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Night Shade Message Boards » Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction » Submissions/Cover Letters » Editorial Assistant John Joseph Adams and Fast Rejections « Previous Next »

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Nameless Author
Posted on Monday, June 23, 2003 - 04:26 pm:   

This is a copy of the email I sent. Please understand it's not to do with being rejected. I'm used to rejection after a couple of years, it's nothing new. What is upsetting is how FSFMag is handling their submissions.

Have any of you experienced the following problems?

Please tell me if you have, I would like to know if this is how FSFMag handles itself:



Please listen to this email, I will make it short. It is not a rant, it is a honest complaint about how business is being conducted with the editorial assistant John Joseph Adams.

Please understand, it is not being rejected, rather it is the timely fashion in which it is happening.

I have received my second rejection letter within 3 business days of sending off my submission.

You live in Hoboken NJ and I live in Colorado.

It is physically impossible for you to "receive, read and send" a rejection letter concerning my mail within 3 business days.

You would not only have had to have received my mail, but had to have read it and sent the rejection on the same day.

The very first submission I sent was a short, 1 page comedic submission. The rejection letter I received referred to it as a "story" (which it was not), and it arrived two days after I had sent my mail (which I find surprising in the least). I thought, "well, ok, so it's a short piece, it's nice that you responded so quickly."

I did not complain because, well, not everyone likes the same stuff. I accept that. However, it still bothered me that you did not keep it on file. All other responses from magazines I have sent my short to say this:

"We will keep your short on file."

They do that because: 1. It was a comedic work and comedy is hard to come by, and 2. It is 1 page long, short enough if the editors ever need a single page of filler.

But I thought, that's ok.

However, to have a rejection on a 59 page manuscript within 3 business days is an outright slap in the face.

I know for a fact you did not read it. It is impossible for you to receive a 59 page manuscript, read it and reject it on the same day.

Now I need to know what's going on here.


Is your office:

1. Just reading the first two paragraphs?

If this is so I will cease spending 5 dollars to sending 59 pages of paper through the mail, and I will only send you the first two pages.

2. Not reading your mail at all?

If this is so, I will cease sending you submissions all together.



I am asking these questions because the website said NO QUERRIES, that you were Desperate for Sci Fi and Comedy, and that FSFMag wants "Entire Manuscripts."

Why should I send an entire manuscript when your editors not only do not read them, but send rejection letters on the same day you open your mail?




It is frustrating to have you send me a rejection letter on the same day you would have received the mail. I do not understand how you think this is anything less than upsetting. It is not a rejection, it is a clear slap in the face. At least have the decency to "pretend" to read your mail by holding off on rejection letters for at least a week.

Reject me all you like, but at least wait longer than 3 days from when I sent my mail.
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Thomas R
Posted on Monday, June 23, 2003 - 07:41 pm:   

1: Yes as a rule if you've never been published in some magazine you shouldn't send them 59 page stories. Something between two and eight thousand words is the best idea.

As for the rest maybe you don't understand how professional zines work. If not you can check with Ralan.com and maybe find some zines more suited to you.
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Cora
Posted on Monday, June 23, 2003 - 08:38 pm:   

I usually submit to F&SF first because of the fast response time (which means when I write my future Hugo-winner, F&SF could very well be the place that publishes it first. *g*) But seriously, if Editor1 at A Publishing is going to take the same amount of time to look at the story as Editor2 at B Publishing, but send the rejection back two months faster, I'd rather send to Editor1 first.
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Michael Kelly
Posted on Monday, June 23, 2003 - 08:57 pm:   

As Cora stated, I see no problem with a rejection being sent out the same day as the manuscript arrived. And the editors don't need to read all 59 pages to know if they want to buy it. You need only take a bite of the fruit to determine if it is too your liking.
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John Joseph Adams
Posted on Monday, June 23, 2003 - 09:00 pm:   

Sorry my rejection letter upset you, Nameless.

The reason our response came so quickly is because we devote time to it every day, rather than let it pile up. In many cases, we do in fact read and reject manuscripts on the same day they arrive. So you're not alone in that. Most authors, however, seem to like the fact that we respond quickly.

As far as "keeping your short on file" is concerned--sorry, but we just don't do that. And if your "comedic submission" wasn't a story, what was it? We publish stories. If what you sent wasn't a story, that might have been part of the reason it was rejected.

I'm not sure why you find it so hard to believe that I could have read your 59 page manuscript -- that's not exactly novel-length. I can guarantee you that I looked at it. I can't guarantee I read the whole thing--if I was able to determine that the manuscript was not of sufficient quality after a few pages, I probably rejected it. There are many reasons it could have been rejected--the quality of the prose wasn't up to snuff; the characters were cliches; the plot was dull, etc. It's impossible for me to say since I don't know who you are. We get hundreds of submissions every month, and every slush story is competing with stories submitted by proven, successful authors. It can be hard to break into print. Though I should point out that it does happen, and we just bought stories from two different previously unpublished authors this month.

The reason you should send the whole thing is because if we start reading your manuscript and *do* like it, we'd need to see the whole thing. And if you're spending five dollars to send us your manuscripts, maybe you should try sending them media mail--that'll cut down on the costs and won't take much longer to arrive.

Good luck with your future submissions.

-JJA
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Nameless Author
Posted on Monday, June 23, 2003 - 10:18 pm:   

You say comedy on the site and the submission information, you also say do not querry send what you have if it's comedy and sci fi. If you only accept comedic stories then do the following:

A. State comedic stories on the website.

B. When you send the rejection letter JJA, don't call it a story when it's not a story. You ask me how I know you didn't read it? That's how I know.


Here's the second problem:

You just now stated you only read the first few pages-- so why do you ask to send the entire manuscript?

I'm sorry but that's what's the most insulting here:

You say don't querry, just send what you have, but at the same time you only want specific types of work and specific sections.


At least have the decency to update the website so I know what to send and how much to send. Not only does it waste MY time and YOURS it also wastes MY Money.


If you're only going to read three to ten pages, then only ask for three to ten pages. If you like it then you say "we're going to print it, send the rest." Don't ask for full 18000-24000 manuscripts just to read the first two pages and toss it in the junk heap.



At least the other magazines tell you what they want to send. It's not that hard for you to do the same.
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jack skillingstead
Posted on Monday, June 23, 2003 - 10:43 pm:   

For the record, most writers LOVE the quick response time. I certainly do.
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John Joseph Adamski
Posted on Tuesday, June 24, 2003 - 01:32 am:   

This is the text of an e-mail from one author to another TODAY:


I stopped submitting to F&SF a while back. The slush pile reader must just sort the mail, give the published authors to Van Gelder and reject all the others. I can't read a high school lunch menu as fast as that guy purports to scan manuscripts. You think they've have at least as much sense to let the stories sit around a month maybe to make people THINK they got looked at.
I could keep my desk clean, too, if I threw all the mail in the trash. It's insulting and unprofessional to give people who'd made a decent effort to send you a story such short shrift. No wonder new writers get discouraged; I wonder how many new writers who like F&SF quit writing in the past few years because they couldn't get a fair shake. Well, science fiction is only part of their game, so I guess it's the fantasy writers that suffer the most, because the science fiction writers have other places to send their stories.

I got a pleading subscription solicitation in the mail the other day from F&SF. They're offering deep discounts on their subscriptions. Because they rely so heavily on established writers, their stuff is stale and not probably not attracting new readers. Besides the slush pile itself is probably killing circulation. The number of fiction readers who have received these cavalier rejections from F&SF in recent years must be in the hundreds if not the thousands now, and probably represent an accumulating toxicity of ill will. I used to read the magazine BEFORE I started writing fiction. I've stopped because of my very human reaction to the way they handle the slush pile. It is one thing to get a decent hearing and intelligent rejection on the basis of the merits of your work. It's another to get the bum's rush without a glance.

I've really been been sending my stuff to Gardner and Ellen Datlow; at least they read the stories, although it may take a while. That's why between them they've won all the Hugos for top editor since about 1876.
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ET
Posted on Tuesday, June 24, 2003 - 01:39 am:   

Nameless Author, the other magazines will also read the same number of pages. They will just keep your story in a pile for a long time before doing that. JJA explained very well why judgement can be made after reading a few pages, and why you need to send the entire manuscript.

You seem to have some problem reading. JJA's response seemed clear to me, and also the guidelines saying "We are looking for stories..." which to me would indicate that they are indeed looking for stories, and not other things (I really wonder what you have sent them that isn't a story). You know, learning to read could have a beneficial effect on your writing.
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Dr. Doom
Posted on Tuesday, June 24, 2003 - 01:59 am:   

Etan, you don't know how publishing works. People will forgive a mistake but not a lie. It's patently absurd for JJA to claim to give any story a decent evaluation in the time described. It's obviously a "rip, read and reject" cycle. If HE thinks he's devoting enough time to this task, he belongs in a home for the feeble-minded. F&SF needs to come out and put in its guidelines that it is not a venue for new writers. And really, this topic is getting tiresome, because it is so obvious that the stories being submitted are not being properly read that it's gone past irritating to insulting. Nobody with two brain cells in contact with each other believes these screeching protestations. Adams is probably in the pay of the Dell Magazine Company to kill off their competition (haha). Galaxy, Omni, Amazing and many other magazines have died over the years. F&SF has started down that slope. More importantly, a magazine that lies to its readers and writers deserves to die.
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jack skillingstead
Posted on Tuesday, June 24, 2003 - 03:23 am:   

I really think all editors read slush the same way, F&SF just does it every day instead letting a backlog accumulate. This is obviously to the benefit of writers, new and established. I don't see any virtue in a munuscript lying around an editorial office for two months before getting looked at. Gardner Dozois has described his approach to slush-reading, and I doubt it varies substantially from JJA's. The blunt reality is that most manuscripts get rejected and rejected quickly. That's just the way it is. It's tough for writers, because even mediocre stories are hard to write, and nobody cherishes rejection. It can help if you keep in mind that a rejection--or acceptance--is only one editor's opinion. It's nothing you have to take personally.
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paulw
Posted on Tuesday, June 24, 2003 - 04:21 am:   

Dr. Doom, Nameless, et al.:

If you expect to make it as a professional writer, or even as an amateur with some pro sales, then stop whining and start writing.

Professional writers do not query rejections. If they come quickly, so much the better: there are plenty of other magazines and websites out there.

It is pure ignorance to maintain that F&SF does not publish new writers. Take the trouble to do a little research about a magazine if you are going to submit to it.

F&SF, Gordon, and John are not in the business to assauge the egos of insecure writers. They are in the business to provide quality fiction to subscribers. Period. As an editor, and a writer who has taught fiction writing, I can tell you that any editor worth his or her salt can accurately judge the publishable quality of a submission within a couple of paragraphs at the most. A fair shake? All an editor is ethically obligated to do is pick up your submission and start reading -- after that, it's up to the quality of your submission. If you get rejected, think about why . . . or, if you are confident in the quality of your piece, send it elsewhere without a second thought.
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John Joseph Adams
Posted on Tuesday, June 24, 2003 - 05:25 am:   

I have nothing else to add to the discussion, other than to ask the person who posted as John Joseph Adamski to please refrain from posting under Usernames similar to my own.
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Tim Akers
Posted on Tuesday, June 24, 2003 - 06:42 am:   

First off, I don't think it's necessary to insult the man. I'm a new writer, and I've garnered my share of one day rejections from Mr. Adams, but I hold no ill will for the man. F&SF gets a mind numbing quantity of submissions.

That said, I think there's a serious problem among the top scifi mags that is damaging the overall quality of the material being published. Too much attention is paid to established writers. The big names obviously get more attention, and are more likely to get accepted on name value alone, than the young turks.

This is not an indictment of F&SF specifically. I've seen it in SCIFICTION, Asimov and Analog equally. There are stories being published that are simply not of publishable quality, but they're getting page space because the author is known. His (or her) name goes on the front of the mag, and hopefully that sells more copies. The best stories I've read in Asimov and F&SF, the author's names don't get any mention on the cover at all.

Anyway...I wish there were some way to blind the submission process. I think we'd suddenly see a drop in the number of established writers, and a spike in the quality of publication.

Finally, because I'm not afraid to put my name on this post, I realize that this might damage my career. Frankly, I have complete faith in the quality of my work. I have my share of rejection slips, no worries, but I also have a dozen or so volunteers on a mailing list. I've never met these people, but they have all volunteered to read my stuff and offer criticism. Without fail, they have all said 'this is better than anything that is currently being published.' It's different, it doesn't fit the formula, but it's good. Anyway. Didn't want you to think I'm saying all this just because I can't get published. I'm confident I will. Heh
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ET
Posted on Tuesday, June 24, 2003 - 06:57 am:   

IIRC amongst the pro mags F&SF is the magazine that publishes the largest number of new writers.

There's one magazine I know which uses blind screening of submissions, and that's Andromeda Spaceways.
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Tim Akers
Posted on Tuesday, June 24, 2003 - 07:15 am:   

That may be true. Like I said, my post is not directed at F&SF specifically. I guess I'm just trying to start discussion on the matter. Mr. Van Gelder has said in the past that one of the things that frustrated him at St. Martins was the tendency to publish 'safe' material. With all this talk of the survey, and the popularity of straightforward story structure, I guess I'm just voicing a concern that the scifi mag industry might be going the same route. That's all.
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Ron
Posted on Tuesday, June 24, 2003 - 08:04 am:   

I just thought of a brilliant solution that will leave all parties satisfied:
Nameless, don't submit to F&SF any more.

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Ellen
Posted on Tuesday, June 24, 2003 - 09:31 am:   

What a fascinating conversation.

Nameless: That is how publishing works. You're very lucky that F&SF gets to your submission so quickly. It takes me or my reader a far longer time--my reader is probably getting to her pile quicker than I get to mine. She reads all the slush and guess what, she passed a story on to me that I've subsequently bought and will be coming out in July--from a writer I've never before heard of.

A good reader (and by than I mean slush reader or editor herself) can certainly read a few paragraphs of a story and know whether it's worth continuing.

"Comedic submission" or "story" --you're talking semantics. Guess what? It doesn't matter what you call it--the editor didn't think it right for the venue.

A writer sent me a story and I swear I got it the same day he says he sent it (in the NY area) --I don't know how it's possible but it seems to be. So stop complaining about fast turn arounds and get your stories out there.


Tim Akers: Sorry you don't think some of the stories we publish by writers who you consider "big names" are "publishable" but obviously I think you're wrong or I wouldn't publish them. Other people write in that they like those same stories (if you mentioned one in particular perhaps we could discuss it but throwing out such a vague comment is meaningless). All our stories are mentioned on the front of the site whoever they're by.

I and other magazine editors are yearning to discover new talent. Believe me, we're not trying to put down new writers--we want the best fiction available and I'm sure that if you asked any magazine editor she would tell you that she publishes the best fiction around. (I know I would :-))



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ET
Posted on Tuesday, June 24, 2003 - 09:35 am:   

The question is what you mean by "safe material". Magazines reflect the taste of the editor, and in that sense are likely to have some similarity. Yet there's quite a big different between what Weird Tales, Analog, F&SF and Black Gate publish, for example.

On the matter of names and "safety", I think that readers also tend to prefer this kind of safety. Readers who enjoyed a story by a certain author are more likely to look for more stories by that author than select another author at random.
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Tim Akers
Posted on Tuesday, June 24, 2003 - 09:44 am:   

Ellen - Didn't mean to sound vindictive or petty. I'm just frustrated, and learning patience in my own way. Most of the stories on your site are quite good, a higher percentage of quality than in most stuff. The only two that bubble to my head are SHIPBREAKER (the ending was awful. I wouldn't have submitted that ending) and THE THIRD PART, which I don't think I would have qualified as a full story. An interesting start, but it just fell apart.

Anyway...I've been collecting rejection slips for six months now, and I'm sure I'll rack up a few more before I break through. Then again, maybe coming onto this site and criticizing the very people responsible for judging my work was a bad career move. But if I didn't, I wouldn't be honest, and I honestly believe that there are stories being published that are of lesser quality but are still getting out there because of the name attached to them. Which makes me sad, and frustrated.
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Ellen
Posted on Tuesday, June 24, 2003 - 10:04 am:   

Tim:
That's interesting. How would you have ended it? What didn't you like about it? I had the author rework the last several pages.

Re: "The Third Part" --oh, it's a full story all right--it's just difficult to comprehend (for me, as well)--and there are blanks to fill in.

If you consider Paul di Filippo or Barry Malzberg "big names" I think they'd find that pretty hilarious. "Big namedon" seems to be in the eye of the beholder.

Yes, they're previously published authors. They are not big names.

The thing is Tim, you can't compare yourself or your writing to other writers. That will get you no where and will only make you bitter. You just have to keep writing and become a better writer.

There's an interesting post about this on the HWA BB. A professional never puts down other writers in a public forum or whines about their success. A professional continues to write and publish his own best work.

Also, six months of rejections is nothing. If you're starting to get personal rejections you're making progress. I'm sure lots of people write for several years before making professional sales.
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Tim Akers
Posted on Tuesday, June 24, 2003 - 10:19 am:   

Yeah, I know. I know all about how I can't compare my writing to that of other people. And I really don't want to be perceived as un-professional, though I may have already blown that. Lemme just say one thing, though.

I actually am published. I have eight years of freelance experience, I have bylines the world over, blah, blah, blah. What started me writing science fiction six months ago was precisely this frustration. I didn't like a lot of what I was reading in the magazines. There were glittering bits of goodness, but a lot of it felt sort of bland and unremarkable. So, I turned down a two-book deal in another field, and set about writing science fiction for the first time since...gosh...junior high? Perhaps it would have been better if I hadn't bothered to mention that I'm submitting stuff, because my opinion hasn't changed since before I started trying to make a name in this field.

Anyway, I didn't mean to offend anyone. I love scifi, and I have respect for the elders, but I expect a lot of myself (when I work) and I apply those standards to other people. I read a lot of stories and think to myself If I had written that, I would have rewritten it. I certainly wouldn't have submitted it like this.

On the subject of SHIPBREAKER, lemme think about it. If I remember, it left me feeling empty. Unfulfilled. A lot of things happened very suddenly, and then it just sort of stopped mid action. That's hardly valuable commentary, isn't it? I'd really have to sit down with the manuscript, because I suspect that the ending is something that needs to be addressed nearer the middle of the piece. Anyway...
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Judith Dubois
Posted on Tuesday, June 24, 2003 - 11:15 am:   

When I walk into a book store and pick up a book, I don't read to the end before I decide whether or not I'm going to buy it. And when I pick up a magazine and start reading a story, if I don't get hooked within the first few paragraphs, I don't finish it. I don't think it's immoral for overworked editors buried in slush to make the same kind of snap judgements.

