New Writers? GTFO

New Writers? GTFO

Speaking of Realms of Fantasy, I was just paging through the new issue when I came across a letter from the editor, Shawna McCarthy, in the back. Here’s an interesting quote:

Without the magazines providing both a training ground and a platform for young writers, the genre publishing industry will be severely hampered–writers without track records have a much harder time finding agents, and should they have sufficient talent to find an agent without a short fiction history, the agent will have a much harder time selling their books to a publisher. All that will be left in the SF and Fantasy section are Old Reliable Writers, which, don’t get me wrong, have survived as long as they have because they are talented and capable, but as with all other things, they will one day pass on and who will be there to keep the industry alive?

I’m sure there are a few people who will debate her point about writers needing a short fiction track record, etc., but I’m more interested in this because of something Realms publisher Warren Lapine said at ReaderCon.

Now, I was not there for this, but my sources are multiple and reliable. Apparently on Thursday evening during a party, someone asked Warren about e-submissions and Realms. The discussion that ensued was described to me as a ‘fight’, with Warren very much against e-subs. When someone said to him that he was basically cutting out a whole generation of younger writers by being against e-subs, Warren reportedly said something like: Why do I need those writers, I’ve got Harlan Ellison in my magazine!

(Apparently there’s a Harlan story in an upcoming issue.)

This attitude is very much at odds, it seems, with the Fiction Editor’s. I don’t know how McCarthy feels about e-subs, specifically, but she doesn’t seem to feel that the presence of an Old Reliable Writer like Ellison is of so much more value than newer writers.

Later in the weekend I myself asked Warren if Realms would be accepting e-subs, and he told me something different. He said something about how if a writer rises up to a certain level, they can send submissions any way they please. I believe the words “Neil Gaiman can submit to me in crayon, if he wants” were uttered. But as concerns lower-level writers, he can’t have them sending in e-subs, that would be a disaster. But if you rise up — say have a book on the NYTimes bestseller list or something — you certainly can.

Again: Old Reliable Writers can do what they want because we want them! Young/New writers? Pfft!

(by the way, this is my last RoF post for the day, possibly forever. I’d meant to post these last week but stuff got int he way.)

18 thoughts on “New Writers? GTFO

  1. Following up on Ellison — if you want to increase sales and are willing to accept stories regardless of quality, you should really be courting Laurell K. Hamilton or the authors of Twilight and the Sookie Stackhouse books. (Yes, I know those are two different authors.) Any of those three would pull in an enormous crossover audience; if the rest of the issue was solid and compelling, some of those readers might well buy another.

    But that would imply actually reaching out to the female audience, and looking to current trends and names rather than those of twenty years ago.

    1. While I loathe Laurell K. Hamilton’s novels with a passionate fire, I didn’t hate her story for the benefit anthology Ravens in the Library, either. So there’s that. She can apparently write not-bad short fiction when she applies herself. But if FS&F were looking for a writer who appeals to female readers more within their field, they’d be courting Cat Valente…who doesn’t send them her work, mostly because of expense of postal submissions.

      As a reader and not a writer for publication in any meaningful sense, that’s my whole thing on the e-sub debate. Writers I like – writers I frequently know about because of the Internet, promote through the Internet, interact with on the Internet – are saying that for a variety of reasons they don’t seek out publication in SF/F magazines that don’t allow for e-sub. Because if you’re not Neil Gaiman, it’s expensive. Because you don’t live in the U.S., like Jason Lundberg, or because you live on an island like Cat Valente, or because postage gets ever more expensive and e-mail is free.

      I have no loyalty to the Big Three; I know them only from reading about where the science fiction writers of the past submitted their stories. If you had asked me three years ago, I probably would have told you that the Big Three were out of business. Because I’ve never seen a copy of one, once in my life. And if many of the writers I do read, eagerly, are saying that for various reasons B3 magazines or other e-submission only publications are off their list or at the back of it? It becomes ever less likely that I’ll go and seek out a copy of any of them, because most of my reading in this area is based off of following links, even when it results in the purchase of paper copies.

      1. I was at Mythcon last weekend and the dealer’s room had a box of free copies of F&SF. Right at the front of the room, and visible.

        I didn’t go into the dealer’s room till late on day 2, and the box was still half-full.

