Ranks of the Rejected: Avily Jerome (Havok Magazine)

Today it is my privilege to present an interview with Avily Jerome, the editor for Havok magazine. Avily is an accomplished editor and writer, and she has great advice for authors who want to publish in Havok (or publish in general). She also knows a thing or two about rejection and how to deal with the inevitable reality of “not for us.” My own association with Havok is pretty simple. They’ve published two of my stories, including one in the issue releasing today, which means I’ve twice had the pleasure of working directly with Avily and the rest of the Havok team.

Make sure to check out the latest from Havok, including the April issue, and the guidelines for the annual contest issue Rampage! Monsters vs. Robots, coming in July (more info on that below).


1) Tell us what Havok Magazine publishes in 50 words or less.

Havok publishes speculative flash fiction. 1000 words or fewer, in a variety of speculative genres. We’ve done everything from steampunk to dinosaurs to straight sci-fi, and everything in between, including some pretty spectacular mash-ups. Content-wise, we’re family-friendly, so no excessive violence, language, or sensuality.

2) How do you come up with Havok’s themes? What are some of your favorite past themes?

Every year we have a brainstorming session with Splickety (our parent company) staff members and throw around ideas until we find the ones we like. We try not to do anything too similar to something we’ve done in the recent past, and we try to make the themes broad enough that multiple genres can fit within the same theme.

Favorite themes… that’s a tough one. I love our Halloween horror issues. Some of my personal favorite stories have been in the horror issues. The Dinosaurs issue was a lot of fun. Probably one of my top picks is our Literary Mutations issue, where we made classic stories into speculative stories.

3) Since Havok publishes flash fiction, in your opinion, what are the benefits and challenges of writing at 1,000 words or fewer?

One of the best benefits for writers is that it really tightens your writing. You have to decide which information is vital and which is extraneous. You have to cut out every bit of fluff and every unnecessary word.

One of the biggest challenges is fitting a full story arc and creating compelling characters in such a short amount of space.

4) What advice can you give writers submitting to Havok? Which stories have the best chance at publication?

We accept stories up to 1000 words, but I only have room for two or maybe three 1000-words stories per issue. Most of the stories I publish are about 700 words, so if you can stick to 700 words or fewer, your odds are better.

As for story itself, if you can make me feel, whether it’s humor, sadness, love, nostalgia—you have a higher probability of catching my attention. I also love twist endings, complex world building (although again, this is hard to do in a flash story), and hard choices.

 5) Take us behind the scenes. Describe Havok’s evaluation process for a story.

I have a pretty multi-faceted process for choosing stories. First, of course, I look for writing quality and story arc. Even if the story is one I like, if the writing is poor, or if it’s going to take too much effort on my part to edit it and get it ready for publication, then I’m probably going to pass on it. Conversely, if the writing is clean and flows but the story isn’t engaging, then I’m not going to try to work with it.

Most of the submissions I receive fit these criteria, so after I’ve narrowed it down a bit, I look for several different components. Story arc is a big one for me. I’m okay with open endings, as long as there is some resolution and some emotional satisfaction for the reader. Too often, I read stories that feel like prologues. It’s okay if it’s part of a bigger world, but the story has to be self-contained. Along the same lines, the world can’t be too big or require too much explanation, and there can’t be too many or too complex of characters. I don’t want to be pulled out of the story or feel like it ended too soon because there were too many unanswered questions or because I couldn’t keep track of all the characters.

Beyond that, there’s some personal preference involved, and there’s also what does or doesn’t fit within the rest of the issue. If a story is too similar to either the staff feature or the featured author, I’ll pass on it because I want to have a variety. I also try to have a mix of dark and light, so if I have a really good story that’s tragic or violent, I’ll try to balance with one that’s humorous, and so on.

6) Well, this blog is called Rejectomancy, so I gotta ask. What are the top three reasons Havok rejects a story?

