Friday, October 28, 2016

Six Questions for Michelle Irby, Editor, New Zenith Magazine

New Zenith Magazine publishes fiction to around 3,000 words in any genre, as well as poetry, cartooning, illustrations/illustrated stories, short comics, photography and audio stories and nonfiction on the topic of writing. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Michelle Irby: I started this magazine for two reasons.

1.  First, I'm blind and my partner is mostly deaf. I wanted to prove to others that individuals with physical disabilities can with some accommodation, do the same things as individuals with no physical disabilities.

2.  I realized that there is quite a bit of misinformation about publishing out there. I wanted to create a friendly publishing atmosphere where writers could get some feedback on their writing, so they could understand why they may not be getting published. We give them some feedback on their writing and provide them free resources which will help educate them on how to polish their writing until it shines. We want to see writers published, even if it's not with us. Once we give feedback, if a writer gives an honest effort to revise their writing, we will give it a second chance at being published in our magazine.

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

MI: I look for a story that has an intriguing plot. I like to see quality grammar usage, and phrasing. I look for well-developed characters with whom I can identify. I want someone to cheer on or cry with. I want to be pulled into that world and be immersed into its story and forget my life, if only for a few pages.

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

MI: I only get to pick one!?! Ouch!

Well, bad grammar makes a story very hard to read. I don't like stories that drag on in the beginning. I'm annoyed with subplots that distract from the main story. I can't stand a protagonist who is a complete jerk, unless its Thomas Covenant.

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

MI: Oh yes. We want to help our writers understand why they are being rejected. How will they improve if they don't know what is wrong with their writing? I also tell writers what is working in their writing. Sometimes we reject well written pieces just because they are not our style or we just don't have room. I assure those writers that the fault is not with their writing.

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

MI: I learn every day from my writers. When I am compelled by a piece of writing, I take extra note of what it is I liked so much. I try to emulate that in my own writing. I also have learned to be patient. I understand the stress that editors are under to produce a quality product.

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

Q: What is the meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything?
A: 42

Sorry. Seriously,

Q: What is your favorite resource you wished more writers took advantage of?

A: I am a firm believer in peer editing. I feel no author is the best judge of their own work. Everyone should have someone read and critique their work. I believe in well-policed writing circles. I personally use You read and critique the work of other writers. In return, they read and critique yours.  There is as much to be learned by critiquing as being critiqued. Believe me when I tell you if someone says that something is wrong in your writing they are most likely right. But if three or more people point out the same flaw then there is definitely something wrong.  Get over nerves, or swallow your pride and get peer review of your work. I recommend the above circle because it is free and well policed. But there are tons of great writing circles out there and many towns have writers’ groups that meet on a regular basis. You'll never be sorry you joined a writers circle. There is nothing to lose but bad writing habits.

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

Friday, October 21, 2016

Six Questions for Lola Elvy and Tristan Deeley, Editors, fingers comma toes

fingers comma toes is a new online journal for children and young adults publishing essays, short stories, micro stories, poetry, photography, visual arts and music. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Lola Elvy: The idea of fingers comma toes had originally been a suggestion from family members, made almost in passing. It had been in the back of my mind for months, if not well over a year, before I actually started to consider doing it in sincerity. The idea was to create a journal for children and young adults which was edited and run by children and young adults themselves, to create a space meant for authors and artists before the point of expertise or training. It seemed like a fun project, something completely new for me, and something that would be creatively stimulating and challenging. When I approached Tristan with my proposition in September, 2015, I had in truth already been considering it for months, already thinking that it would be a fun project to work on with him, as he and I had corresponded by then for quite some time, including about our shared interest in writing and reading. Looking back on it, fingers comma toes has been indeed fun, stimulating, and, at times, challenging, and it has been made even more enjoyable by the shared experience with Tristan and me working together.

Tristan Deeley: I'm not entirely sure if I had a reason for starting fingers comma toes. Lola suggested the idea of an online children's journal, and I agreed, without thinking at all of what she meant or what it would require, relying on my faith in her to make a good decision. Thinking back on it, I like the idea of being able to make something like this, something that could someday become big and important, that any child or young adult could share their mind and writing through.

SQF: In general, when reading a story/poem/essay, what’s often the first thing that grabs your attention?