When you decide that something is "unpublishable", aren't you just saying that you wouldn't have published it? How many people do you know that agree with your judgements about what is and isn't a good story 100% of the time? I imagine that even the editors of the same magazine don't always agree. I once got a novel manuscript back which the editor had liked and was asking me to make a few changes, and, I suppose by accident, there was a note made by another reader who had obviously hated the thing and pulled no punches saying so. I was lucky. The boss liked it. If it had been the other way around, I would have got a form rejections slip.

By the way, if I seem to be defending the establishment here, it may be because I sold my very first story to F&SF. I KNOW they buy stories from unknown authors. Still Unknown
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Claude Lalumière
Posted on Tuesday, June 24, 2003 - 01:28 pm:   

There are quite a few things that trouble me here.
1- I dislike the idea of people lobbing around fairly rude insults and damning accusations while hiding under anonymity. That feels like an abuse of a message board like this. This kind of stuff is all too common on the internet. If you have something to say, use your names. I'm especially offended by the yahoo who signed his post in a parody of John Joseph Adams's name.
2- To those who complain that they don't like the fiction in F&SF (or anywhere else), only to proclaim that their work is so much better; if specific editors have demonstrated that their tastes diverge so radically from your own, why would you expect them to prefer your material over what they already publish? Find a venue whose esthetics closely match what you want to accomplish with your fiction and submit there. Complaining to editors that their tastes are no good isn't going to get you anywhere. No magazine will publish 100% to any specific reader's tastes, but at least try to submit to somewhere that has some overlap with your own work.
3- Fast responses.
a- As a writer, I can only congratulate and be pleased by editors who respond quickly. I'm shocked that any writer would complain at editors who are efficient. So keep it up, F&SF, you're doing a great job, respectful of writers as far as I'm concerned.
b- As an editor who has been "guilty" of fast responses, I like keeping my desk (virtual and physical) free of piled up work. And I don't like to keep writers waiting. I like to receive fast responses, and I try to do be as quick as I'd like all editors to be.
4- lack of detailed comment.
Well, when you reject something that's truly horrible, badly written, full of clichés, clunky exposition, etc. etc. it's hard to be detailed in your rejection letter. I think many editors then fall back on stock rejection notes, because what is there to say without being unduly hurtful?

I had more to say, but I ran out of steam.
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S. Hamm
Posted on Tuesday, June 24, 2003 - 01:41 pm:   

Boy, is this ever a silly-assed thread.

1) Nameless -- Adams is doing you a FAVOR by sending your story back in no time flat. He doesn't want it. He's not going to want it more after it's had a week to marinate in the slush pile. The sooner it comes back to you, the sooner you can send it out to the next market. The more markets you send it to, the better your chances of collecting a paycheck.

2) You say that all the other magazines you sent your short to are "keeping it on file." What does that mean? Are they paying you for the privilege? If not, the file in question is most likely circular, so it really doesn't matter. However, if you did somehow manage to place the same short with more than one magazine, you're going to be hearing from some pissed-off editors the moment it sees print.

3) Judith Dubois has already beat me to the next point, which ought to be obvious: if the editor has dutifully slogged through pp. 1-5 of the 59-pp. ms. and is actively dreading the prospect of p. 6, he is right to fling the 59-p. ms. aside -- on the wholly legitimate grounds that a typical reader, seeing the story published in F&SF, would do exactly the same with his copy of the magazine. Readers read for pleasure, and you should strive to give it to them sooner rather than later. No one is likely to finish a book that's dull, hackneyed, silly, and badly written in hopes that it might pick up a little around page 342.

It should not be necessary to add that editors are not creative-writing instructors; you have not paid them tuition, and they are under no obligation either to help you hone your writing skills (although they may, if they feel you have a talent worth cultivating) or to "encourage" you by publishing your apprentice work in a professional venue.

4) Dr. Doom adds "No wonder new writers get discouraged; I wonder how many new writers who like F&SF quit writing in the past few years because they couldn't get a fair shake." Hey, Doc, you know what? Fuck 'em all. Good riddance!

I know some guys who could've been NBA all-stars -- if not for that coach who cut them from the JV team out of sheer favoritism (he only liked tall, fast guys). Or they could've been in the laboratory, curing cancer. It is genuinely tragic to think of all the lives they would've saved by now, if that stupid professor hadn't given them a D+ in chemistry.

If they can't take rejection, they shouldn't be writers. Period. They'll be much happier doing whatever it is they do instead.

And believe me, the world of literature is no less rich for their absence. There is, there will always be, plenty of great stuff being written by people who know how to shut the fuck up and write.

5) The notion that F&SF is not open to new writers is so patently wrong that it's barely worth addressing -- there are two first sales in the July issue alone. Check the TOC's for a few recent issues and ask yourself: five years ago, who'd heard of Alex Irvine? Charles Coleman Finlay? M. Rickert? Benjamin Rosenbaum? John Langan? Albert Cowdrey? James Cambias? Laird Barron? David D. Levine? Paolo Bacigalupi? (I'll stop at ten. I'm tired of typing.)
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S. Hamm
Posted on Tuesday, June 24, 2003 - 01:48 pm:   

Oops, my apologies -- comments addressed to "Dr. Doom" above should be addressed to "John Joseph Adamski."
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Claude Lalumière
Posted on Tuesday, June 24, 2003 - 01:50 pm:   

I agree 100% with Sam Hamm's post.
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R.Wilder
Posted on Tuesday, June 24, 2003 - 01:51 pm:   

Bravo Claude and S.Hamm and Ms.Dubois! And thank you Ellen for your illuminating perspective. Most of the rest of you were really getting me down... I was getting ready to hock my Olympia and kiss my dreams goodbye.

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Tim Akers
Posted on Tuesday, June 24, 2003 - 01:52 pm:   

Yeah, you're right. I was hasty in my condemnation. To clarify, I feel that some stuff that is being published is getting into that mags (not just F&SF, but industry-wide) on the strength of the author's name, not necessarily the quality of the material. That said, SCIFICTION, Asimovs and F&SF all publish new authors with surprising frequency. So. Shut me up.
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R.Wilder
Posted on Tuesday, June 24, 2003 - 02:04 pm:   

Tim: Maybe you're a tough audience. I've been away from the genre mags for over a decade and last year subscribed to F&SF and Asimov's and have been entertained by nearly every story to some degree. Oh, sure, some were simply mildly amusing or a quick bite of eye-candy, but in every single issue there's been good to great stuff somewhere. I've been so impressed I re-upped my subscriptions for two full years.
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Tim Akers
Posted on Tuesday, June 24, 2003 - 02:52 pm:   

Oh, I just started my subscription. I'll admit to being a tough audience, though. I honestly hold my own writing to a high standard, and I use the same stick for other people, too. And almost every issue I've read has one or two decent pieces.

Anyway, time will tell. If you start to see my name in print, you can decide if you like my writing or not, I suppose. Until that happens, whistling in the dark.
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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Tuesday, June 24, 2003 - 07:25 pm:   

Tim---

It's hard to explain what I meant about publishing books at St. Martin's that took risks, so let me give a few examples:

Harvey Jacobs's AMERICAN GOLIATH was considered risky fiction. Why? Because it was hard to classify fiction, written by an author without a strong sales track record.

M. John Harrison's SIGNS OF LIFE was considered risky fiction because it was somewhat science fiction-y, somewhat literary.

Jay Russell's BROWN HARVEST was ultimately considered too risky to publish. I'll skip the details and let it suffice to say that Four Walls Eight Windows didn't see the book as being as risky.

On the other hand, Don Webb's novels THE DOUBLE, ESSENTIAL SALTES, and ENDLESS HONEYMOON were not considered very risky---because, as mystery novels, they flew below management's radar.

For years I was unable to publish any first novels at St. Martin's except mysteries. Eventually I was able to publish a few (David Prill's THE UNNATURAL, the US edition of Richard Calder's DEAD GIRLS), but not many.

By contrast, at F&SF I've been able to publish stories by all of the writers Sam Hamm graciously named, as well as several other newbies. (I counted four this year: Al Michaud, Aaron Reed, Eyal Teler, and Jeremy Minton. And we have another one coming in the September issue. And I'm amused to mention that I bought one of the first stories by Jennifer Vanderbes, whose first novel EASTER ISLAND is getting reviewed everywhere.)

The thing that's hardest to explain or qualify is what actually _is_ risky fiction. Is Ellen Klages's "Basement Magic" risky? To some people, yes it is. How about Ben Rosenbaum's "Red Leather Tassels"? Bluejack thought it was an unsuccessful experiment. I liked it. If I'd had the equivalent of "Red Leather Tassels" in novel form, could I have published it in book form? Not at St. Martin's, that much I can say for certain.
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S. Hamm
Posted on Tuesday, June 24, 2003 - 08:23 pm:   

Gordon, you shame me! I was wondering what compelled me to buy Easter Island -- it HAD to have been more than the recommendation of a publisher's flack on Book TV the weekend of the Franken-O'Reilly dustup. Now I realize it was "Child of Mine" (May 2000)!

And I'd just been lamenting the increasingly fannish orientation of the SF magazines -- yours less than (almost any) others I could name, needless to say -- wondering whatever happened to the good ole days when Thom Jones, say, or Stuart Dybek, would publish their stuff in F&SF alongside Ron Goulart's and Vance Aandahl's . . . .
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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Wednesday, June 25, 2003 - 04:30 am:   

Sam---

Did you know that Thom Jones apparently pretends that his F&SF story (which appeared in the same issue as "The Deathbird") doesn't exist? It's not in any of his collections, nor is it cited in any of his bibliographies that I could find.

Discovering this fact tempted me into thinking that I could assemble an anthology of F&SF stories by writers better known in literary circles---Jones, Dybek, Ellen Gilchrist, maybe Shirley Jackson---but I grew convinced that (a) the book wouldn't have much commercial potential and (b) I was looking to do it for the wrong reasons.

Maybe I'd change my mind if F&SF could lay claim to publishing Annie Proulx's first story, but I believe that honor went to IF.
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Adam-Troy
Posted on Wednesday, June 25, 2003 - 04:55 am:   

Nameless Author,

I have a few short things to add to what's already been said here, by the illustrious Mr. Hamm and others.

First, anybody who tells you that a newbie shouldn't submit longer stories is wrong. My own second sale was a novelette. There's a major new writer named Ted Chiang who has only produced novelettes and novellas, who at one point had won two Nebulas (more, now) to go with only four published stories in leading field publications. The guy won Nebulas 50% of the time he wrote anything, and nobody knew who the hell he was (though that has changed - he became a gorilla quickly.)

There are many other examples. Editors do have to take the length of a story into account when deciding whether to buy it, but if the story blows them away they're NOT going to say, gee, it's by some nobody named Joe Shlabotnik, I better not. They WANT to find Joe Shlabotnik. The big names are off writing novels.

Second: editors get such a flood of fiction they have to eliminate the clear rejections early in the MS. Ellen Datlow (hi, Ellen) is fond of pointing out that she knows whether a story has a chance with her after the first PARAGRAPH, which seems unfair to writers who cherish that one special section on page 17 until you take into account the fact that readers who find the earlier pages wanting aren't gonna get there either.

I was once with Scott Edelman when he picked up that day's submissions to SCIENCE FICTION AGE. I looked through some of them. And yes, it was possible to reject many by page one. Not because they were all hysterically bad (though a few were), but because some just failed to impress that quickly.

I tell this next story not to toot my own horn, but to make the point. My earliest manuscripts were hideously formatted, and badly printed, and filled with x-outs; i know with the knowledge born of experience that they were probably rejected ON SIGHT by the majority of editors who saw them. Kris Rusch tells me that when she picked up "Clearance to Land," she did so knowing that it LOOKED like a piece of crap, and hoping that it would be, because she wasn't at all interested at that moment in finding a story she could buy. She wanted to eliminate the clear losers from the growing pile. The next thing she knew she was on page 6. She finished the story, loved it, then brought page one to Dean and said, "Read this page." Dean also saw how horrible page one looked, grumbled that he didn't have time for a golden turkey, and started to read. He had to chase her around the house for page two.

The point is not that the story in question was that all-fired terrific, woo, look at me, (its prose frankly makes me wince today), but that you are correct in noting that a one-day rejection indicates that the editor may not have spent all that much time with you. And if so, it's NOT something to complain over. It's standard operating procedure.

Signed, somebody who's never come close to selling to Gardner, and who's never sold to Ellen, but was really impressed with himself when he found out that one of his stories came close (dammit)
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Patrick Samphire
Posted on Wednesday, June 25, 2003 - 05:15 am:   

A strange complaint from Nameless Author. How long do you expect an editor to spend on your manuscript? An hour? A day? A week? When would he have time to look at the other 1000 manuscripts that arrived that month, let alone to put together a magazine?

The complaint seems to be that the two minutes you're lucky to get were on the day the manuscript arrived at the office rather than on a day four months down the road. Weird.
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Tim Akers
Posted on Wednesday, June 25, 2003 - 06:20 am:   

Well, I'm pleased that Gordon responded to my concerns, and I'm more than happy with his response. I suppose I just need to take things in perspective. Either way, stories like Basement Magic and The Fluted Girl remind me that really good stuff does get published, and gives me a little hope for the bizarre things that come out of my head.

Secondly, I'd like to congratulate both Gordon and John Adams for not getting all flamey in this thread. Considering the heat they've taken, and the personal attacks they've suffered, they have shown a great deal more restraint than would I, were I them. Anyway...thanks for taking the time to listen to a crank like me.
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R.Wilder
Posted on Wednesday, June 25, 2003 - 07:32 am:   

This is my favorite thread so far on this board.
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Ellen
Posted on Wednesday, June 25, 2003 - 08:07 am:   

Me too Wilder :-)

Hi Adam and Patrick!
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Bob
Posted on Wednesday, June 25, 2003 - 08:09 am:   

Um...I absolutely LOVE submitting to F&SF. Though it's one of the long-shot markets for new writers -- namely me -- it's also blazingly fast, and every rejection I've gotten -- three -- from them references the story and gives me an idea of why they didn't want it.
Nameless, quit being a dweeb. You've got nothing to complain about.
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Claude Lalumière
Posted on Wednesday, June 25, 2003 - 08:17 am:   

BTW--
Ellen, earlier you mentioned being "slow" in getting to subs. Well almost anyone is "slow" compared to the admirable hypereffeciency of Gordon & co., but your response time is still quite prompt (about three weeks), and much better than most markets. Nothing to be ashamed about!
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Ellen
Posted on Wednesday, June 25, 2003 - 10:40 am:   

Claude,
I'm embarrassed to say I'm currently reading May 9th submissions-which means I'm about 6 weeks behind if once counts from probably receipt of mss (with exceptions. As I noted in the guestbook on my website, someone claims he sent me a mss one day and I swear I got it the same day--which I believes was impossible but there it is).

By the way, did I tell you how much I enjoyed your review of X2 and how I felt it crystallized everything that was wrong with the movie? If not. I did and it did.
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Tim Akers
Posted on Wednesday, June 25, 2003 - 10:40 am:   

My rejections for F&SF have been about a week each, and they always get first crack at all my stories for that precise reason. Analog just rejected one after four weeks, and scifiction comes in at about three to four weeks, I think. Does anyone know what the turn around at Asimov is, cuz Mr. Dozois has had a submission of mine for about eight weeks, and I'm getting twitchy.
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JeremyT
Posted on Wednesday, June 25, 2003 - 11:01 am:   

Tim,
You can expect anywhere from two to four months with Asimov's. Closer to four months these days, at least for me, out here in Wyoming. YMMV.
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Claude Lalumière
Posted on Wednesday, June 25, 2003 - 11:18 am:   

Ellen:
Thanks for the nice words, re: my review of X2.
I've gotten a number or emails from people who, some politely some less so, think I'm full of shit regarding my evaluation of X-Men vs. X2.
X2 does a lot more to push the buttons of fans, and I guess they feel more protective of its contents, as they do of the Daredevil and Spider-Man films, two other badly written films that inspired fan loyalty.
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Stephen Gallagher
Posted on Wednesday, June 25, 2003 - 12:27 pm:   

I made my first story sale to F&SF, and it was a 10,000 worder. Since then I'd say that Ed and Gordon between them have taken about 70% of the material I've submitted over the years and bounced the remaining 30% with full professional courtesy.

So the door was neither closed to me when I was an unpublished writer nor propped open once I'd become an established one. I'm proud of my hit rate with the mag and I'm conscious of the sheer craft I had to put in to achieve it. I'm well aware that when I send a story in, I'm asking for comparison with the best.

If you want to join the club, Nameless, it's an open door. Start by being ready to stand behind every word you ever write.
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Rajnar
Posted on Wednesday, June 25, 2003 - 12:38 pm:   

Claude, for many people I suspect that it's easy for their affection for a character or characters to infuse their perception of the entire context. Plus, the fans want to like movies featuring these characters and are therefore a most forgiving audience.

I approve of this. So much effort goes into making a movie that I'm glad when people can appreciate it. I wouldn't want the average audience to consist of nothing but curmudgeons like myself who pay attention to minor details such as dialog, plot, and directing.
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Claude Lalumière
Posted on Wednesday, June 25, 2003 - 01:13 pm:   

Rajnar:
"minor details such as dialog, plot, and directing."
you're being sarcastic, right?
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Raj
Posted on Wednesday, June 25, 2003 - 01:19 pm:   

I'm being acerbic, Claude. That's sarcasm without the sneer but with a touch of bitters.
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Night Shade Books
Posted on Wednesday, June 25, 2003 - 01:52 pm:   

I just thought I'd throw in my two cents here.

Assuming I even bother to read an unsolicited manuscript, which I usually don't, I very rarely make it past page three. I can usually tell within a page or two whether it's even worth bothering with, and generally it's not.