Top reason—I just don’t have room to publish all the fantastic stories I receive. #2, it doesn’t fit with our submission guidelines for either word count, theme, or content, and #3, the story is flat and doesn’t hold my interest.

7) You’re an accomplished writer as well as an editor, so you understand  rejection comes with the territory. Any pro tips for dealing with it?

Don’t take it personally. Just because you receive a rejection doesn’t mean I (or any other editor) didn’t like it. I try to offer at least a little feedback on every story that makes it through the initial screening, with something I like and something to work on, so take that for what it’s worth—one editor’s opinion—and keep writing, keep submitting, and keep going.

 8) Last question: what new and exciting things are headed our way from Havok magazine?

The single most exciting thing coming is our annual contest issue, coming in July. The theme this year is Rampage! Monsters vs. Robots. The theme description is on our website. The Grand Prize includes an Amazon gift card and a bunch of ebooks and other goodies. And don’t forget to check out all the other themes from Havok and from Splickety’s other imprints for this year.

Avily Jerome is a writer, the editor of Havok Magazine, an imprint of Splickety Publishing Group, and a book reviewer for Lorehaven Magazine. Her short stories have been published in multiple magazines, both print and digital. She has judged several writing contests, both for short stories and novels. She is a writing conference teacher and presenter, a new-author mentor, and a freelance editor. In addition, she enjoys speaking to local writers’ groups.

Her fantasy short story serials, The Heir, and the sequel, The Defector, are available on Amazon, and book three, The Silver Shores, is coming soon.

She loves all things SpecFic, and writes across multiple genres. Her writing heroes include Joss Whedon, Robert Jordan, and J.K. Rowling, among others. She is a wife and the mom of five kids. She loves living in the desert in Phoenix, AZ, and when she’s not writing, she loves reading, spending time with friends, and experimenting with different art forms.

To contact Avily or to find out more about her mentoring and editing services, please visit her website at www.avilyjerome.com

Back to Basics: The Cover Letter

Hey, let’s talk about cover letters again. I see this subject pop up a lot when it comes to submissions. There are a lot of opinions, and my opinion goes something like this: keep it short, keep it simple, and follow the guidelines. Let me show you what I mean.

The Basic Cover Letter

If the publisher doesn’t ask for anything specific in the cover letter, I generally go with the basic letter below. It ticks all the boxes I think editors generally want in a cover letter, and it’s easy to add (or subtract) content if a publisher wants something specific.

Dear Fiction Editors1,

Please consider my short story [Story Name]2 for publication at [Publisher Name]3. The story is approximately [# of words]4 words in length. My short fiction has recently appeared in [Market 1], [Market 2], and [Market 3]5.


Name (byline)7

Okay, so let’s break this sucker down.

  1. The salutation. If you are absolutely, one-hundred percent sure of the editor’s name and that person will in fact be reading your story, then, sure, go ahead and address the cover letter to that person. If you have any doubt whatsoever, then use fiction editor(s) or editor(s). It’s safe, technically correct, and I can’t imagine an editor would get offended at being called, uh, an editor.
  2. Story name. Pretty self-explanatory here, just make sure you put the story name in quotation marks. I’d treat novelettes the same way, with quotes, as they are essentially long stories. Novellas can be tricky, though. The research I’ve done says a standalone novella (one not part of anthology) should be italicized*. If you’re submitting a novella to a short story market, it would generally be standalone, so I’d go with italics there.
  3. Publisher name. Again, self-explanatory, but make double, extra sure you spell the publisher’s name right and use the full name of the market as it’s listed on the masthead. The titles of both print and online magazine are italicized (according to CMS).
  4. Word count. If the market doesn’t ask for an exact word count (if they do, then just drop the approximately), I round up or down to the nearest fifty. For example, if my story is 4,359 words, I’d round it to 4,350. If it’s 4,187, I’d round to 4,200. If rounding puts you over the word count maximum for the market, then I think it’s perfectly acceptable to list the exact word count.
  5. Previous publications. A lot of markets ask for previous credits in cover letters, so I generally include them even if the publisher has no specific guidelines. Include no more than three and go with recent, best, or a little of both. I generally go with recent, but if you’ve got a big market or two under your belt, go with best. In that case, just drop the word recently, and you’re good to go. Remember to italicize the titles of print and online magazines. All that said, if the publisher doesn’t ask for previous credits, you could drop this entire section and have a perfectly serviceable cover letter.
  6. Closing. Use your favorite here, but I’d avoid anything too informal. I like best and regards, but sincerely works too.
  7. Signature. I like to put all my relevant contact info here (many publishers even ask for it), which is usually name, address, and email. I usually put “(byline)” next to my name so there can be no confusion on how I would like to be credited if my story is accepted. That’s entirely optional, of course. You could add your phone number, but I don’t think it’s really necessary unless the publisher asks for it (some do).
*Some submission software doesn’t allow italics, and in that case there’s no need to worry about it. Some software allows html tags, though, so you can italicize by bracketing the title likes this: <i>Awesome Spec-Fic Journal</i>.