Lola Elvy and Tristan Deeley: Generally, when reading a piece, one of the first things to grab our attention is the formatting: the layout on the page; italics; paragraph breaks; depiction of dialogue; the use of punctuation. Another thing that stands out upon first reading is the voice, whether the piece is written in first, second, or third person narrative. Each, we find, has its own distinct feel and tone, and serves its own artistic purpose.

SQF: When reading a story/poem/essay, what turns you off?

Lola Elvy and Tristan Deeley: One of the things we tend to dislike is when the writing itself feels forced. We find that sometimes writing can feel unnatural; the author tries too hard to make it into something that it's not, and as a result, the reader can feel a disconnect between the author and the written text. This happens sometimes, for example, when an author tries too hard to follow one of our themes, and the story/poem/essay ends up feeling somewhat limited by what is otherwise meant to be a creative topic. Our themes are not so much instructions for what to write about, rather than overarching ideas to tie together the stories we select and publish. While we do prefer it when the author interprets and reflects the theme in his/her writing, we much prefer reading something that loosely and creatively ties to the theme, rather than something that feels limited and constricted by the theme. We encourage authors to interpret our themes and reflect them in their own work as they feel fits their writing, rather than trying to force something that doesn't need to be.

SQF: Are submissions open to authors of any age?

Lola Elvy and Tristan Deeley: We intentionally avoided specifying any age boundaries, because we did not want to limit ourselves or others, and, as such, there is no strict minimum or maximum age. So far, in each of our two issues, we have had a youngest submitter of four years of age, and an oldest of twenty-five years of age. While this does not go to set a strict boundary as to the age restrictions, the journal remains intended for children and young adults (though exceptions may be made).

SQF: Who are some of your favorite authors?

Lola Elvy and Tristan Deeley: Jack London, Sam Rasnake, and David Sedaris.

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

Lola Elvy and Tristan Deeley: We wish you'd asked us more about our preferences regarding submissions for fingers comma toes in the future.

One thing we would hope for is to receive more diversity in our submissions. At the moment, the majority of our submitters are from New Zealand; we hope in the future to be able to receive submissions from children and young adults all across the globe. We also hope to receive more submissions of a wider variety. In our second issue, published August, 2016, we had our first piece of music, as well as some interesting art pieces. We hope to widen our range of submissions even further, to include perhaps more music and an even more eclectic selection of visual art and writing, as well as other forms of creative work by children and young adults.

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

Friday, October 14, 2016

Six Questions for Sam (Samantha) Rose, Editor, Peeking Cat Poetry Magazine

Peeking Cat Poetry Magazine publishes all forms of poetry and fiction to 1000 words. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Sam Rose: I used to frequent an online forum called The Young Writers Society (YWS), and the owner Nate created a journal, which was open to submissions from the YWS community. He used for this and as they are a print-on-demand operation, it occurred to me that I could do something similar. It seemed like it would be a lot of fun to read people's submissions, choose the best ones and put a book together. That's when I started my old literary magazine Blinking Cursor. I stopped Blinking Cursor after a few issues, as I felt I didn't have enough time for it. But months later I sat at my desk at my day job doodling, and I drew something that sort of looked like a cat peering around a wall. A peeking cat, you might say. That was when the logo for the magazine was created, and, missing the fun of creating and editing a magazine, I started up again with a new venture. Peeking Cat Poetry Magazine in July 2013.

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

SR: The first thing I look for is someone who has followed the guidelines. It sounds really boring and obvious, but I do get sent odd things, for example reams and reams of poetry - basically someone sending me an entire book of poetry, when I only want three pieces. Or stories that are over the word limit, or sent as a PDF so I can't paste them into a document. Having to chase people for their bios once they've been accepted isn't ideal either, so I can't stress how important it is to follow the guidelines. There aren't that many of them.

The second thing I look for in a submission is poetry with feeling. I like something I can relate to, something that pulls me in emotionally.

I don't look for much specific in terms of content or style, though I suppose I do favour the contemporary, and free verse. Good spelling and grammar is a must - it's fair enough that poetry challenges ordinary rules of grammar, but the wrong spelling of a word, or apostrophes missing, or typos, just makes it look like someone's hammered out their submission in five minutes and doesn't really care about it. And if they don't care about it, why should I? So I'd say take care, and proofread!