        One thing, I suspect, is that if they’re not publishing the people seen as exciting, not just known, it’s very easy to say “Eh, there are authors I like in this, but I’ll get their next collection anyway,” and move on.

  2. We’ve touched on this conversation already recently, but let me wax at a little more length here. A lot of magazines that don’t accept e-subs (the more “professional” zines, mostly) do so ostensibly to protect the seriousness of their submission stream. As an editor who does accept e-subs (and an author who rarely bothers with paper subs), I can see some logic behind this, while in principle I have nothing but scorn for this attitude.

    Yes it does take a more dedicated writer to print out a copy of a story according to the submission guidelines of a particular magazine, take it to the post office, weigh it, pay postage, buy a return envelope or IRC, and mail it off with printed covetr letter and all. Yes it is easy for a lazy writer to take an unfinished story and email it to a couple dozen magazines, claiming it to be both ready and a solo-sub. (I know this happens. I’ve received stories like this. I’ve had stories withdrawn because they were accepted elsewhere. I’ve heard “professional” writers brag about this behaviour.) And yes sometimes just forcing an author to take the time and make the effort makes them take themselves and you more seriously.


    I’m pretty sure that refusing e-subs does not affect the overall quality of your incoming slushpile in a monolithically positive way. What it does is reduce the size of your slushpile. If you are a professional magazine, and you have a reputation that authors and agents and publishers have heard of, and you pay SFWA-rated fees, and people generally want to appear in your pages, and you have the choice between receiving 800 subs a month and 8000 subs a month, the overall quality notwithstanding, you will almost certainly chose 800. Because even a “professional” magazine probably has few (or no) paid staff, and reading through a slushpile is hard. How do you reduce the size of your slushpile.

    Ideally by increasing the quality of your subs. But you can’t really do that; you don’t have the magic bullet.

    Next best thing, by meaningfully restricting your input somehow. Maybe I’ll only buy feminist science fiction from now on. Or postcolonial speculative fiction. Or psychological crime fantasy. But will that really restrict your submissions? My latest story has a female protagonist. Or someone gets killed in it and it’s kind of magical realist. Maybe it fits. Or maybe I just didn’t read your guidelines.

    So the final option: by arbitrarily restricting your input. I’ll only accept stories formatted in this weird software that you have to take the trouble to download and learn how to use. Only dedicated writers need apply. I’ll only accept stories on paper, printer, with a SSAE or IRC (even if it’s disposable copy). I won’t use (or allow you to use) email for any stage of the submission/acceptance/rejection process. Foolproof. All those people who don’t read your guidelines: out the door. All those people who can’t be bothered to print/mail/pay for/wait for submission: out of your hair. Job done.

    All those people who’ve written a really speculative story that they don’t know where to send and that you don’t know you’ll love because it’s so different you haven’t asked for it: you’ll never know about it.

    I’m totally with McCarthy’s statement, and totally with you feeling that Lapine is a lazy, unimaginative, arrogant editor who wouldn’t recognize a truly groundbreaking writer if she wrote on his head.

    I’d be delighted to receive advice on what to do about too large a slushpile. (Hire more slush readers, maybe?)

    1. I’m not convinced that allowing esubs would raise the slush pile from 800/month to 8000. Maybe 800/month to 1000. But I don’t think even F&SF gets 800/month.

      This whole myth that esubs = more bad, horrible fiction coming to magazines is based on nothing, it seems. Editors who take esubs and have done both snail mail and esubs have said that the amount of slush increases, but not by a significant amount. You still see about the same ratio of bad or not appropriate submissions as you did before. Just with esubs the whole process of rejecting them is faster and easier.

      1. Maybe not from 800 to 8000/month; those numbers were plucked out of my hat. I seem to recall that when one of the TTA Press magazines opened their doors to esubs for one month only, they received in the region of 1000 subs *in addition to* the normal stream.

        I receive about 100 esubs a month. I’m sure it wouldn’t be anywhere near that number in snail mail. But I agree with you that esubs are easier to handle (especially if you use a content management system or journal refereeing tool), make comments and revisions to, and typeset for publication.

        I’m sure that closing to esubs doesn’t increase the quality of your submissions; but I’m equally sure that opening to esubs does increase the volume. I guess that scares some people.

