Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Publisher Interview : Electric Spec

David E. Hughes, one of the editors of shockingly good speculative magazine Electric Spec kindly agreed to talk to Write1Sub1. Here's what David had to say:

Q. Can you tell us a little about Electric Spec and the sort of thing you aim to publish?

A. Electric Spec is an on-line 'zine that has been around for six years now. We publish quarterly, and pay a flat rate of $20 per story. Each issue also includes original artwork on the cover, for which we also pay artists $20. All of our stories fall into the broad categories of science fiction, fantasy, and the macabre. In addition to stories, we also include interview with established authors, a movie column, and an "editors corner" with fiction or op-ed from one of the editors.

Q. What are the top two or three things you look for in a submission - or do you just know a good story when you see it?

A. We like our stories to be engaging from the very beginning. In the on-line world, distraction is just a click away. If we don't see something that draws us in right away, such a clear conflict, a unique character, an original world, or a stand-out voice, the story is unlikely to make the cut. As for the rest of the story, we like plots with action. Stories that are mostly dialogue or flashback are usually not engaging enough for us. Finally, we like the ending to make sense in the context of the story. It does not have to be brilliant or twist-y, be we like to have a sense that the author has sufficiently tied things up.

Q. What sorts of things put you off the submissions you receive? Are there any common mistakes people should be careful to avoid?

A. In our blog, we have lots of posts where we've tried to capture common mistakes that can result in stories going in the reject pile. I think it is a good resources for newer writers who are just getting into the short story business. Overall, we've been impressed with the high-quality submissions we've been getting lately, very few of which fall neatly into the "common mistakes" category. Writers should keep in mind that the competition out there is really tough. We get several hundred submissions for each issue, including stories from professional, multi-published writers. For stories that make the final round but do not make the final cut, we often find ourselves wishing the author had a critique group or beta readers. While we are willing to work with the author in terms of tightening a story or correcting one or two minor flaws, sometimes good stories have a problem too big to fix through editing. For those, if a good critique group had looked at the story with a critical eye, the problem would likely have been caught and corrected before getting to us.

Q. The Electric Spec blog offers invaluable advice on the the fiction writing process as well as great insight into what's going on behind the scenes at the magazine. How important do you think this sort of community engagement with writers is?

A. We love being part of the writing community. All three of the Electric Spec editors are also writers, so we know what authors are going through. In addition to our blog, we offer workshops and participate in panel discussions at local conferences and cons.

Q. How do you see magazines and publishing generally evolving?

A. It has been interesting to watch the fiction market over the past several years. Very few print magazines have been able to survive, and even on-line zines that pay "professional rates" rarely last. Nevertheless, the demand for speculative fiction venues remains high--among readers and authors alike. Increasingly, the challenge is identifying quality markets. With the exception of a few stand-outs, pay rate no longer correlates to the quality of the magazine. While pay may be one factor, I think longevity is going to become increasingly important. In addition, magazines where the editors truly engage their authors rather that just posting will rise to the top. From the magazine's perspective, the challenge is finding the time and motivation to do all of this. For example, Electric Spec would love to find a way to pay authors more, but we do not have a revenue source that would allow us to do that. These days, the key is marketing and publicity. We'd love to partner with a larger publisher to create a more sustainable model at some point in the future.

Thanks, David! If you're interested in submitting to this fine magazine, detailed guidelines are here.


  1. Thanks! That's an excellent point about longevity. It's certainly something that I consider when I make a sub.

  2. Love Electric Spec! They published a story of mine in 2009, and their stuff is always high-quality. Awesome interview, thanks David!

  3. Betsy Dornbusch2/08/2012

    Thanks. Dave is an excellent editor and very well read, as I've learned over the past 6 years.

  4. This is a wonderful interview. Very informative.

  5. Enlightening interview -- I'll break in one of these days.