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Editorial Entanglements

A young editor once asked me what was the biggest secret to editing a fiction magazine. My answer was "confidence." I have to be confident that the stories I choose will fit together, that people will read them and enjoy them, and most importantly, that each month I'll receive enough publishable material to fill the pages of the magazine.

Asimov's Science Fiction comes out as combined monthly issues six times a year. A typical issue contains ten to twelve stories. That means I buy about 65 stories a year. Roughly speaking, I need to buy five to six stories per month--although I may actually buy two one month and ten the next. That I will receive these stories should seem inevitable. I get to choose them from about eight hundred submissions per month. Yet, since I know that I will have to reject over 99 percent of the stories that wing their way to me, there is always a slight concern that that someday 100 percent of the submissions won't be right for the magazine.

Luckily, this anxiety is strongly offset by a lifetime of experience. For sixteen years as the editor-in-chief, and far longer as a staff member, I've seen that each issue of the magazine has been filled with wonderful stories. Asimov's tales are balanced, they are long and short, amusing and tragic, near- and distant-future explorations of hard SF, far-flung space opera, time travel, surreal tales and a little fantasy. They're by well-known names and brand new authors. I have confidence these stories will show up and that I'll know them when I see them.

I have edited or co-edited more than two-dozen reprint anthologies. These books consisted of stories that previously appeared in genre magazines. Pulling them together mostly required sifting through years and years of published fiction. The tales have been united by a common theme such as Robots or Ghosts or The Solar System.

Editing my first original anthology was not like editing these earlier books or like editing an issue of the magazine. Entanglements: Tomorrows Lovers, Families, and Friends, which I edited as part of the Twelve Tomorrow Series, has just come out from MIT Press. The tales are connected by a theme--the effect of emerging technologies on relationships--but the stories are brand new. Instead of waiting for eight hundred stories to come to me, I asked specific authors for their tales. I approached prominent authors like Nancy Kress (who is also profiled in the book by Lisa Yaszek), Annalee Newitz, James Patrick Kelly, and Mary Robinette Kowal, as well as up and coming authors like Sam J. Miller, Cadwell Turnbull, and Rich Larson. I was working with some writers for the first time. Others, like Suzanne Palmer and Nick Wolven, were people I'd published on several occasions.

I deliberately chose authors who I felt were capable of writing the sort of hard science fiction that the Twelve Tomorrows series is famous for. I was also pretty sure that I was contacting people who were good at making deadlines! I knew I enjoyed the work of Chinese author Xia Jia and I was delighted to have an opportunity to work with her translator, Ken Liu. I was also thrilled to get artwork from Tatiana Plakhova.

Once I commissioned the stories, I had to wait with fingers crossed. What if an author went off in the wrong direction? What if an author failed to get inspired? What if they all missed their deadlines? It turned out that I had no need to worry. Each author came through with a story that perfectly fit the anthology's theme. The material was diverse, with stories ranging from tales about lovers and mentors and friends to stories populated with children and grandparents. The book includes charming and amusing tales, heart-rending stories, and exciting thrillers.

I learned so much from editing Entanglements. The next time I edit an original anthology, I expect to approach it with a self-assurance akin to the confidence I feel when I read through a month of submissions to Asimov's.

87 Comments

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1:

What would you do if you did have a month where "100 percent of the submissions won't be right for the magazine"?

2:

Easy answers include buying more stories one month than another, which actually does happen. In a more serious situation, I could imagine soliciting material from writers or looking at material to reprint.

3:

Wondering whether there's such a thing as 'steam engine time' in SF/F publishing: for no apparent reason, even established authors start sending in manuscripts about a particular novel theme/subject.

Also wondering whether popularity of certain scientific concepts tracks with the Nobels either in terms of how quickly authors can write up good stories using these concepts or how long they endure.

Thus far, this year's Nobels include black holes and gene editing - both exceptionally useful as SF backdrops.

4:

I don't think stories appear with similar themes for no reason. There's generally a shared original source, scientific breakthrough, etc.

Certainly, a lot of important SF ties in with Nobel recognized work. I've published plenty of Crispr related tales, including one in my Entanglements anthology. The correlation isn't foolproof of course. While she hasn't received a Nobel yet, Dr. Lene Vestergaard Hau and her associates slowed down the speed of light in 1999, long after Bob Shaw did it in "Light of Other Days" in 1966. We'll have to see if the Academy catches up with Shaw.

5:

Re: 'Dr. Lene Vestergaard Hau'

Thanks! Just read Dr. Hau's Wikipedia page which mentioned her research into 'slow light and cold atoms'. Could be a good title for an S/F short story or novel. Quite a few interesting hypothetical/potential applications too.

6:

That "slight concern" in paragraph 2 is weirdly phrased. You are usually forced to reject 99%, but I would have thought that's because you only have space to publish 1%, NOT because those 99% are unpublishable? That is, I would have expected some number much higher than 1% that you'd be willing to publish if nothing better came along before the deadline. Thus, your margin of safety would actually be much higher than that 99% rejection figure would indicate, because that figure is limited by space rather than submissions.

Of course, you're normally going to focus on the level of quality that indicates "this is probably in the top 1% for this month" rather than the lower level of "publishing this would be preferable to canceling the next issue of the magazine". But I would imagine there's a lot more stories meeting the second standard.

7:

It's true that I often see more publishable stories than I can buy. This was just imagining the worst case and unlikely scenario. In fact, it's because it's not too unlikely that I have confidence that I'll always have great stories to publish. Yet, there are times when I see far less material than I do at other times. I think it's also seasonal--material can get thin when people get busy with school, or children going back to school, or whatever. I tend to be a worrier--as anyone who's worked with me can probably attest too--yet it's always seems to be at the moment when I'm most concerned that something brilliant shows up.

8:

I think it's also seasonal--material can get thin when people get busy with school, or children going back to school, or whatever.
Interesting. Have you seen other time/date related patterns with story submissions?

