Greetings and salutations, Apparition Lit Readers and Submitters!
I humbly welcome you to the first edition of our Submissions We Liked (and Some We Didn’t). If that title is too serious for your liking, I offer the working title of “Hot Takes On Cool Subs.”
I am Marie Baca Villa, a front-line reader and Blogger with Apparition Lit. Quarterly, I will be collecting reactions from all the Apparition Lit submission readers and editors to the latest round of submissions. The goal is to provide submitters with insight as to why some stories made the cut, or shed light on where pieces fell short. In revealing our inner workings, I hope you learn something to take with you on your submission journey.
In this first edition peek behind the curtain, readers are in for a real treat. Not only are we fresh off picking our ToC for Chance, but this is also the first opportunity we have to really let you in on what we like and what we don’t like…for any theme, any edition. There are trends and differences of opinion, and all together, our responses are very revealing.
For those of you looking for feedback, consider the following our message to you. For those of still considering if we are even your audience, please read and judge for yourself. For those of you simply looking for a bit of guidance on what a semi-professional spec fic mag may consider, feast your eyes!
Amy Henry Robinson, Associate Editor and Webmaster:
Submissions Amy likes: “For this call I fell in love with poems that took the theme of Chance and imbued it with power! The MCs of the poems we held were all strong and taking their fates into their own hands. Overall, I am a huge sucker for characters dealing with loss and mortality and finding hope and redemption in an unexpected/possibly typically mundane place/situation. I absolutely love when stories are grounded in the sensory detail of being present, but use a concise choice of words to convey it (aka, not overwritten or purple). When a writer can use 5 well chosen words, over 50 searching words. (This is definitely the poet/poetry fan in me)”
Submissions Amy does not: “This sub period there were a bunch of stories that were great ideas, but the exposition was written completely into dialogue, which puts me, the reader, at a distance from the action of the story. When I read a story and the narrator is telling someone else the story of what happened to them I tune out and then wish the writer would re-write and put the MC into the action as it occurred, not as an anecdote. Overall: We tend to get lots of stories thrown at us that don’t have anything to do with the theme, and loads that aren’t speculative at all and this call was no exception. I started to feel like a wall covered in literary spaghetti.”
Maria Schrater, Submissions Reader:
Submissions Maria likes: “I love a strong character voice. I want to see the world through their eyes right away. Within the first paragraph I want to be in the world – not necessarily the conflict, but definitely a strong lead into it. I love spec stories that are strongly character-centric, and often ones that use the spec lens to explore some deeper concept or theme. It’s so hard to narrow down what makes a great story because there are SO many different ways to do it!”
Submissions Maria does not: “One of the things that are a super hard sell for me is a detached narrator with little to no emotional investment on the page. I also don’t go for stories that are largely dialogue because I love to really see things on the page. I’m disappointed by stories that are largely dialogue about a particular spec element (tends to be sci-fi, often A.I.) because the author is making an philosophical argument one way or the other, but is doing it in a Plato’s Dialogues way that’s so upfront it’s almost an essay rather than a story. The concept or idea is much better explored through how the events play out and how people react to it, not in theorizing about the ramifications. And, of course, any racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic etc. overtones or undertones are a HARD pass from me. It’s not that a story can’t deal with those things, it’s HOW it’s dealt with – it’s amazing how you can spot an author’s biases within a sentence or two.”
Rebecca Bennett, Associate Editor and Cover Art Director:
Submissions Rebecca likes: “One of my favourite stories from the call (and I’ll use the name here) was “Unbreakable” which was sent during the BIPOC extended call. I was ready to duke it out and fight for its place in our magazine. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to fight for it because everyone else loved it too. It’s rightfully in our Table of Contents and I’m super excited for everyone else to read it.”
Submissions Rebecca does not: “This round we got a lot of second chances through alternate realities, or past lives, or old men lecturing young women. We also had several faerie stories, which I’m normally a huge fan of but reading several in a row dampened my love a little bit. That’s something that you don’t realize when you’re emailing a story to a magazine — it could just be bad luck that you have a story that is very similar to six others in a queue.”
Tamoha Sengupta, Submissions Reader:
Submissions Tamoha likes: Coming to slush reading, my favourite types of stories are the ones which take our themes and present them in a way I hadn’t thought of before. I love to be surprised (pleasant ones only ). Also I love stories that have beautiful imagery, stories that are hauntingly beautiful in both words and plot.
