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An Interview with Apex Editors Jason Sizemore and Lesley Conner

Apex HeaderAfter a brief publishing hiatus, Apex Magazine made its triumphant return in 2021, with six issues slated for the year packed with short fiction, interviews, non-fiction, and reviews. Earlier this month, Apex launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund another year of publication in 2022. Editor-in-Chief Jason Sizemore and Managing Editor Lesley Conner were kind enough to drop by today to give you a behind-the-scenes look at what makes Apex Magazine so special!

To kick things off, allow me to introduce Jason and Lesley by way of their official Apex bios.

The man with the titanium jaw, Jason Sizemore is a three-time Hugo Award-nominated editor, writer, and publisher who operates the genre press Apex Publications. He currently lives in Lexington, KY. For more information visit www.jason-sizemore.com or you can find him on Twitter @apexjason.

Lesley Conner is a writer/editor, managing editor of Apex Publications, and a Girl Scout leader. She lives in Maryland with her husband and two daughters, and is currently working on a new novel. To find out all her secrets, you can follow her on Twitter at @LesleyConner.

Welcome, Jason and Lesley! I’m thrilled to see the Apex Kickstarter off to such a good start, and I’m already looking forward to another year of fantastic content. I know editorial taste, or the particular flavor of a publication is sometimes hard to pin down, but to your minds, what makes something an “Apex story”? Or, if you prefer, what types of things make you sit up and take notice when you’re reading?

JBS: Hi Alison! Thanks for having us in your neck of the internet.

The stories we publish aren’t afraid to tackle heavy thematic issues in a thoughtful, interesting, and (most importantly) entertaining manner. I think genre fiction is uniquely suited for the task. A powerful story about spiraling alcoholic trying to survive in a colonized new Palestine might be too heavy a read for some. Place the story on a Mars colony and add a handful of science fiction flourishes and you have a story that is just as powerful but somewhat more palatable.
It’s a difficult line to tiptoe. Fortunately, for us, there are many incredible writers out there who do it and find their way to Apex Magazine.

LDC: I agree with Jason that many of the stories we publish do tackle extremely heavy issues. So much so, that there are times when we’ve asked ourselves if maybe this story is just a hair too heavy. We haven’t hit one yet that we’ve backed away from, but there have been a few – “How to be Good” by R. Gatwood comes to mind – that we’ve questioned whether it might be a bit too much for our readers.

“How to be Good” is an incredible story, but it isn’t light or feel good. It packs a strong emotional punch and leaves the reader chewing over what happens and how they feel about it. It’s these things that make the story so intense, but they’re also the things that I feel make it a perfect story for Apex.

When I’m reading through submissions, the stories that make me sit up and take notice are the ones that invoke a strong emotional response, be that grief, anger, or delight. They’re the stories that leave me with questions, that make me want to rush out and discuss them with another reader. I want stories that I can hold up to light and see different facets as I twist them back and forth. Those messy, complex stories are the best fit for Apex!

You’ve worked together on Apex for several years now, along with quite a large editorial team. What is your editorial process like? Has it changed at all with the magazine’s relaunch?

JBS: Maybe Lesley would disagree, but I believe our editorial process has streamlined post relaunch. All submissions go through our first readers. They will remove approximately 95% of submitted stories from the pool. Lesley reviews the remainder. The best she sends to me. At this point, you’re in the top 1%. Of those that I see, I usually will buy one out of five. All rejections come from Lesley unless your story makes it to my desk. You’ll receive a personalized rejection or acceptance from me.

Before we buy a story, most of the time Lesley and I will have a discussion regarding the piece. By this point, we don’t want to overthink it. We consider factors like how will our readers respond, is it the kind of story we should be publishing, does it contain any plot holes, and so on.

We receive 1200-1500 submissions a month. We buy 3 stories a month, on average. It’s kind of overwhelming to think about, but our process works.

LDC: We definitely have the submission process down to an art by this point! It’s process that works really well for us, and it’s one that has been built on years of experience. Jason knows that he can rely on my judgement to cut down the stories that our first readers bump up. He knows that the stories that will speak to him as an editor and for his vision of Apex Magazine are the same stories that I’m going to be drawn to. Having that relationship between us as managing editor and editor-in-chief is key for making Apex Magazine run smoothly.

What is/are your favorite aspect(s) of editing a magazine? If you can cast your mind back to when you first started editing Apex, what aspect(s) of being an editor took you by surprise? What advice might you give to someone looking to launch their own publication?

JBS: My answer might be different than Lesley and our first readers, but my favorite part is reading the stories that reach my desk. Nearly every piece I read has been vetted by some outstanding editors. I’d venture to say many of the stories I see that we don’t publish will find a home somewhere else. So it can be argued that the most important aspect of my job—selecting stories for publication—is the most enjoyable side of the work!