Jason
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Matthew
Posted on Wednesday, June 25, 2003 - 01:53 pm:   

I think that the Asimov guidelines say that after three months you can assume your story lost in the mail. I sent a story out over three months ago and haven't got a response, so I assume it was lost. I then sent another copy, after revising it, to Sci Fiction. Hopefully, this won't cause some sort of conflict.
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Tim Akers
Posted on Wednesday, June 25, 2003 - 02:30 pm:   

If I face a 'lost in the mail' situation, I always resubmit to the same source. That way, if they're just *really* tardy I don't get stuck in a difficult situation. How's that for wishful thinking for ya? "Oh, what a disaster, Gardner Dozois and Ellen Datlow are fighting over me! Swoon!"
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Matthew
Posted on Wednesday, June 25, 2003 - 03:52 pm:   

Yeah, it probably want happen. But I'm allowed to have dreams.
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Ellen
Posted on Wednesday, June 25, 2003 - 05:26 pm:   

Matthew,
Although it's probable that the ms you subbed to Asimov's was lost--you should check.

If I get a story that I discover has been submitted simultaneously (except by accident) I'll just let the other guy have it. I don't fight over submissions <g>

Tim, you're right in the way you approach it. When someone contacts me because they haven't heard back in the time designated by my guidelines, if I have no record or memory of the story (or my reader doesn't recall what she's seen) I ask the person to resubmit. It's possible the story got lost coming to me--or didn't have the correct address. Or no sase for reply.

I have a few stories without sases that I'm holding in order to give the author a chance to send postage. If the mss doesn't supply an email address it's less likely for me to contact the author. I don't have the time (or inclination) to write a letter telling someone that they don't know how to submit properly. Sorry, probably more than you wanted to know <g>

>>I think that the Asimov guidelines say that after three months you can assume your story lost in the mail. I sent a story out over three months ago and haven't got a response, so I assume it was lost. I then sent another copy, after revising it, to Sci Fiction. Hopefully, this won't cause some sort of conflict.
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Michael Samerdyke
Posted on Wednesday, June 25, 2003 - 06:42 pm:   

I just want to go on record as in favor of F&SF's fast response policy. Having been to a writing workshop, I know that a reader can tell early on if a story is going to be a winner or a stinker or, to be more polite, what the magazine is looking for. (Oh-oh, this has a talking animal, and we think talking animals are juvenile.)

Also, having dealt with markets that hold manuscripts forever (like over a year and then send it back with "just not our thing" or never even bother to send back the story) I deeply appreciate F&SF's promptness.
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Dario
Posted on Wednesday, June 25, 2003 - 09:26 pm:   

Dear Nameless Author,

Hurrah for F&SF's fast response times! Anything I write that might work for F&SF will go to them first precisely because of their fast turnaround.
And, yes, the mail is sometimes surprisingly efficient. You should be happy: would you rather wait a year before someone reads your first page and decides it's not for them? But I note that you've dropped out of the thread: how unprofessional. Although given your dishonesty in not giving your true name when adressing your tormentor, it figures. Still, I should probably be kinder to you, as you may suffer from an actual mental condition.

Even without going into the slushpiles one can get an idea of the dross that's out there in mind-numbing quantities by just checking out the hundreds of sites that appear in response to googling SF. . . I can't bear to read even three paragraphs of most of it.

Now consider the function of an editorial assistant: Mr. Adams is there to filter out the material which isn't likely to interest Mr. van Gelder. And I would imagine that he has a very good idea of what that is.

Rejection is hard, nameless author, but you should consider yourself lucky that professionals like JJA, GvG, and ED, not to mention the many others who've spent precious writing time discussing this, don't just ignore you.

Now quit whining and write.
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Patrick Samphire
Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2003 - 01:41 am:   

Hi Ellen. :-)

Matthew: although Asimov's guidelines say assume lost after 3 months, their response times are actually running to over 4 months for a lot of submissions. It is always worth waiting beyond the advertised response times before assuming that a story is lost.
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Liz Williams
Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2003 - 02:04 am:   

>I just want to go on record as in favor of F&SF's fast response policy. Having been to a writing workshop, I know that a reader can tell early on if a story is going to be a winner or a stinker or, to be more polite, what the >magazine is looking for.

I read for a small press magazine in the UK. The general consensus - a bit of a cliche these days, perhaps - among editors is that you can tell pretty much from the first line whether the thing is going to be any good or not. Before I started reading for the mag, this made me shudder, and then I realised it was true...I read the whole story, but I think Michael is right.

I'm very happy with the quick response times on F&SF. It gets accepted quickly, great - if it gets rejected, you can get it back out there.

There is no difficulty in reading a 59 pp mss and replying to it on the same day, if one is a fairly fast reader. Uninterrupted, it would take me about 45 minutes to read that amount of material and I should be perfectly capable of evaluating it.
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Liz Williams
Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2003 - 02:09 am:   

>If they can't take rejection, they shouldn't be writers. Period. They'll be much happier doing whatever it is they do instead.

There is also that line about anyone who _can_ be discouraged, _should_ be.
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Stephen Gallagher
Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2003 - 02:24 am:   

I think it was Fred Pohl who said that if you can imagine yourself ever doing something else, you're not a writer.
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ET
Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2003 - 05:03 am:   

>>If they can't take rejection, they shouldn't be writers. Period. They'll be much happier doing whatever it is they do instead.
>
>There is also that line about anyone who _can_ be discouraged, _should_ be.
>
>I think it was Fred Pohl who said that if you can imagine yourself ever doing something else, you're not a writer.

All this sounds overly harsh to me.

Fred Pohl's comments, if rephrased to "if you can imagine yourself not writing, then you're not a writer" I might grudgingly agree (if forced at gun point). As is, I imagine that some writers would actually like to keep their day job, and that doesn't make them "not writers".

But what I dislike most is the idea that writers should be discouraged. It sounds like a self serving statement.
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Liz Williams
Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2003 - 05:33 am:   

Most writers have day jobs, because they have to pay the bills. But obviously, they make sure they write as well.

What these statements mean is that writing is - as I'm sure we all know - an incredibly tough way to make a living, and if you have any illusions about the length of time it will take to break into the field, or the amount of money you're likely to make when you get there, those illusions had better be ruthlessly disposed of as fast as possible. Harsh, perhaps - but that's the nature of the game, I'm afraid.

It's not so much the case that writers 'should' be discouraged, as that if a writer is going to be put off by the realities of this profession, it's better that this should happen sooner rather than later. If they're dedicated, persevering and have a thick enough skin, however, they won't let themselves be discouraged and that's a good thing, generally.

Most of the writers I know - including myself and a lot of the folk who have boards here - have gone through the mill. Disappointments, setbacks, lost mss, being ripped off, countless rejections - you name it, we've been through it. It's a great life if you don't weaken, as they say.

If people want simply to write, then that's laudable, and no one's stopping them. But it's no picnic, professionally.

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Bob
Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2003 - 05:58 am:   

In the mill now! Wouldn't trade it for anything but success -- as measured in publishing credits rather than dollars! And my day job is a night job, taken because I do my best writing at around 2AM, and it was easier to synch my schedule to a graveyard shift than to stay up insanely late only to have to get up in the morning and try to go to work.
Blah.
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Jay Lake
Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2003 - 06:06 am:   

I'm impressed by the assumption that six months worth of submissions should lead to a sale. I think I was submitting for 12 or 13 years before I sold a story. And I'll never match records like Mr. Gallagher's or Mr. Chiang's.

Reading for Polyphony, I'll echo what some of the pros here have said. I know by the second or third paragraph whether I'll turn the page, and I'll know by the second page whether I'll even try to finish. Hidden merit is no merit -- unless you're someone with enough previously established reader trust that they'll follow you through a thicket to see the golden temple on the other side. Like Barry Longyear's "Silent Her." But those stories are rare exceptions.

I think maybe some folks confuse editorial reading with workshop reading. Nice thread, guys, and a class act on GVG and JJA's part.

Jay
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Michael Bishop
Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2003 - 06:08 am:   

Fascinating discussion of a question that almost all new writers raise privately, if not anonymously on a public message board.

I had always hoped that my first sale would be to F&SF, but most of my early submissions - back when Ed Ferman was both editor and publisher - returned, and not as quickly as the current editorial regime conscientiously responds. In fact, I eventually had a dream in which I traveled to New York City (although the editorial offices at that time were in Cornwall, Connecticut) to hand-deliver a story to Mr. Ferman, but when I went up the elevator and stepped out on the floor where my dream alleged that I would find him, and walked down the long hall to his office, I encountered a helmeted soldier with an automatic weapon guarding the door and denying me - me, specifically, it seemed - access. In short, my major daytime frustration given an obvious symbolic manifestation by my subconscious.

My first sale was to Galaxy magazine rather than to F&SF, but I eventually sold to F&SF - maybe three or four stories later - and I've always had a special affection for the magazine. I can tell the Nameless Writer who began this discussion, however, that having a reputation in the field doesn't mean an automatic sale at _any_ genre outlet, nor should it. If your work merits publication, you'll find an editor at the right venue _eager_ to take it. Succeeding requires faith in yourself, a certain doggedness in both writing and submitting, and, for your own peace of mind, the development of a thick skin. The thick skin comes in handy for all sorts of future contretemps, literary or otherwise.
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Liz Williams
Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2003 - 06:36 am:   

I have never had a rejection from Asimov's (they've taken everything I've submitted to date, but obviously this is likely to change if I send them enough). I am regularly published by Realms of Fantasy, but get rejected at a rate of about a third of what I send them, and have never yet had an acceptance by F&SF - which is partly why I appreciate their fast response times.

I tend not to hang out on the internet boards that seem to focus on 'how to' get a particular magazine to publish your stuff. There may be broad general principles of which I'm assuming we are all aware (I would not, say, send a story about elves to Analog*), but in the main, it depends on so many factors that the best one can do is keep writing to the best of one's ability, and keep sending stuff out.

Liz

* Actually I wouldn't send a story about elves to anywhere, but that's a different matter...

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Tim Akers
Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2003 - 07:26 am:   

About the 'six months to publication' thing I said earlier. Yeah, that would be a little unrealistic if I had never written a word in my life, but I've been doing it for over 18 years, and I was first published in college, nine years ago. But all that work was in a different field, and I decided that that wasn't what I wanted to do with my life. So, I turned down a two book deal, and returned to scifi as a complete unknown. *shrug* Maybe it'll be another 12 years before any of my scifi sees the light of page. Maybe not. Like I said, time will tell.
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Bob
Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2003 - 08:37 am:   

I'm rooting for you, Tim! Then again, I'm rooting for me too! Comes with the territory....
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Tim Akers
Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2003 - 08:48 am:   

Go team! wOOt! Go BOB!
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JeffV
Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2003 - 09:16 am:   

I appreciate swift rejection--sometimes more than really, really, really slow acceptances, perversely enough.

Re reading a story fast and being able to be confident in rejection--I'll just add my vote of yes, you can tell from three or four paragraphs, perhaps less. I can go through a pile of manuscripts and I can weed out 90% of them from reading the first three paragraphs and the ending. Usually, the first three paragraphs suffer from grammatical errors or a lack of vision or a lack of voice or lack of an interesting situation. If they don't suffer from those problems, they may suffer from being predictable--i.e., if I can guess the ending from the first three paragraphs, usually I don't want to buy the story. Mostly because it means it's not the kind of story I want--i.e., a trick ending, or something of that nature.

It's a little easier for me than for, say, Gordon, because Gordon's reading across SF/Horror/Fantasy. I'm reading, usually, when I edit an anthology, for surreal dark fantasy. So I can weed out a lot of the other stuff right away.

You'd go nuts if you read slush any other way. And, yes, you may miss a gem--but the comforting thought is that each editor will miss a different gem, not the same one each time. Luck of the draw.

JeffV
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Liz Williams
Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2003 - 09:25 am:   

And despite the amount of material on how to submit mss properly (slave! bring me my soapbox!) it is astonishing how many people will still submit stories in the most bizarre formats - eg the 10 pt gothic font that we got recently. And yes, I do try and read this stuff and write a decent letter back giving standard advice on formats. It's just that if they've gone through the process of actually finding small press magazines, why can't they go one step further and peruse the guidelines?
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Forrest
Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2003 - 09:38 am:   

I've been waiting to weigh in on this one, as I'm in the middle of submissions right now for Leviathan 4. I will say, though, that Jeff is right. If I can read two or three pages and guess the ending, read the ending and find that I'm right, I'm loathe to continue reading. There are exceptions to this - for instance, when the wordcraft is so compelling that I *have* to read it. But if you have a strong editorial vision, you can tell quite quickly whether or not a story will work for you.

I don't envy Gordon and John. For me, tone and atmosphere are incredibly important, so many of the rejections I send out are simply a matter of the wrong tone for the publication. The story might be great - I might, in fact, recommend that the author send the story to specific publications - but there is a certain tone I am looking for. Hats off to Gordon and John!!!

Oh, and my rejection turn around time is usually less than a week. As a writer, I appreciate such fast rejections as well and would, in fact, like to publicly thank Gordon for the few I've received from him. Seriously, it's great to know that when you send something off it's not going to wallow in ignominy when it could be sent off somewhere else.

One final note. I must admit to some jealousy when I first began writing, thinking that the authors whose names I kept seeing in the professional publications must be there simply because of their names. It's an easy enough assumption to make, but it's wrong. Professional writers are (usually, not always) professionals because they've put in time and effort into crafting consistantly good work. Sure, they might flub one here and there and have it published, but by and large they've earned the right to be called professionals. That's not to say that a rank beginner can't write excellent fiction - I've seen some of it come through my own hands (though my own rank beginner stories were quite poor indeed!), but there's no need to be jealous of those who have been writing for a long time and who have learned to craft fiction well. Consider it a challenge and improve your own writing, if anything.

Sermon over. Now, back to the slush pile . . .

Forrest
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Richard Parks
Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2003 - 10:57 am:   

Six months? It was four years before I made my first sale, then 13 years before I made the second. Talent is either there or it isn't, but it's nothing without patience and a thick hide. Those have to be developed or you're wasting your time and everyone else's.

Like Liz, I've never sold to F&SF, which is another reason to love their fast response times. Helps me get on with finding the right market for the story without undue delay.
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Ellen
Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2003 - 11:44 am:   

Hey Patrick!
Nice to see you here :-)

(I ran in Kiini yesterday in the subway station on 6th avenue.)
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jack skillingstead
Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2003 - 12:28 pm:   

I think the Pohl quote was directed at those who want to earn a living as writers, not those who are happy with selling a few stories on side. In that context I believe it is absolutely true.
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Matthew
Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2003 - 01:24 pm:   

Tim Akers- This is about your comment that The Third Part by Barry Malzberg wasn't really a story. (I'm bringing this up now because for some reason I was thinking a lot about it today) To me it was an interesting reinterpetation of the Sodom and Gomorrah story were this time around Lot rejects God's messengers. Interesting how we are talking about a Sci Fiction story on F&SF board.
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Tam Thompson
Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2003 - 01:50 pm:   

I, too, have several FSF rejection letters, with very short turn-around times (7 days total, from Austin, Texas), and I just figured that they were very efficient. I appreciate that--they don't tie up an exclusive submission for a long time!

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Tim Akers
Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2003 - 03:03 pm:   

Matthew - hey, that's a good point. Hrm...I'll have to mull that one over.
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Ellen
Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2003 - 05:04 pm:   

Matthew, Tim,
I hadn't thought of that either. Interesting. Are you saying that that pov character is Lot and that the men who come to him are angels? If so, I don't believe that's what Barry intended but as I say innnnteresting.
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Anani Buron
Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2003 - 05:38 pm:   

Interesting thread.

I must admit, I have been in the past, shall we say, slightly unnerved by the return time of F&SF?

However.

It took me 20 years to make a sale. (Got a few up on you, Jay, and others!) Granted, this is because I was a horrible writer. I believe myself to be passable now, with a few brief moments of good stuff, and a couple examples of fine writing. Not bragging. Took me too damn long, and too much research, to be humble about it.

In the two decades of continued writing, I've come to understand there are a lot of little clues that appear, yes, within the FIRST TWO PARAGRAPHS (if not first two sentences), of a work that a skilfull editor can recognize as detrimental to the piece. Those same mistakes will often be repeated within the work itself, like little neon beacons. Overuse of adjectives and adverbs. Saidisms. Prosaic clutter. Not right for the mag's guidelines. Etc.

So, while I may have at first been suspicious, what I've come to realize is that these editors know what they're doing. And they have created a forum that authors can aspire to.

Also, only publishing "name-brand" authors strikes me as counter-productive. What magazine wouldn't want to lay claim to having been the first to publish the newest genre-prodigy?

Argue all you want to, and the argument, IMO, is quite valid, but this is a business. Writers have a hard time with that, since we put so much of ourselves into our work. It's about appeal, and audience. You don't appeal, you don't have an audience. It isn't personal, and it isn't dismissive. It's business.

And you don't have to submit to any mag you don't like.
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Matthew
Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2003 - 06:23 pm:   

Well, their were two differences. One: Lot of the Malzberg story chooses not to join with the angels. Also, in the Bible story the people wanted to rape the angels not lynch them. The pov character and the two men could also be seen as the Holy Trinity. I notice this probably because of my own religous beliefs, still I can see a few differences.
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Ellen
Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2003 - 07:34 pm:   

Actually, Barry has a completely different interpretation. I don't know if you want me to tell you here or not? Anyone else can look away :-)
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Tim Akers
Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2003 - 07:54 pm:   

Tell! Tell! Tell!
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Ellen
Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2003 - 09:06 pm:   

OK


S P O I L E R

^
^
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^
^
^
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^
^
^














Jeb is the "third part" aka the antichrist who will bring about the apocalypse. I believe the words about the "third part" are from the New Testament.
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Lou Antonelli - East Texas, USA
Posted on Friday, June 27, 2003 - 01:23 am:   

Hmmm, what an interesting discussion. I've had the same experience as everyone else, seven days round trip from Texas to Hoboken and back.

When I first began to submit, I sent out stories pretty much in rotation: Asimovs, Analog, F&SF. After a while, I got to see which mags were the most "simpatico" to my writing, and I have adjusted my rotation accordingly.

Here's a good example. I used to send stories to F&SF first, BECAUSE of the quick turnaround. I had one story that made the usual quick passage back and forth, and the usual stuff about 'didn't do anything for me' or whatever. Fine. Next the story went to Gardner Dozois. Yep, he takes three months, and he doesn't accept it, either.

HOWEVER, he writes that he read the story, enjoyed it, and urged me to send him others, as well as peddle the story to some other market.

That tells me that Asimov's is probably more simpatico to my kind of writing. That's all. That's also in line with my reading preferences. So guess who gets moved up in rotation?

Jim Van Pelt, who's sold about 75 stories in five years, and this year is the only author who has a story in anthologies for three different genres - sci-fi, horror and fantasy - has never made a sale to F&SF. What does that mean - well, I guess that he and F&SF are not a good fit.

