Interview: The Editors of Electric Spec

Electric Spec

Founded in 2005, Electric Spec is a not-for-profit speculative fiction magazine published four times per year. The primary goal of the editors is to get great speculative fiction into the hands (or screens) of readers; they’ve published short stories from authors all over the world.

Meet the editors!

Grayson Towler has a lifelong fascination with dragons, dinosaurs, magic, and the telling stories. His first book, a middle-grade fantasy titled The Dragon Waking, was published in 2016 by Albert Whitman & Company. The book was a finalist in the 2012 RMFW Gold contest.

Grayson has worked as a copy writer since 2004 for Sounds True, a publishing company for books and audio programs concerning meditation, spirituality, and self-help. He is also an illustrator, and he has been writing and drawing an urban fantasy webcomic, Thunderstruck, since 2004. He also created “Tales from the Vault” – a popular collaborative fiction website active from 1996-2001.

In addition to writing, Grayson has also been a web designer, substitute teacher, comic artist, and small business owner. He and his wife, Candi, live in a house owned by three relatively benevolent cats in Longmont, Colorado.

Lesley L. Smith has a Ph.D. in Elementary Particle Physics and is the author or coauthor of many scientific articles. Her speculative short fiction has appeared in a variety of venues, including Analog Science Fiction and Fact. Lesley is a member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

Minta Monroe writes darker fantasy, particularly involving the occult or supernatural. She is the author of The Mound Dwellers and several collections of short stories. In addition to fantasy, she writes science fiction and mystery under other pen names.

Nikki Baird writes science fiction, fantasy, and horror, both long and short form. Her short horror story, “Devastation Mine” was published as part of the anthology Broken Links, Mended Lives, which was nominated for a Colorado Book Award. She has been a finalist in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Colorado Gold contest for the two years in the Speculative Fiction category, and is a regular contributor to Littleton Writers Critique Group, an open critique group in southwest Denver. She is currently trying to place her second fantasy novel with a publisher.

The Interview

What’s your sorting process for stories that come in?

Grayson: Lesley handles this, and I believe she randomly divides the stories evenly between the slush readers.

Lesley: I randomly assign each story to an editor.

Minta: I start with the earliest subs and read in the chronological order in which
we received them.

Nikki: I don’t sort at all, I take them in the order received.
How far do you read into a given story?

Grayson: This very much depends on the quality of the writing! So writers, all that guidance you’ve heard about how important the first lines and pages are… it’s true. If I’m confused, bored, turned off by a cliche, or annoyed by basic errors of grammar and spelling, the odds are I’m not going to force myself to push through to the end. I might skim a story and see if it picks up, but it’s really important for a story to make a good first impression.

That said, I really do try to give every story a chance. A story doesn’t have to start in medias res to capture my attention (in fact, that technique has as high a failure rate as anything else). If the author’s writing fundamentals are good and the story doesn’t seem derivative, I’ll generally stick with a story to the end.

Lesley: I basically agree with what the others said: I read until I stop reading. 🙂

Generally, I’ll give it a page. If my attention hasn’t been grabbed by then: sorry! We get hundreds of stories submitted for each issue and we just don’t have time to keep going.

Minta: Until something makes me stop reading. Usually it’s something about the story itself, and usually this becomes clear in the first 2 pages, although sometimes much sooner. Almost half of my subs make me read the entire story.

Nikki: Until I get bored or irritated. Sometimes that’s half a page in, sometimes it’s half a page before the end. Very rarely will I read a story I plan to pass on through to the end, but it does happen every once in awhile, when I’m so confused about what the story is about or where it’s going that I just have to know how the author thought it SHOULD end. But that’s definitely not a good reason to finish a story!
How many readers does a story have to pass through before a decision is made about it?

Grayson: There are two stages of evaluation. In the first stage, one of our slush readers will engage with the story and decide if it is good enough to make the finals – that’s upward of 170 stories per issue in total. When we have the finalists selected, we generally have a list of 20-22 stories left. Then all three editors read everything on the finalist list, and we select our top 5 by consensus.

Sometimes that last cut involves leaving some very good stories out of the issue, which is tough.

Lesley: As Grayson said, we have two stages of evaluation. In stage one, a story will get one or two editors to read it. If a story reaches the second stage, then a minimum of three more editors will read it. So, potentially, all five editors might read a story that we publish.

