On being a submissions editor

I am a submissions editor for Apex Magazine.

I’m a slush reader, as it’s more commonly known. When you send your work to Apex it is first read by one of the team of slushers. We sort through the submissions, rejecting most and sending a few on to the Editor-in-Chief, Lynne Thomas, for her consideration. This is how the system works. To get to her your story will most likely be reviewed by me or my ilk.

I’ve been slushing since Lynne took over as editor of Apex from Cat Valente. I’ve read a great many short stories in that time. I’ve rejected the vast, vast majority. Out of the forty-to-sixty stories I read each month, I reject 80% myself, sending merely 20% on to Lynne.

So, why? What do I want? How can your story get past me and to Lynne?

I want the following things in a story.

1. The prose, craft, sentence, and paragraph-level work must be up to Apex standards. Apex publishes award-winning work. It’s a high bar.

2. The story must add original spin, flair, or perspective to well-trodden ground. I don’t expect any writer to come up with an original idea. Original ideas are … extremely few and far between. But I want to see you add something from your own creative self that no other writer could have added.

3. The story must have a purpose. The best rip-roaring tale of adventure, the most chilling story of vengeance, the sweetest exploration of romance, none of this is enough on its own. Yes, your story needs plot and character and worldbuilding. But it must have a point, a goal, a purpose. What are you trying to say with your story? Why is this plot, why are these characters the correct vehicle for your feelings?

4. The story must fit Apex’s mandate. A story can have all of the above things and still not be a story that meets Apex’s mission. Some other magazine will publish this story; it’s good enough. But it’s not for us.

If a story has only one of these elements, I reject it. If it has two, mostly I reject it, but I might send it on to Lynne for a second opinion, if what it does have is very promising. If a story has three of these things I send it to Lynne for her consideration. If it has all four, I send to to Lynne with hosannas and praise.

Whereupon, it still may not get published. There are other factors that go into the decision-making process at that point. I’m not the editor of the magazine, and am not privy to those metrics. The most common reason, however, is that Apex either has recently published or is scheduled to publish a story too similar to the one I’ve recommended.

Here’s the thing, though. I root for the stories I read. I start the slush reading each week hoping to find great works I can send up the chain for Lynne’s consideration. When a writer has nailed the sentence-level work, has added an original voice, and just falls apart on the ending I send it on to Lynne, asking her if she has time to send an encouraging rejection letter. (She may not have the time, of course.) If a story is brilliant and just not at all the sort of thing Apex will publish, I do the same — send it to Lynne, asking her if she can explain the situation to the writer.

I root for these writers. I don’t want them, you, I don’t want you, to be discouraged. Writing is hard. It’s time-consuming and difficult, and if you don’t know how you’re screwing up, it’s very hard to learn better. I want the writers I reject to keep at it. I want them to keep practicing and improving.

I want this because I am greedy; I want to read great fiction.

My thanks to all of you who send work in to Apex Magazine. I wish you all my best.


6 Responses

  1. This post warmed my heart. It’s nice to know that someone is rooting for us.

  2. Thank you. Beginners like me need to know that we’re not throwing all of this into the void.

  3. […] wanted to share with our readers her experiences. We encourage you to visit the original posting here and to bookmark her blog here. Apex thanks Sigrid for granting us permission to reprint “On […]

  4. […] wanted to share with our readers her experiences. We encourage you to visit the original posting here and to bookmark her blog here. Apex thanks Sigrid for granting us permission to reprint “On […]

  5. Slushies are unsung heroes–unloved by writers, and unpaid by editors. A well deserved hat tip to you. Incidentally, does Ms. Thomas ever dip into the slush herself, or does a response from her mean a writer got passed up?

  6. […] The current editor-in-chief Sigrid is actually a former slush reader, and a couple of years ago she wrote about reading submissions, if you’re curious about what it’s […]

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