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

SR: Forced rhyming. Bad poems about cats. I do accept good cat poems and stories - I've published a few of them. But I don't know if some people assume I only want poems about cats - that's not the case at all, and a quick skim of one of the issues will prove that. I'll accept a poem or story if it's good - cats or no cats! I'd rather not receive a poorly-written poem just for the sake of it being about a cat.

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

SR: No. Sometimes if I'm absolutely blown away or want to comment on something in particular, I'll add an extra line or two in my reply when I accept something. I think if I feel that strongly it's always nice to brighten someone's day with a compliment. But generally I just send a standard reply, whether accepting or rejecting. It would be great to be able to comment on everything, but I work my day job full time and am studying for my MA Creative Writing part time - unfortunately there are only so many hours in the day!

SQF: You recently published the first issue of The Creative Truth ( How is this different from PCPM?

SR: The Creative Truth publishes non-fiction rather than poetry and fiction. My aim with TCT is more along the lines of personal essays and memoirs - I want to know about difficulties people have overcome, about pivotal points in their lives, and how they have been shaped by their experiences. I want to know their deep feelings or even secrets, and they can wrap these up in however much truth or embellishment they feel comfortable with. While PCPM is mostly poetry, TCT is all about truth and empathy. And because of that it's even more of a privilege to be able to read the work people submit. I really appreciate everything that people choose to share with me.

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

SR: Another question I'd like to answer would be "What should writers do in their cover letters when they submit to you?" And I would say that a cover letter doesn't have to be long, or list all your great achievements. I'm more bothered about the quality of your work than how many other magazines you've been published in or any prizes you've been nominated for. But please at least say hello to me! Sometimes submissions come through with no cover letter at all, and just poems sent as attachments. So please send a bio in your cover letter as requested in the guidelines, and say hello! It's not difficult to find out my name - 'Dear sirs' is fine I guess, but it doesn't take long to research and find out I'm not a sir. Saying 'Hello, my name is Hamish, please find my submissions attached and a bio below' is all it takes. Much better than saying nothing at all!

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

Friday, October 7, 2016

Six Questions for David Steffen, Editor, Diabolical Plots

Diabolical Plots publishes fiction to 3500 words in the science fiction, fantasy and horror genres. All works must have a speculative element. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

David Steffen: Diabolical Plots as a publication started back in 2008.  I hadn't yet sold my first story, and I kept hearing how writers are supposed to have some kind of online presence.  At the time I was barely on social media, and so it seemed like I was expected to set up a blog, but at the time I thought blogs were pretty much all people talking about themselves (I have, of course, realized since then that there are many blogs that aren't just me-fests, but that was my impression at the time).  I wasn't really that interested in writing about myself all the time, so I had pretty much written that idea off until I read Juliette Wade's blog, TalkToYoUniverse.  Juliette didn't just sit around and talk about herself, she went out of her way to actively engage readers and writers in conversations about fiction.  This got me very excited, and I decided that I would try to use a blog-style format to try to engage in the conversation with readers and writers.  I started by finding some well-known authors to interview, books to review, articles about writing and etc.

The goal of the magazine remains the same as it did in those early days, though the exact content has shifted over time.  It's been a long-term desire to publish original fiction on Diabolical Plots, and in 2015 that finally became financially feasible, and I've just finished picking the final lineup for year three of original fiction--now with a higher word limit and with two stories published per month.

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

1.  Does it make me care?
Part of this is that the beginning has to pique my interest as a reader.  A short story of this length can't waste space--a big expository lump is going to kill the pacing and the reader interest.  And there has to be something to keep the reader reading--humor or empathy for the character or some kind of intellectual puzzle, something to keep that reader reading.  I like a pretty wide variety of types of stories, so "make me care" is a very broad statement, but when I'm considering each story in slush I am closely examining my reaction to it.  When I read the beginning do I care if I read the rest?  When I read the middle of the story am I looking forward to the ending?  After I've finished it, is it something that I would recommend excitedly to another reader?  These are all questions I ask myself as I'm considering whether to hold the story for the final round or not.