9:

I'm not sure if you mentioned this, but on a really busy month, I wonder approximately how many stories have to be read through? Is the volume so high that you need multiple people to help winnow them down to a manageable amount for final consideration? I think it's implied you have multiple editors, but I guess a lot of their work is working with authors on tune-ups etc.

10:

Every four years in mid-November?

11:

We don't have a group of manuscript readers at Asimov's. I read everything that it comes in. I probably read about 10 to 15 percent of the stories all the way through, but I look at everything. When a college intern is working at the magazine, I often ask them read some stories, and give me feedback about what they like or don't, but I still read consider every story that comes in. I have a managing editor, whom I share with Analog, who copyedits and does a lot of production work, and a very part time assistant who does some clerical work and some additional production work, but that's it for our editorial staff. My managing editor and I do the "tune-ups."

12:

Lest anyone (who doesn't work in publishing) thinks Sheila ought to read the entire slushpile ... 800 manuscripts a month is 40 per working day; assuming they average 5000 words, that's 200,000 words or roughly 600 pages per day: I think I could get through that in an 8 hour working shift, but it's dicey and doing it every single day is a definite "nope".

Furthermore, going by experience with other magazines, talking to other editors, and years of workshopping and crit reading other authors' work, it's almost a certainty that 80% of the pile don't come close to publishable quality for one reason or another that becomes glaringly obvious one page in.

13:

One misconception people often have is that I can spend all my time reading. Reading probably takes up less than 20 percent of my time. I write the editorial and all the interstitial material for the magazine—story intros, the Next Issue page, memorials, announcements, etc. I spend time on revisions and rewrites. I also do a lot of production work myself—I place the intros on the opening pages and the announcements throughout the stories, etc. This means a lot of kerning and problem solving. I work with the art department on covers and poetry. In addition, I supervise and approve every phase of production. There's loads of other work that I have to do, too.

14:

And that's without receving an new Eye of Argon. [g]

A lot of would-be writers are so transfixed by their precious, er, words, that they can't envision making changes. I spent almost two years talking occasionally with Eric (Flint), and doing a major revision after he wrte the book that chronologically followed what I wrote... and all that was for my first (and only so far) professional publication, a short novelette of a bit over 8k words.

I'm happy to do a revision... if it will make the story better. It is, however, *my* tale that I'm telling, and that's really where I make the call about a revision or not.

15:

As somebody who's spent some time as a slush reader — what makes a good slush reader for you?

How do you get to be confident that there's a sensible balance between filtering out too little vs too much?

16:

For me, a "slush" reader has to be able to get through stories quickly while finding ones that might work for the magazine they're working on. The reader has to be selective. Too many story recommendations won't help the editor. I'm my best reader because when I know when something will strike me (because it does), but I've had readers who have made excellent recommendations. I do two types of reading. One is very fast. When I do that, I plow through as many stories as possible. If I hit something that looks promising, I will often set it aside for the second type of reading. When I do the other sort of reading, I'm taking my time, reading the entire story, taking notes, editing as I go along. I often do this even when I ultimately decide not to take a story. I may read two or three stories at this rate in the same amount of time as it might take me to get through fifty tales at the faster pace. I probably read 85 to 90 percent of the submissions quickly and thus 10 to 15 percent at the slower rate. Of those 15 percent, perhaps one third get the full treatment (5 percent) and 1 percent or less get purchased. I don't see it as filtering out too much or too little, but as looking for that story that's going to grab and hold my attention. Ultimately, I have to find enough fiction to fill a magazine. I also read a lot of good stories that just don't seem right for Asimov's but are clearly right for a different editor and publication.

17:

Lest anyone (who doesn't work in publishing) thinks Sheila ought to read the entire slushpile ...

It's old news to you and everyone else in publishing, but others may be amused to read TNH's Slushkiller, particularly her 13 reasons to reject a manuscript, being as it is a concise list of ways to filter the slush pile.

Some people would be surprised how low the bar is to get a story through the first half of the eliminations - and how many stories fail that early.

Nobody who's spent much time on the internet will be very surprised at how crazy some aspiring authors get when rejected or how little their reactions have to anything the editor actually said.

18:

There have been a (very) few authors who haven't responded well to rejections, but I don't dwell on them. Fortunately, most of my interactions with writers have been positive. This includes the vast majority of people who's work I've rejected. It's part of what makes my job so enjoyable.

19:

To be fair, the number of ex-patriot Englishmen has grown rapidly over tha last few years.

20:

This isn't an issue with Asimov's, but in the past two years I have noticed a distressing trend when sending out short stories that came to a head this summer. I had eight stories in hand to circulate at the moment. When I checked my sub records (neglected because I've been focusing on writing a big trilogy, damn it), I discovered that of the eight, only four were actually rejected.

The other four either went to magazines that died after I'd submitted those stories, or they fell through the cracks.

50% submission failure that was not caused by me, in other words. That rocked me back on my heels. Then I took a look at what was available on the submission market and...I'm an older writer. I do not have the luxury of time to be "discovered." I had to make a choice--either put time into writing more shorts to get up to twenty stories circulating at once (i.e, the number that past experience has shown me is needed in inventory to start making regular sales), or else stop messing around with short stories and keep my focus on novels.

Short stories are fun, and I'm decent enough at it to have earned Semifinalist and Honorable Mentions in Writers of the Future as well as earn inclusion in some nice anthologies. But with markets that I see contracting, and this sort of problematic submission failure...I can't afford to do it. Yeah, shorts get exposure. But I don't run in the circles which make short story writing worthwhile. I can actually make more money off of selfpub novels than short stories.

Maybe if I'd broken through when I was younger, but these days? Alas, I decided it was time to bow out of the short story submission market. I do occasionally sell self-published shorts, either as reprints or as series tie-ins, and they make nice loss leaders when I'm selling books and fiber art at bazaars and other in-hand sales venues.

