This week, I have a special treat for you. It's an interview with the dynamic duo behind Apex Magazine: editor in chief Jason Sizemore and managing editor Lesley Conner. Apex is a brilliant SFF zine, and they're running a Kickstarter right now to finance their work for 2022. If you haven't supported them yet, head over and pick up a subscription or some of the other rewards available.
Huge thanks to both Jason and Lesley for answering some of my questions about the zine and the business of running an SFF publication!
Q. What’s your background apart from being the people running Apex Magazine?
Jason: The roots of the magazine trace to the year 2004 with the birth of my first kid and my 30th birthday. I had something of an early mid-life crisis and needed a creative outlet. I was big into the saddle stitch zine world at the time and thought it would be fun to do something like that. It was fun. And fulfilling. Here we are in 2021, that kid is now a senior in high school, and I'm still doing the zine.
Lesley: I grew up in a small town in West Virginia, and graduated in 2004 from WVU with a BA in English. I've been lucky enough to call Apex my full-time gig for nearly ten years now. Other than that, I fill my time with keeping up with two teenage daughters and volunteering for Girl Scouts. I run an incredibly active troop, and volunteer for multiple levels within the organization.
Q. How did you first decide to get into the SFF-zine business?
Lesley: I wouldn't say that it was a conscious decision on my part. Jason and I had become friends after bumping into each other at multiple conventions over the years. He mentioned on Facebook needing someone to help out with marketing. At the time I was a stay-at-home mom and I thought it sounded fun! I'd get to help a friend, and do something new and exciting. So I volunteered. I had no idea that it would lead to a career that I am absolutely in love with, but I'm incredibly grateful. I couldn't imagine doing anything else.
Q. Can you tell us a bit about Apex’s history as a zine and what you feel some of its most important accomplishments are as a SFF publication?
Jason: There's a certain amount of hubris required to answer a question like this. Fortunately, I have hubris in great supply...
Honestly, though, defining achievements is difficult. We've entertained many readers over the years. We've had stories win the Hugo and Nebula awards. I think we've done some positive things in helping boost the voices of marginalized and under-represented writers in SFF. We've published very early work from notable writers such as Lavie Tidhar, Rebecca Roanhorse, Alix E. Harrow, and Cherie Priest.
All of these are things I'm proud of. Things I want to continue doing. Things I want to do better.
Q. You’re running a Kickstarter campaign for Apex’s next year, 2022. Can you talk a bit about the financial side of running a magazine like this and why you decided to finance your publication through a Kickstarter rather than the subscription model or other alternatives.
Jason: Prior to our hiatus in 2019 (due to personal health stuff), we financed the publication completely through subscriptions and advertising. Thanks to longevity, brand awareness, and quality of our content, we had accomplished the unthinkable—making an online zine profitable.
When we did our relaunch Kickstarter in 2020, I had hoped we would pick up right where we left off. This was a ridiculous hope. We've had a phenomenal 2021, but having to rebuild your subscriber base to pre-hiatus numbers will take awhile. I'd venture to say it's more difficult this time due to the pandemic, social discontent, and the evey-rising amount of noise on social media. A week doesn't pass where I speak with someone who doesn't not know that we're publishing again.
For these reasons (and multitudes more), we're relying on a hybrid model of direct subscribers and crowdfunding. I love Kickstarter and the opportunities it provides, but a crowdfunding project is a lot of work, so I hope we won't need another after this one. I wouldn't be surprised if we do, though. Maybe it's the future of online zines?
Q. What are some cool perks you offer in your Kickstarter for those who might want to support you? What are the stretch goals?
Jason: We have the usual cool stuff like tuckerizations, critiques from Lesley Conner and myself, and swag packs. There's dinner with Apex at Worldcon. Signed hardcovers. Fancy bamboo bookmarks. Subscriptions.
The stretch goal I'm most excited about is funding an Asian and Pacific Islanders bonus issue. A very close second is including spot art by Justin Stewart with every story!
6. Every zine has its own voice and vibe, its own personality if you will. How would you describe what Apex Magazine is all about?
Lesley: Apex's vibe is definitely dark. Jason and I both love those stories that push the edge of being almost too much to take. The darkness appeals to us. But that doesn't mean that they're stories without hope or emotion. Actually, I'd say that the perfect Apex stories are the ones that have the biggest emotional impact. The ones that feel like a gut punch or leave the reader reeling in an emotional storm. There are no rose-colored glasses in the Apex offices. Instead, we're looking for the gritty reality taken apart and put back together in a speculative story.
Q. Could you pick three stories from past issues that in your opinion captures what you look for in stories for Apex and represents the kind of tales you want to publish?
Jason: I love questions like this!
"Without Wishes to Bind You" by E. Catherine Tobler — I want to be surprised by the fiction we publish. This is a work that could be campy and silly, but comes across as sweet, earnest, and gritty with realism.
"Curse Like a Savior" by Russell Nichols — Subtly dark. Coated with a veneer of humor. A scary bit of prognostication by the author.
"So Sings the Siren" by Annie Neugebauer — Here's another that took me off guard. It's a really short piece, but strong enough to pick up a Stoker Award nomination!
Q. If you could give advice to the writers wanting to submit stories to Apex, what would you say?
Lesley: 1. Read a few of Apex Magazine's newer issues to get a feel for what kind of stories we're looking for. They're available to read online for free. 2. Follow the submission guidelines. They're also online for you to read for free.
I know that answer seems too simplistic or maybe even flip, but the amount of submissions we get where it is obvious the writer has never read an issue of the magazine or ones where the author blatantly didn't follow the guidelines is baffling. Doing these two things really will give you a step up.
Q. If you could go back in time and talk to yourself when you got into the business of running a zine, what insights – warnings or advice or otherwise! – would you give yourself?
Lesley: To know my own self-worth! If we're going to be completely honest, I owe a LOT to Jason Sizemore because he saw something in me that took me years to see for myself. He believed in me when I didn't. A huge part of my early years working for Apex was me building self-confidence, both in myself as an individual and in my own talent. It changed me as a person and in how I interact with the world. So yeah, if I could have learned that sooner, that would be great. The fact is, though, past-Lesley would never believe me. It took someone else endlessly challenging my self-deprecation to finally start to believe in myself.
10. In your opinion, how has the SFF field on the whole evolved in the time since you became part of it? What trends and changes have you seen?
Jason: The field has become more diverse and much more interesting. The genre short fiction I read now is lightyears better than it was in 2005. The old print digests are still producing great work and now we have Clarkesworld, Apex Magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Lightspeed...
- 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.