These kind of divergences happen all over the place. James Patrick Kelly has never gotten a sale from Ellen Datlow.

I think the fast turnaround doesn't FEEL right to unpublished authors; it seems to be more of an image problem. Perhaps someone needs to buy a large accordian folder and read the stories the day they come in but mail them back a week later.

One thing does occur to me: How does one get a sense of the gesatlt of an issue when stories are not allowed to sit around? I am a newspaper editor, and many times I get a news release and I don't throw it away immediately to see if something develops out of it.

I had an example recently where I got a news release about a bill in the Texas House to make it legal to slaughter horses for meat to be shipped overseas. The news release was from a group very opposed to the issue.

I didn't plan to use the news release, but I sensed it was an issue I needed to follow. A week later, I learned it was our own State Rep. trying to sneak the bill through. I pulled out the news release and it proved to be very crucial in my subsequent story.

IF I had thrown the news release immediately, I would have had to backtrack a lot to find out some crucial information on the issue.

My point being, what harm can there be in letting stories ferment in the slush pile a little while? If you get a cluster of stories that seem to be on related topics, it might tell you what's on the mind of the public, and writers?

Dozois commented a while back in his domain about getting a bunch of stories which involved Alzheimer's. Well, with the aging of the population and increasing life spans, maybe that's on people's minds.

In the end, it's a free country, and F&SF can print whatever it wants and it has its own voice or whatever. I think the concern which started this thread is more over appearances.
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Patrick Samphire
Posted on Friday, June 27, 2003 - 01:41 am:   

Lou, I suspect that editors just get too many stories to let them sit around while they mull them over. (Will they even remember them after a week?) If a story doesn't grab them (and grabbing JJA is a slippery business, it appears), then it still won't grab them in a week, no matter what other stories come in. 99% are probably crap (from their point of view) and so can be shoved right back to the author. I, for one, am glad about that. F&SF have rejected every story I've sold, bar one that I sent somewhere else first. I'm glad they let me have them back quickly so I could get them out to the places that then bought them.
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Liz Williams
Posted on Friday, June 27, 2003 - 01:43 am:   

I can't help feeling that editors can't win. If they take too long, they get slated. If they're too quick, they get criticised for not reading material properly.

From what he's said to me, Gordon would seem to have a pretty good idea of the gestalt. Most editors do - they may not keep the stories on file, but they do have memories and gradually an overview builds up of the kind of thing that people are sending in.

This issue of being able to judge stories on the first few paras: I'm by no means a very experienced reader, but it's not just things like 'saidism' that stand out - it's often the type of story itself. Particularly in fantasy: the number of people who rehash folk tales and fairy stories is just legion. You know what the ending is going to be from paragraph one. I keep hoping to be surprised by a neat twist, but no.

I really do wish every other mag would follow F&SF's example. I don't care about appearances, but about professionalism and I don't think that a swift return time is incompatible with that - on the contrary. Anything that speeds up the often lengthy and arduous process of getting short fiction accepted is a good thing. (I'm dependent on an income from writing and whilst the bulk of this comes from novels, short story acceptances can mean the difference between, say, attending a convention and not attending it). For instance, if I could sell three more short fic pieces per year, at average rates, than I currently do, it would cover my mortgage.

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Claude Lalumière
Posted on Friday, June 27, 2003 - 02:23 am:   

Lou--
I disagree completely. Back when I was unpublished, I loved Gordon's fast response time. And I still do. (Haven't sold any fiction to him yet, though I did place a "Curiosities")
The last thing I want is for editors to sit on my submissions! What a waste of everybody's time....
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Bob
Posted on Friday, June 27, 2003 - 04:52 am:   

Yup. I started submitting to F&SF first because I liked Gordon; he was nice to an unknown writer -- me -- and therefore his magazine made my list. The same with Ellen and Andy Cox. Publishing is a very personality driven business, and I want to like the people who are rejec...I mean reading my stories. That's not to say I only submit to people I know, but rather that they get first dibs, always.
So I first submitted to F&SF because of Gordon, and my first rejection was from JJA. That was okay, because I happened to like what Adams said in the rejection, and I liked the turnaround. The next two rejections have come from Gordon, and they were just as professional, just as polite and specific, and almost as fast.
Because of F&SF's professionalism, I've just this week bought my first genre magazine subscription -- the others I get at newstands. That's how I feel about that incredible turnaround, and those three -- so far -- rejections I've gotten, I'm plunking down cash and eagerly awaiting my first installment.
Hope you're still reading JJA. There are quite a few new writers who love what you do, we appreciate your time and energy and outright professionalism. We're still submitting, still hoping to make it past you, and still believing all will be right with F&SF as long as you and Gordon are on the job. Keep it up and you'll always get first dibs (well, unless I think Ellen would like it better, of course. Still gotta match up the story with the market, eh?).
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Judith Dubois
Posted on Friday, June 27, 2003 - 06:41 am:   

I have a solution for those who are unhappy about swift returns. Do as I did, come live in France. It takes a lot longer for those rejection letters to reach me. Like a month instead of a week. And the food is good too.
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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Friday, June 27, 2003 - 06:54 am:   

Lou---

Regarding your question of gestalt, fiction is very different from nonfiction. For instance, in the case you mention of Alzheimer's, I've turned down several stories this year because I feel as though every third story I'm seeing is about the subject of memory (particularly downloadable memories, or methods for excising memories) and the stories start feeling too familiar. One thing I liked about Maureen McHugh's "Presence" (from March 2002 -- about a cure for Alzheimer's) was its direct and credible approach to the subject.

Regarding this whole subject of fast rejection letters, it occurs to me that no one would complain if they received an acceptance letter and a check in three days. We only send out checks once a month, so it's very uncommon for us to send payment that quickly, but I can recall two instances in the past year when we bought a story within a week.

And thanks to all of you who have made nice and supportive comments in this thread.


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Matthew
Posted on Friday, June 27, 2003 - 07:05 am:   

Ellen- Well if Mr. Malzberg says so. Still I liked the story.
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Lou Antonelli - East Texas, USA
Posted on Friday, June 27, 2003 - 09:41 am:   

How many stories does F&SF get in the mail, on average, every day? Because if you get more than two or three dozen, I would think the imperative to move them on and out becomes much greater.

If the readers and editors of a magazine do develop or accumulate some kind of collective impression of what's out there, then I feel better about how the slush pile is handled. It's obvious from Mr. Van Gelders's most recent comments that he DOES keep a mental tally, and that's helpful, I believe, to both him and the magazine.

I hope one doesn't assume I'm criticizing the fast turnaround time. I was just making a few comments on why these happen.

Perhaps the key to the problem would be to do something to keep the unpublished authors fat, dumb and happy, such as a regular Writers Contest. Hey, that was the motivation for Heinlein to get into the racket. The contest folks could be separate from the regular magazine staff, and that would keep scads of bad stories off your slush pile. Then, every so often when the contest finds a winner, they could forward it to the Van Gelder or Adams.

I think any writer with pretensions of seriousness needs to submit to F&SF, but the ORDER in relation to other publications is determined by the author's output. As I said earlier, when I first began to submit stories, F&SF was first on the list because of its fast turnaround.

Now after getting feedback from various outlets, F&SF is fourth on my list, behind Asimov's, SciFi.com and Analog. That's means nothing's come F&SF's way for months now because if you tally up the reading times, we're talking five to six months. But I think Van Gelder and Adams would hardly care, it seems they have plenty to read, anyhow.

Just a few random thots. I still think this whole matter is more a public relations than literary problem. The thread certainly turned out to be more informative and productive than one would have thought from its origin.

One last observation: Feedback from Dozois and comments from web zines and semiprozines on my acceptances helped let me know I was on the right track, and were a great encouragement. Even Stanley Schmidt dropped me a note on a rejection about manuscript format.

The setup at F&SF - immediate turnaround and no feedback - does nothing for a writer. But as somebody else said, you're not running a writer's workshop.
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Liz Williams
Posted on Friday, June 27, 2003 - 09:50 am:   

Lou, F&SF does sometimes give feedback, I should point out.
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Tim Akers
Posted on Friday, June 27, 2003 - 09:57 am:   

Yeah, everything I've gotten from JJA has had at least one line of feedback. Same with Ellen. It's always been some variation of "There's some good stuff here, but not quite what I'm looking for." I would put that in the encouraging category, meself.
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Jayme Blaschke
Posted on Friday, June 27, 2003 - 10:26 am:   

The evil Jayme in me says for those who don't like F&SF's quick turnarounds, they should try subbing to Interzone instead. Nothing against David & co. over there, since they're my biggest fans, but to say their response times can, er, lag is the understatement of the century.

Or, they can send 'em to me at RevSF. I let them sit around for weeks before I get to them, and we don't even pay--right Lou?

This thread has been discussed somewhat at length on the Slugtribe list, and the general concensus seems to be that this is an arguement as old as publishing itself, only this time played out on a much more public stage. From my point of view, new writers with such thin skins aren't going to make it very long as writers in any event, no matter how great their innate brilliance...

And, I just gotta say, wow. Sam Hamm posts here. I *loved* "Blind Justice!"
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Lou Antonelli - East Texas, USA
Posted on Friday, June 27, 2003 - 11:34 am:   

Jayme! Talk about a small world! You're right about Interzone, the last time I sent them something, it sat for three months and I had to send them an e-mail before it popped loose. The longest time I ever saw, however, was Quantum Muse - four months. I know there must be worse out there, a lot worse but I've managed to avoid them.

RevolutionSF takes as long as Analog and SciFi.com. Big deal. It's a great site and illustrates its stories. More people need to submit. I have enjoyed it. I guess if I was writing for the money, per se, I might be a little more concerned, but you and I both have regular jobs. We are obviously doing this for the love of it.
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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Friday, June 27, 2003 - 11:52 am:   

Lou---

Since you ask, a rough tally on the month of May shows that we received about 580 submissions and bought less than 10 of them. I'm not including the half-dozen manuscripts I'm still sitting on---apologies to BR, JN, PB, JMc, RR, and MR. I'll stop messing around with this thread now and get back to reading the stories.
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Michael Samerdyke
Posted on Friday, June 27, 2003 - 11:54 am:   

Why do I like fast rejections? Last year, I sent a story to an anthology that was to be published in October.

October came and went. I sent a letter to them asking what happened. No response. Then, I saw on the publisher's website that the book was coming out.

Fifteen months after I sent the story in, I got a rejection from these people. The rejection said nothing about my story but asked me to be sorry for the editors who got so many manuscripts in the mail.

I am sorry, but if you don't want to read manuscripts, don't go into editing.

Rejecting somebody and then asking them to be sorry for you arouses my contempt.
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Jayme Blaschke
Posted on Friday, June 27, 2003 - 12:28 pm:   

Lou, you'll find out quickly that the genre circles are very small indeed, and that people turn up hither and yon on the World Wide Web. There are lots of forums, and lots of people frequent them, even if they don't post often.

And keep in mind, that while RevSF takes as long to respond as Analog or SciFiction, we receive maybe a hundereth of their submission volume. If I got even 30 transom manuscripts a month, I too, would adopt a first page rejection policy, and my response times would elongate accordingly.

As for Interzone, you have *no* idea. :-) Three months is the absolute fastest they'll ever respond--and that's if they don't like your story. If they *do* like it, watch out. You could be sitting "under consideration" for a year or more. Three month response times are, more often than not, optimal on the "fast" end of response times for publications in the genre. The exception rather than the rule. If you sub to a variety of places for any extended period of time, you'll find out that most have *much* longer response times.

It's said the first thing writers need to develop are hides of steel to survive this biz. The patience of Job would probably come in a close second.

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Jayme Blaschke
Posted on Friday, June 27, 2003 - 12:32 pm:   

For all the rookie writers out there wondering how response times stack up for different markets, I recommend you check out (and contribute to) the Black Hole Response Time Tracker. There's some interesting, and eye-opening info here:

http://critters.critique.org/critters/blackholes/
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Jay Lake
Posted on Friday, June 27, 2003 - 12:35 pm:   

I've had response times (for acceptances) ranging from 20 minutes to 10 months+. And one or two subs that are still out in the aether at 15 months+, but apparently not lost. (Shrug.) I gave up rejectomancy a long time ago. The trick is to have enough stories in the mail that you don't remember where they are any more without your spreadsheet.

Jay
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Lou Antonelli - East Texas, USA
Posted on Friday, June 27, 2003 - 12:43 pm:   

GVG says they got 580 submissions in May. Figuring there are 20 work days in a month, that comes to 29 stories a day. I don't have any doubt that's it's possible to go through the pile each day, especially when there are sure to be some stinkeroos that take ten seconds to evaluate.

Jayme, posting the link for the Black Hole is a good idea, I found it months ago and it was very helpful.

Sounds like submitting to these genre mags is like making love to an elephant:

1. It's not terribly fun.

2. You may get crushed in the process.

3. It takes YEARS to see results.

It's an old gag that was first used by Bennett Cerf, I think, but's it's still appropriate.
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Lou Antonelli - East Texas, USA
Posted on Friday, June 27, 2003 - 12:50 pm:   

"The trick is to have enough stories in the mail that you don't remember where they are any more without your spreadsheet."

I totally agree, Jay, and that's what I've been doing for months.

Here's an old quote about the western pioneers that seems approriate in this context:

"Cowards never started, the weak died along the way. Those that made it were full of ambition and drive."
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Scott Carter
Posted on Friday, June 27, 2003 - 02:26 pm:   

I just wanted to make sure there's one more voice telling the editors who might be perusing this list that I think they're doing a fine job. Sometimes, unfortunately, only the disgruntled voice their opinions, and I think that might distort the perception of what the majority really feels.

In the past week, I've gotten rejections ranging from ten days to ten months, and I have no complaints either way. This is a business. As a storyteller, it's your job to come up with stories. It's the editor's job to decide if the product you produce will help them sell magazines. Just do your job and let them do theirs and you'll have a lot less to worry about. How much you produce, where you send it, how much you learn -- this is what you can control. Why worry about anything else?

Keep up the good work!

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Ellen
Posted on Friday, June 27, 2003 - 03:23 pm:   

Jayme, Re: the Black Hole--I've just checked my supposed response time and someone claims I held two submissions for 300+ days. That's just false. I have never held a submission longer than 90 days (and if I've held it that long it has been with the permission of the author so I could reread it.


So don't believe everything you see on that posting board. After all, they're anonymous postings. So people can say whatever they like.

I've just complained about this to Andrew Burt, keeper of the board.
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S. Hamm
Posted on Friday, June 27, 2003 - 07:08 pm:   

Jayme, you are far too kind. I'll pass the compliment along to my pal and collaborator Denys Cowan. We have another project we hope to team up on, if we can ever make the @%&?*#$! time for it.
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Jayme Blaschke
Posted on Friday, June 27, 2003 - 08:16 pm:   

Sam, when you next talk to Denys, tell him I worship his Question work. He does the definitive Vic Sage as far as I'm concerned. Even moreso than Ditko (and I know I'm speaking heresy there!).

In my alter ego (ie "fanboy") I run the Unofficial Green Arrow Fansite (www.greenarrowfansite.com) with my buddy Scott McCullar. Drop by sometime if you're in the mood. We can BS about comics til the cows come home!
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Jayme Blaschke
Posted on Friday, June 27, 2003 - 08:21 pm:   

Ellen, don't sweat it. It's the average that counts--the overall quantity of reports dilutes any axes ground for personal reasons. Besides, I always figure response times *way* off the norm are the result of manuscripts lost in the mail. Those people that fixate on the negative... well, you're not going to convince them otherwise in any event.

Personally, I rarely refer to Black Holes simply because I've subbed enough to all the usual suspects to have a pretty innate feel on when they're overdue or not.
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Ellen
Posted on Friday, June 27, 2003 - 09:38 pm:   

Jayme,
Thanks (sniff)--I realize now that it could also be someone who just wants to discourage the competition. :-)
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Lou Antonelli - East Texas, USA
Posted on Saturday, June 28, 2003 - 07:02 pm:   

Ellen - about that 300 day response on the Black Hole, I just assumed somebody banged out one too many zeros. I think Mr. Burt would do a technical correction on that basis.
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Ellen
Posted on Saturday, June 28, 2003 - 07:52 pm:   

Lou, I doubt it--It wasn't an even 300.
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Bob
Posted on Saturday, June 28, 2003 - 09:35 pm:   

Well, Ellen, the longest I think you've ever held one of mine was around 60 days, so I think someone was just bitter and full of crap.
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Lou Antonelli - East Texas, USA
Posted on Saturday, June 28, 2003 - 10:35 pm:   

In that case, yep, it's crap. They ought to have some way of averaging things - you know, throw out the highest and lowest.
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bluejack
Posted on Saturday, June 28, 2003 - 11:01 pm:   

Then there's the lost-in-the-mail response time. I mean, something sits out there for a hundred days, you query, and that never comes back either, so you resubmit and hear back in a third hundred days with no indication as to whether they are responding to the first or the second sending, what do you put in? 100 days? Or 300 hundred? Not saying it's Ellen, cause I've never sent anything to Ellen, but it happens. And I would put in 300 days unless the editor made it clear that neither of the first two had ever been received.

But don't get me going about long turnaround times. I'm just back from vacation, and clearly everything that needs to be said about the original post has been said, so I'll just add that the guy must be on smack. Unless you're snoozing out by the dumpsters with a needle dangling from your arm, a fast response is a good thing.

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Maureen McHugh
Posted on Sunday, June 29, 2003 - 08:14 pm:   

People have been talking about how editors can tell by paragraph three that they aren't going to take a story. When I was first beginning to write, I thought that was because writers who don't make the cut do something wrong in the first three paragraphs. I wrote for ten years before I published which is about average, and somewhere about year eight I had a break through story (for me, not necessarily for publication) where I learned something very interesting to me. I had a master's degree in English with a concentration in fiction writing from New York University and I can assure you, I didn't make mistakes in my writing. But when I wrote that break through story, not only weren't there mistakes in the beginning, there was something more.

I don't know how to describe it. When I'm trying to explain it to my students, I call it a 'boost'. The story is not only well written, but it has something above and beyond. It's got something compelling. If I do it right, Gordon or John forget for a moment that they're reading to reject and start reading just to read. Some people call it authority. The story is not only setting up the plot and showing, not telling, and all of that useful technical stuff, it's also intelligent and interesting, it's got a voice and a personality. Before that story, I was writing competent. Once I wrote that story, I knew what it felt like to do something more. I couldn't do it with any regularity for awhile, but eventually I started to.