I don't think anyone will notice that my work isn't showing up in their inboxes.

21:

It's possible that it the failure to hear back was a spam blocking problem. I find that a number of writers don't hear back from us because their internet provider blocks our email because allegorists assume our responses are spam. A piece of advice to everyone: Don't hesitate to write to us at asimovssf@dellmagazines.com if you don't get a tracking number or rejection letter. We'll respond via a different email address.

22:

"We don't have a group of manuscript readers at Asimov's. I read everything that it comes in."
.
You definitely have my sympathy. Even if the overall quality is decent, a non-zero segment will be like reading a textual version of jogging through quicksand (for an example of what I mean, read through the non-abridged horror stories by by William Hope Hodgson).
Then there are those who are unable to write a credible dialogue, or human interactions in general even if the plot is decent.
This is why I have learned to like prose that is as dry as possible.

23:

I had to make a choice--either put time into writing more shorts to get up to twenty stories circulating at once (i.e, the number that past experience has shown me is needed in inventory to start making regular sales), or else stop messing around with short stories and keep my focus on novels.

Short stories are good for:

a) Learning how to write. (Make mistakes and get feedback faster because they're so much easier to write -- and read -- than novels.)

b) Once you can write a short story people want to read (this usually happens before you can write a novel, because novels are inherently more complex) it gets you some visibility.

c) Experimenting with new ideas (novels take too long because (a) above.)

d) Income? (Snickers.) As it happens I have made money from short fiction -- but never more than £5000 in a year. Which is enough to survive on if you live in a cardboard box and eat dog kibble.

Unfortunately if you're setting out to become a novelist you really need a literary agent to gain traction unless you opt to go the self-pub route, which has its own problems. (The biggest: people who start publishing too soon, so their first handful of novels on Kindle Unlimited are badly flawed and make them look incompetent.) Few imprints are open to unagented subs these days, and their turnaround time ranges from multiple months up to years. A reputable agent, however, can credibly issue deadlines and run an auction and haggle for better contract terms and a bigger advance: they get credit from book editors for acting as a trusted pre-filter who won't try to sell them a poor quality book (that'll damage the agent's future reputation).

I lucked out in 2001 by selling a story to Asimov's (Lobsters!) which ended up on the Hugo shortlist, and having an unsigned smaller publisher contract for a book in my hand, when I approached a then-very-new agent with no established stable of authors. The contract showed them that I could write a book that would interest a publisher, the Hugo nom got their immediate attention, and the rest is history. But that's basically a fluke, because how often do all three of those conditions arise? And it was a fluke after I'd already been writing and selling short stories for 15 years ...

24:

It's possible that it the failure to hear back was a spam blocking problem.

Back in the day, Tor had a spam blocking problem. (About 10-15 years ago, IIRC.) Everything had to go through Macmillan's corporate firewall and email filter and some nameless genius decided that it would be suitably professional to install net nanny software that would scan incoming email for "bad words" and silently bin it.

And for a while manuscripts containing words like "penis" or "fuck" were vanishing quietly into the aether.

This bit me a couple of times (although a query email usually confirmed what had happened).

It finally got resolved when Orson Scott Card's latest blockbuster got blocked by the net nanny. Blocking promising midlist authors was one thing, but blocking a major bestseller was something else: Tom Doherty personally stormed the corporate IT department and apparently explained, using many of the censored words in question, exactly why banned word lists were a very bad way to stay in business.

Similarly when Tor.com was first being set up circa 2005-2007, it is rumoured that the staff had to use a 3G router for internet access because most of the competing SF websites they were researching/comparing themselves to -- scifi.com, for example -- were blocked by the corporate firewall. It got fixed eventually, but not without some heated meetings.

(And Macmillan is probably the most nimble of the Big Five -- I've seen them turn on a dime when they finally realized a policy was detrimental to doing business. The other corporate behemoths steer like supertankers with broken rudders.)

25:

Which is sad, for many reasons, including the POV of readers who like and will buy single-author collections of short stories. I know that is it received wisdom that such things don't sell, but is it actually true?

26:

Yes. The Scunthorpe problem. I have a question, which needs a little lead-in.

My wife's organisation (a major clinical research one) had a firewall that used to treat most of my messages (from a major closely-associated university) as spam, for some insane reason. Nobody (IT or otherwise) had a clue as to why, as they were about as transparent and basic as modern Email can be. But, as the blocker had been bought-in, it was functionally equivalent to a black box containing a demon. A hell of a lot of modern software is like that - it does what it does, and its victims (including customers) are discouraged from asking why, let along asking for it to be changed.

The current religious dogma is that such 'routine' tasks are best performed by AI, but that is the best way of enshrining such lunacies in concrete, and discouraging anything seriously innovative in style. Are there currently any moves to do that for winnowing the slush file?


27:

My single-author collection "Wireless" eventually earned out its advance (about 75% what I'd have expected for a novel) ... nearly 8-10 years after publication. Novels typically earn out within 1-5 years (rarely, if a breakout book, they can earn out in publication month).

Also, the existence of Kindle Unlimited has gutted the market for short story collections: why put 10-15 stories between covers that'll sell for maybe £8-9 in paperback if you can put them all on Kindle for 99p each and get a much higher royalty rate?

28:

The spam blocking programs are on the authors' sides. I get every submission that's in .doc or .rtf. Our web host doesn't support .docx so those manuscripts should be saved in one of the other formats. The system doesn't work with OneDrive, either. Stories have to be submitted from a computer rather than the Cloud.

Elderly Cynic, there are no plans to automate the "slush pile" reading. I look at, and will continue to consider, everything that comes in.

29:

I'm certainly sorry Charlie stopped writing short stories-although the decision is completely understandable. We (Asimov's) have lost a lot of authors to their novel-writing careers. The situation keeps me on my toes because I have to continue to look for new writers, but it means I no longer get to publish stories by some of my favorite authors.

