them. I also have a particular aversion to stories about suicide, mostly because the one’s I’ve been sent have been about people simply feeling sorry for themselves. I have published one or two on the site, but these have been something special, something different, like Cathy Lennon’s A Useful Facility in theNorth, which is one of my very favourite 1000words stories.

Well, that was a cheery note on which to finish!

Thank you, Natalie. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.

NEXT POST: 10/3--Six Questions for Annabelle Edwards, Editor, Control Lit