Category: NEWS

Codex Q&A: How do you select reprints for Lightspeed?

In July 2013, I served as the “editor-in-residence” for the Codex Writing Group, which meant basically I was asking a month-long AMA (“Ask Me Anything”) interview. With Codex’s permission, I’m re-posting the Q&As here on my blog. The questions were all provided by members of Codex.

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How do you select reprints for Lightspeed?  Do you avoid reprints that are already available online? Is an older story better than a newer story?

I do typically avoid reprints that are already online, though it depends where it is online and how recently it was posted, as I have made some exceptions. Sometimes, if it’s just on an author’s website, I’ll ask them if they wouldn’t mind taking it down, and then just linking to Lightspeed instead. Or else I’ll look for something else by that author if I feel like the story in question has had too much online exposure.

Earlier this year, I brought on Rich Horton, editor of the Prime Books Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy series, to help me hunt down reprints. So he generally pokes around on his own and also responds to various requests from me, like if I need more fantasy reprints (or SF as the case may be), or I need more reprints by women, etc.

Older is not necessarily better than newer, but the age of a story is often a factor, as it where it appeared. For instance, I’m not terribly likely to reprint something that appeared in F&SF this year or last year (except maybe under special circumstances), but I’d definitely reprint something from this year or last year that appeared in an anthology.

I’ve actually often run “near-simultaneous reprints” of stories from new anthologies on a number of occasions. (One–“Golden Apples” by Sophia McDougall–just went up this week, in fact.) I really like those, because my Lightspeed readers get a “reprint” story that is as “fresh” as an original, and the anthology gets a little extra exposure out of the deal, so it’s a win-win. (And of course the author gets a little extra money!)

Other factors:

Notability of the writer is a factor, because well-known/established writers help draw people to the magazine, and having them on board as reprints frees me up to publish more original stories by writers who are unknown or still up and coming.

Rare/obscure stories are nice because, like with the near-simul reprints, the chances my readers have read the stories already are slim.

Otherwise, of course, we’re just looking for good stories.

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HELP FUND MY ROBOT ARMY!!!

From October 1 – October 31, I’ll be running a Kickstarter campaign for a new project called HELP FUND MY ROBOT ARMY!!!, an anthology of improbable, futuristic, magical, & alternate-world crowdfunding projects. Please check it out, consider backing it, and, if you’re so inclined, spread the word!

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Codex Q&A: Do you keep a “Black List” of authors you won’t buy stories from?

In July 2013, I served as the “editor-in-residence” for the Codex Writing Group, which meant basically I was asking a month-long AMA (“Ask Me Anything”) interview. With Codex’s permission, I’m re-posting the Q&As here on my blog. The questions were all provided by members of Codex.

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Do you keep a “Black List” of authors you won’t buy stories from? If so, what does it take to get on it? Exactly how far does the Editorial Cabal stretch? Do you all share a single Black List in Google Drive, or do you keep your own?

No, no black list! (But please don’t let that encourage you to be an A-hole to me because you know I won’t black list you for it.)

For example, though, there was an author who railed pretty hard against one of the stories I published in Lightspeed–publicly, in the comments–and this is a guy who has published in places like F&SF (not sure where else off the top of my head). Not a name you’d probably recognize, but clearly someone who has made some inroads at publishing. And when I say “rail against a story,” I mean RAIL–he was in full-on troll mode, calling, in numerous posts, both the author an idiot for writing it and me an idiot for publishing it. Shortly after that happened, he submitted a story to Lightspeed.

A lot of people would be tempted to put someone like that on a black list, but I don’t believe in that. In fact, when this guy has submitted stories to me since then, I’ve actually gone out of my way to make sure that I was being fair. In one case, I remember, I had a couple different assistants/readers read the ms. to weigh in on it, just to confirm that it wasn’t just some lingering subconscious resentment on my part affecting my editorial decision.

I’ve never really heard about modern day, professional editors keeping black lists. Well, except I think Nick Mamatas may have banned people from submitting to Clarkesworld back when he was editor there, if they violated certain guidelines (like if they argued with a rejection letter). I guess that’s a black list. But I can’t think of anything else like that. Like when I was at F&SF, we had more than our fair share of troll-writers over the years, and Gordon, too, was always careful to not let personal stuff interfere with the editorial decision.

I mean, given I’ll publish stories by authors whose beliefs (political and otherwise) I vehemently disagree with — and I have, on several occasions — it seems silly to even consider refusing to work with someone because they were an asshole to me online, or they violated something in my guidelines. Because, really, what does any of that have to do with the story? As an editor, I feel like I have to separate the art from the artist. (At the same time, though, I respect a reader’s choice to NOT do that.)

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HELP FUND MY ROBOT ARMY!!!

From October 1 – October 31, I’ll be running a Kickstarter campaign for a new project called HELP FUND MY ROBOT ARMY!!!, an anthology of improbable, futuristic, magical, & alternate-world crowdfunding projects. Please check it out, consider backing it, and, if you’re so inclined, spread the word!

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Codex Q&A: Do you accept stories that are close to perfection, or already perfect?