30:

Like I said, this wasn't a problem with Asimov's (and I'm someone who religiously reads submission formatting guidelines because I've been on the editorial side for small pubs/newsletters). The puzzling thing was that both "fall through the cracks magazines" were markets that I had previously sold to. But the number of "oh, we never saw it" markets has been rising steadily over the past few years, along with the markets that die on the vine after I've sent work to them. If what I was writing was kicking off spam filters at the magazine submission level, then there's something else problematic happening (A Gmail submission address? If that's an issue, boy, are there problems. And I don't tend to write the sort of content that would trigger a filter, unless it's a pretty mundane one).

The other piece was, simply, that an equal and rising number of markets are either open for very short submission periods (which often didn't coincide with the time that I had a particularly fitting MS to send to them), or that the markets are shrinking. I can see that when I go to Ralan's or the Submission Grinder. It's pretty damn obvious that there are fewer markets available just looking at the listings.

Look. I'm not a newbie. When I was in high school fifty years ago I was submitting and getting rejected (I probably should have been disclosing that I was a high school student way back then; things might have turned out differently), I was papering my locker with rejection slips. Got serious again about writing and submitting in the 90s until I let a so-called friend (wife of a writer) talk me into dropping fiction for nonfiction and getting nowhere with that beyond local publications. Yeah, pro rates were nice, but it wasn't what I wanted to do, especially since it really wasn't furthering what I wanted to do as a genre writer. But I developed sufficient skill and writing ability to land a gig writing a column for the Portland State Vanguard while getting a teaching certificate and, again, getting pro rates. Offset the cost of a couple of textbooks. Then got sucked into dealing with a sick kid and developing a teaching career. So I've really only been back in the regular writing scene since 2008 or so.

(We won't go into the dynamics of the so-called friend who was very defensive about her husband's career. For one thing, it's not good to speak ill of the dead.)

However. When you're older and have a limited period ahead of you to be productive, tossing the dice for New York recognition becomes much less appealing, especially when you also have midlist tradpub friends and have seen the up-and-down dynamics of their careers. It also becomes less appealing to have more successful folks repeat the same mantra to you that they tell beginners. I know I'm a good writer, good enough to have collected a Semifinalist placement in Writers of the Future as well as other placements, including a Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off semifinalist placement. I've had reviewers comment that I'm the best writer they've never heard of. I've had a New York Times tradpub bestseller tell me I should be trying to make it in New York instead of selfpub.

I'm certain I'm not the only one in this situation of never quite getting there (plus repeated situations of the opposite of the lucky lightning strike--boy, do I have stories about opportunities dying on me). But I may be one of the few willing to speak up about the experience of trying to be an elder writer conscious of the limited time left to "make it." The reality is that I'm old enough and experienced enough that dealing with the frustrations of the short story market is an area that I don't want to wrestle with any more. I'm also sufficiently concerned about this trend that I do want to share this observation about why I am not submitting to the short story market. Am I the only one seeing this happening? I don't think so.

I have limited time and energy. I'd much rather work on developing novels and telling those long form stories, then try to sell them with a small degree of success rather than let them sit on an editor's desk for two or more years and maybe make a sale. I have readers and fans. I get to watch as my sales dashboard reflects someone discovering my work. I joke about the first book in my fantasy series being "the little book that could" because besides earning that SPFBO placement, it also has sold reasonably well, considering I don't spend a lot on advertising. It's one where I can track discovery because someone buys either it or a short story tie-in, then ends up buying the whole series, books and short stories alike.

And it is distressing to see that higher percentage of markets are either experiencing submission glitches or simply dying when my pieces are sitting in their submission boxes. The percentages have not been this high until now. Perhaps it's a Covid effect--or reflective of where the market is going. Again. I have been doing this for a while. To have this high a percentage of market failures from those two causes is new, because until this summer it was a rarity. The trend is worrisome--and keep in mind that I have been writing and submitting short stories regularly since 2008. It is a marked difference.

31:

You read everything?

ARGH! My sympathies. I remember when Darrell was reading slush for George and up through, I think, Gardner, and I've heard more than enough over the years.

32:

<snark>
If the vote that's probable next year gets an aye, will all Scots be expatriate Englishmen?
< /snark>

33:

Interesting. I've had some cases where I had to ping the editor[s], but haven't had it just disappear, and I've got, a dozen or so stories, of which I've currently got four or five out (whoops, since I spoke with Walt at ROFCON last night, make that about eight or nine out).

I started writing shorts - well, I wrote two around '06 - but really started around '16, figuring if I could get published, it would be easier to sell the first novel.

Also, I forget who said it, but they called short stories the classic form of SF - a problem to be solved, and solving it, not dragging it out.

34:

I was literally about to start hitting agents in a few weeks with my new novel, when....

As I said, I was at ROFCON last night, talking to the editors, and here's a question: I made a pitch for my new novel (after someone else was asked about their writing, talked about their new novel, was asked for a pitch, and invited to submit, I did the same).

ROFPress: they do ebook, and POD trade paper... but get distributed through Baen. No advance, 50% of sales, and I get rights back after a year.

Opinions on whether this is a good deal? Is it *reasonable*? Will it hurt me if I hit an agent after I get the rights back?

I'm out of my depth on this.

35:

I wasn't expecting YOU to - I was wondering if the usual snake-oil salesmen were trying the big publishers to do so - you would be far more likely to know than me.

I won't divert into describing why many people who are clued up in AI regard the lemming-like rush to it as being a catastrophe in the making, but this is one aspect (and not just in publishing, banking and insurance are similar). It's been a standard trope of science fiction for a long time, after all, and is solidly based in reality :-(

36:

It was largely to do with having limited hours and needing to write fiction full-time for a living; then I got out of the habit and like other unused skills, it atrophies when not exercised. (Also, Tor.com somehow became the go-to outlet for Laundry short stories, and as they now publish the novels it would Not Improve my relationship with my primary publisher if I started selling those elsewhere! And to sweeten the pill, Tor.com pays top dollar for short fiction.)

