Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Publisher Interview : Abyss & Apex

Wendy S. Delmater, Editor-in-Chief at top speculative fiction/poetry magazine Abyss & Apex kindly agreed to give us her perspective on the submission process.

Q. What are the most common mistakes writers make when submitting to Abyss & Apex?

A. There are several common errors. I will give them to you in the order I usually see them.

1. Some submissions do not follow our guidelines regarding your email subject line. If your story runs 1,500 words or less, it needs to say  FLASH FICTION SUB: “Your title here”; if more than 1,500 words the subject line should read FICTION SUB: “Your title here.” And if it is poetry it goes to an entirely different email address! We get poetry at the fiction address all the time.

2. Some authors tell me what the story is going to be about in their cover letters. Don't do that; please let the story speak for itself.

3. The reason you mention previous publications in your cover letter is to give us an idea as to whether or not we can trust you to tell a story. If something detracts from that, you cover letter becomes self-defeating. A few well-placed mentions of other markets you've sold to (or contests you've won) are fine, but no more than five, and try to keep them genre-specific. Example: "I've sold stories to (or my work has recently appeared in) Asimov's, Realms of Fantasy, Chizine and Clarkesworld" or "my story "Your Title Here" was nominated for a Hugo and on the Locus Recommended Reading list" or "I recently won Writers of the Future." It is perfectly fine to have no publication credits whatsoever, as 25 percent of our authors make their first sales to us. It is not a good idea to list all of your non-genre credits.

Q. Is there a key thing you look for in a story or a poem? A pet hate?

A. I have a personal preference for circularity: the beginning of a story should be echoed in the end. I just makes things feel more finished. We are also looking for a good "hook" - an opening that makes the reader go "what the heck?" They have to keep reading because something does not add up and they want to know why. Note: beautiful language can also be a hook, but that's much harder to pull off.

Pet hates include novel excepts with unfinished plot threads dragging like entrails off the main plot. Messy.

Q. Can you tell us roughly how many submissions you receive? And how many of those you might actually accept?

A. We've been running between 400 to 450 submissions per reading period. We have four reading periods per year, so that comes to an annual 1,600 to 1,800 stories. We publish an average of 24 stories a year. Your odds of your story being chosen are therefore somewhere in the neighborhood of seventy to one. Or half that - approximately half of what we publish is science fiction and half is fantasy.

Q. What are your feelings on cover letters? Should writers strike a formal, professional tone or be more friendly and jokey?

A. Lord, spare me the friendly, joking cover letters. No. Just no. Formal and professional (and brief) is the way to go.

Q. Do you see trends in the stories writers submit to you? If so, does being part of a trend help a submission or work against it?

A. Trends are always happening. However, no law says you have to participate in herd behaviors. Just because everyone is currently  writing Islamic fiction (a current rage) you needn't follow along. Please understand that if you and three hundred others writer failed to get into a themed anthology featuring steampunk wombats, if you then submit it to Abyss & Apex we will probably get thirty steampunk wombat stories that reading period. Herd behavior is no way to come off as original.

Q. Can Write1Sub1 participants submit their work to Abyss & Apex right now?

A.Our next reading period opens on February 1st, 2011. See you then!

Thanks Wendy! Perhaps some Write1Sub1 submissions will be on their way to this fine speculative fiction market soon ...


  1. Now all I can think about is writing a story about a steampunk wombat. It could be good.

    Thank you for the interview, Wendy and Simon.

  2. I've got a story lying around that involves cybernetically enhanced badgers and dachshunds warring it out in a post-apocalyptic Berlin...would that fill your steampunk wombat needs?

    *grins cheesily*

    Thanks for the insights, Wendy!

  3. Thanks for this! It's always nice to know what is going on after you click submit, or send, or however you get from point A to B.

    Samuel Mae: I like the cut of your jib. :D

  4. Thanks, Wendy and Simon. This is very useful information.The part about herd mentality is particularly cogent. As Theordore Sturgeon famously said: "Ask the Next Question." The first idea that comes is probably the typical one. Too many times we stop at that level when crafting a story. I've been working hard this year to do better.

  5. Great interview; still chuckling over the wombats. Good quote, Steve. But now I'm picturing a herd of stampeding wombats while trying to ask the next question...

  6. Wombats don't stampede, they get even.

  7. Steve,

    Man I wish I'd come up with that for the 6-word story competition I entered a while back ...