  3. I don’t presume to speak for Warren, but I think his point is who wouldn’t bend over backwards to accommodate someone of Neil Gaiman’s stature? If Neil contacted one of the e-subs venues and said he wanted to submit to them but only via snail-mail, I’d imagine most of these venues would be sorely tempted to say “Sure, go ahead!” Of course, there are very few speculative writers of Neil’s stature, so I don’t anticipate this sort of thing coming up often.

    As to the rest, both in your post and the comments:

    1) Shawna much prefers paper subs.

    2) We already have the Ellison story and artists Leo & Diane Dillon are currently working on the illustration, which is due in Septemeber.

    3) RoF has an excellent mix of established writers and new authors. Some people may not like that we don’t accept e-subs (understandable), but it doesn’t change the fact that we’ve yet to stop finding new talent.

    4) I think magazines can be a training ground for some authors, but certainly not all of them.

    1. Of course, there are very few speculative writers of Neil’s stature, so I don’t anticipate this sort of thing coming up often.

      There is at least one writer who Warren expressly gave permission to send in esubs who is not quite on the level of Neil Gaimen. (Not yet, anyway, but said writer has published several books, has a large fanbase, etc.)

      He did not, however, say they could submit in crayon, so there ya go.

      Also, once again you’re kind of missing the point. This isn’t really about esubs vs. not or whether magazines will/should/could/would accept submissions in odd formats depending on the awesomeness of the writer.

    2. Douglas, you are going to be fine refusing to accept e-subs, but this is increasingly a quaint position that already begins to reek of contempt for your authors – which are, after all, your assets. And it’s going to get worse, very quickly.

      It also makes it substantially more difficult, and in some circumstances impossible, for anybody OUTSIDE THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA to submit.

      Especially if you, like IASFM and F&SF, demands a SASE (sorry, I haven’t checked your guidelines). Getting hold of American stamps used to be marginally difficult for us, now it’s impossible, since the US postal service will not longer sell them to people without a US address.

      It’s not a huge deal for me, but it does mean that RoF goes to the back of the queue when I have to submit stuff. Of course, since most of what I submit is rejected, you are allowed to think, “wow, what a loss”.

      But the point is that it won’t be me alone. Writers are competing for markets but markets, also, are competing for good stories, and if you’ve done some slushing as I have you’ll know what a rare commodity those are. And right now, those who are sticking to paper are losing out on this, because chances are that the really great stories will be grabbed by somebody else before they get to you.

      (As an aside, when I was working as a translator I had a client who wanted not paper, not a diskette, but the translation read aloud on an audio cassette. They paid good money so I complied, but it was an epic-scale pain in the ass. I have never, however, had clients who demanded the translation typewritten on a manual typewriter. I was at the start of my career and would have done it, but…)

  4. I’m sure I’m not the only one who wouldn’t buy a magazine because it had an Ellison story in it. Whereas I would buy it if it had a story by someone I knew personally! Ie, all those younger writers.

    1. I just got rid of the only Ellison work I still owned in a yard sale last weekend, so no, you are certainly not the only one. My art dollars are few, and where I can help it, they don’t go to support people whose widely reported public behavior is reprehensible.

  5. Not sure what I think about the idea of a short fiction history, either, since I know successful writers who have one, and successful writers who don’t have one, or who started one after selling novels.

    1. “Short stories as training ground” is one of many things that make slush-reading nigh intolerable, short story magazine extremely tedious, and would-be novelists who write short stories for attention simply awful to be in the same room with for any length of time.

  6. It’s rather silly not to take esubs today in 2009, but again Lapine was the guy whose email seemed to never work anyway back in the old days.

    As far as prominent writers submitting more directly than to the slush, I cannot get all that worked up about it.

    It’ll be interesting to see when—or IF—Ellison’s story actually appears. I know another magazine that has been waiting for one for quite a while.

    1. Writers with a track record have always been able to do things newer writers can’t, so yeah, that’s nothing to get worked up about. It’s more the attitude on display — the fiction editor claims that she values fresh voices highly, the publisher is running about saying that newer writers are less valued.

      1. The money people and the art people have ever been at odds. Just not so publicly!

        It’s all pretty funny though, the number of recent simple failures of PR and message there have been.

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