Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Interview with Cat Sparks, Cosmos Fiction Editor

Cosmos is a literary science magazine published in Australia six times a year and sold worldwide. The winner of 35 local and international awards, the print magazine has a global readership of 100,000. Its daily news content site, Cosmos Online, has an audience of 300,000 unique visitors and more than 1 million page views a month. Both also publish original science fiction short stories. Today, we're honored to welcome fiction editor Cat Sparks to Write1Sub1 for an insightful interview.

W1S1: First off, how would you describe your role(s) at Cosmos?

As Fiction Editor, my job is to source suitable science fiction stories for the print and online versions of the magazine. I read the slush, sort the wheat from the chaff, sift, select and spit polish when required.

W1S1: What would you say are the top three things you look for in a story?

Style, style and style… because you’d be amazed at how many submissions don’t contain even the merest trace of this crucial element. Even the most breathtaking of concepts is useless when blunted by and buried under a weight of deathless prose. A story’s primary purpose is to entertain. A successful story is more than the sum of its parts.

W1S1: Typically, what makes the difference between a story's acceptance or rejection?

Whether or not the story has piqued my interest. The ones that fail -- and that’s most of them -- usually do so on the first or second page. Occasionally a story will be going great guns only to lag at the ending, typically by not possessing one to speak of. In those cases I will often endeavor to work with the author to craft a satisfactory finish.

W1S1: What fresh ideas/themes/genres would you like to see submitted to Cosmos?

Cosmos is a popular science magazine. Its readers are interested in the cutting edge. Stories extrapolated from today’s science headlines are always welcome. This isn’t to say I expect our writers to have actual science backgrounds. What I do expect is that they are capable of crafting engaging, believable characters and scenarios inspired by interesting discoveries and events -- because its not like there’s a shortage of cool science headlines.

Show me something I haven’t seen before, or a fresh new take or personalized perspective on a familiar subject. Something that indicates you’re a reader as well as a writer and not just a watcher of big, loud movies.

Wherever you choose to set your story, utilize textural elements to paint a vivid picture. Don’t just tell me your protagonist is on a space ship -- make me believe it’s real.

W1S1:If you could change anything about the publishing industry today, what would it be?

The publishing industry is currently in a state of major flux. Back in the day (and that day was only a few years ago), bad writers were forced to improve their craft if they wanted to see their work in print. Now they get impatient and self publish. Consequently Amazon, Smashwords & etc. are choked with garbage and there’s a whole tide of writers out there who will be stuck in the shallows of mediocrity forever.

The 21st century is a noisy place. I’d like to see some attempt at noise reduction and modification. I believe in art value adding to culture rather than merely adding to the background hum. The gatekeepers of publishing were put there for a reason.

Note: If at this point you’re thinking Oh, she’s just a stuck-up editor, what would she know?-- know that I am a writer too, one who took nine years to sell her first story. My work improved because it had to, a fact I am sincerely grateful for today.

W1S1:  Thanks, Cat!

Do YOU have a story you'd like to submit to Cosmos? Here's a link to their submission guidelines.

Cat Sparks is fiction editor of Cosmos Magazine. She managed Agog! Press, an Australian independent press that produced ten anthologies of new speculative fiction from 2002-2008. She’s known for her award-winning editing, writing, graphic design and photography. In January 2012 she was one of 12 students chosen to participate in Margaret Atwood’sThe Time Machine Doorway workshop as part of the Key West Literary SeminarYet Another World: literature of the future. Her participation was funded by an Australia Council emerging writers grant.


  1. Great interview! It's always helpful to get more information on hard-to-crack markets like this.

  2. Another excellent interview! Thanks much, Cat, for your time, and thanks W1S1 for interviewing her.

  3. I appreciate this perspective on writing and publishing.