Minta: If I think a story isn’t right for us, then it has only one reader: me.
But if I think a story is worthy of publication, then I ask another editor to read it also. If the second editor agrees with me, then it goes on for review by the remaining editors. In that case, a story will have 4 readers, because in the end, we all love the stories we select for
What do you like/dislike about editing?

DISLIKES: I dislike rejecting stories. I’ve been on the other end of that process often enough that I know how it feels.

I dislike having to send form letters out for rejections–every author wants to know why their story wasn’t selected. After all, without feedback, how are you supposed to improve? I get it. But we just do not have time to engage at that level. It’s that simple.

I dislike getting excellent “first chapters.” The experience is this: I’m reading along in a submission, I’m really getting into story and loving where it’s heading, and then all of a sudden it stops. It’s as if I’ve gotten the first chapter of a book but I don’t get to read the rest. An open-ended ending is one thing–those can be great. But a good story that just cuts off mid-stream? That’s the most frustrating sort of submission.

LIKES: I love finding that stand-out story in the submission process. Having to reject a bunch of stories in a row starts to feel so depressing, and I begin to wonder if I’ve become too jaded to enjoy anything. But then, a gem of a story comes along, and it’s a bit like falling in love.

Once we settle in and get our stories assigned, I love working with authors. Maybe I’ve been fortunate, but my experiences have been universally positive once an author and I get down to the actual editing process. Helping an author find the rough spots in their story so the whole thing can shine is infinitely rewarding.

Lesley: I like having the opportunity to encourage other authors and give them the opportunity to share their work with the world.

Minta: Editing is not part of my tasks for Electric Spec, but I enjoy the
challenge of figuring out why a story either works for me or not.

Nikki: I actually like editing. I feel like it helps me cast a stronger critical eye over my own work. It’s so much easier to see what’s not working quite right in someone else’s writing than your own. I was “raised” in the critique methods of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, which subscribes to the sandwich method of good-bad-good. I always try to say something positive in the note I send back with edits – what I liked about the story that got us to offer publication. And I try to point out 2-3 things in a story that I thought worked really well, in amongst all the edits. I try to offer concrete explanations for why something doesn’t work, and also a suggestion for what might work better. I try never to say “This doesn’t work – fix it”. That’s completely unhelpful. And I try to end with a positive comment or two at the end of an edit.
Once Electric Spec buys the rights to a story, what’s the editing process like?

Grayson: Speaking for myself, I scrub through the story in detail and look for any spot where the author could be more clear, more succinct, or more engaging. I generally don’t do too much developmental editing, but if I see a spot where a plot point might go a different way to strengthen the story, I’ll offer the suggestion.

In general, I find that an editor’s most useful function is to spot problems and explain why they’re problems. The actual solutions are better when they come from the author. My goal is to support the author in making this the best version of their story it can possibly be.

Once I’ve engaged with my first editing pass, I send it back to the author for their review. The author then reviews every suggested change and either accepts it, improves it, or contacts me to discuss whether the change is needed. There may be a bit of back-and-forth, but by that point the story is generally ready to go on to proofing.

The time frame we’re talking about here is about 4 weeks from signing to publication. So when we select stories for the issue, we keep that time frame in mind. What that means is we look for stories that are already quite solid. In submissions review, I’ve seen many “diamonds in the rough” that have a lot of potential but would simply take too much polishing. Stories have a better chance of getting accepted if the author has put the time and effort in to make them as mistake-free as possible.

Lesley: I print out my stories and then critique them as I do for my critique partners’ stories. Then, I email the authors back this edited doc and we go from there… From there, it differs quite a bit. Some stories need very little work. Some need more.
What’s your favorite part of working on Electric Spec?

Grayson: Well, apart from what I mentioned above about the editing process, I really enjoy working with Lesley and Nikki as editors. I’ve learned a lot, and I think we have a good rapport. Most of all, I love good stories. Being able to give authors a platform to share their stories is incredibly fulfilling.

Lesley: I really enjoy encouraging other authors. I’m also honored to work with such a great group of editors (who are all also great authors)!

Minta: Finding an unforgettable story. When a story sweeps me away, I form my own
list of stories that I hope will also sweep away the other editors. It’s a sweet moment when one of those stories ends up making it into the current issue!

Nikki: Getting the exposure to so much creativity. I get to read literally hundreds of short stories for free, and get a look into basically the “raw psyche” of spec fic writers out there. That’s pretty cool! And E-Spec wouldn’t be possible without a
crew that is dedicated and organized – and Lesley most of all keeps us all running

Find Electric Spec

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