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