The man who founded one of the top online magazines of dark science fiction, horror, and fantasy literature in the country didn’t set out to be an editor. But once he set his mind to it, nothing could seemingly stop him.
Jason Sizemore is now 11 years into his run with Apex Magazine, with three Hugo Award nominations for editing and a pair of Nebula wins by his writers to show for it. (See Apex’s complete list of awards and nominations.)
“Three things happened simultaneously that caused me to go down this path,” Sizemore confessed during a question and answer session at last month’s Imaginarium Convention in Louisville, Ky. “I turned 30, and for the first time I started feeling mortal, I guess. I had my first kid, and that also made me feel mortal; it’s lot of work and I was always exhausted. And the third thing, I was at a completely dead-end job working for a risk management group for city government as a system administrator for their software.”
A disagreement with his boss led him to quit on the spot and go home to sulk, whereupon he noticed a zine he was a fan of and decided, “I can do this.”
“I did a six-month deep dive into language arts books, I studied the Chicago Manual of Style, and a lot of online stuff, videos; there are tons of resources out there,” he explained.
“I had a few stories published very early on that I hope no one ever has seen, but those early acceptances really gave me the confidence I needed at the time.”
From there, Sizemore pulled the trigger and Apex was born.
Not that things went entirely smoothly. The cost of starting a magazine from scratch led to a steep debt and a lot of consternation. But Sizemore persisted, learning more as he went, and garnered support on the conference trail that helped bolster not only the zine’s reputation but his own confidence.
Today, he even has an award named after him at the Imaginarium Convention.
For those wanting the full story, and a few laughs along the way, Sizemore writes about his experience as an editor and publisher in the book, For Exposure: The Life and Times of a Small Press Publisher.
“I look back at those first few issues I edited and I can’t stand it, because I have all this experience now,” he explained.
As for the writing, Sizemore says the most important maxim to remember is, what works for one person may not work for another.
“There is never one concrete right way of writing. It’s a very different beast from editing. There are very hard set rules for editing. While I do editing 95 percent of the time, I do like to write because there are no boundaries.”
Sizemore said it’s important to set goals with achievable milestones.
“If you’ve tried getting in all the pro zines without luck, then try the semi-prozines. You need an occasional win to keep yourself moving forward. My growth as a writer reflects that of a lot of writers. When you start out as a newbie, you tend to jump at the first person who wants to publish you. I had a few stories published very early on that I hope no one ever has seen,” Sizemore said, “but those early acceptances really gave me the confidence I needed at the time.”
Sizemore agreed to share some additional insights with Adventures in Writing as his magazine launches its annual subscription drive.
When you’re not on the conference trail, what’s your day like?
Sizemore: Emails. Lots and lots of emails. Oh, and coffee, can’t forget the coffee. I spend a lot of time scheming with my managing editor, Lesley Conner.
My mornings consist of website updates and maintenance, accounting work, and promotional activities. After lunch, I like to do the fun stuff like copy edits, submissions reading, book layout, etc.
What’s the best part of being a small press publisher?
Sizemore: It’s definitely the fact that I’m helping bring something thoughtful and entertaining to the world. I never tire of the thrill of holding a new Apex book in my hands.
Where did your affection for dark science fiction and horror come from?
Sizemore: I give credit to my mom. When I was but a wee lad she and I would have Friday mother/son movie nights. We’d venture down to the video rental shop and pick up great movies like Alien, The Thing, Silent Running, and Lifeforce. Sure, I had some sleepless nights and some terrific nightmares, but it ingrained a curiosity in me regarding the intersection of technology/sf and the darker side of life.
Who are some of today’s writers you follow? Do you read outside your genre?
Sizemore: I have a shortlist of writers who I read faithfully: Mary Doria Russell, Brian Keene, Nick Mamatas, Michael Chabon, Joe Abercrombie, Damien Angelica Walters, Charlie Huston, Richard K. Morgan, and my guilty pleasure Chelsea Cain (I say guilty since she writes ready-to-digest crime novels, but she’s an outstanding writer).
So, yeah, I read outside my genre all the time. About the only stuff I don’t read are romance and urban fantasy.
You describe yourself repeatedly in your book, For Exposure, as a somewhat shy, socially averse person. That’s a common trait among horror writers and writers in general, isn’t it?
Sizemore: Oh yes, most people in the book publishing business are introverts. Except for agents.
I’m way more outgoing than I was just ten years ago. Running a public facing small business requires you to be able to stand up in front of crowds, to be occasionally gregarious, and learn how to hob knob.
What’s on tap for the magazine in 2017?
Sizemore: We have two special guest-edited issues that I’m excited about. Maurice Broaddus is taking the reins this coming April for an issue. In August, Dr. Amy H. Sturgis is editing an issue focusing on indigenous authors. Right now we’re having a subscription drive to raise money to expand our fiction offering and to increase our pay to our writers.
Apex has been nominated a few times for the Hugo. Short of killing the editors at the competition, what’s it going to take to win one of them?
Sizemore: Now that Apex Magazine is now considered a “pro zine” and not a “semi-prozine” it has become quite unlikely we pick up any more Hugo nominations. I’m grateful that we picked up three nominations before we matriculated to the pro-level!
If someone is new to your publication, what do they need to know?
Sizemore: Expect to read stories that will have you thinking about the ramifications of how humans interact with technology, the weird around us, and one another. Not all our stories are dark and foreboding, but a majority are.
If someone were to submit a story to Apex, what’s your best advice for them?
Sizemore: Read one issue of the magazine first. I know many writers don’t have bottomless pockets, so if you can’t afford to buy an issue for $2.99, everything we’ve published can be viewed at http://www.apex-magazine.com. Our stories definitely have a particular style, voice, and tone. If you can recognize it and it appears in your submission, your odds for success will be greatly increased. (Leslie Conner, managing editor at Apex, and her reading team offer these additional tips.)
Can a non-science fiction or horror writer find something to like about the stories in your magazine, or should they just bugger off and go find some commercial fiction to read?
Sizemore: LOL bugger off? I’d never say that to ANY reader.
I understand people have their tastes. Even within the diehard Apex Magazine fan ranks, not every story pleases every reader. Having said that, I do think we offer a broad range of interesting work. The only readers I might warn off are those who can’t handle darker material or they’re wanting a Nicholas Sparks experience.