And that’s the basic cover letter when the publisher doesn’t ask for something specific. (So far I’ve had no complaints) Of course, publishers DO sometimes ask for other things, but any of those elements should be easy to add to this letter.

At the end of the day, my advice with cover letters is to keep it simple, give the editor the important details, and, above all, follow the guidelines. If you make a mistake on your cover letter, like forget to italicize the name of the market or something, it’s not the end of the world. The chances of something like that affecting an editor’s decision on your story are pretty minuscule, really. That said, the cover letter is your shot to make a first impression on the editor. So, you know, try to make it a good one.

Would you add something to this basic cover letter? Tell me about it in the comments.

A Week of Writing: 4/2/18 to 4/8/18

Another week has come and gone, and here are my writing triumphs and failures laid bare for your amusement and edification.

The Novel

So, uh, yeah, I’m like writing this horror novel with a desired goal of 15,000 words a week and a minimum goal of 10,000 words. Well, friends, I didn’t hit either of those numbers, and this week was, to put it bluntly, pretty much shit for novel production. Behold my shame.

Date Day Words Written
4/2/2018 Monday 0
4/3/2018 Tuesday 0
4/4/2018 Wednesday 0
4/5/2018 Thursday 2519
4/6/2018 Friday 0
4/7/2018 Saturday 0
4/8/2018 Sunday 577

Yep, I managed only 3,096 words on the novel this week. Not great, but still positive yardage, and I did figure out a few tangled plot points that’ll make the writing easier from here on out. I shall do better this week.

Short Stories

Okay, kind of got my shit together here, especially compared to my epic failure on the novel. I finished the revisions on three stories, one of which is a tale called “Teeth of the Lion Man.” I’m pretty excited about that one because I’ve been laboring on the damn thing for like four years. I spruced up a few other stories that had been hanging around, and I’m generally happy with the results.


Last week was a very good week for submissions, both in volume and responses.

  • Submissions Sent: 6
  • Rejections: 2
  • Acceptances: 1

I currently have fourteen submissions under consideration.

Story Date Sent Days Out Avg Response
Caroline1 6/24/2017 289 263
A Small Evil 11/9/2017 151 72
The Scars You Keep 1/7/2018 92 123
When the Lights Go On2 1/25/2018 74 45
Bites 2/8/2018 60
Old as the Trees 2/28/2018 40 24
What Kind of Hero 3/24/2018 16 105
Two Legs 3/26/2018 14 32
Scar 3/29/2018 11 40
Burning Man 4/3/2018 6
Red Season 4/3/2018 6
Teeth of the Lion Man 4/8/2018 1 5
The Inside People 4/8/2018 1 10
A Point of Honor 4/8/2018 1 15
  1. Reprint
  2. Shortlisted

I received responses on two of the stories that had been in that 45- to 75-day range: one rejection and one acceptance. I can’t talk about the acceptance just yet, but it’s a good one (I mean, they’re all good), and I’m pretty excited about it. Some of the new submissions I sent out are to markets that are generally speedy, so I would expect to heat back from them this week.


