Friday, June 5, 2015

Six Questions for Dan Hollifield, Senior Editor/Publisher, Aphelion

Aphelion is a free, "4theLuv," e-zine that acts as a writer's workshop as well as an online creative writing zine. We've been online since February of 1997, discovering new writers, and helping them learn how to become better writers. We've had nearly two hundred amateur writers graduate to the pro markets over the years. We've also seen a few established pro writers send us work that is outside their normal genres because we seemed to be their best choice to show that they go beyond the kinds of stories they are best known for writing. Learn more here.

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

Dan Hollifield: Imagination, characters whom the readers can become interested in, and a good story. All the editors at Aphelion love reading SF&F, so if a submission grabs their interest we figure our readers will enjoy it too.

SQF: What common mistakes do you encounter that turn you off to a submission?

DH: The biggest turn-off for our editors is when a writer is unwilling to believe that their deathless prose is NOT written in stone. My personal attitude is that every writer can benefit from an editor, myself included! If a writer is unwilling to work with an editor in order to improve their story, that makes for an unpleasant experience for all concerned. Another thing we don't want to see is fanfic because of the obvious copyright problems that can cause. Although it is common for many writers to begin by re-using established universes like Star Trek or Star Wars or other beloved fandoms, that is a crutch we want our writers to abandon. If someone can write an engaging fanfic, we believe they can grow beyond that to develop their own playground that readers will enjoy even more.

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

DH: We don't have any problem with that. Or with reprints, for that matter. We like to know ahead of time so we don't introduce the story as brand new, never before seen, and so on. But we don't reject something because it's seen the light of day before we receive it. Maybe that other appearance was in a limited venue with few readers, maybe it appeared some time ago and the writer wants to see if our editors can help them improve it, or maybe the writer feels it didn't get a chance to shine in whatever venue it premiered within before.

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?

DH: Long ago I established a policy of requesting rewrites instead of outright rejections. If a writer is willing to work with an editor and improve a submission, then they demonstrate a more professional attitude. That increases their chances of eventually selling their work to the pro markets. Writers who refuse to believe their work can be improved seldom go on to sell much to the pro markets. At least, that's been my experience.

Aphelion's editors encourage questions! We like teaching, so to speak. Debate, discussion, and polite interaction make for better stories for our readers to enjoy. That process also increases the chances that a writer can find their strengths, as well as locate areas in which they can improve their work. I learned long ago that I have a blind spot, so to speak, for Passive Voice. Editors I worked with on my stories kept pointing out where I drifted from Past Tense into Passive Voice, and I just couldn't see what the difference was. Eventually, I learned more about it, and discovered that my stories improved because I was willing to learn from my mistakes. I'm fairly typical for a writer, I am too close to my work, so quite often flaws that are obvious to someone else are invisible to me. Asking questions and taking the answers to heart has helped me improve.

SQF: What is the best part of being an editor?

DH: That magical moment when one of our writers shouts out "I made a sale! I'm a PRO!" Conversely, that same moment is also a sad one for Aphelion, because we know that we will see fewer and fewer submissions from that writer in the future as they begin to sell more and more of their work. Fortunately, Aphelion has been a positive experience in so many writer's lives that they often mention us in their book dedications and so on. But watching them graduate into the wider world, gain recognition for their hard work and their talents, and knowing that we helped them get there is one of the greatest joys of life.

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

DH: "You ran Aphelion for 18 years before you made your first pro sale. What took you so long when other writers you featured seemed to rocket off into orbit fairly quickly? How did that affect you, personally?"

Yes, I did ask two questions instead of the indicated solo question. I'm tricky that way.  :)

The answers are tied together, you see. It took me so long because I had quite a lot to learn. Not only about writing, but about myself as well. I was constantly balancing a job, family, hobbies, and exploring other talents along the way. I was a writer, alongside many other pursuits, in my spare time. I'll be the first to admit that I went at everything I have ever done to the temporary exclusion of all the other interests I have. Writing really is a full-time job, even when you aren't getting paid for what you're writing yet. I wondered if I'd ever get the hang of it, writing, I mean. I knew I had the basic gift, but I didn't buckle down and do all the necessary work to pursue it until I became a lot more mature than I was when I began. I had a lot of growing up to do, which took time, but eventually I managed to make the time to do it all. I've been an artist, a musician, a carpenter, a factory laborer, a writer, a husband, a father, a grandfather, an editor and a publisher along the way. The one skill I've never mastered is how to give up, LOL!

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

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