Submissions Tamoha does not: As for stories I hate, you know the dick stories make it to the top of the list. Also, stories that have too much exposition and very less plot turn me off.
Tacoma Tomlinson, Managing Editor
Submissions Tacoma likes: “I prefer character-driven stories, so I was drawn to submissions that opened with an immediate sense of character and place. I was also really happy to find we had many submissions that approached the theme in unique ways. I enjoyed discovering the “chance” of each story.”
Submissions Tacoma does not: “On the other hand, we received a fair number of stories that discussed chance, but the moment of change wasn’t included in the story. Typically, these stories contained a large amount of internal or external dialogue, with the character debating on whether they would and/or should take a chance on some action. These weren’t badly written stories! But I wanted to see the chance on the page.”
Clarke Doty, Associate Editor
Submissions Clarke likes: “One of my favorite stories this submission period was something that wasn’t the right fit for us, but I enjoyed the hell out of it. Those of us that read this submission agreed it was fantastic and unique (and a nice palette cleanse when we’d just read a bunch of stories that had no speculative element, no Chance theme element, but a hefty serving of homophobia). I’m a sucker for stories that tug on my heartstrings. The day I read this story I was preparing to meet my sister at our mother’s house to clean up. My mom passed away over a year ago, and I still struggle to deal with everything (especially spending time in my childhood home). This story featured a son grieving his mother’s death, a gradual reveal of the nature of their relationship, and a sentient root vegetable. It was beautifully weird, and I related so hard to the protagonist. My point is that we often pass on submissions we love. I hope that story finds a good home, and I hope the author submits to us again.”
Submissions Clarke does not: “We get a lot of gross submissions. By gross I mean racist, homophobic, misogynistic, and the like. To use misogyny as an example, these submissions are not stories that deal with the causes or consequences of misogyny in challenging ways or stories that are set in a world with a misogynistic social structure through which the characters must navigate to achieve their goals; these are stories in which misogyny is the point, or at best, the vile undercurrent. Not everything has to be to be a redemption story. (In fact, we have a strong aversion to: Racist guy is racist but it’s not his fault—he just doesn’t play by the rules because he’s a super cool tough man. Plus, he eventually learns it’s maybe sometimes bad to be a racist ta-da! And we all learned a valuable lesson today, didn’t we?) We don’t need a redemptive arc and we don’t shy away from heavy subject matter, but we can tell when this stuff is just the author’s voice shining (or spewing) through. And whenever we get a weird, angry, poorly written email response to a polite rejection, it’s always from an author (to use the term generously) of one of these gross stories. Ok, buddy, we see you. You’re not special. Run along now.”
“I can dig pretty much anything else. Even if a story doesn’t work for me as a whole, there’s usually some aspect I like or can appreciate. As long as a submission is speculative in some way and related to the theme, it’ll get a solid shot with us. And if your odd, lovely story sneaks up on me to punch me in the heart, I’ll love it forever. “
Marie Baca Villa, Blogger and Submissions Reader:
Submissions Marie likes: Our strongest contenders really come from authors showing us what they do on the daily, while providing us just a glimpse of what they could do for our issue and readers. Just a taste! Not the whole buffet. More than half of the stories I slap with a “hold” read like vignettes that peak into strange, private moments of the mundane lives of bizarre characters.I love a weirdo! A character who is weird in their motivations; weird in their actions; weird in their backstories. The weirder the better. You also have an obligation, when making a very weird character, in making their motivations believable. Send us all your ugly weirdos, and make them relatable. Quite a challenge, but when you nail it, you make this reader very happy.
Submissions Marie does not like: Too much dialogue. I attempt, for the most part, to skip right over dialogue, and if it’s a story I can’t follow or understand without all the dialogue, I pass. Using dialogue as exposition is a cardinal sin, and you all should know this! Also, a lot of you just need some good old-fashioned editing. Please remember: 5000 words or less. And when you can do it for less, that packs a real punch. Edit, edit, and then edit some more. Please don’t make us dig for your plot. We will pass quicker than you can say “just wait for it!” Our Chance submissions really proved that…
The verdict aka TL:DR:
Submissions we liked: A character driven story; poems that pack a punch; the mundane made meaningful; concise clear language and editing; and gems brought in by our BIPOC extended call
Submissions we didn’t: Dialogue as exposition; dialogue as plot; people who think they’re too good for our themes/guidelines; plots that fall short because they’re forced; anything written Racists/Homophobes/Misogynists/Transphobes (and yes, we can tell); and just plain old sloppy spaghetti slinging
Until next time, friends!