This week I aim to get back on track with the novel, but I’m not gonna set some lofty goal of 15,000 words or more to catch up. Instead, I’ll set my sights on a humble 10,000 words and get delusional about my production again on the following week. I do have one deadline looming I need to hit, an outline for a game design project. Since I never miss deadlines (true story), I’ll be knocking that out this week.

Story Spotlight

This week, I’d like you to head on out to The Arcanist, and check out my latest story, “The Food Bank,” published on on 4/6. It’s your typical post-apocalyptic horror flash fiction about giant bugs. 🙂

Read “The Food Bank

“The Food Bank” & The Arcanist Trio

The Arcanist just published my flash fiction piece “The Food Bank,” and it’s free to read on their site. This is a post-apocalyptic horror story with a dash of sci-fi for seasoning. It’s also got giant bugs in it. Simply click the big bug below to read.

“The Food Bank”

This is my third publication with The Arcanist, and if you write or read speculative flash fiction, you should definitely give them a look.  If you’re so inclined, you can check out my previous two stories, “Cowtown” and “Reunion,” by clicking on the cow or the seashell below.




Submission Statement: March 2018

I often start these submission statements with a subtle (or not-so subtle) complaint about my production for the month. Well, not this time. March was a really good month, one of the best of my short story submittin’ career.

March 2018 Report Card

  • Submissions Sent: 8
  • Rejections: 7
  • Acceptances: 3
  • Publications: 0
  • Withdrawal: 1

Eight submissions is good volume, and that puts me at a total of 35 submissions for the first three months of 2018. I’m also on a good pace for my goal of 100 submission for the year. Of course, the big news for the month is the three acceptances. I think that’s the most I’ve received in a single month.


I’d say 7 rejections is about average for me, especially with how many submissions I’ve been sending out lately.

  • Standard Form Rejection: 6
  • Upper-Tier Form Rejection: 1
  • Personal Rejections: 0

All form rejections for the month, and nothing too special. I’ll share a couple from markets that are new to me.

Highlight Rejection 1: Sent 3/13/2018; Rejected 3/25/2018

Thank you so much for sending us [story title]. This time, however, we’re saying no, but we wish you the best of luck with your piece. 

This is a pretty standard form rejection, but I’m highlighting it because it is a) a new market for me and b) it’s a literary market. Yep, I’ve branched out a tad, and I’ve been submitting stories to a couple of lit-fic markets. I’ve even had some success there (more on that below).

Highlight Rejection 2: Sent 1/30/2018; Rejected 3/29/2018

Thanks for giving us the chance to read [story title]. After careful consideration, we are unfortunately going to pass at this time. 

If you have other works that you think might be a good fit for [publisher], we encourage you to submit them through our Google form.

We look forward to reading more of your work in the future and hope that this piece finds a home as well. 

I would call this a higher-tier rejection, and it’s from a market that has accepted three stories of mine in the past (bless them). I include it here to demonstrate simply that even with a market that really likes your stuff, not every story is a good fit.


Well, this was a hell of a month for acceptances. I received three in March, and they all came within the span of about seven days. That’s a pretty good week. 🙂

Acceptance 1: Sent 1/6/2018; Accepted 3/2/2018

Thanks for letting us read [story title]. We would love to publish it in [publisher]!

The first acceptance for March came form a publisher that’s published me twice before. It’s always great when you find a market and an editor that dig your work. This story will go live in a couple of days, and I’ll be sure to post a link to it then.

Acceptance 2: Sent 3/3/2018; Accepted 3/6/2018

Thank you for taking the time to submit your story [story title]. I’d be delighted to publish it on [publisher].

