Friday, May 19, 2017

Six Questions for Sara Roberts , Editor, Cafe Aphra

Cafe Aphra publishes poetry to 25 lines and flash fiction to 500 words. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Sara Roberts: We set up Cafe Aphra together with a small group of writing friends back in Autumn 2012. We had met through a short writing course organised by the Arvon Foundation at a wonderful place called Moniack Mhor up in the Scottish Highlands. We all felt somewhat frustrated by our unsuccessful attempts to submit work to many of the established literary journals, both in print and online, and we knew that there were a lot of great aspiring writers out there working in isolation and getting discouraged. So we decided to set up an online platform for writers to share their work and support and encourage each other, offering feedback and getting their work read by other people. It was about helping ourselves and each other through showcasing our writing, and encouraging writers to be collaborative and supportive, rather than competitive.

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


  • Writing that moves me in some way emotionally. It may make me laugh, smile, feel sad, nostalgic, horrified, or whatever - it's not so much about which emotion or emotions, but it must move me in some way.
  • Writing that is in some way true. That makes me nod or smile wryly in recognition. That contains an essence of human truth.
  • Writing that makes me see something familiar in a completely new way.

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


  • Ranting (political, social, moral, spiritual or other). 
  • Poor grammar or spelling; blatant typos that have been overlooked. Incorrect use of apostrophes, etc. 
  • A story or piece of prose or verse that does not make any kind of sense, that is just a string of words for the sake of it, that hasn't really been thought about carefully. That hasn't been honed or polished or crafted. 
  • In terms of flash fiction, above all else the character or characters have to be strong, have to feel real, have to convince me of their existence beyond the page. 
  • In terms of verse, I personally find rhyming poetry can often feel twee and too easy or simplistic. I think it's very hard, actually, to write really good rhyming poetry today. So I would say that I have a definite preference for verse that does not follow an obvious rhyme scheme, but that's just me.

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

SR: Sometimes. Not often. Generally we only offer feedback if we feel that it was a strong submission that was nearly there and is worth taking the time to comment on, perhaps so that the author can re-work it and re-submit.

SQF: What magazines/zines do you read on a ‘regular’ basis?

SR: Gosh. That's a hard question! There are lots of them, but it depends what you mean by "on a regular basis"! Here are some literary journals and anthologies or publishing houses that I tend to go for when I can, in no particular order (some of them very big, some very small):

Glimmertrain Press, (previously) NanoFiction, Room, Granta, Tin House, The Fiction Desk, Aesthetica Magazine, Momaya Press, Brittle Star Magazine, Fish Publishing, Structo, The Sandspout, SickLit, Litro, Ad Hoc Fiction, Red Hen Press, East Coast Literary Review, Corvus review, From the Depths, Ink in Thirds, Haque Magazine, FlashFlood NFFD journal/anthology.

(And I'm sure I've forgotten at least half a dozen of really obvious ones.)

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

SR: What are the things that annoy you the most when contributors submit work for the first time?

  • People not writing a proper email, e.g. Hi Cafe Aphra / Dear Editor (or something to that effect), Please find attached my flash fiction submission entitled X. Thanks for your time. Best, Joe Bloggs. A surprising number of people just copy and paste the text of their submission straight into an email without any kind of explanation whatsoever, even to say whether it is a poetry or prose submission (and believe me, sometimes it is not obvious!). That always riles me because it just seems so lazy and as if the person submitting is not even acknowledging that there is a human being on the receiving end of their email.
  • People who don't read the submission guidelines and send in short stories, say, of 2000 words without first checking what we actually post up on the website (which is flash fiction up to 500 words or poetry of up to 25 lines max). Please do check at least the last few posts to get a sense of what we publish before submitting.

SQF: Are you reading anyone else's blog about writing at the moment, and if so who?

SR: Yes, at the moment I find myself ready Emma Darwin's blog quite often, This Itch of Writing. I have read several of her articles and always found them to be really spot-on and sometimes quite brilliant. I would thoroughly recommend.

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

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