The problem is, I can't tell you what it is. And I can't tell you how to do it (because it is different for every writer.) But your story has to have a certain charisma. Just as Julia Roberts isn't everyone's cup of tea, the charisma my stories have isn't every editor's cup of tea.

A woman painter who was very successful told me that when she was studying, she was in class one day and her teacher suddenly reached over her shoulder and pointed to a portion of canvas and said, "There. When you can do that all the time, then you'll have something."
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Ellen
Posted on Sunday, June 29, 2003 - 10:32 pm:   

Maureen,

You've definitely put your finger on something here. It's an intangible that separates the so-so story that I can tell I just won't like no matter where it goes from the story that forces me to sit up and take notice, even if I may end up not buying it-- for whatever reason-- and makes me look foward to the writer's next submission.
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Jed Hartman
Posted on Sunday, June 29, 2003 - 10:48 pm:   

Been meaning to mention that some of us editor types are mighty jealous of GVG and JJA's fast response times; if we at Strange Horizons could manage a one-week response time, we'd certainly do it. (There are a couple of online magazines that often manage a response time of only a few hours; I'm jealous of them too.)

I've seen quite a few authors say that F&SF is at the top of their to-submit list because it takes so little time to get a response. And, of course, because it's a good and prestigious magazine and so forth, but I mean they're making their choice of which good and prestigious magazine to submit to first based partly on the remarkably fast response times.

As for the Black Hole page, Ellen, I too suspect that outliers there (where there are one or two extremely long response times for a given market) are sometimes the product of people's submissions getting lost in the mail. Also, sometimes a writer submits on date X, finds out eventually (perhaps six months later) that the sub got lost in the mail, and resubmits on date Y, but measures the "response time" based on date X instead of Y, which can lead to the false impression of very long response times.

In the case of Sci Fiction, the one really long outlier (at 304 days) appears to have been posted twice (see the raw data page), which probably raises your listed average by a couple days; I imagine even if Andrew won't remove both of them, he might be willing to remove one of them.
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Bob
Posted on Monday, June 30, 2003 - 01:36 am:   

Maureen: Now you're talking! After I read your post, even though I had a fairly good idea what you were talking about, I went over and checked out Lucius's JAILWISE at SCI Fiction. It's right there, and I'm not sure yet how to describe it either -- I'm going to have to think, but right now it strikes me as a kind of unity of vision that sets up the entire piece. I don't know, but thanks bunches for drawing my attention to it!
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Stephen Gallagher
Posted on Monday, June 30, 2003 - 07:24 am:   

It's the kind of element that can make you prick up your ears at a snatch of conversation and want to hear the rest.

I often point to the opening of THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE as an example of that 'grab' foctor.
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Stephen Gallagher
Posted on Monday, June 30, 2003 - 07:24 am:   

It's the kind of element that can make you prick up your ears at a snatch of conversation and want to hear the rest.

I often point to the opening of THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE as an example of that 'grab' factor.
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Stephen Gallagher
Posted on Monday, June 30, 2003 - 07:28 am:   

Oops... the cancel button clearly didn't work fast enough when I spotted my typo going out. Apologies for the extra length on this already-enormous thread... so enormous that I fear I'll have to abandon ship, as it's taking forever to download.
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Ellen
Posted on Monday, June 30, 2003 - 07:54 am:   

I just created a second page for this thread.

Jed, I emailed Andrew but haven't heard back from him...wonder if he's out of town and offline. He's usually on sff.net sfwa bb a lot but wasn't all weekend.
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LeAnn Robinson
Posted on Sunday, July 06, 2003 - 06:42 pm:   

Abert has been out of town. (In Europe, I believe.) I think he'll be back soon.
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Jason Akers
Posted on Tuesday, July 08, 2003 - 03:35 am:   

Wow. I applaud the audacity of the person who brought this up but I boo you for not standing up to be identified. You clearly left your name out because you intend to submit to F&SF in the future.

I myself have a drawer full of rejection slips from JJA. I agree the typical response to such is frustration but we all have to remember that getting published in F&SF is like getting through the door of an exclusive club and JJA and Mr. Van Gelder hold the keys.

I certainly wouldn't subscribe to F&SF if they let everyone in.

My two cents.

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Tim Akers
Posted on Tuesday, July 08, 2003 - 06:05 am:   

My heavens, another Akers. How very rare.
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Jason Akers
Posted on Tuesday, July 08, 2003 - 06:41 am:   

Hehehe. I read some of your posts earlier up and thought you might think I was trying to come off as an imposter but that really is my last name.

I could have posted under Tim Akerski but I decided against that.

Jason (really)Akers
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jeff ford
Posted on Tuesday, July 08, 2003 - 07:15 am:   

On a theme tangential to this discussion -- I know how discerning Gordon and John are about their selections for the magazine, and the magazine bears this out by its consistent overall quality. Every time out submitting a story is a kind of crap shoot and the piece lives or dies by its own merits, regardless of track record or name or just about anything else. What this got me thinking about, though, was someone like Robert Reed. The guy amazes me. His work is very often great, usually at least very good and very infrequently not up to snuff. But he publishes a lot in F&SF and I'm always pleased to see him there. I really have to admire that kind of consistency and creative ability, especially when considering that every time out you really have to make the cut.

Best,


Jeff
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Jon Skovron
Posted on Tuesday, July 08, 2003 - 01:07 pm:   

I just submitted to F&SF after reading this thread because, since i'm about to move cross-country in a few months and my Post Office is notorious for not forwarding, i need a quick turnaround. otherwise, the story would have languished in the drawer until october and that's just depressing.

sure, quick replies are a bit like Denny's, where the food comes out a little too fast. but what the hell, i love my "Moons Over My Hammy".
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d.w.
Posted on Wednesday, July 09, 2003 - 07:30 am:   

It's been my experience in life that 1) most people are easily bored and 2) nobody is willing to pay for the privilege of being bored. The short attention span of the audience is the harsh reality upon which all forms of modern entertainment are based, and it's no surprise that stories that quickly interest the editor will get bought, and those that don't won't.

So putting aside ideals of high art and cosmic justice, if you've only got three paragraphs of a story to grab the editor's attention, then you have to make those first few paragraphs excite the editor's curiosity if you want to get published. Or you have to write the story as one long paragraph. Either way is good, I think.



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SJR
Posted on Thursday, July 10, 2003 - 01:04 pm:   

Having been an editor myself at one point I can say that you can tell if a story is good or not by reading the first few paragraphs. If it doesn't grab the editor's attention it won't grab the readers. I like the fast response times personally. It keeps my stories from being holed up with one magazine for too long.
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TCO
Posted on Saturday, August 09, 2003 - 02:25 pm:   

Lou, you're a moron. Here was your comment:

"Here's a good example. I used to send stories to F&SF first, BECAUSE of the quick turnaround. I had one story that made the usual quick passage back and forth, and the usual stuff about 'didn't do anything for me' or whatever. Fine. Next the story went to Gardner Dozois. Yep, he takes three months, and he doesn't accept it, either.

HOWEVER, he writes that he read the story, enjoyed it, and urged me to send him others, as well as peddle the story to some other market.

That tells me that Asimov's is probably more simpatico to my kind of writing. That's all. That's also in line with my reading preferences. So guess who gets moved up in rotation?"

1. JJA is showing more courtesy and care and DOINg MORE FOR YOU by sending your rejection back quick (so you can get it sold faster) than GD is by putting an encouraging note on it, but sitting on it for 3 months.

2. Regardless, even if you think Asimov's is more simpatico, you realize that the chances of getting into either is very small. So you should submit to FSF first.

Your stories are working capital. The longer you have a story out there, the greater the cost of inventory.

Stop being a moron. Do what I tell you. Submit to FSF first (unless you simsub...many pro writers advocate that...)
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Thomas R
Posted on Saturday, August 09, 2003 - 03:01 pm:   

Don't call people a moron, you won't like who it applies to. You're using economic principles here that are irrelevant and ridiculous. So if the term "moron" should be used it should be used on you. Lou might in fact be correct. If his stuff works better for Dozois that is the better market for him to try, especially if he feels that way.

In this case it really is more art than business. At best being a regular contributor to FSF will make you as much as working at the Mall would. More likely you'd still need a day job. Therefore from an economic opportunity cost perspective he'd better off to just write more journalism articles or go to online casinos. It's not about that though.

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TCO
Posted on Saturday, August 09, 2003 - 03:28 pm:   

Bullshit. He is just letting a little bit of stroking get in the way of really thinking through how to crack into the business. Even if has chances are 1% at FSF and 2% at Asimov's. The benefits of going to FSF first are huge. Do the math. Figure it out.

This is not creative writing class...or some place where you get little gold stars for effort. This place is all about making it. I can tell the truth since I'm not a writer selling to GD. But I bet the professionals agree with me.

Oh...and I just like being a bee-yatch. Lou knows that I just want to smack him upside in a friendly way. No hurry on to class.
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Thomas R
Posted on Saturday, August 09, 2003 - 08:06 pm:   

As I don't recall ever seeing a professional agree with you on anything I'll have to remain skeptical.

I like FSF's fast turnaround. I also think of the big three they seem the most open to new authors.

However, if Lou wants to go with Dozois first why not? Especially as you're forgetting something. While he's waiting on Dozois he can send something else, or something new, to FSF. It's not like he'd just be sitting for three months doing nothing until Dozois gets back to him. It'd be be only that one story tied up. I have some poems over at Mov's but am planning on sending FSF a story before class starts. (Well I was, I seem to be blocked on it)
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TCO
Posted on Saturday, August 09, 2003 - 08:37 pm:   

You are obviously mathematically oblivious. Heinlien would napalm your ass. Think about this Tom,

THE ADVANTAGES OF QUICK TURNAROUND REMAIN REGARDLESS OF THE AMOUNT OF WORK YOU HAVE TO PEDDLE!!!
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TCO
Posted on Saturday, August 09, 2003 - 08:39 pm:   

No! Don't shoot back a reply! Think about it instead. Sit there like that bad kid in CHILDREN OF THE ATOM contemplating his apple seed in his hand. Until he gets it.
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Thomas R
Posted on Saturday, August 09, 2003 - 09:05 pm:   

I don't understand the reference. However the mathematical difference is only significant if he completely stops sending to FSF. If you want the math on why...

Let's imagine Lou is a spherical cow, well no let's not.

Okay let's imagine he writes a story a week. That's 52 a year. Let's say week 1's story he sends to Asimov's. He can't send them anything else for three months as they don't want multiple submissions either. So for the next twelve weeks he can send twelve stories to FSF. As soon as he gets the reject from the last he can send them the new one if they have a 1 week turnaround. So at the end of the three months he has submitted 13 stories. (Three months equaling over thirteen weeks) How is that appreciably different than if he had sent all thirteen to FSF?

The difference only comes if Lou really means he will wait until Dozois responds and send no other story out until he does so. This would be odd, and I suppose in theory could reduce submissions to four per year. However if Lou only has four stories a year wirth submitting to the big three the difference would be negligible.



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TCO
Posted on Saturday, August 09, 2003 - 09:44 pm:   

1. Thom, if he writes a story in anything longer than the wait time that FSF has (and it is in days I believe) he is much better off sending the story to FSF first.

2. Reread the book.
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Thomas R
Posted on Saturday, August 09, 2003 - 10:20 pm:   

I never read the book you mentioned.

And you're still not getting it. The advantage does exist, but it's just in that quicker markets allow you to send one specific story to more places in less time. The amount of different stories you can send out could be quite the same. How? Well I thought I explained how, but I'll try again.

I have some poems at Asimov's. Yet during that time I've sent poems to other places. Asimov's slower response time therefore only affected those two poems. (Because no one who really submits short fiction simsubs, you can advocate doing it because you never submit anything) It didn't affect anything else or my chances of selling elsewhere.

I think the problem has been you view this too much like novel writing. It's not like novel writing. Get that idea out of your mind if you can. Once you're able to many things I think will make more sense to you.
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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Sunday, August 10, 2003 - 12:50 am:   

Much as TCO's manner repels me, I have to agree that the mathematics are on his side. Once you submit a single story to Asimov's first that you could have submitted to FSF first, you fall slightly behind in terms of amassing acceptances/rejections. It isn't a big thing--and if it makes Lou feel better putting Gardner as the first priority, more power to him--but it is there.
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bluejack
Posted on Sunday, August 10, 2003 - 02:14 pm:   

Actually, assuming:

* no multiple submissions to either market;
* all stories are equally appropriate for either market (kind of unlikely, but ok);
* author writes 1 story every 20 days;
* 10 day turnaround at F&SF;
* 90 day turnaround at Asimovs;

The mathematics are indifferent as to the order of submission.

Consider a 100 day time period, beginning with the completion of a story.

Author writes 4 stories, first one finished
During this time, the author can send 1 story to asimov's and receive the response (if it is sent within the first 10 days of the period). The author can also send 4 stories to F&SF and receive responses. (A fifth story is hot off the press as the period ends, but irrelevant to this discussion.)

F&SF receives and rejects all four;
Asimov's receives and rejects one;

With the first story, it doesn't matter whether it goes to Asimov's or F&SF first. Assuming it will go to both, that story will occupy 10 days at 1 and 90 at the other, and be back in the author's hands after 100. It has seen 2 markets.

The other three stories all go to F&SF because Asimov's is tied up with the first one.

So, either strategy brings the same number of stories before the same number of editors, regardless of the order sent. You could replace the hard-coded numbers with variables and run computer simulations to demonstrate the equivalence under varying numbers.

But what if you nix the assumption that the stories are rejected? What if the stories actually have a chance of selling? Modify the equation by adding probability of sale at each market, and you will see that over time, sending to the most promising market, regardless of its response time, you are generally(*) better off sending to the most promising market first -- unless every story sells to the first market, regardless of how promising it is.

Conclusion: sending to the fastest market is not mathematically better. Under conditions of perfect equality, it is mathematically neutral. But since all stories, and all markets, are almost never equal, the most effective real world strategy for minimizing time-to-sale is always to send to the most promising market first. (*)

But... minimizing time-to-sale is not the only available strategy. Time-to-publication may be more important, in which case you need to know more about the time between purchase and publication. Or pay rates may be more important. Or perhaps magazine circulation is most important.

The truly rational approach to sending out stories is to (A) know what your driving motivation is, and (B) optimize your submission to that motivation.

Secondary Conclusion: F&SF's short cycle time does benefit them. They will get first look at some stories simply because other editors are still sitting on an author's offerings.

(*) mathematical caveat -- I am aware that the mathematics are not quite this simple, even in the non-simple case. First: a story that is more attractive to an editor generally takes longer to evaluate. In Gardner's case, he may set it aside to think about it for a few days before re-reading it. In GVG's case, it has to pass from JJA to GVG for a second reading. Without knowing the exact delay in each case, and calculating that into the most-promising market equation, it is hard to nail the precise optimum. Note that this adversely affects F&SF more, because the delay is a greater percentage of the response time. Secondly, note that some response rates are more variable: since Gardner batch processes his slush pile, if you know his batch-pickup date you can optimize to reduce cycle time there. Thirdly, the greater the chance of sale -- all things being equal -- the more it makes sense to send to F&SF first, if time to sale is your strategy. In fact, even if the chance of sale is greater at Asimov's, if it is only greater by less than 10% (and if you happen to know those odds, which are, in fact, largely unquantifiable), there are some scenarios in which it is better to send to F&SF first. On the other hand, the more prolific an author is, the more sense it makes to send the right story to Asimov's first: ie., if you are going to be able to send 9 to F&SF in the time it takes Asimov's to process 1, that it is to your advantage to have Asimov's processing the *right* one, the one most likely to sell to Asimov's. These are just some of the variables complicating the mathematics here, and a lot of the variables represent unknowable information.

I fully expect TCO to quote out of context and make a further fool of himself. I can see why he keeps his identity hidden.
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TCO
Posted on Sunday, August 10, 2003 - 02:45 pm:   

bluejack, you need to extend the model a little further. If they are all rejected, I agree that it is irrelevant the order. But if some stories ARE salable than under the conditions you listed (equally acceptable), submitting to FSF first is advantageous. It reduces time to sale and thus reduces the time that a story spends in inventory. Your inventory is wroking capital. It is a cost. The lower you can make your working capital the better. Ideally, the page would come out of the typewriter and then the check comes in the door. If you have to wait 3 years (for a novel for instance) the cost is about 36%. (12% is a good cost for inventory for a small business.) The reason is that you have lost the time value of money.)

Think about it this way, assume the story has some non-zero chance of acceptance (try 50% if you want an easy number). Now which order of submission wil give me the probability of the fastest sale? If I submit to FSF first, I have a 50% chance of getting accepted in 10days, a 25% chance of getting accepted in 100 days, and a 25% chance of no acceptance. If I reverse the order, it is a 50% chance of 90 days, a 25% chance of 100 days and a 25% chance of strikout. Remove the strikeout stories (since they are same on both sides) and look at the difference between the two. Of the stories accpeted the average time to sale is 40 days for case 1 and 93.3 for case 2. Or about 53 days difference in time to sale.

Time is money. If it takes you a year to sell a story (extreme example...but maybe, we send it to Analog and Asimovs and a slick prior to sending to FSF), than you have effectively lost a years "time value of money" on the check. Of course if the story is more likely to get accepted in an alternate market than it is worthwhile to submit elsewere. But using the numbers you mentioned, you'd need a 9 times greater chance of accpetance to justify going to FSF first. Things are a little more complicated if you look at going to a higher paying market. Since you need to look at the longer wait time and compare the difference in decision time with the lost "value of money". So for a significantly higher paying market, (if the chance of success is similar...a big if granted, since it is also more in demand), you are probably better off going to to the high pay market first.


*We can argue about why 12%. At first glance it may seem high. But if anything it is low. When you compare it to a bond, sure it is high. But discount rates need to be adjusted by risk (using beta factors from statistics on the industry derived from the Capital Asset Pricing Model). suffice it to say, that embryonic businesses have a large risk factor. So 12% is maybe an understatement. And of course the 36% ignores compounding. It is really a little higher.


