Saturday, June 25, 2011

Breaking into Short Fiction Magazines: A Discussion with Stephanie Ann Johanson

I'm really happy to have the Neo-opsis Science Fiction Magazine duo Stephanie and Karl to discuss the short story market. Today, Stephanie covers breaking into the fiction magazine market. Tomorrow, Karl will discuss the submission and editing side of things.




Stephanie, can you tell me a little about Neo-opsis and how it's evolved?


If you have ever taken a business course, you know that it is important to have a good elevator speech. An elevator speech is something short that lets you describe your company or product to someone you meet riding an elevator, or waiting in line. I don't think I have ever got that elevator speech down pat, because in my experience everyone wants different information, but let me give it a try.

Neo-opsis Science Fiction Magazine is entertainment first. Karl Johanson and I started Neo-opsis Science Fiction Magazine in 2003, with the idea that we wanted to do something creative. Karl and I have been lifelong fans of science fiction, and we thought it would be good to give something back, and create a magazine that would be an outlet for science fiction and fantasy short story writers, and hopefully science fiction and fantasy artists as well. We don't have as much illustration as I would like, but as the magazine grows we hope to include more and more. Karl and I choose stories that entertain first, and we love the ones that sneak up on you and make you think second. 


Karl writes the editorial and science articles for the magazine. He has that unusual way of coming at things, that binds everything in humor, so much so that you often done realize that you are learning as you read. Neo-opsis also runs a few reviews in every issue, and science and science fiction news. Neo-opsis Science Fiction Magazine has won the Aurora Award in 2007 and 2009 in the category Best Work in English: Other. We have also been a finalist for the Aurora every year since 2004.


What are the basics that every author needs to remember when submitting their fiction?

Be sure to read the guidelines for each publisher before you submit any work. In your cover letter, don't tell the publisher you have never before been published, or this is the first time you are submitting your work, or you have submitted this work to so many publishers and none of them were interested. Publishers get a lot submissions, and if you give them a reason to assume you work isn't worth their time, then your work may end up at the bottom of a long reading list, or worse it might just get a quick reject after only being skimmed through. 


Don't tell the publisher how old you are, unless for some reason they request that information in their guidelines. They don't need to know how old you are, because if you tell them you are young, then some won't think you are experienced enough. If you tell them you are old, then they might not think you are up-to-date with the times. Let your story do the talking. Let the story sell itself.

So, is it really necessary for writers to read short stories to learn how to write them?

That is an interesting question. Since I am not a writer, I have to come at it from the mind of an artist and a reader, I'm not sure as a writer that it is absolutely necessary to read short stories. There are a great many things you can learn from short stories, as there are with poems, fewer words, yet often with more meaning. A novel may have the luxury of taking its time, filling in back story, describing the setting, smelling the roses, before it gets down into its plot. A short story has to be more direct, everything has to click from the start, or the reader may just move on to the next short story in the magazine. If you can learn style from reading it, if you can recognize how an author has pulled you in and made you forget that you are looking at words on a page, then you will learn a lot from reading short works of fiction. If you get lost in the story and don't know how you got there, then you may need more study before you will learn from just reading.


What are the common reasons submissions are rejection at your magazine?

I could say that the most common reason for saying 'no' is that the stories don't fit our needs, but that wouldn't be a helpful answer. Since 2003, the start of Neo-opsis Science Fiction Magazine, I have read 5927 submissions. We have accepted for publishing about 160, so there are a lot of rejections. 


Without generalizations I'm not sure could accurately say what the most common reason is for a rejection. Some of the rejections are because the work is so full of English or grammar errors that it impossible to understand the story. Some of the rejections are because the story is not science fiction or fantasy, and while I do sometimes pass on submissions that are other genre, those stories have to be exceptionally good. Sometimes it seems that we get a lot of stories that don't seem complete, and sometimes those stories are really just a chapter or two from the writers novel in progress. Most chapters, don't stand well as complete short stories. There are times when I am sending a rejection, because the story is just like one we have already published. 


Another reason for a rejection is if the story is just too long, but perhaps the most common reason for a rejection is that the story didn't pull me in. If I am read a story and my mind starts thinking about paperclips, or if there is milk in the fridge, and that is not what the story is about, well then the story has probably lost me and will likely get a rejection.

Do you ever give personal replies or do you just do form rejections?


I try to provide feedback when I am rejecting a story, because just getting a "no thank you" gives the writer nothing to go on. But that said, I don't always have useful feedback to give. Sometimes all I have is that the story is not the best fit for Neo-opsis. The reason its not a good fit may be a style or a feeling. If a story pulls me in, but doesn't fit for some reason or other, then I usually have feedback to give, but when getting feedback the writer should always remember that the feedback is opinion. The next publisher may have completely different ideas about the story. 


How can an author submit to Neo-opsis?

If you want to submit to Neo-opsis, you should first check the Neo-opsis guidelines. The guidelines can be found online at www.neo-opsis.ca/guidelines. Currently Neo-opsis is closed to new submissions. The next submission period is set for September 1, 2011 to November 30, 2011. 

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