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03 October 2009 @ 02:30 pm
Editorial Down-Talking?  

I was considering submitting a story to a new anthology, but wasn't 100% sure about whether the story suited the theme or word limit. Also, it had already been submitted elsewhere, and I wasn't sure on the new anthology's policy on simsubs. So I sent an e-mail inquiring.

Very soon a reply arrived from the editor. The thematic question he dealt with easily. What interests me here are his replies to the other two questions:


Word limit is pretty strict. I have yet to see a 3200 word story that could not be cut down to 3000 with a little effort.

Simultaneous submissions are not permitted and is enforced. I wish your story well that you sent to the other market, but you have nearly thirty days to write a new story.


Of course his policies are whatever they are. What interests me is the way he put them.

Take that second sentence: "I have yet to see a 3200 word story that could not be cut down to 3000 with a little effort." I'm sure that's true -- of first drafts. But after six weeks of polishing, cutting and revisions? After the story is cut from its (let's say) original 3,500 or 3,700 words down to 3,200? My first thought was, "This guy normally deals with writers who send him early drafts."

Then there's the word "enforced" in the second paragraph. Enforced by whom, I wonder? Does he report the submissions to the SimSub Police? (Oooh, there's a plot bunny...) So my second thought was "This guy normally deals with young, new writers who need to be told more than 'these are my wishes.'"

And then there's the telltale last sentence: "[Y]ou have thirty days to write a new story." So my third thought was, "I know for sure that he mostly deals with rookies."  You may have thirty days for your first draft, but I've never produced something I'd dare send out to anyone in anything less than two months; I have a four-draft process, which often winds up being a six-draft process, and my impression is that the more experienced writers have a longer process yet.

So I came away from this e-mail thinking that, if I were published in this anthology, I'd find myself in the company of newbies who'd sent this guy first drafts for extensive revision by him. This turned me off from submitting at all.

But of course, I may have it all wrong. He may simply have been writing carelessly. Ah, but we're in the language business, ain't we?
 
 
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girlspell: dew dropsgirlspell on October 3rd, 2009 07:05 pm (UTC)
No wonder you're feeling cranky. What an annoying email! And rude!
Ken: Roll eyesken_schneyer on October 4th, 2009 03:32 am (UTC)
Not so rude, really. Just a little patronizing.
The Ferretttheferrett on October 3rd, 2009 07:42 pm (UTC)
Every person's different. I know that Gaiman and Scalzi and Valente have a really light revision process - I myself go three to four revisions (a skill I'm still not sure I have right). It may well be that squuezing words down is your magic skill, and my fourth revision is still too bloated. ( considering most of my stories top 6,000, I'd say that's actually likely.)

So I dunno. He may have a very heavy editorial hand. Hard to say. But many "final" revisions may well be lacking. Mine prolly are.
The Ferretttheferrett on October 3rd, 2009 07:46 pm (UTC)
That said, I do find the tone and the casual thirty-day story comment offputting.
Ken: Hmmmmmken_schneyer on October 4th, 2009 03:34 am (UTC)
I knew that about Scalzi, but I was sure that Gaiman said that he frequently doesn't know what his story's about until the second draft. (But you know him better than I do...) Stephen King says the same thing.




The Ferretttheferrett on October 4th, 2009 05:31 pm (UTC)
If I know Neil - and I don't, really - I'd suspect that it was him working on theme. He's said to me (after I asked him about him saying it in an interview) that his first drafts were 90-95% of the way there - but that 5% difference was the lightning bug vs. the lightning. So I'm not sure what he tweaks.

Still, based on how quickly I know he can write a story when the need drives (all his Sandman stuff was done on thirty-day deadlines, it should be noted), I suspect it's very close - he just needs to figure out what areas to accent and hammer in on them. That's what I'd suspect, anyway.
quasi randomkaolinfire on October 3rd, 2009 08:13 pm (UTC)
I agree that has a very ... odd ... tone to it.

I do understand some pros can whip up half a dozen brilliant short stories in a month. But still.
Ken: Winkken_schneyer on October 4th, 2009 03:37 am (UTC)
Yes, I know some who can. I think Bear does. And my first drafts got a lot better at Clarion. (Sorta had to...) But, yeah, still.
Tiffanienggirl on October 3rd, 2009 11:34 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I have to agree with you here. And my inner proofreader is completely bugged about the verb issue in the "simsub" sentence.

I can imagine, though, that going through slush must be a disheartening process, turning anyone petulant and abrupt.
Ken: Blowing Kissken_schneyer on October 4th, 2009 03:39 am (UTC)
Truly. I've never read slush, and I think it'd probably be a good thing to do to get a feeling for the process, but only if they let me stop after the first page when the writing was really terrible. Otherwise I'd become intolerable to live with. (I'm an utter bear during paper-grading season.)

So, you know that anthology rec I just made on the Crit site? Just ignore it...
Azahruazahru on October 4th, 2009 05:50 am (UTC)
As someone who reads slush there are times when you just want to strangle the world - imagine grading papers, but you generally don't get paid for it. And yes if page 1 is terrible you can stop there has been my experience - it's not a crit circle, it's looking for good content and you don't want your readers to stop at page 1.

Maybe if you hadn't asked and the story was fuckin' awesome you could have slipped it through (or deeply annoyed him).

And sentence construction, once again, imagine a really tired person who wants to read good stuff, but half the time the get a brilliant opening line the so completely fuck up the ending it breaks your heart and you want to throw bricks through their window and garble incoherently.

But other than that reading slush is a load of fun and I love my slush mistress. It has taught me a LOT.

Edited at 2009-10-04 05:53 am (UTC)
quasi randomkaolinfire on October 5th, 2009 05:55 am (UTC)
Yeah, you can stop reading slush after a bad sentence if it's that bad. A para is usually all I'll wade through if the writing is poor at a fundamental level.

The heart-breakers are truly the stories with excellent writing that just don't support themselves with an ending--shattering your hopes and dreams. "It would have been awesome if they could just have made it actually make sense... or have a point... or matter, at all..."
Jon Gibbsjongibbs on October 4th, 2009 07:12 pm (UTC)
Gotta watch out for those SimSub police ;)