(Makes note to maybe get around to writing the non-Laundry short story idea I've had kicking around in my head for a couple of years now ...)

37:

If the vote that's probable next year gets an aye, will all Scots be expatriate Englishmen?

It's not clear. But there's a precedent for a nation seceding from the UK: the Republic of Ireland departed in 1920-22. It wasn't clean -- there was fighting -- but in the end London threw in the towel and negotiated a peaceful separation and treaty. Irish citizens today (and pre-EU) had unlimited right of residence in the UK, including the right to vote in UK elections, and vice versa: this kept the Northern Irish situation somewhat calmer (i.e. it didn't turn into a large-scale version of the Israeli relationship with the Palestinian occupied territories).

So I'd expect if Scotland votes to leave they'll dust off the Irish paperwork -- complicated a little by Scotland already having a separate legal system -- and we'll end up with reciprocal residence rights, dual nationality for anyone resident in Scotland at the time of separation or able to claim Scottish citizenship by whatever degree of ancestry Scotland recognizes, and probably voting rights.

...

This assumes that the Tory government currently led by Bozo the Clown is sane and does the sane thing. Problem: by the time this issue has to be dealt with Boris will be long gone. (I expect him to leave not much after December 31st and Brexit crash-out: if he's still around by May, he runs into the Scottish crisis and if Scotland votes leave, I don't see how his own party can possibly continue to support him as leader of an ostensibly unionist party.)

So it's anybody's guess what will happen.

38:

"Big publishers" are actually corporate multinational media conglomerates. And on the "publishing" side the business they're in is actually all about supply chain management contracts. Period. They might as well be grocery wholesalers, dealing with authors instead of family farms, editors as wholesale/auction buyers, and so on.

This is why the way they do business (internally) is so mind-bogglingly incomprehensible to folks on the outside.

Source: 20 years of dealing with folks at Hachette (aka Orbit), Holtzbrink (aka Macmillan, aka Tor), Random Penguin (aka Ace), and weird hybrid upstarts like Tor.com and small presses like Golden Gryphon. Comparing a Big Five corp to a small publisher is like comparing a termite mound with a solitary digger wasp.

39:

Indeed. But this is WAY out of my area, and I was wondering if the AI fetish had started hitting any of the area. Unless you mean that not even specialist arms of the big publishers actually make ANY decisions about or work on what they publish any longer, but merely do act as supply chain management for other (separate) companies. In which case my question was about those companies - it's about whoever does the manuscript selection for them, be it a specalist arm, outsourced agent or customer (company).

The point is that about half of the 13 points in the Slushkiller reference (and almost all of those in the initial winnowing) are within the ability of a modern AI system, so corporate beancounters could easily be convinced that there is an obvious way of downsizing the personnel. I sincerely hope the rot isn't spreading that far, but the vibes I get from areas that have characteristics in common aren't good.

40:

I hope you have the time to write a non-Laundry story. I'd love to see one!

41:

I thought tor.com had closed up their short fiction site - AFAIK, the last time I went there, that's what they said.

42:

I am still pretty sure that Johnson will be kept hanging about as PM until May or perhaps a little longer, to let the unexpected nasty side-effects from Brexit appear.

Then he can become a useful scapegoat, leaving plenty of time for the next guy to look shiny ahead of the next GE.

The wild card in that deck is Johnson deciding to quit before they fire him. A month ago I'd have said no chance, but it looks less unlikely now.

43:

Short story anthologies were my intro to SF/F as a 12 year old and even now when I'm shopping for new authors to read I check out the mags and anthologies. Saves money, and especially time. So I hope Asimov's continues.

Elephant in the room (?) -- Although online self-publishing appears to have caught on, it hasn't reached a critical point yet where exclusively self-published authors are reliably readable and interesting. Cory Doctorow is the one exception I can think of - but it's been over a year since I last looked at through that author segment. Recently read a few books by Daniel Suarez who originally self-published and (like Charlie) much prefers having a professional editor/publisher handling production matters. Anyways - just wondering whether authors-in-waiting are using online self-publishing metrics as a bargaining chip with traditional publishers or vice versa (if you can generate a readership base on your own, we might sign you up).


44:

ROFPress: they do ebook, and POD trade paper... but get distributed through Baen. No advance, 50% of sales, and I get rights back after a year.

Opinions on whether this is a good deal? Is it *reasonable*? Will it hurt me if I hit an agent after I get the rights back?

I'm out of my depth on this.

The deal...is not the best. BUT. You're talking a first book. Looking at the website, and some of the names there...it would be worth it, to get your foot in the door. The connections are hella better than the small press I had issues with. And there are reliable names associated with this publishing house, plus distribution through Baen. I'd do it.

You would still be talking reprint once the rights reverted, which would be more difficult to sell. But before the rights revert, if you have a book written, you can use this one as a credential to attract an agent's attention. If I were you, I'd be working on the next book and cite this book as a credential.

FWIW, don't fall in love with a book once it's done and either out on submission or posted selfpub on sale. Move on to the next work. Consider this one to be a credential builder, and congrats on being invited to submit. Good luck!

(Just because I backed out of this part of the game doesn't mean I don't know how it's played....)

45:

Anyways - just wondering whether authors-in-waiting are using online self-publishing metrics as a bargaining chip with traditional publishers or vice versa (if you can generate a readership base on your own, we might sign you up).

In some genres (romance is a biggie here), selfpub is outselling tradpub. If you can write 40,000 word romances and have them out the door every 4-6 weeks, you stand to make some pretty good money, better than you could through a publisher. And people are making decent money at selfpub.