Coming from a corporate America background, I was immediately impressed by how helpful and supportive the genre can be. For all the drama and angst that permeates our little publishing niche, most folks are genuinely nice. People are there for your successes, and they’re there when you need a lift. Coming off the toughest two years of my life after putting the zine on pause while I focused on my health (mandibular cancer), I knew it was time to bring Apex Magazine back into my life, to help keep my mind clear of dark thoughts. I was anxious about the relaunch. Our readers, fans, writers, artists, and supporters all made it clear they were here for it. I’m eternally grateful.

LDC: While I enjoying reading submissions, it isn’t my favorite part of being managing editor. The amount of stories that I need to read can be overwhelming at times and I’m continuously worried about being behind (I don’t think there is any amount of time that I wouldn’t feel like I’m behind, so that’s a me thing). That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy reading slush. I definitely do and the feeling of finding a story that blows me away is amazing! It just isn’t my favorite part.

My favorite aspect of editing Apex Magazine is when Jason and I discuss a submission that I’ve bumped up to him. If I’ve sent a story up to his desk, that means I already love it, so when we go to discuss, I feel like I’m advocating for the writer. At that point, my job is to make Jason see exactly why this story is so amazing. We get into the nitty-gritty of what works, what doesn’t work, what aspects of the story we feel will connect with readers, and how this particular story furthers the Apex brand. It’s a deep conversation, pulling apart the story and holding up one part or another, and it’s really exciting!

For anyone wanting to work in publishing, I’d say to not be afraid to learn new skills. Many of us do this, especially in small press, have to wear many, many hats. As managing editor of Apex Magazine, I do so much more than read submissions. I copy edit, find cover art, do sales reports, marketing, and so much more. If I’d been afraid to try new things or held back from learning new skills, I wouldn’t be where I’m at. I wouldn’t have the foundation for it. So take risks, say yes, and learn new things!

Apex Issue 124 CoverIf it isn’t top secret, or as-yet-unknown, can you give us a sneak peek at what’s coming up for Apex in the rest of 2021, and any plans in the works for 2022?

JBS: In October, we have our Indigenous Futurists bonus issue coming out with Allison Mills as guest editor. In December, we have an International Futurists bonus issue guest-edited by Francesco Versa.

Should our Kickstarter fund and reach a certain stretch goal, we will be doing an Asian and Pacific Islanders special issue in 2022. Another stretch goal I’m hoping we reach is being able to include spot art with every story!

LDC: I’m going err on the side of not revealing too much for this question, but I will say is that we have some truly amazing stories coming out later this year and in 2022. Each issue we put together, I’m blown away by the quality of what we’re publishing. Each issue I think “That’s it. There’s no way the next issue can be as strong!” Then Jason reveals the lineup and I’m staggered because it is just as good if not better than the one before! Honestly, if you were to ask me to pick my favorite story published so far in 2021, I wouldn’t be able to do it because I have fallen in love with so many stories we’ve published this year, and I can tell you that what we have coming up is just as good!

Unless I’m mistaken, Jason has one or more felines who assist with the Apex editorial process, while Lesley has a canine assistant in Mr. Oz. What can you tell us about these real powers behind Apex and their editorial tastes and processes?

JBS: There is only one entity in my life that has the ability to stop the presses without question or hesitation: Pumpkin the Cat. If he decides it is time to play or if he needs his belly rubbed, well, that comes before all else. Apex comes to a grinding halt, not by my choice, but his.

LDC: Oz thinks we should take a break and go for a walk.

What do you mean we just took a walk and it’s work time?

You must be mistaken. Silly human, you sit too much! Let’s take another walk.

Or, if he isn’t insisting we take a walk, Oz decides the computer must go because he needs to sit in my lap. Basically, Oz is tired of all this “work” because it distracts me from my real job, which is pampering him 100% of the time.

Ahhh, editors and their spoiled pets!

Any closing thoughts or things you’d like folks to know about Apex?

JBS: Lesley Conner isn’t as scary as she might look. Behind the photos of wild-eyed and blood-covered Scout leader of a group of innocent Girl Scouts is a woman of great warmth and empathy.

LDC: One time. One time I let my Girl Scouts cover me in fake blood for a badge project and I’ll never hear the end of it! LOL (I do have an awesome picture of me covered in fake blood and it was a fantastic event!)

Apex is like a big family … if the family is strange and weird and slightly disturbing. We may tease each other (Jason provided proof with his response to this question) but we all know that we’re there for each other. We want each other to succeed and we want the same for our authors and artists. I couldn’t imagine working with a better group of people.

Thanks you both for stopping by and letting us all peek behind the Apex curtain!

The Apex Kickstarter runs through August 18. Do check it out and help out if you can. Apex publishes some truly amazing work, and I can’t wait to see what 2022 and beyond have in store!

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