-------------------

N.B. If one market sends the check faster than the other all this logic goes out the door. But the principle remains the same. All things being equal, it is better to sell to the fast-pay markets. Of course all things aren't equal, so you have to wiegh factors like size of the check, speed of the check, likelihood of acceptance and make a decision. But speed of the check is an important factor to keep in mind.
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Thomas R
Posted on Sunday, August 10, 2003 - 02:48 pm:   

Thanks bluejack. You said what I meant more elegantly than I.

There are sometimes other concerns too. With poems the first professional markets I send are Asimov's and Strange Horizons. Sometimes I send to Star*Line. FSF, from what I've seen, rarely prints poems and I don't recall Analog doing many.
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TCO
Posted on Sunday, August 10, 2003 - 03:07 pm:   

I wonder...is there data on "time to payment". I know that there is a site with "time to acceptance". Does acceptacne come with a check? At the big 3?
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bluejack
Posted on Sunday, August 10, 2003 - 04:23 pm:   

It does vary from publication to publication, and there are many that pay on publication rather than acceptance. There are some market databases out there, but I don't think this is in them. There are other market databases in the works, and I think this is a factor they want to include. It's not always advertised in writers guidelines though.
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Gregory Banks
Posted on Monday, August 11, 2003 - 01:46 pm:   

Having gotten to know John Joseph Adams a bit from another site, and having been rejected by him a few times with a a quick turnaround, I consider F&SF one of, if not the best, market out there, and it amazes me that anyone daring to call himself or herself a writer would waste time complaining because they didn't like the manner of the rejection. If you don't like one market, don't submit there any more. And if you're that sensitive about your work you should probably take up another hobby and leave the market to those who actually understand the word "professionalism".

Just my two cents, for what it's worth.
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Gorden Russell
Posted on Friday, September 05, 2003 - 07:21 pm:   

I need some advice on story length for an unpublished writer. I’ve been working on Babykiller for 11 days or so now. I expected to round it off at 2,500 words. I have murdered sooo many darlings -- yet it is already 2,558 words and shows no sign of ending in less than 5,000 words. I put in a few minor characters to argue out the dialogue and shorten the auctorial narrational exposition. But they have taken life and won’t stop arguing.

I’ve read about this happening to published writers. But they have so much more experience. How can it happen to me?

My real question is for John Joseph Adams: What would you say is the maximum word length a first time writer should aim for?
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Thomas R
Posted on Friday, September 05, 2003 - 10:05 pm:   

Interested to hear his response. I think I remembered a published writer who teaches workshops saying that 2000-4000 is the best bet for unpublished writers. I've heard some places say under 3000 is best.

However I don't think 5000 would be a bad length. I know of several authors whose first sell is a novelette and by definition those are over 7500. I think it's when you get over 10000 that it becomes a tough sell for a new writer.
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John Joseph Adams
Posted on Saturday, September 06, 2003 - 08:04 pm:   

The only real answer I can give is that your story should be as long as it needs to be. But that doesn't really answer your question.

The only thing to keep in mind is that the longer a story is, the better it has to be. So if you write a 25,000 word novella it had better be absolutely fantastic in order to justify devoting that much of the magazine to one story (and from a new author no one's ever heard of). On the other hand, when you're working with shorter lengths, it's easier for an editor to take a chance on an unknown writer since the story wouldn't dominate the magazine's page count.

But what you should really focus on is telling the best story possible rather than the length.

If your story is going to end up in the 5000 word range, I don't think you have anything to worry about.
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Gorden Russell
Posted on Saturday, September 06, 2003 - 09:26 pm:   

This is all very good to hear, I've been all over the 10th Mountain Division's official web page and have found things that make the story real and meaty.

This Division has a web site you would not believe. Spent most of the day on it and only got through half of it. I'll bet that some of the soldiers writing the history were Heinlein readers in their youth.

Some regiments go back to the civil war, others were the Chosin Frozen of the Korean War. Some were in Somalia during the vicious fighting that you saw in the movie, Blackhawk Down.

So far I've been through the pages of the First Brigade, 2nd Brigade, Artillery Brigade, and Aviation Brigade. Heinlein could not have come up with better names.

First Brigade, Second Battalion has Attack Company, Battle Company, Combat Company and the Headquaters Company goes by the name of Hammer Co.

Second battalion has named its companies Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie. Sounds more traditional but still very usable material. And the Charlie company has the additional name of Ranger Charlie Triple Deuce Cobras. Not even Baen could use all this stuff.

Then there is a second brigade (The Commandos) with battalions named Golden Dragons, Polar Bears and Catamounts.

Communications Battalion calls itself "Voice of the Mountain" since their WWII time in the Italian Po and Appenines. There's got to be a story there for somebody.

Their Aviation Brigade has two Aviation Regiments and one Air Cavalry. There's another story there for anybody who wants it.

The mission statement of the Aviation Brigade is one any corporation would do well to follow:

"Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."

These soldiers have some romance in their hearts. Like the old Hudson Valley School and the Romantic Writers. Good, solid, old fashioned values.

Now is my time to reveal my agenda. After looking at the news stories of the boy soldiers of Africa, I'm not that anxious to have our soldiers have to fight there. I don't think the Pentagon is too happy about the idea either.

Do you remember how the writers back in the day had political things to say? Do you think there is still a need for a canary in the coal mine?
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Gorden Russell
Posted on Wednesday, September 10, 2003 - 11:31 pm:   

My son just returned to the States from military service in Iraq. Last year he was in Afghanistan. I don't want him to be in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Rwanda or the Congo next year. Yet children are dying as soldiers in these places. So I will address both problems in the story. If I sound confused, it's because I am. Who the Hell isn't?
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Thomas R
Posted on Thursday, September 11, 2003 - 12:09 am:   

I'd never thought of the child soldier thing as a a reason we don't intervene in Africa. I guess it's a pretty obvious one though. Good luck with the story, but I hope it's not too polemical.
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Jonathan Laden
Posted on Thursday, September 11, 2003 - 09:51 am:   

There are those who claim a full short story can't be written in under 3,000 words. (Of course, one writer who claims this does himself write short stories of lesser length, so that must be a guideline rather than a hard-and-fast rule.)

Good luck with your piece.

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Sean Melican
Posted on Friday, September 12, 2003 - 09:25 am:   

And just who would that be, Jonathan? It boggles the mind. (You think he's lurking somewhere on this board, watching, waiting?)
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Gorden Russell
Posted on Friday, September 12, 2003 - 03:53 pm:   

I don't tend to go to polemics. Just show what I've found on the internet. Just show how normal people would react to the situation. I don't know what the real answer is to a situation like this, that is why I turn to fantasy. Nothing in the real world looks like it will be of any help.

But back to writing. I just hit 3,006 words and it doesn't look half done. Maybe I should do what Stephen King says to do. Just sit down and write 2,000 words a day and then cut the darlings when you are ready to make a finish.

But I am too damn neurotic. I have to go back and make corrections and cuts every day and I never get any closer to the end.

Maybe if I offered to sell it at a discount, 6,000 words at the 5,000 word price.
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Friday, September 12, 2003 - 06:53 pm:   

Gorden: "My son just returned to the States from military service in Iraq."

My congratulations to your son on his safe return. You must be quite relieved.

Cheers.
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Gorden Russell
Posted on Friday, September 12, 2003 - 10:04 pm:   

I can't tell you how relieved. But I just read in the NYTimes about how shaken up their nerves are. They have no tolerance for anybody who asks them if they killed anybody, and how was it. So I don't mind that his E-mails are short-tempered. Long as he is capable of still sending them, he can say any damn thing and I am happy as a clam. At least until the Walrus and the Carpenter get busy again. In our time, Dubya and Halliburton are those two.
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Gorden Russell
Posted on Friday, September 12, 2003 - 10:11 pm:   

Something else I learned today. When the 10th Mtn Div was looking for that warlord in Mog, Somalia, they called him Elvis. I think they just might do that while looking for other tinhorn dictators.
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Rob Thorpe
Posted on Monday, September 15, 2003 - 04:55 am:   

>But back to writing. I just hit 3,006 words and it doesn't look half done. Maybe I should do what Stephen King says to do. Just sit down and write 2,000 words a day and then cut the darlings when you are ready to make a finish.

I think the dream is to do it the way Michael Moorcock does it. Let everything gather together in your head, the whole structure. Then pour a novel onto paper in three days. I wish I could do that.
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Gorden Russell
Posted on Monday, September 15, 2003 - 10:01 pm:   

i COULD do htat with dexedrive, but It wold take six munces to correct the speling.
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Gorden Russell
Posted on Sunday, September 21, 2003 - 12:19 am:   

I've just started reading Colonel David H. Hackworth's book, Steel My Soldiers' Hearts. It's inspiring, but things may have changed in the Army since Viet Nam.

Maybe I should put aside Babykiller until I get more research done and work on a story I already have done years of research for.

I sat down before dinner and did 750 words I liked about a disassociative psychopath meeting a totally different sort of disassociative neurotic.

Just what would an editor think of a protagonist who goes out of body to kill murderers? It would be a prissy, sissy, Casper Milquetoast mensch who bends over backwards not to kill the murderer. A sort of Walter Mitty meets Charlie Manson. Is that too much over the top? Or is it something readers are hoping for?

I could finish this Sunday and have it down at the Post Office getting it weighed Monday after the news at noon.
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Gorden Russell
Posted on Wednesday, September 24, 2003 - 11:55 pm:   

After what I just read in a book review at Salon.com, I know exactly what to do in "Babykiller." Charles Taylor wrote of Paul Fussell's The Boy's Crusade:

"Fussell never denies that heroism is possible in battle. But heroism for him means something more complex than the simple-minded rhetoric of giving your life for your country. It can mean something as simple as holding on to your humanity in an inhumane predicament..."

That's the theme of the story now, holding onto humanity in the inhumane predicament. If I have to rewrite the thing from scratch, I don't care. If it runs long and has to be submitted to too many editors, I still don't care.
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Gorden Russell
Posted on Friday, October 10, 2003 - 08:36 pm:   

This was posted so long ago, I just came across it by accident while looking for something else about submissions:

"I've really been been sending my stuff to Gardner and Ellen Datlow; at least they read the stories, although it may take a while. That's why between them they've won all the Hugos for top editor since about 1876."


This fellow called himself "Adamski."

I love to joke around, but sometimes I'm just too slow on the pickup. Is this fellow sending poison pen letters with false names because he has reason to believer that some editors are "undead?" How else could you have a Hugo from 1876? Sure, there is a photo of Ms Datlow with cats-eyes. But those surely must be contact lenses or computer generated. I'll admit that they do make her look hot...which is a lot for an old guy like me to notice.

Seriously, even in a gag, stay consistent with known facts unless the exageration will really make somebody laugh. To say anybody got a Hugo in 1876 kind of ruins the gag. Gernsbeck first published his magazine in 1922 or 1926...something like that. I don't think the awards started until the first convention in 1939 or so. Asimov wrote about going as a boy, so it must be around then. If you're going to insult somebody, Adamski, use your real name. Putting a "ski" on the end of somebody's name to give them a dig also digs at the Poles. Back when I managed my old Art Deco cinema, my best workers all were of Polish descent. When they all went off to college, I just couldn't find anybody who would work as hard or as smart.
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Thomas R
Posted on Friday, October 10, 2003 - 09:29 pm:   

Perhaps it's from a timeline where Victor Hugo was giving out awards in 1876.

You know they do retro-Hugos, but I'm not sure they've ever went back that far. Let me check some place to see what SF came out in 1876.

Novel
Michel Strogoff[vt Michael Strogoff] by Jules Verne
The Two Destinies: A Romance by Wilkie Collins

Shortfiction
Frank Reade Junior's Air Wonder by Luis P. Senarens
The Ghostly Rental by Henry James
The Inside of the Earth by Edward Page Mitchell
Passages from the Autobiography of the Wandering Jew by George MacDonald

Don't know if any of those were of lasting impact.
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Saturday, October 11, 2003 - 03:45 am:   

Thomas R: "Don't know if any of those were of lasting impact."

Nice little bit of detective work, Thomas. Did you go to an existing SF/F source for this, or did you check a more complete list of imprints and make a judgement about generic identity?

As for lasting impact, I don't think any of these works made one, but of course some of the authors did. Wilkie Collins was a friend/protege of Dickens and wrote the tremendously popular The Woman in White and The Moonstone, two classic early mysteries. And Luis Senarens, writing as "Noname," was one of the hottest writers in America, a sixteen-year-old phenom who turned out pulpy goodness by the truckload. And of course, we know who Verne and James were, though the works you name are not among their most well-remembered.
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Iron James Rackem
Posted on Sunday, October 12, 2003 - 12:28 am:   

I don't have much to add to this discussion, except to say that I wish every magazine accepted or rejected within a week.

Once upon a time, long ago and far away, I was an editor. It usually took me four to six weeks to look at a story after it arrived, but I'd say I rejected the vast majority of stories within five minutes of opening the envelope.

If the first couple of pages simply are not well-written, or if I can tell the story was simply sent to the wrong magazine, I can't think of a reason in the world why I should have been expected to read the rest of the story.

I suspect most editor read as far into a story as it takes to realize it will be rejected. Sometimes this means reading a single paragraph, sometimes three pages, sometime the entire story. It's just a guesstimate, but I'd say I rejected at least 80% of everything that came in on the basis of the first three pages.
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Gorden Russell
Posted on Sunday, October 12, 2003 - 05:17 pm:   

Mr. Rackem,

One writer once wrote that the editor looked at the first page, one out of the middle, and the last page.

Do you think any editors ever really did that?
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Gorden Russell
Posted on Monday, October 13, 2003 - 01:53 pm:   

I just pulled up a Newsweek story on the cover of MSNBC, here is a quote:

"With his heartland pieties and scorn for “feminazis” and “commie-symps” like “West Wing” president Martin Sheen (“Martin Sheenski” to Limbaugh)..."

Could Limbaugh be the guy sending poison pen letters to John Joseph Adams?

After reading, The Coup, I always imagined that John Updike was a closet-wannabee SF writer.

But I never expected it of Rush Limbaugh!
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Alan T. Sippola
Posted on Monday, October 13, 2003 - 06:38 pm:   


Here's what not to do, if wishing to become an SF writer....

"The Madman, The Midget, and the Giants"

Deep in the bowels of the earth, a mutant race of malevolent beings keeps thousands of kidnapped humans as slaves and sex toys before ultimately eating them.

At least that's what Richard S. Shaver believed and who cares that he was a raving lunatic? He had a good editor, who happened to be a hunchbacked midget, who turned Shaver's demented screeds into some of the most popular pulp magazine stories of the 1940s.

I'm not making this up. It's way too weird to be fiction. The whole strange story is recounted in the current issue of Outre magazine, a smart, fun, profusely illustrated quarterly devoted to the history of B-movies, pulp magazines and classic pinup girls. Outre is six years old, but I'd never seen it until I stumbled upon the latest issue at a newsstand. As I read Bruce Wright's "Fear Down Below: The Curious History of the Shaver Mystery," my jaw dropped and I stood transfixed. It's the most bizarre nonfiction story I've read in years and a delightful look into the hidden history of American magazines.

The story begins with Raymond A. Palmer, a four-foot-tall hunchback from Milwaukee who spent his sickly childhood reading science fiction. He founded a sci-fi fan club and published a sci-fi fanzine and in 1938, at age 28, was hired to edit a dying Chicago pulp sci-fi mag called Amazing Stories.

One day in 1943, one of Palmer's assistants tossed a letter from a reader into the wastebasket, muttering about "crackpots." Curious, Palmer picked the epistle out of the trash. It was from Shaver, a then-unknown ex-hobo and construction worker who wrote that he'd discovered "Mantong," the lost language of Atlantis, which he claimed was the basis of all earthly tongues. Palmer printed the letter and it drew a considerable response from readers who said they recognized Mantong phraseology in various foreign languages.

When Palmer wrote to Shaver, asking how he'd discovered Mantong, Shaver bombarded the editor with long, semi-coherent letters, explaining that he'd been working at a Detroit auto plant when his welding gun began suddenly picking up the thoughts of his co-workers. That was weird enough, but then the welding gun started broadcasting the sounds of a secret torture session held in a cavern deep in the earth.

Shaver also sent Palmer "A Warning to Future Man," a 10,000-word manuscript detailing the secret history of our planet. Thousands of years ago, Earth, then called Lemuria, was occupied by a race of immortal giants, Shaver wrote. But then the sun began emitting poison particles that drove the giants underground, where they mutated into ugly, evil beings called Dero, who kidnap, rape and devour humans.

Your average editor would have tossed Shaver's ravings. Not Palmer. He rewrote the manuscript into a piece called "I Remember Lemuria!," which he billed as fact and published in the March 1945 issue of Amazing Stories.

The issue sold out and drew hundreds of letters from readers. For the next four years, Palmer kept rewriting Shaver's sadistic fantasies, illustrating them with wonderfully lurid covers that featured scantily clad women menaced by Shaver's Dero demons.

"The result," writes Wright, "is an unforgettable blend of high-flying imagination with curiously homely touches, as when we encounter a highly intelligent snail-centaur named Hank."

Shaver's stories helped boost Amazing Stories' circulation from 27,000 to 185,000. Soon there was a Shaver cult, complete with a fan club and monthly fanzine. The Atlantic Monthly and Life published stories on the strange phenomenon.

Shaver, who was probably a paranoid schizophrenic, believed that his writings were simple fact. It's hard to tell what Palmer thought. At one point, he claimed that Shaver's stuff might be "at least 25 percent true."

In the '50s, the two men parted ways. Palmer left Amazing Stories to publish Fate, which achieved fame by touting the existence of flying saucers. (Fate is still publishing and still touting UFOs; Amazing Stories lasted in various incarnations until last year.)

Meanwhile, Shaver published his own mag, Shaver Mystery Magazine, which appeared only sporadically. Later, he claimed he'd discovered detailed written records of Lemuria inside rocks he found on the Wisconsin prairie, but for some reason scientists didn't believe him. In the '60s, the two teamed up on a magazine called the Hidden World but it never caught on, possibly because it published Shaver's writings unedited. America apparently wasn't ready for prose like this: "Life is a scream in the face of a bright madness, then! Life is a silly sound like a death rattle from an insane clown dying in the night, then!"

Both men died in the '70s, and we'll no doubt never see their like again. But in an era when magazines are edited by timid souls who make editorial decisions based on demographic data and focus groups, it's pleasing to recall that at least one editor once achieved success by rewriting the ravings of a madman.

One final note: If you are receiving messages from welding guns (or dental fillings) please don't send your writings to me. These days, as far as I can tell, the main print market for demented screeds is the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. Try them.