I'm sure there are some selfpub writers who use it in an attempt to attract tradpub attention. But the majority of us are in it for the long haul. I need to start buying advertising, because I think that might be the step that makes the difference for me. But oh dear God the learning curve is steep.

Let's put it this way. I had a standard publishing contract with a small press. I got...mmm, I forget the exact royalty percentage. It was low enough that when I finally pried the royalty stats from the publisher (which was one of the issues), I took one look at the numbers and realized that for the same amount of promotional work, I could make twice the money selling the damn thing myself. And I am oh-so-grateful that I got the rights back to the Little Book That Could, because I sure have made more money off of it going selfpub (including earning a semifinalist placement in the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off) than I would have through that damned press.

The breakpoint on Amazon is $1.99. Below that price, you earn 35% royalty. Between $1.99 and $9.99, you earn 70% royalty. I think the numbers for Draft2Digital (which distributes to Apple, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, etc etc etc) are similar. The standard price that most readers appear to want to pay for self-published ebooks runs about $4.99 or so, depending on length.

There are people who spend a LOT of time studying ebook pricing and advertising in the selfpub world. And there are a sufficient number of writers out there who have opted to go selfpub because they can control all facets of production and promotion, plus maintain a backlist indefinitely. Given that there are legitimate competitions arising such as the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off (300 books--10 reviewers--1 winner), there's some pretty darn good high-quality work out there (including midlist tradpub authors).

Granted, unless you're at the top of the selfpub heap, you don't pull down the equivalent of the big advances from tradpub. But for someone who falls into the midlist category, it can be worthwhile.

46:

For what it's worth, I love short stories too, but I understand that since about 1970 they have not been a smart use of writing time for writers who want to live from writing. And "Asimov's" and "Analog" are the two mass-distributed print SF / FA magazines which most often have stories I like.

47:

Ah, I gather you're not familiar with the 1632 universe and rabid fan base. It's huge. Eric is a big name these days. What originally was supposed to be a standalone novel became, from what Eric just said this evening at ROFCON, per Jim Baen, a shared universe, over 20 books and counting, and the Grantville Gazette is an online magazine with a *LOT* of readers. They bought my short novelette and published it last Nov, so I is a pub'd writer.

I've got the first novel, co-written, with Edge, up in Canada in their slush, and I'm hoping to hear from them soon. HOPING they say yes. This is a second novel, all written by me...well, given the way I write, rather, the novel had me telling the story by typing up what it told me. .

Have a number of shorts out, too. But *if* I submit, and *if* they pub it... I can point and say "go read" (libertidiots and evangelicals, I guarantee you'll hate it).

48:

Charlie
Will there be a crash-out? or will the marginally saner voices ( Gove of all people ) prevail?
Most particularly if DJT & the rethuglicans are wiped out on 4th November, things will be ... different.
Your call.

49:

This is the wrong comment thread for this discussion -- we're not past comment 300 yet. (One word answer: yes there will be a crash-out, probably followed by a new PM and emergency agreement to mitigate the effects. Meanwhile the disaster capitalists will make out like bandits. They're running the store, and we're the meat on the counter.)

50:

Charlie - will reply in "New Management" thread ....

51:

Thanks, Sean. I think a lot of short story writing is done for the love of storytelling. We pay the highest rates that we can while staying profitable. An editor is a magazine's curator. Obviously, this means that the stories that you read in Asimov's or Analog are the stories that appealed to those editors. The stories have to conform to a certain expectation, as well. In Analog, that means the stories will all be grounded in hard science fiction. While Asimov's is primarily an SF magazine, I publish some fantasy and surreal work. Most of my predecessors did as well.

52:

I tend to check out short fiction first for new authors, partly because if they can't tell an engaging short story then I assume (possibly incorrectly) that they will have problems with a novel — and I have a longer reading list than I have time nowadays, so getting maximum enjoyment for time is important to me.

I also like works that let me finish in a single sitting, and short stories, novellas, and so forth are perfect for that. My eyes no longer let me finish a modern novel in a single sitting.

53:

Howver, I have just bought a copy of "Dead Lies Dreaming through "Transreal", so there ....

Replying to Sheila W @ 51:
Is "The Magazine of Fantasy & SF" still alive?

54:

Hi, Greg, yes it is. Doing well under editor C.C. Finlay.

55:

Re: '... and I have a longer reading list than I have time nowadays,'

Really? You're recently retired, plus the COVID-19 activity/travel restrictions - so I'd have thought that you'd have too much free time now.

Agree about story-telling ability overall - except that not all stories can be told in a few pages. Of course, there are exceptions. One such was strong enough to move me as a short story, a novel and finally as a feature film (Flowers for Algernon/Charly by Daniel Keyes). And frankly when I think about or try to recall the story, I'm not sure or care which version a particular detail came from. Still one of my all-time favorite stories.

56:

Charlie Stross @ 49: Meanwhile the disaster capitalists will make out like bandits. They're running the store, and we're the meat on the counter.

That's because they are bandits.

57:

You're recently retired, plus the COVID-19 activity/travel restrictions - so I'd have thought that you'd have too much free time now.

I'm reading more than I used to, but still falling behind. Partly because my eyes give out after a couple of hours, so I need to pace myself, and partly because authors worth reading are writing faster than I can read.

Besides, it's autumn in Ontario, the best time of the year, and why would I want to stay indoors when I can be out hiking in places like this?

https://kuula.co/post/76k2b
https://kuula.co/post/76ckh
https://kuula.co/post/76cYc

(Took me close to sixteen hours to get those shots, what with multiple trips trying to catch the right combination of weather, light, and colours.)

Last week I've spent about 16 hours hiking (plus six hours getting there/back). Same the week before, and the week before that. Autumn won't last forever, and I'm very much aware that I don't have an unlimited number left!

58:

Re: 'Autumn won't last forever, ...'

Beautiful photos -- spinning the photos the full 360 gives it an interesting moving through space distortion feel.

