Last year, Upper Rubber Boot Books ran a Kickstarter for an anthology of solarpunk stories, and backers (like me!) got to see the cover art before the rest of the world. If you saw my announcement last Monday, you'll understand that I have a very strong interest in this emerging science fiction subgenre.
There's a lot of discussion about what solarpunk is or isn't, but the truth is there just hasn't been enough written to set the tropes and expectations yet. Some of what has been called "climate fiction" could be called solarpunk as well, if it presents an optimistic view of the future (which much of it does not). How do Sunvault editors Phoebe Wagner and Brontë Christopher Wieland define solarpunk? Here's from the Sunvault website:
Solarpunk follows in the tradition of steampunk and cyberpunk as the embodiment of a counterculture ideology: innovating a way of life that is better for the present and ultimately better for the future. Concepts like clean energy and sustainability are integral to solarpunk as they are outlets for societal reform. The fight for positive change is where -punk comes into play.
Sunvault will contain stories by Jaymee Goh, Lev Mirov, Kristine Ong Muslim, Daniel José Older, Nisi Shawl, Bogi Takács, Lavie Tidhar, A.C. Wise, and a whole bunch of others.
Ready to see the cover? Here it is:
A few weeks ago, a friend asked me for some advice about how to submit short stories to magazines and anthologies, so I'm sharing the advice I gave her with the world. If you're a new writer who's just stepping a toe into the world of publishing, or if you've gotten lucky with a few markets but don't really understand how the whole thing works, then this article is for you. This advice about submitting short stories is primarily for those writing fantasy and science fiction, as some of the details may differ if you write literary (for example, many literary markets allow simultaneous submissions while SFF do not), but no matter what genre you're working with, this six step sequence can help point you in the right direction.
And who am I to give this advice? No one, really, but I've published approximately 35 short stories (many of them very short), ranging from non-paying and token markets all the way up to professional and prize-winning. According to Duotrope, I've sent out 535 submissions in the last six years. I'm also an editor who has read a good deal of slush for both magazines and anthologies over the last five years.
Want to submit short stories to magazines or anthologies? Here's your six step sequence.
First of all, is your story ready to submit? Have you had your critique group or beta readers look at it, and implemented as many of their suggestions as fit your vision for the story? Have you teased out every possible specific detail about these characters, this setting, this situation, as you can fit into the space of a short story? Have you read it out loud to listen for clunky sentences, word echoes, stilted dialog? Have you let it sit for a couple of days (or even weeks) and then read it again with fresh eyes? Is it absolutely the best you can do at this moment in time?
If you answered no to any of the above, stop right now, and stop thinking about publication. Maybe it needs another rewrite, or five. Maybe you just need to write a different story. Or five.
Second, research the markets. Decide what matters to you. Do you want to be paid professional rates, or are you okay with less? Do you want a paper copy, or do you prefer online publication? Do you want to be in a well-established publication, or do you want to take a chance on something newer? Market listings such as Duotrope.com, the Submission Grinder, and Ralan.com are excellent search engines that can help you discover new markets and narrow down the ones that are looking for the kind of story you’re writing. To find anthologies, visit small press websites (or follow them on social media) to watch for anthology announcements, and skim Kickstarter for anthologies that may still be taking submissions. Always visit the magazine or anthology’s website, and be sure to read the submission guidelines. Avoid any market that charges a submission fee*, and watch for red flags such as asking for exclusive rights. After you look at a dozen or so submission guidelines, you’ll have an excellent sense for what’s normal and what’s not.
(*Submission fees are more common and accepted for literary markets, but are anathema in genre fiction. Contests are different, but should still be treated skeptically, especially if the entry fee is high.)
Third, once you’ve decided which markets you’d like to submit to, read them. If you’re looking at anthologies, pick up another anthology by that editor or publishing house. If you’re looking at magazines, pick up their latest issue. Most magazines are available online, but you can also go camp out at your local Barnes and Noble to look at paper issues of Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine, Asimov’s, Analog Science Fiction & Fact, and a few others. Lightspeed, Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons and many others have podcasts you can download to listen to while you drive, walk the dog, or eat lunch. However you do it, make sure you’ve read at least a few stories in a magazine before you send yours there. You don’t have to read all of them cover-to-cover, but read enough to get a sense of what they value in a story, and if they’re publishing stories like the ones you’re writing. Even if your story is great, the editor won’t take it unless it’s also a great fit.
Fourth, use Standard Manuscript Format (unless otherwise specified) and submit the story according to the market's guidelines along with a brief cover letter. Do not describe your story in the cover letter. The cover letter should be very short, and include the story’s title, word count, any previous publications or writing education you may have, and a “thank you” for their time. Don’t have any publications or writing education? No problem, just leave that part out. Do not apologize for having none, or offer any rationalizations or frustrations about it. Simply omit. If you have other education or life experience that relates to the content of your story, you can also include that. For example, if you are writing hard science fiction about space travel and you have a PhD in physics, say so. Or, if you are queer and so is your character, you can let the editor know the story is #OwnVoices.
Here’s the standard cover letter I have sent out for years:
Dear [Magazine Title] Editors,
That’s really it. A cover letter is not a query letter (which you need for submitting a novel). It is simply a polite introduction that says “Here’s my story, thanks for taking a look.”
Fifth, practice Rejectomancy (and abandon all hope). You can keep track of your submissions at Duotrope or the Submission Grinder, which will let you see the average response times for markets. Most science fiction and fantasy markets do not allow simultaneous submissions, so you’ll need to wait until you hear back from the first one before submitting the same story to the second one (and so on). If you know that Asimov’s, for example, takes an average of 100 days to respond, but Clarkesworld takes an average of two days to respond, that can help you plan which markets to submit to first, and help allay your anxieties as you wait for that response. If you haven’t already, start writing a new story.