• Outre is available at full-service newsstands for $5.95 or by subscription for $20 a year at P.O. Box 1900, Evanston, Ill. 60204.

• Story originally published by •
Washington Post | By Peter Carlson - February 12 2001


And now for something completely different, I present a prime example of the first rule set forth in "Murphy's Law" for all of you gonnabe and wannabe writers out there. It is a manuscript written and submitted by the kooky Richard S. Shaver to "The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction"...and unfortunately rejected.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.....

"SHAVER'S REJECTED FAIRY TALE"
http://www.softcom.net/users/vtown/cover.html

Enjoy! :-)

~ Alan ~
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Gorden Russell
Posted on Monday, October 13, 2003 - 09:43 pm:   

Is this a great country or what? Only in America could a paranoid schizophrenic plagiarist increase a magazine's circulation from 27,000 to 185,000.

I call Shaver a plagiarist, because this is obviously an exaggeration of H.P. Lovecraft's, "Pickman's Model."

Say, Mr. Adams, if I go off my meds, will you give me a chance to increase your circulation by 700 to 800%?

But one thing bothers me, Mr Sippola. Why did you have to keep mentioning Raymond A. Palmer's height so often? An editor who can spot talent like that and increase numbers that way is a big man in the magazine business.

Remember; "The heart wants what the heart wants." An editor who can spot what the public wants is certainly what the heart of the publisher wants.

Seriously, Mr. Sippola, this is a well-done report. I had a lot of fun reading about Mr. Shaver. If he'd had the sense to wear a stainless steel collander over his head, that welding gun wouldn't have been such a big-mouth.

You are also quite right about the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. How long has it been since that august publication said that people too poor to pay taxes were "Lucky Duckies?" A cartoonist at Salon.com has increased cirulations by spoofing the Journal. I know it's the only reason I paid for the Premium service when Salon stopped giving it away for free. (I know what you're thinking, stop it).
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Alan T. Sippola
Posted on Monday, October 13, 2003 - 11:19 pm:   


Hate to disappoint you, Gorden, but I didn't write that fine article. Peter Carlson did, for "The Washington Post".

Please read the fine print.

~ Alan ~
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Gorden Russell
Posted on Tuesday, October 14, 2003 - 12:19 am:   

I read too fast and skipped that line. When you got down to the bullets and started mentioning prices, I skipped a line.

But still, thanks for sharing. That was funny. I should have taken my last med at 2:30 A.M. and it's almost 3:30 A.M. here.

But I still have a collander nearby, so I should be okay in the time it takes to read your link.
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Gorden Russell
Posted on Tuesday, October 14, 2003 - 12:59 am:   

Thank you for posting the rejected fairy tale, Alan. How did you ever find it?

It certainly lacked narrative thrust, but might not have been so bad for children if the author had been given the meds that schizophrenics receive today. A few of the lines, here and there, would have made a child laugh. But it would have to have been a pre-school child who will listen to any kind of story, rather than have the lights turned out at bed time.

I can't help but think of David Berkawitz, the Son of Sam Killer, who also believed that a dog was God. I wish Karl Edward Wagner was alive to see this. He could tell us if this is a common delusion of the schizophrenic.

Years ago at the cinema, I had a cashier who was schizophrenic. Never saw any evidence of the disorder, except when she didn't show up for work. I'd have to hustle to have a replacentment show up to take her place and the next day she would come in, perfectly coherent, to tell me that the day before her doctor was "balancing her meds" and she ended up taken by police to the hospital.

If this Shaver were alive today to get the proper meds and get through school, he might have written some decent children's books.

Still, he might have become partners with David Berkowitz, or a cult leader.

The editor Raymond Palmer, besides building the cirulation of his magazine, may have saved untold lives by keeping Shaver occupied.
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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Tuesday, October 14, 2003 - 05:39 am:   

I've been told, I think by Frank Robinson, that Palmer was deliberately trying to tick off the management at AMAZING when he fished Shaver's stuff out of the garbage and started running the articles.

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Matthew
Posted on Tuesday, October 14, 2003 - 08:40 am:   

Why didn't they print the Shaver story? That was one of the most enjoyable reads ever. It was so incoherent and just plain schizoid that it was ... well I don't know quite what it was, but it was interesting the way a freakshow is interesting...sort of.
Also I thought that Berkawitz believed the neighbors dog was Satan, not God, but whatever.
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Thomas R
Posted on Tuesday, October 14, 2003 - 12:03 pm:   

Never saw any evidence of the disorder, except when she didn't show up for work.

Thomas R: Schizophrenics vary in severity. I've heard of forms so mild they can lead fairly normal lives even without medicine. As for the rest nowadays, with proper medication and such, many of them can live more or less normal lives. The main difficulty being that some of the drugs have strong side affects which can interfere with that. (Not as much as the schizophrenia itself, and I believe the drugs are improving all the time) Still some forget or choose not to take them with various affects.

Mostly though I think they tend to be more harmful to themselves than anyone. Shaver's bizarre rantings though I think are fairly typical for the paranoid schizophrenic. (Is it confirmed he had that?) The writing of weird pamphlets being somewhat common. That he could get them published is more unusual, but it was an odd situation.

Still one thing troubles me. I wanted to be the hunchbacked midget to get big in SF. Okay my scoliois isn't quite bad enough to be hunchbacked, but close enough. Seems like every gimmick or idea I have ends up feeling trite. Ahh well.
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Gorden Russell
Posted on Tuesday, October 14, 2003 - 04:51 pm:   

Thomas,

There is your story.

Today the New York Times Op-Ed has an piece extoling the virtures of a permanent human presence on the moon. Another about the immenent Chinese launch of a human.

Yes, I realize that a person with brittle bones might not survive a four-gravity boost...but what if the Hero was born on the moon with all your problems?

There are good reasons to put your Hero on the South Pole of the moon. Many people will be writing stories about bases located there. Many writers must already be writing stories about "SouthBase Luna." The editors may already be seeing these stories.

The article says he was a good editor. That's all you have to be. But I can't see where the article says he had brittle bones. Sometimes your postings are so long, yet so eloquent, that I don't see how you keep from breaking your fingers on the keyboard or the dictionary. My hands get sore enough, you must have even greater pain.

With all I've seen you do on these threads, there is no reason for you not to write a great story or become a great editor. The only gimmick you need is your talent. I can see that you have that.

I can see that you were joking, but there is many a truth in jest.

So just start writing a story where you were born on the moon, mine your Earthly life for experiences (everbody starts with autobigraphical stuff, and since the hero of a story has to overcome hardships, you have been handed a goldmine of hardships already overcome).

No reason why your protagonist can't be a communications specialist, editing a magazine or newspaper on the side. Everbody is going to have to work on the moon. Being small will mean your hero will be drafted to do some electrical, hydraulic, pneumatic, or just plain plumbing work in undersize tunnels. A lot of tunnels will be augered out just for him, he will be over-worked and suffer a lot of broken bones. But by that time, Nanotech will provide a nannie-net that will carry the healing cells faster to the point of the injury. Nannies will build an internal latice of carbon fibers with buckyballs to reinforce movement in radius, ulna, acetabulm, ribs and everywhere else.

There's your story. GvG doesn't want reprints, so E-mail me and I can tell you the crisis and the denouement. Trust me. You have a great career ahead of you.
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Thomas R
Posted on Tuesday, October 14, 2003 - 05:11 pm:   

It's interesting. Would a lower gravity be worse or better for someone like me? Potentially better as falls would be less harsh. Potentially worse as I think the lowered gravity could cause further weakening. However I fear that kind of thing would be too personal and only interesting to specialists. (Granted the Miles Vorkosigan series is about a brittle bone guy I think, but his condition is apparently some different non-genetic ailment)
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Gorden Russell
Posted on Tuesday, October 14, 2003 - 05:42 pm:   

Lower gravity does reduce calcium...but there will be little machines just shoveling it into the cells. Each machine will be able to take precursors out of the blood and fool the cells into reacting as if there were more gravity.

Since you didn't want to write the story, I'll tell you how it ends.

This good natured little man takes a lot of abuse without complaining.

Bye the end of the story he would have had so many breaks, that he would have a layer or mesh or latticework of carbon fibers holding in his bones on the interior and anterior surfaces, with stonger bone inbetween thanks to the machines that add calcium. They will know not to calcify joints. Maybe he will have an rf antenna bed that looks like the chamber the tabloids used to say Michael Jackson slept in. But connected to the external mainfrain, rf signals would tell his internal parallel processors to shift the elements he needs to the cells that need them. Even give him the appetite (laughed at as pica) to eat the raw materials he needs to feed the machines. Or just take them as over-priced pills.

There is a buzz-word that was popular recently, but somehow I forgot it. But I think it is "tipping point." That would have been the name of the story.

When he has had enough broken bones, and has had to swallow enough clay, oyster shells (they could be raised in the aquaponics tanks), and lumps of coal he would have carbon and calcium enough to make his bones stronger than anybody elses. After reaching the tipping point he would be a super mortal. He would be the strongest man on the moon. Bullets would bounce off, he could rip steel doors down, bend gun barrels.

Dinner is ready, Jane calls.
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Gorden Russell
Posted on Tuesday, October 14, 2003 - 07:21 pm:   

After eating, we had to take the dogs and shovel around the block.

Forgot to mention: The little calcium bulldozers will fix bones in six weeks for a few months, then in six days after a few more weeks, then in six hours after a few more days. Then after a matter of hours, the asymptotic line reaches the tipping point and the bones heal in 6 minutes, then 6 seconds, then so close to 0.6 seconds as to be practically instantaeneous. Then the little man could program the mainframe, get into the rf bed, and start to grow to 6 foot 6 inches in height and the rest of the colony would never again call him "Tiny" without a polite smile on their collective pusses.

The Chinese are already working on long fibers of carbon. They will be on the moon.

Think: A new space race is starting and the Beijing government is starting it. They will be competing with Burt Rutan and Halliburton, so who know's who'll win. Make some great fiction. The treaty areas around the rim of the great crater with the ice at its bottom will have picturesque names like: Key West, FL; Brownsville, Texas; Cape of Good Hope; Cape Horn; Mandura; Singapore; Timor; Tasmania. But of course the most important area of the crater will be Hong Kong.

That is where the trouble starts. A Chinese Civil War starts on Earth and factions on the moon demand like dubya, "ya with us or agin' us?"

Complicate things: the protag has a girfriend from Changsha (I can't tell the province, the old globe I have in the donjon is scraped up and parts of China are abraded, so just make her from the southernmost province).

She is a little person, but not with brittle bones, so she doesn't have the package of Nanotechnology that the protag has.

But the protag has the carbon fibers under his skin and it is already thought that this will make a bulletproof vest that is thin as silk. The first few slugs might knock him down, but they'd flatten out and fall to the tunnel floor. He'd get up in 0.6 seconds, etc.

But now we can't use this, reprints aren't allowed.
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Iron James
Posted on Wednesday, October 15, 2003 - 09:42 am:   

Gordon,
It wouldn't surprise me if an editor read the first page, then a middle page, then the last page, though I'm not sure what the point would be. I certainly couldn't tell much about a story by reading in this manner.

I have, however, read the first few pages and then the last several on a very long story. I didn;t do this often, but now and then I'd wonder where a writer was going with a story that didn't seem to be coming together.

My suspician is that most editors read somewhat along the lines that I did, which means starting at page one and continuing until I found a reason to stop. Most of the time I found a reason to stop in the first two or three pages, and if I read a story all the way to the end, especially a long story, the writer would, at the very least, receive a personal rejection letter, and usually a request to send more stories.

I'd love to know how other editors read the stories that come in.
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Iron James
Posted on Wednesday, October 15, 2003 - 09:54 am:   

Maureen,
I loved your post, and I think it's dead on accurate. Some stories are rejected because of too many mistakes on the first page or two, and often because the writing just isn;t very good, even if it is mistake free, but I think more are rejected simply because you read the first page and you just don't want to read the second.

Often I couldn't even say why I didn't want to read the next page. It was almost like page one was gray, made me feel gray, made everything around me gray. Very scientific explanation, huh?

The stories I bought were nearly always stories I almost didn't remember reading. I'd read page one, and suddenly I was reading the last page. I was seeing the story, living the story, but almost completely unaware of reading the story.

Something extra. But darned if I know what.
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Lou Anders
Posted on Wednesday, October 15, 2003 - 10:26 am:   

Maureen is spot on. There's a certain ineffiable quality, almost like a tone or a smell, that strikes you from paragraph one. I wish you could bottle the stuff, 'cause you'd make a fortune. But you can spot it straight away. I like "the gotcha factor" as a term, though I've always referred to it as a kind of "wink" in the prose. It's there or it isn't, but even though it's hard to describe, this is a real thing, not a matter of taste or preference.

Also, I think it's been hinted at here earlier, but not fleshed out, but it needs to be said that a story need not be "bad" to be rejected. A perfectly good story, even a great story, might get rejected too. I come to magazine editing from anthology editing, and I'm treating each issue of Argosy like an anthology, which is akin to a really good mix-tape (circa pre-MP3 files). Which means that the balance of each issue is important, the juxtaposition of every story alongside every other story. Sometimes you have to make hard choices, letting go of something good because you have too much in that vein already. I've passed on good work because it wasn't right for the overall aesthetic. Sometimes that's the right thing to do. Other times you kick yourself later!
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Maureen McHugh
Posted on Wednesday, October 15, 2003 - 05:34 pm:   

Iron James and Lou Anders, I teach fiction writing and although I haven't seen near the number of stories that people like Gordon and Ellen Datlow and Gardner and probably John Joseph Adams see, I have spent some serious time working out with students what doesn't work in stories. And I've seen perfect stories that I wouldn't publish and flawed ones that I wanted to keep reading.

And some editors like my stuff and others don't. Wither the ones who like my stuff are wrong, or the ones who don't like my stuff are wrong, or as Lou points out, it's all more complicated than that. I suspect it's complicated.
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Gorden Russell
Posted on Thursday, October 16, 2003 - 01:06 am:   

These posts have been very good today. So good that I'll put off hanging myself for a few more days.

If only Raymond A. Palmer were still alive. There's and editor who would print what I write.

Oh why do the good ones always die so young?
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Iron James
Posted on Friday, October 17, 2003 - 05:38 pm:   

Maureen,
I suspect it's complicated, as well. As an editor, however, I think complications only came in with stories I wanted to buy. I don;t think I analyzed, or even really judged, 99% of the stories I rejected. Not even to the point where I could say one was flawed and another nearly perfect.

Sometimes I'd reject a story because "their" was used instead of "they're" two or three times in the first few pages. Sometimes I'd just stop reading at the end of page two or three and not want to read the next page, but really couldn't say why.

Sometimes I'd read the first paragraph two or three times and still not understand what I'd read.

Anyway, I understand a writing wanting his work read from beginning to end, having time spent on it, but it just isn't going to happen more often than not, at least in my experience.

And I understand a writer wanting an editor to tell him what was wrong, why a story was rejected, but far more often than not I couldn't have done this had I wanted been paid triple to do so. "It just didn't hold my interest" may well have been the most common reason for rejection.

I don't think most of the stories I rejected stood any sort of chance of being bought by any editor, but some few might have sold elsewhere. I know, in fact, that three did. And when I reread one of them I fell in love with it too late.

And who knows, maybe I rejected some of the stories because I missed breakfast and the reason the story didn't hold my interest was because I was thinking about lunch? I hope this didn;t happen, but there's not a doubt in my mind that I rejected stories I might well have bought on another day, when in another mood.
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Lou
Posted on Saturday, October 18, 2003 - 08:52 am:   

I hear what you are saying they're, although there are plenty of good writers who are poor grammaticists and spelers.
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Judith Dubois
Posted on Saturday, October 18, 2003 - 10:53 am:   

Can you be a really good writer without being in love with language? My students, whose native language is French, often tell me that grammar is not important; what counts is communication. I say they're right, if all you want to do is buy something (if you've got a credit card you don't even have to open your mouth), but if delicate shades of meaning are important, you need to be using grammar correctly or the message is going to be blurred. And I'm not sure whether a purist would approve of the above sentence, but breaking the rules is part of the fun, when you know you're breaking them.
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Alan T. Sippola
Posted on Sunday, October 19, 2003 - 05:29 pm:   


For anyone wishing to learn more about the comedy team of that eccentric editor, Raymond A. Palmer and knucklehead writer, Richard S. Shaver, you may find the following a rather interesting read;

Please note that some of the links provided at the bottom of the web pages are now dead.

"The Hollow Earth Insider: Dennis Crenshaw's Offical Homepage - Shaver & Palmer"
http://thehollowearthinsider.com/news/wmview.php?ArtID=20

Enjoy! :-)

~ Alan ~
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Gorden Russell
Posted on Sunday, October 19, 2003 - 08:13 pm:   

I'm enjoying it now.

Thanks, Alan
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Gorden Russell
Posted on Sunday, October 19, 2003 - 09:26 pm:   

I really want to learn more about the editor, Palmer. This article said too much about Shaver.

It's Palmer who is the prime mover in this story, Shaver would have faded away without him.
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Alan T. Sippola
Posted on Sunday, October 19, 2003 - 09:30 pm:   


You bet!
You're welcome, Gorden!

~ Alan ~
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Alan T. Sippola
Posted on Sunday, October 19, 2003 - 10:36 pm:   


Knock yourself out on this.

It's the English version translated from French.

"Raymond A. Palmer"
http://216.239.37.104/translate_c?hl=en&sl=fr&u=http://rr0.free.fr/PalmerRaymond A.html&prev=/search%3Fq%3Draymond%2Ba.%2Bpalmer%2Bscience%2Bfiction%26num%3D100% 26hl%3Den%26lr%3D%26ie%3DUTF-8%26safe%3Doff

~ Alan ~
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Gorden Russell
Posted on Sunday, October 19, 2003 - 11:41 pm:   

Damn! This translation is so Galactic Pothealer, I only wish Philip K. Dick was alive to see it.

But even in a faulty computer translation, it does show that a competent, enterprising, daring and fearless editor can take grist from any mill and make bridescake.