Think we need to relate this conversation back to the main topic though - (a) free time to read and (b) sci-fi somehow never mentions how danged long it takes to do something with new tech (i.e., 16 hrs for one 360 panorama photo), the screw-ups, misunderstandings, frustrations esp. for a non-techie consumer. Could imagine Charlie or Scalzi doing this theme justice because you need a good sense of humor and/or of the ridiculous in juggling the interplay between the techie and non-techie characters' POVs.


59:

Hope no one minds, but I'm on air. I've been at the ROFCON this weekend, and the other day, talking to Walt, one of their editors, I pitched my new novel... and he invited me to submit it. Given that I just heard on a panel today that they're not accepting unsolicited mss (there's three, count 'em, editors, including Eric, so they'd be overwhelmed), and that they really really want to develop new authors (oh, and of the beginning of this month, they're publishing a book a week...).

Wowsers.

60:

Its not just SF. Compression of events in time is a standard feature of the last hundred years of English-language fiction. Romance novels often move from meet-cute to sex in a few days or weeks, mysteries give their characters a career's worth of murders and gun fights in a year.

L. Sprague de Camp was an aeronautical engineer (MSc 1933) and "Lest Darkness Fall" (1939) already skewered the trope of the genius inventor who steps from success to success in a few months, but that did not stop "Rocket Ship Gallileio" and its imitators.

61:

Re: ' ... mysteries give their characters a career's worth of murders and gun fights in a year.'

Yeah - Cabot Cove (Murder She Wrote) had something like 100 times the overall US murder rate. Recall seeing one pretty hilarious episode where the writers acknowledged this - a case set in Quebec City where the Crown Prosecutor mentioned this and an exceedingly high correlation with the Defendant's (Jessica's) presence. Similar time compression is also a feature of medical dramas (paper or film/TV): incredibly complex case/disease and the patient walks out the hospital within a week never needing any follow-up.

Problem is that folks with zero personal experience with whatever that tech/med/criminal issue is, end up with distorted expectations. So if they're ever in a similar situation, they're even more screwed than if they never read/watched such stories. Entertainment/fiction is fine but reality-checks* make most stories more meaningful plus might actually help readers/viewers.

* IMO, omitting too many 'details' in order to achieve time compression is a sign of a lazy writer/editor.

62:

I should note that that's not 16 hours making one panorama — that's 16 hours hiking and 'waiting for the light'. Had my fair share of tech troubles, but a large part of landscape photography is getting to the right place at the right time, with the right gear being useful only after you've managed the first two constraints.

If writers' magazines were like photographers', they would be filled with ads claiming that this new word processor would let you write stories good enough to be published ;-)

(Maybe they are — I don't read writers' mags and stopped reading most photography mags years ago.)

Back on topic, I considered audio books as an alternative for when my eyes are tired, but the experience is very different and I find that I generally don't like them as much as simply reading. For one thing, you can't speed up/slow down the pace of listening. For another, often the characters don't sound like they do in my imagination, and it throws me off. I listen to some novels on long drives, but find that I can't absorb factual works very well that way; for one thing, flipping back a couple of pages to remind myself of something is bloody difficult.

(In the same manner, I also prefer reading instructions to watching a video. Sometimes videos can be useful, but a lot of the time I find they take a long time to get the information across. And you can't highlight important parts of the video for future reference!)

I'll read more when the weather turns bad, but right now I want to enjoy the fall — something I couldn't really do while working. After three decades of fixed holidays I'm finally getting a fall vacation!

63:

Problem is that folks with zero personal experience with whatever that tech/med/criminal issue is, end up with distorted expectations.

The infamous "CSI effect".

64:

I've been at the ROFCON this weekend, and the other day, talking to Walt, one of their editors, I pitched my new novel... and he invited me to submit it.

Many congrats!

ROFCON looks like an interesting thing culturally. A virtual con, so you could do it from anywhere - and yet I think all the guest list is American.

But Ring of Fire press has that feel to it, to me: very American. Certainly the 1632 series seems to me to be all about modern America, America's view of America's ideals and of what it is to be an American, and American exceptionalism. Nothing wrong with that - Americans writing about America - but it's a thing. (And maybe others don't get the same vibe)

But I think there is a vibe there. I couldn't imagine them publishing something like "Gideon the Ninth". And it's not just about where the author is from - books like "A Memory Called Empire" and "Ancillary Justice", while they are by Americans, just don't feel to me to about the contemporary USA in the same way.

65:

Robert Prior @ 62: If writers' magazines were like photographers', they would be filled with ads claiming that this new word processor would let you write stories good enough to be published ;-)

In photography, gear can hold you back. Better gear won't automatically make you a better photographer, but it can allow you to become one if you have it within you.

No matter how great my computer is, it's never going to make me a better writer, but as a tool for photo editing ... a better monitor, more powerful image processors DO make it possible for me to get more out of my images. The computer doesn't make my images better. I make them better, but I can do that because the tools are not holding me back.

So for photographers gear does matter ... up to a point.

66:

Ah, I see you're not familiar with the 1632 shared world.

The thing is, like Topsy, it grew. (It was originally supposed to be a single, standalone novel.)

The Gazette is an online 'zine, and there's also the Gazette Annex, where they publish one or two non-1632-related sf and fantasy. (ObDisclosure: they're finally getting around to reading a trilogy of shorts of mine for the Annex - my universe.)

The RoF Press is sort-of a spin-off/sub-imprint of Baen. As of 1 Oct (a week or so ago), they're going to 1 new novel a month(!!!), different authors, not 1632 - sf & fantasy. They're *actively* finding and developing new writers... and not everyone's from the US. I met this very nice guy named Jaroslav, from Moscow, living in Vienna, a Kiwi living in Oz, and several other Europeans.