I’ve scheduled it for publication on 4 May. If this date changes, I will let you know.

Thanks again for submitting your work.

The second acceptance for March comes from market I’ve never submitted to before, mostly because they’re primarily a literary market. The story I sent them straddles the line between genre and literary, and they liked it enough to publish it. As you can see, the story will (most likely) be published on May 4th, and I’ll be sure to alert all of you so you can run over to the publisher’s website and read it.

Acceptance 3: Sent 12/30/2017; Accepted 3/8/2018

Loved this story. Buying for [publisher], most likely the online edition. 

There’s more to this acceptance letter, but this is the important bit. The real kicker here is this represents my first sale of a mystery/crime story. That’s pretty cool, and I might have to write a few more. As much as I like being published in print, an online publication allows me to send folks directly to the story to read, which I will most certainly do when this is published.

And that’s my March. How was yours?

A Week of Writing: 3/26/18 to 4/1/18

One more week in the trenches working on various writing projects. Here’s how it all shook out, complete with word count goals, short story sundries, and submission shenanigans.

The Novel

As I said last week, my big project for the moment is a horror novel called “Late Risers.” I’m making pretty good progress, with a weekly goal of 15,000 words, which I often fall short of. Still, I have a minimum do-or-die goal of 10,000 words I can hit pretty routinely. Here’s how I did this week.

Date Day Words Written
3/26/2018 Monday 0
3/27/2018 Tuesday 2516
3/28/2018 Wednesday 0
3/29/2018 Thursday 0
3/30/2018 Friday 2553
3/31/2018 Saturday 2091
4/1/2018 Sunday 2852

As you can see, I struggled early in the week to get going but managed to turn it on for the weekend. I ended up with 10,012 words for the week, which put me at 53,500 words in total. That’s a bit over half-way to a first draft, so I’m pretty happy with that. If I can keep this up, I expect to have a first draft by the end of the month.

Short Stories

No new short stories this week, but I did outline an urban fantasy story tentatively called “Deep Water.” I like the idea, and we’ll see if I can get some real work done on it this week.


An average week for submission volume.

  • Submissions Sent: 2
  • Rejections: 1
  • Submission Status Query: 1
  • Shortlist: 0
  • Withdrawal: 0

I currently have eleven submissions in rotation at the moment.

Story Date Sent Days Out Avg Response
Caroline1 6/24/2017 282 261
A Small Evil 11/9/2017 144 65
The Scars You Keep 1/7/2018 85 123
Scare Tactics1 1/18/2018 74
When the Lights Go On2 1/25/2018 67 40
Bites 2/8/2018 53
A Point of Honor 2/18/2018 43 10
Old as the Trees 2/28/2018 33 24
What Kind of Hero 3/24/2018 9 119
Two Legs 3/26/2018 7 32
Scar 3/29/2018 4 40
  1. Reprint
  2. Shortlisted

As I said last time, a few of these stories are beyond the average response time, so I should hear back soon. I did send a submission status query to one of these publishers, mostly because the wait time is much longer than what I’ve previously experienced with the market. That could simply mean they’ve had a lot more submission than usual, or it could mean a lost submission. I sent a polite query letter basically to rule out the latter.


Again, I’d very much like to hit 15,000 words on the novel this week, but, as usual, I’ll settle for 10,000. I accepted a contract for game design project, and I need to get the outline for that going. It’s not due for a couple of weeks, but I’d like to get ahead of the deadline. As always, I have a whole bunch of short stories just crying out to be finished, revised, submitted, and so on, and I’ll try to get to a few of those as well.

Story Spotlight

This week, since baseball season is in full swing, I’ll ask you to head on over to Pseudopod and listen to my vampire baseball story “Night Games.” The narration by Rish Outfield is simply superb, and I think the story is pretty okay too. 🙂

Listen to “Night Games

And that was my week. Tell me about yours in the comments.