This fills my heart with such hope.
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Clark Taylor
Posted on Thursday, October 23, 2003 - 11:19 am:   

I have a dozen stories at a time haunting the slush piles; I love a quick turn around. And unless we have been visited by clever impersonators, Gordon Van Gelder and John Adams have taken the time to respond to comments on a cluttered message board. They have definitely gone beyond the call of duty.
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Iron James
Posted on Thursday, October 23, 2003 - 02:54 pm:   

I've known many a writer who was a horrible speller, but I don't think I've ever known one who who was horrible at grammar. We all make mistakes, but it's pretty difficult to make your writing say what you want it to say without having a pretty decent grasp of grammar.
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Gorden Russell
Posted on Friday, October 24, 2003 - 01:42 am:   

Could a writer be dyslexic?
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Iron James
Posted on Sunday, October 26, 2003 - 07:45 am:   

Just my experience, but I've found that dyslexics often make wonderful writers. I've known several incredible writers who were dyslexic.
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Matt Hughes
Posted on Sunday, October 26, 2003 - 11:38 am:   

Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald were such poor spellers as to indicate at least a degree of dyslexia. The original, prelitereate composers of the Old Testament and the Homeric epics may well have been dyslexic for all we know.
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Thomas R
Posted on Sunday, October 26, 2003 - 12:31 pm:   

I'd think a writer could do be dyslexic with little problem. For one dyslexics often train and work hard on writing to deal with the problem. That kind of extra effort could be of value. Kind of like how many good swimmers are asthmatic. For another several writers dictate their work to a recording device, employee, spouse, etc. There have been writers who were blind, even before the age of Braille or reading devices, so I'd think dyslexic would be not much worse than that.
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Gorden Russell
Posted on Monday, October 27, 2003 - 12:43 pm:   

Dear John Joseph Adams,

I am hours away from finishing the story I've been working on for weeks now and I'm getting worried about the smallest things.

One editor mentioned how hateful it was to get envelopes that were hard to open because of too much tape. Would you mind if I used the self-sealing "Press-it Seal-it" variety or should I use the old fashioned brass clasp kind? If you prefer the brass clasp, do you want the clasp under the envelope flap or bent up through the hole and then folded over? If the clasp is used, should I let the glue go unmoistened? I already have a package of either.

The manuscript has grown to 7,100 words and may exceed 8,000 in an hour. But the words I left out until now are the ones that scare me most. A little girl named after a famous tennis player faces a terrible fate. I don't want anything to happen to her---but plot dynamics demand this sacrifice. I may get sick while writing it. I'm keeping a plastic bucket nearby.

I know 8,000 words is a lot for a "first writer," but I cut out a thousand yesterday and found 85 more to cut out this morning.

This will be my first story to be finished and sumbmitted since 1983. That's correct. My last rejected story was returned by Ed Ferman. Now you can understand why I am so neurotically antsy. I can't claim to be as creatively schizophrenic as Phillip K. Dick, but I must certainly qualify as schizothymic, working away in a cellar as I do and only going out for groceries a few minutes before the supermarket closes at midnight when the aisles are empty of other customers. I must spend as much time writing posts to these threads as H.P. Lovecraft did writing letters to anybody who'd listen.

I'm not saying that this is my first time, but it's my first time in a long time, so please be gentle.

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ellen
Posted on Monday, October 27, 2003 - 05:25 pm:   

Samuel R. Delany is dyslexic.
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John Joseph Adams
Posted on Monday, October 27, 2003 - 05:47 pm:   

Gorden,

Either kind of envelope is fine. If I had to choose, I'd go with the envelopes without the brass clasp.

Regarding tape -- it's okay to put some tape on there to make it more secure (just don't go overboard) and remember to leave an entry point for the letter opener.
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Gorden Russell
Posted on Monday, October 27, 2003 - 10:03 pm:   

Thank you for the quick answer, Mr. Adams.

I'll just use the "Press-it Seal-it" kind. The tape applique stops about 3/8" short of the end of the flap. You could open these envelopes with anything that falls readily to hand.

But take a deep breath before you put the opener under the flap. This story is sooo creepy, it will reek of graveyard mould.

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Gorden Russell
Posted on Tuesday, October 28, 2003 - 03:29 am:   

I can't believe it. I was so cocksure I'd get it done today.

Spent so much time going over it with surgical care, excising one bloody bit like a tumor and putting something in it's place that was three words shorter.

Yet the unfinished scenes made it run from 7218 words to 8345.

I had so counted on getting it in the mail today to get it to Hoboken by the end of the month.

Now it looks like it will be like pulling teeth to keep it under 10,000 words.

Would this be way too long for a first publication, Mr. Adams?

And to think I had to walk a mile underground through a sewage tunnel to research this tale. I hope the smell doesn't carry over to the paper.

What I found was better than what was shown by the old maps in the local history department of the Onondaga County Library.

When I went to the Canal Museum on Erie Blvd to see what they had, the curator told me he goes down there once a year, but he has a key to the gate. I wasn't about to tell him how I got down there. He'd just see to it that another gate would be put up at the other end of the approach. Can't have kids going down there and tagging it with graffiti.
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Jetse
Posted on Tuesday, October 28, 2003 - 03:57 am:   

Hey Gorden,

A story is as long as it should be. I mean don't aim for a certain word count, just finish it and see where it takes you.

Then I would advise not to send it out immediately, but let it rest for at least a week and then turn to it with a fresh mind.

Then you may find faults you didn't see in the heat of the writing, and correct them. You may also see how you could cut it down to make it better.

Repress the urge to send it out the minute it's finished (I know I used to do just that), but let it 'ripen' a bit. It might very well mean the difference between an acceptance or a rejection.

FWIW, Jetse
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Gorden Russell
Posted on Tuesday, October 28, 2003 - 04:31 am:   

I started this story on September 8. I think the parts that are done are ripe now. I just need to tie a couple of segments together.
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John Joseph Adams
Posted on Tuesday, October 28, 2003 - 07:25 am:   

Gorden,

It's not "way too long." We have a story coming up in the February issue by a first time author, and that story is over 11,000 words. Like Jetse says, a story should be as long as it needs to be.
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Gorden Russell
Posted on Tuesday, October 28, 2003 - 10:19 am:   

That takes a burden off of my mind. Now I can write the nice pastoral "mother and child" connecting scene and get it off in the mail by 3:45 if I can just get the printer working.

Of course, with skillful editing, a professional can always cut out the dross. Not that I plan to have any--but we can't always recognize our darlings.
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GordenCRussell@MSN.com
Posted on Friday, October 31, 2003 - 03:19 am:   

Say, John Joseph Adams, can you tell us the name of the new writer and the story? I can't wait until February.
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John Joseph Adams
Posted on Monday, November 03, 2003 - 08:31 am:   

The story is "Metal More Attractive" by Ysabeau Wilce.
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Gorden Russell
Posted on Monday, November 03, 2003 - 03:13 pm:   

I hope it's a robot story with a new twist. Is that an East European name? It's been a long time since I've read Stanislaw Lem.
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Chuck Hogle
Posted on Monday, November 03, 2003 - 04:56 pm:   

Gordon, my English teacher lent me a copy of SOLARIS, and I read it over the summer. Did you see the movie? Is it as good as the book? Is that possible, or am I asking a silly question?
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Rhyme
Posted on Tuesday, November 04, 2003 - 07:57 pm:   

Just last week, I sent off my first F&SF submission. I've had a couple of stories accepted into a local SF magazine, but I feel that this new story is better than my previous work and I want to give it a chance at one of the "big three". I chose F&SF in large part for its quick response times, but also because I really enjoy the stories they publish.

I am now eagerly awaiting a response. As I am a new writer and have much to learn, I fully expect my story to be rejected, although obviously I hope it won't be. I will be thrilled if my story is considered good enough to get a personalised rejection letter rather than a "didn't grab" macro letter from JJA. In fact, that is likely to determine where I submit it next - if I get a standard rejection, I may conclude that it isn't worth spending another $10 to send it to another big, international magazine, so I'll try somewhere local instead.

For now, though, I am on tenterhooks. Does anybody know how long it usually takes a manuscript to get from Australia to the US and back?
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Gorden Russell
Posted on Wednesday, November 05, 2003 - 12:45 am:   

Sorry Chuck, I missed the book and the movie of Soloaris. I just found my copy of the April issue of F&SF under a stack of library books on a footlocker behind the telvision in the basement. I still haven't read Albert E. Cowdrey: "The Dog Movie" I'm only halfway through the December issue too. My library card is maxed out and I just discovered I have renewed four books on submarines so many times that I MUST take them back. My wife has volunteered to take them out on her card once they are reshelved. So I can't read any more novels, except for the Brian Stableford Werewolves of London which is sitting between the keyboard and monitor right now. I only have time to read a page while MSN is slacking off on downloading or even turning on. This Compaq Presario was purchased in February and has gotten progressively slower, even though only a third of it's memory has been used by research and backup files. I've just discovered that floppy disks can loose their memory from humidity.

I read the Stableford because a character in the novella I've almost finished is reading it and discussing it with his wife. I'm into the metafiction now that Neal Stanifer has been talking about.
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Thomas R
Posted on Wednesday, November 05, 2003 - 01:29 am:   

The book has spots that are tough going for some. If you're the kind of guy who likes both Foundation and Poe's Fall of the House of Usher I'd say go for it. Solaris has some very eerie stuff reminiscient of haunted house stories, but it also had long "academic/historical" moments of the theories about the place. These are tough going for some, but being an Asimov fan I loved them. As for the films I've only seen the Russian one. As I read the book first I think it worked for me somewhat less well. It's kind of a difficult film, but I admire Tarkovsky's tendency to get actors who are not magazine cover types. The two, well two and a half kind of, movies I've seen of him tend to get very industrial Russian looking people. I'm not sure this entirely works for me in this case as when reading Solaris I got the sense the characters were okay looking. Like the scientists and therapists I've known. (Hope that's not too revealing, I did have a period of problems after my accident, but also when I was a kid the school just assigned someone based on the assumption a cripple must be miserable. Barring that they thought if me and my family were happy with who/what I was this meant we suffered under some bizarre form of denial/delusion.)

Good luck Rhyme. I sent my first thing to FSF in 1999. I haven't sent as much there as I'd like. Getting published in it would be a big deal for me. That and getting in Dozois' year's Best is about my most ambitious goals as a writer. My problem is I'm not especially good and I think my interests are too obscure. Recent rejection I had involved a freed slave turned Shaker meeting alien robots. It was umm better than that sounds, well I hope it was.
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Gorden Russell
Posted on Wednesday, November 05, 2003 - 02:10 am:   

Thanks for the description, Thomas. I just went over to the library website and put in requests for the book and the 1970 film in Russian with subtitles. They also have the new videodisc with George Clooney, but I just don't have time to watch two versions.
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Wednesday, November 05, 2003 - 11:14 pm:   

Just an idea... Because there are two other threads dedicated to the overflow from this one, it might be... wonderful... if people would post to those threads. Perhaps even JJA would appreciate this. In any case, I certainly would.
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TCO
Posted on Monday, May 31, 2004 - 09:24 pm:   

I have a subscription to the Journal. Don't diss it. It pays the highest rates for reporters and gives them the most time to spend on stories. It is the best paper in the country.
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Brad R. Torgersen
Posted on Tuesday, June 19, 2007 - 03:42 pm:   

I am so, so totally late to this thread. Years late. But the rants I am seeing in here over short turnaround on manuscripts just do not make any sense.

For everyone bellyaching over the quick turnaround at TMoF&SF, let me ask you this:

Would you rather that it take a day for the editors to figure out they don't want your story, or five months?

Because IMHO if a manuscript is sitting longer than a couple of weeks at a market, the market is obviously behind on the slush pile and it's too long a delay. A manuscript is doing NOTHING while it languishes in the slush pile. It's not out at other markets. It's not being read by an editor who can buy it. It's just sitting there.

This whole myth that a lengthy delay means an editor somehow is taking more time to read manuscripts, is just bunk IMHO. Probably what is happening is that the editor is busy doing things OTHER than reading slush, when the slush begins to sit, and this does not do the would-be author any favors.

Quick tip for anyone reading this who has not submitted much short work to the markets, or who is brand new at this: a rejection that takes months to arrive in your mail box, and a rejection which takes a week or less to arrive in your mail box, are both still REJECTIONS. The nice thing about the quick turnaround is that you can immediately get that story back out to a new market, and either send the NEXT story to TMoF&SF, or get cracking on a new story that TMoF&SF might want to buy.

Like Geoffrey Lewis says on Celestial Navigations: Chapter III, "The best one, is the next one!"

I remember when it took like 8 months for me to get a rejection from a market which eventually died. The pre-printed form was not much different from any other anyone gets. What chapped me was that the story had been stalled for EIGHT LONG MONTHS without any word. In eight months, that same story could have gone across several other editors' desks. Maybe one of them would have bought it? Maybe I'd not have agonized over the story so much, rethinking and second guessing myself, that when the rejection finally did come, it was one of several large nails which sealed up the coffin of my young man's morale, back in the 90's.

How I wish all the markets were quick with the slush. Read it, reject it, and give the writer a chance to send it elsewhere. Don't leave the writer hanging.

Just my opinion. Maybe not the best one, but it's mine.
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Byron Bailey
Posted on Tuesday, June 19, 2007 - 04:16 pm:   

_Fantasy and Science Fiction's_ fast turn around could be considered a great service if all you were concerned about was getting published. However, the vast hordes of us that have lived decades with rejection and have become connosiers of rejection itself cannot help but feel jilted by the rapid slush reading habits of John Joseph Adams. Like cheese or wine, rejection tastes much better when properly aged. That heady aroma and that delicate yet gamey flavor can not be aquired by a mere day at the editor's. It requires weeks, months, and in the most flavorful of rejections, years to acquire. By always focusing on high turn around times _Fantasy and Science Fiction_ has become the McDonald's of the rejection world and that can't be good.
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Brad R. Torgersen
Posted on Tuesday, June 19, 2007 - 04:21 pm:   

If that's satire, it's pretty funny satire.

=^)
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John Joseph Adams
Posted on Tuesday, June 19, 2007 - 08:08 pm:   

Gordon --

We should use "_Fantasy and Science Fiction_ has become the McDonald's of the rejection world..." in our next promotional mailing. What do you think?
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John Joseph Adams
Posted on Tuesday, June 19, 2007 - 08:09 pm:   

Or maybe change our entry in Writer's Market to say that.
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Sheila Finch
Posted on Tuesday, June 19, 2007 - 08:59 pm:   

I think I prefer a McDonald's rejection to the "Chez Pierre" version that spends months in the editorial kitchen! I can get the story back in the mail faster that way.

I've been a teacher of fiction writing and advisor to the campus lit mag for more years than I care to say right now, and one thing I know is true: I can tell a story doesn't work after I've read three or four pages. (Patrick Lucien Price, once editor of AMAZING STORIES, used to visit my advanced fiction workshop and regularly shock my students by telling them he knew this by the end of the first page. When you consider how little you can get on the first page when you set it up right -- barely more than a paragraph -- his rule sounded harsh. But I think he's right.)

When we're beginning our careers as writers, we have this sense that an editor must read and ponder our little gems all the way to the last page to get a feeling for their true power, but it really isn't so. I wouldn't begin to speculate how JJA does his job, but I'm willing to bet that by the end of the first couple of pages he can tell which stories he doesn't need to go on reading because they're not right for F&SF.
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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Wednesday, June 20, 2007 - 06:26 am:   

I'd rather be the White Castle of the rejection world.

Sheila, it's true you can tell a lot from the first page of a story. You can tell a lot about a manned space mission from the launch. About twelve years ago, I met a guy who worked for years as a disk jockey. He said he could tell within three notes if he'd like a song or not.
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Amy Sterling Casil
Posted on Wednesday, June 20, 2007 - 06:59 am:   

Meredith "got" a song from ONE note on the radio the other day.

She immediately changed that channel and said, "eeew!" - whatever the song was. I asked her how she could "Name that tune" so quickly - just practice, she said.

Agreed on the page one thing. One more little cross for me to bear: titles are usually excruciating for me. The other? Well . . .
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Vylar Kaftan
Posted on Thursday, June 21, 2007 - 11:15 am:   

I love the fast response time at F&SF. Please keep doing what you're doing.
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Jim Steel
Posted on Thursday, June 21, 2007 - 01:43 pm:   

I know for a fact that at least some of my stories have been read despite the unnaturally quick turnaround, and I've no reason to doubt that the others haven't. The occasional odd comment tacked on to the form rejection is proof of that. How JJA and GVG manage it is still a mystery, but it's certainly preferable to having to wait over a year for a rejection while watching other markets for your story open and close.
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GSH
Posted on Friday, June 22, 2007 - 01:26 pm:   

Hmm... A spot of Big Mac sauce on the last page suggests my story was at least read through to the end, while a thumbprint of White Castle's suggests I'm making serious progress! This is genuinely useful information!

Speedy turn-arounds show respect for authors and an appreciation for the value of their time. Have a look at average times compiled on the Black Hole site someone thoughtfully linked way back in the thread. F&SF remains among the quickest. Consequently, if I have something I like that I believe they might like, they'll always be the first to see it.
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Melissa Mead
Posted on Saturday, June 23, 2007 - 03:58 pm:   

"I'd like fries with that rejection, please."

I appreciate the quick RT. When I submit a story it's with the understanding that the editor's supposed to consider it for publication, not grade it was though it were an English paper.
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Devin Moberg
Posted on Tuesday, June 26, 2007 - 10:15 am:   

FWIW, count me as one more author who appreciates the quick turn-around. After getting a 5 day rejection from JJA yesterday, I was actually happy. Not about the rejection, of course, but that the very first story I wrote garnered a polite, personalized, and timely response from a very busy editor.

My wife thinks I'm nuts, by the way. I tried to explain to her why I was smiling at the rejection letter, but I couldn't.

GVG and JJA, thanks for not letting the occasionally vocal minority discourage your diligent reading of the slush pile.
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Elizabeth L
Posted on Tuesday, June 26, 2007 - 05:01 pm:   

I'm grateful for the fast turnaround time, but even for me, it isn't all that fast. You can imagine how excited I was when I hadn't received my rejection at day 32. I had a glimmer of hope that my story had actually been given more than the usual speedy rejection.

Alas, on day 33 the "didn't grab my interest" rejection -- the worst rejection to receive -- arrived in my mailbox.

I live in Western Canada and I asked the worker at the post office how long it might take to get to Hoboken NJ by regular surface mail. She said 10 - 14 days. So that meant that my submission probably took two weeks to get on JJA's desk, and then a few days to reject and get to the post office, and then another two weeks to get back to me.

Sigh.

Still, it's better than most snail mail markets. Even better than some email markets.

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