67:

icehawk @ 64:

I've been at the ROFCON this weekend, and the other day, talking to Walt, one of their editors, I pitched my new novel... and he invited me to submit it.

Many congrats!

ROFCON looks like an interesting thing culturally. A virtual con, so you could do it from anywhere - and yet I think all the guest list is American.

But Ring of Fire press has that feel to it, to me: very American. Certainly the 1632 series seems to me to be all about modern America, America's view of America's ideals and of what it is to be an American, and American exceptionalism. Nothing wrong with that - Americans writing about America - but it's a thing. (And maybe others don't get the same vibe)

But I think there is a vibe there. I couldn't imagine them publishing something like "Gideon the Ninth". And it's not just about where the author is from - books like "A Memory Called Empire" and "Ancillary Justice", while they are by Americans, just don't feel to me to about the contemporary USA in the same way.

Just a SWAG, but isn't this the first year for ROFCON? Put on at short notice? I expect all the other established "CONs" (that got cancelled this year) maybe started out slow as well. If it survives to become an annual event it will hopefully grow beyond its American-centric beginnings.

68:

It's more extreme, nowadays, true, but it's not new. I give you St Mary Mead.

69:

Sheila, when you say "confident that stories will fit together", is that to do with having a common theme, or is it more subtle (as I suspect)? Could you expand on that, please?

70:

Off-topic :
.
Hong Kong scientists say anti-microbe drug successful against coronavirus
https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-10-hong-kong-scientists-anti-microbe-drug.html
-and now we return to the ordinary programs...

71:

Um, that's cons, not "CONS", SF conventions aren't con jobs.

ROFCON was put on at short notice, and they're not doing that again. A virtual con is an incredible time sink (that Eric noted he could be writing or editing during). They probably will do a once-a-month open house - zoom meetings with breakout rooms.

Most of the long-running cons are going virtual for now, and all are talking about hybrid cons, for when we can have in-person again. Issues include: virtual cons do *not* bring in anywhere near the money that in-person cons do, and the money helps run the clubs and other events, and doing a hybrid needs a *lot* more tech and other volunteers.

For those of you who are feeling con-deprived, this coming weekend is the Virtual CapClave (CapClave 20). Please come, and say hi - I'll be one of the people (I plan on doing late evening past midnight) in the zoom "lobby" of the con suite, helping folks get to different breakout rooms.

72:

Hi, Waldo, I only have one "themed" issue a year. That's my "slightly spooky" September/October issue. The theme just tends to be eeriness. The leeway of that issue allows me to publish ghost stories, scarier stories, and stories about creatures that might not be expected in an SF magazine. There's always room in the issue for regular SF as well. Although it's not a themed issue, I will put stories about the December holidays in the November/December issue and baseball stories tend to go into summer issues. The rest of the issues aren't themed, but they have to be balanced. An issue shouldn't be top heavy with any particular kind of story. Perhaps one, or at most two, alternate history or time travel story, a funny story to offset tragedy, a mix of short and long pieces, perhaps one surreal piece, lots of hard SF, but hopefully on different subjects, one or two far-flung future stories, etc. All this has to fit into ten to twelve spots. There are always the unexpected themes, e.g., three characters named Jake or characters musing on the death of a parent along side stories of a parent facing death and worrying about how his or her children will cope.

73:

Thanks for this. That also answers a related question implied by the "themed issue" concept, which is now rhetorical: do you lose readers when you have themed issues?

74:

Or of course I could phrase it more usefully: Do magazines lose readers when they publish themed issues? It was always a question for me; was I more interested in having all of $magazine, or in not spending money, space and time on a magazine with a theme I didn't find interesting.

75:

By the way, Sheila, if you care to wander through the Virtual CapClave, we'd be glad to see you.

76:

Most of our readers are subscribers so there's no real way to tell. Some readers love the September/October slightly spooky issue, some don't but not vociferously. I have an image of Santa in space on our November/December 2020 issue. It's not a themed issue, but it will be interesting to see if that image moves some copies. Of course, the issue also features a new story by Connie Willis so increased sales may not be just due to the cover.

77:

Thanks for the invitation! I didn't know CapClave was this weekend. I'm attending a different convention and doing some other things this weekend, but I'll try to stop by.

78:

"Ah, I see you're not familiar with the 1632 shared world"

I've read 5 of the novels. If that's not "familiar" then you have rather high standards.

79:

Were those the first five? Because as time went/goes on, the emphasis is shifting to what the downtimers - the Germans, the Russians, etc, make of what they learned, or mislearned.

Eric noted that it's now 1637, and of the original 3500 or so Americans, there are only 3000 left....

80:

This looks like a corporate giant learning to game the epub system. I'm impressed, but I'm not sure I like it!

81:

On the subject of AI, I can imagine it being useful for rejecting MANUSCRIPTS where the writer OCCASIONALLY writes in ALL-CAPS or sends poetry to a magazine that doesn't accept it, and maybe rejects material obviously written by people with mental problems, but I can't imagine it being useful for all the more complex reasons to reject a manuscript. (Noting Ursula Vernon's recent problems with a copy-editor who apparently used Grammarly and didn't use common sense.)

And it's all too easy to imagine a great "I met Cthulhu" story written in the voice of someone with bad psychiatric issues.

82:

Noting Ursula Vernon's recent problems with a copy-editor who apparently used Grammarly and didn't use common sense.

I missed this, but as a person who's read Digger and been annoyed far too much with Grammarly ads on Youtube I'm already siding with Ursula Vernon.

83:

Digger is awesome. Good enough that it has become comfort reading.

84:

Remember Tunnel 17!

85:

Always double check your math if there are explosives involved.

86:

I didn't mean to be rude, it's just that we find a lot of old gods underground. They're kind of a nuisance.

87:

Never underestimate the power of a good cup of coffee. And don't eat anything that talks.

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This page contains a single entry by Sheila Williams published on October 7, 2020 9:16 PM.

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