2.  Does it stick the ending?
Of course, for me to make it to the ending, you have to pull off #1 reasonably well.  But, the ending is one of the most important things as well--it should tie everything together, give some resolution to the plot and themes explored in the short story, ideally ending with a really memorable final sentence.  Best endings are ones which aren't the obvious ending, but ones which make sense in retrospect.

3.  Does it feel like something new?
You will hear that "there are no new stories".  And to some extent that's true.  But there are still stories that "feel" newer than others--that cover new ground in some way, exploring a familiar story from an unexpected angle. I have a great love for weird fiction--I love to read a story that's going along in a seemingly straightforward fashion and then something comes along that's completely unexpected that flips the whole thing on its head.

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

DS: Overexplaining is probably the next biggest turnoff.  If you spend 500 words at the beginning of the story describing the setting, or describing the magic system, or describing the orbital mechanics of a satellite, before something actually happens, that's going to be a problem holding my interest.  If the reader needs to know these things, it works much better if it can be worked in as events rather than explanatory narration.

If the story appears to be one of my peeves is another big turnoff.  I am so tired of serial killer stories.  And stories that are entirely about a person killing their spouse or child because of annoying personal habits.  Zombie or vampire stories can be a hard sell, but humor is probably more likely to pull those off for me than straight tellings because I think humor has better chance of feeling fresh.  If a story seems like one of those things at the beginning, then my opinion is already sour as the story starts and I might start skimming extra early--I can be turned around, but it takes a lot more at that point.

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

DS: Rarely.  Last year I was much more likely to provide personal comments.  Since last submission window I acquired my first Smartphone.  This tool helped remarkably in keeping up with slushreading--I could read a couple stories as I was waiting for the dogs to use the lawn, or when waiting for takeout food to be ready, or any number of other small moments in the day.  The big downside to slushreading on the phone, though, is that I despise typing on a touchscreen.  So I'm much less likely to type out a personal comment casually, and so probably will only do so if I feel that I have a very clear idea of what kept me from holding the story that I think might be of specific use to the author.  This time most of the "held for further consideration" notices were even form letters, for the same reason (though it is important to me to give personal rejections to all stories that were held).

SQF: If you could have dinner with three authors, who would they be and why?

1.  Ferrett Steinmetz--he has so many good short stories, and he's the writer of the AMAZING books:  FLEX and THE FLUX, which may be my favorite books of all time (a wide open magic system that includes both bureaucromancy and videogamemancy, wonderful fully-fleshed characters, and epic scale).

2.  Brandon Sanderson--he consistently knocks it out of the park in particular with his worldbuilding and his interesting magic systems.

3.  Caroline M. Yoachim--She has an incredible number of short stories and they are ALL SO GOOD.  She is also super nice and I'm sure it would be a great time.

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

DS:  "What should I put in my cover letter?"

It might, at first glance, seem a little bit odd that I am suggesting this question.  While the Diabolical Plots submission system does ask for a cover letter, because the submissions are judged blindly and I am the only editorial staff member that means that the cover letter is read by no one until the final fate of the submission is decided and therefore it has no effect whatsoever on the choice.

So why did I suggest the question?  Because a lot of people write short story cover letters quite badly.  And, to other short story publications, the cover letter may be read before the submission and may give the staff some initial impression.

Things to think about:
1.  Watch for copy-paste errors.  It doesn't look great if you send a story to me addressed to Lynne Thomas, or which offers a story to Liminal Stories, or which has the wrong story title.
2.  Don't summarize your story.  Short stories are not submitted like novels--a short story is short enough that at the vast majority of markets a summary is not expected.  On the rare occasion that a market's guidelines ask for a summary, of course you should provide one, but otherwise leave it off.
3.  Don't list things that aren't positive--for instance, listing a personal rejection to another market (it's still a rejection after all).
4.  Don't make it too long. I've seen some cover letters that were 1000 words long.  That's way too long--it should be a few sentences to cover the basics.

The best cover letter is pretty brief, possibly even terse.  Just include the word count, story title, and maybe a few of your best sales if you feel they are impressive enough.  If you don't have any publications to list, don't sweat it--don't try to invent things to make yourself sound impressive.  We've all got to start better, and if your story's good, it's good.

(I personally am also fond of cover letters that make jokes or are silly just to break things up a bit, but I'm not sure I'd advise that in general unless you have some sense of the editor's attitude toward such things)

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