When I heard that Cat Sparks had been appointed editor of Cosmos Magazine I did the Happy Dance. The first thing I did was email and congratulate her and the second thing was ask her for an insight into what she is looking for as editor of Australia’s premier SF mag.
Take it away, Cat.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that authors want to sell their stories to the best venues possible – right? Therefore, a glossy magazine with newsstand and international distribution paying $300 for 2-4,000 word short stories would be utterly swamped with submissions – right?
My name is Cat Sparks. I’m a writer just like you and I’ve recently been appointed fiction editor of Cosmos, a glossy Australian popular science magazine which has to date scored itself forty publishing industry awards. I’m replacing Damien Broderick, one of science fiction’s grand masters. My own score includes five Aurealis awards, nine Ditmars and a Writers of the Future trophy.
A few years back Damien bought a story of mine for Cosmos magazine entitled ‘Street of the Dead’ [http://www.cosmosmagazine.com/fiction/print/505/street-dead]. I was truly thrilled when the issue came out. Big shiny pages with an illustration commissioned especially for my work. It was my third ‘pro’ sale and it meant I qualified for admission to Science Fiction Writers of America, a goal I’d been aiming at for years. Best of all, the magazine was everywhere in newsagents across the country. Most of my previously publications had been in magazines and anthologies with tiny print runs and limited distribution, making it difficult to show off my achievements to friends and relatives.
Back then Damien told me something I found difficult to believe. He said he didn’t get many submissions from Australian authors. After a few weeks replacing him in the editorial saddle, I’ve realized he wasn’t pulling my leg.
Practically everyone I know reckons they’re a writer and seems desperately hungry for the acclaim and accord that occasionally goes along with the profession. I observe them squeeing with excitement on mailing lists, blogs, Twitter, etc whenever a small sale to a low paying or perhaps even no paying market is achieved. And yet my email@example.com inbox is far from bulging at the seams. All but a handful of the submissions I’ve received so far have come from overseas.
I have a theory and here it is. Is it hard to write a popular science themed story in 4,000 words or under? You bet. But you know what – it’s hard to achieve anything of true worth. Slopping paint randomly upon a canvas does not an artist make. It takes years to qualify as a hairdresser – why should storytelling be dead easy?
In a society where most people are literate, the mere act of writing has become commonplace. Storytelling, literature, writing – whichever words you prefer – must, by necessity, involve more than the mere accumulation of sentences on a page. Style, substance and setting are the keys. Without all three, you don’t have anything much. Yet there are plenty of venues out there in Internetland publishing cookie cutter ‘stories’ that do little more than tick the boxes. A protagonist? Tick? A beginning, middle and end? Tick tick tick. Something happens? Tick – or close enough. Anyone with a blog can ‘publish’ stuff. The often overlooked part of the equation seems to be the readers themselves.
Some writers play it as a numbers game. They boast a CV filled with publications I collectively refer to as ‘Chthulu’s arsehole’ zines. Work out for yourselves what I mean by that, but suffice to say that it’s a safe bet there are more people subbing stories than there are checking in for a quality reading experience.
As a writer, I want as many readers as possible to appreciate my work. Reading is an important part of my life and an important part of why I’m bothering to write in the first place. The term ‘publishing’ originally implied distribution. Whacking something up on a blog is not nearly enough. The site must attract readers and readers currently have a wealth of free material to choose from.
Cosmos boasts a readership of 400,000 per month. As fiction editor, what I’m looking for is a damn fine reading experience, for which I am offering to exchange real money. Seems like a reasonable proposition to me.
How ‘bout it?
Fiction editor, Cosmos Magazine
Cat Sparks lives on the sunny south coast of New South Wales. She works as a graphic designer and author and was recently appointed fiction editor of Cosmos Magazine.
Past experiences of note have included winning a trip to Paris in a major photographic competition, working as a media monitor, being appointed official photographer to two NSW Premiers, volunteering as archaeological photographer in Jordan, winning five Aurealis, nine Ditmar and one Writers of the Future awards, surviving six weeks at Clarion South ‘bootcamp’ for sci fi writers in Queensland and editing five anthologies of (mostly) Australian speculative fiction.
She’s currently working on a trilogy. Isn’t everybody?