Sixth, when that dreaded rejection comes in, move on to the next market on your list, make sure to follow their guidelines (which may differ slightly from the last one), and submit the story to that magazine or anthology. Keep submitting until you run out of places you would be proud to see your work in. The pro-markets are great, but there are a lot of semi-pros and token markets that do a great job as well. Or, if the editors were nice enough to give you personalized feedback, you may want to do another pass through the story and incorporate their suggestions. Unfortunately, you can’t resubmit it to the same magazine or anthology unless the editor specifies that they’d like you to (called a "revise and resubmit").
If their response is an acceptance rather than a rejection, then do a happy dance, sign the contract (after reading it closely), make sure you get paid, and always share the news with your friends and social media followers when the story is released.
And then, if you haven’t already, submit your next story.
As part of the Apex Revive the Drive subscription drive campaign, I have the privilege of interviewing Apex Magazine managing editor Lesley Connor. I'll admit I haven't read every issue of Apex, but every time I dip into it, I find a new favorite, and some of my all-time favorite short stories have been published there, stories such as "Jackalope Wives" by Ursula Vernon, "Frozen Planet" by Marian Womack, "Paskutinis Iliuzija (The Last Illusion)" by Damien Angelica Walters, and of course "If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love" by Rachel Swirsky. Apex stories are always dark and gorgeous, and stay with you long after you hit the end.
The Apex Subscription Drive runs until April 17, 2017, and features some very cool perks. See the full details here.
Sarena Ulibarri: The aesthetic of Apex Magazine has surely changed and evolved over the years and under different editors. What are some of the stories you feel best define the current Apex aesthetic?
Lesley Conner: This is a fantastic question! And also a really hard one to answer because it isn’t as simple listing personal favorites. Apex Magazine is striving to publish stories that are dark and surreal, stories that push boundaries, that blend genres—or throw genre out the window entirely. We want real human emotions in fantastical worlds. Give us outrage, desperation, sorrow, and then twist it into something new and heart-wrenchingly beautiful. We want stories that introduce us to new worlds, that stretch our imaginations.
None of these are things that are easily defined. But I will give it a shot!
Stories I feel best define the current Apex aesthetic:
This is a pretty fair mix of stories. Different genres, different subject matter. Authors from different backgrounds. But all of these stories have something that says “Apex!” to me when I read them and I think they’d be a good place for new readers who wanted to sample what Apex is about.
SU: What's the process a story goes through between the time it is accepted and the time it is published in the magazine?
LC: We are looking for stories that are pretty close to being ready to publish when we buy them. We do a light copy editing and then a second pass proofreading, but that is basically it.
Saying it that way, it sounds like we should be publishing a story the issue after it’s accepted, but that isn’t the case. We typically have several issues worth of content scheduled at one time. This means when we accept a story, it can be a while before we have the chance to publish it. Which is a good thing for us as a publication, because it allows us to select stories for an issue that fit together. Rather than simply publishing all the stories that we really liked—with no thought or consideration to theme, or pacing, or all the other things that make stories work together—having a cushion of already scheduled content gives us time to make sure we’re publishing a story in the correct issue with other pieces that will compliment it.
SU: Jason is editor-in-chief and Lesley is managing editor—what's the difference in your roles?
LC: Jason would tell you that I’m the one in charge and he just writes the checks. This isn’t true.
I manage things. I know, I know, a really imaginative way to explain what a managing editor does—way to not really say anything, Lesley!—but it’s true. I make sure we have all the pieces we need for each issue: Have the stories been copy edited? Do we have author bios? Have I gotten the interviews back? What is the nonfiction for this month? Did we sell ads for the issue? I make sure that authors have been paid, our slush readers are getting through all the submissions in a timely manner, and handle queries from writers, artists, and readers.
Jason does in fact send all the checks and payments, but he does much more than that. As editor-in-chief, he has the final say on what is going to be included in each issue of the magazine. He selects all the fiction, finds nonfiction, decides which authors we should interview and which story to podcast. He also builds the eBook editions of every issue. While I’m handling all the details, he has to deal with more big picture, long term issues that come with running a digital zine.
Basically, Jason makes all the decisions and I organize the shit out of everything!
SU: Apex Magazine always has fantastic cover art. How do you decide what image will grace each new issue?
LC: Thank you! I love hearing that people enjoy our covers!
Finding cover art is one of my favorite Apex tasks. We don’t try to fit specific artwork with certain issues/stories; I’m more thinking in terms of the other artwork we already have scheduled. I want to make that I’m not focusing too much on a particular color palette or a similar focal point in the image. The last thing that I want is for our covers to become predictable. So it’s a balance of finding artwork that fits the aesthetic Apex desires, while at the same time making sure that view doesn’t become stale.
Lesley Conner is a writer/editor, managing editor of Apex Publications and Apex Magazine, and a Girl Scout leader. When she isn’t handling her editorial or Girl Scout leader responsibilities, she’s researching fascinating historical figures, rare demons, and new ways to dispose of bodies, interweaving the three into strange and horrifying tales. Her short fiction can be found in Mountain Dead, Dark Tales of Terror, A Hacked-Up Holiday Massacre, as well as other places. Her first novel The Weight of Chains was published by Sinister Grin Press in September, 2015. Best of Apex Magazine: Volume 1 marks her debut experience in anthology editing. She lives in Maryland with her husband and two daughters, and is currently working on a new novel. To find out all her secrets, you can follow her on Twitter at @LesleyConner.
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