In July 2013, I served as the “editor-in-residence” for the Codex Writing Group, which meant basically I was asking a month-long AMA (“Ask Me Anything”) interview. With Codex’s permission, I’m re-posting the Q&As here on my blog. The questions were all provided by members of Codex.

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I’d like to hear a bit about your acceptance-revision process. Do you purchase perfection or close-to-perfection, and what kind of time do you spend helping the story ascend to its next level of existence?

More often than not, I purchase stories that are ready, as-is, for publication. I will only buy a story if I’d be comfortable running it 100% as it was submitted. Of course I will make editorial suggestions along the way, but they will all be optional if I liked it enough to buy it. If I liked a story but had some edits I thought were critical, I would ask for a rewrite first, and ensure that the critical issue I perceived was corrected before accepting the story.

There are some cases where I do end up making editorial suggestions that are more complicated [for example] after accepting a story, but even in that case I would have been fine running it as it originally appeared; it’s just that when I started editing it, I thought I saw a way to make it better, so I suggested it. Other times I put authors through pretty drastic rewrites before accepting the story. But both cases are exceedingly rare. There’s so much good stuff being written these days that, in most cases, if something’s not quite there, it makes sense to just pass on it and look for something else. It’s usually only when there’s something I really love but is maybe a bit broken that I spend that kind of time and energy on a story.

Jake Kerr: Above John highlights my Lightspeed story “Requiem in the Key of Prose” as intense edits after purchase. There was actually a lot of back and forth during the rewrite and resubmit process. In other words, until it was right, John didn’t buy it. 

Ah, you’re totally right! I forgot about that. Well, it’s a good case study to show to what extent I’ll work with an author to help get a story right. :)

Kerr: I honestly can’t remember, but I do think we did some after purchase edits on “Biographical Fragments,” mostly in regards to that one interview section and the placement of a couple of sections for narrative effect.

Yeah, we did some editing on that one but I’m pretty sure it was after I bought it.

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HELP FUND MY ROBOT ARMY!!!

From October 1 – October 31, I’ll be running a Kickstarter campaign for a new project called HELP FUND MY ROBOT ARMY!!!, an anthology of improbable, futuristic, magical, & alternate-world crowdfunding projects. Please check it out, consider backing it, and, if you’re so inclined, spread the word!

 

 

 

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Codex Q&A: How useful do you think Heinlein’s Rules are for writers?

In July 2013, I served as the “editor-in-residence” for the Codex Writing Group, which meant basically I was asking a month-long AMA (“Ask Me Anything”) interview. With Codex’s permission, I’m re-posting the Q&As here on my blog. The questions were all provided by members of Codex.

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How useful do you think Heinlein’s Rules are for writers?

Well, rules 1 and 2 seem pretty on point and obvious. Yes, you have to write. Yes, you have to finish what you write. Obviously! I think the other three are a little more questionable.

Rule 3: I mean, hey, maybe if you’re Robert Heinlein and you churn out sterling first drafts, that’s great–you’re brilliant and are sure to be a success and a future grandmaster. But most people need to revise, and it seems pretty ridiculous to suggest otherwise. Robert J. Sawyer’s slight revision to that rule–“Don’t tinker with your story endlessly”–is much more on point, and may have been what Heinlein meant, but, I mean, come on, dude–PHRASING. But getting to your other question–sure: how much a writer needs to revise will depend where they are in their career, and what kind of writer they are. Some writers produce very good first drafts; other writers produce gibberish first drafts that can only be made into stories after careful pruning and cultivating.

Rule 4: You MUST put your story to market? Well, yes, if you want to sell it, but maybe you wrote a terrible story. If you have reason to believe you wrote a terrible story–say your writer’s group is telling you so–you don’t necessarily want to put that to market. I mean, as I said elsewhere in this thread, editors aren’t going to give up on a writer because they submitted a bunch of bad stories (or I won’t anyway), but you basically get one shot to submit each story to a market, so if you burn up your chance to submit your story to Asimov’s when it was in some terrible proto-stage of its development, then boom–your chance to send that story to Asimov’s is gone forever. (Well, probably.) But see what I mean?

Rule 5: You must keep your story on the market until it is sold. Well, I don’t necessarily agree with that either. Some stories should be trunked, plain and simple; because the worst thing in the world is not that your trunk-worthy story gets rejected by every editor in the field–it’s that your trunk-worthy story GETS PUBLISHED, and there’s a non-zero chance that will happen if you keep it on the market forever.

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HELP FUND MY ROBOT ARMY!!!

From October 1 – October 31, I’ll be running a Kickstarter campaign for a new project called HELP FUND MY ROBOT ARMY!!!, an anthology of improbable, futuristic, magical, & alternate-world crowdfunding projects. Please check it out, consider backing it, and, if you’re so inclined, spread the word!

 

 

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Codex Q&A: What makes a writer go from being unpublishable to publishable?

In July 2013, I served as the “editor-in-residence” for the Codex Writing Group, which meant basically I was asking a month-long AMA (“Ask Me Anything”) interview. With Codex’s permission, I’m re-posting the Q&As here on my blog. The questions were all provided by members of Codex.

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You say there are a couple of occasions where you rejected a ton of stuff by a particular writer, only to see them turn a corner creatively, and all of a sudden you like a lot of their work.  That’s very intriguing. What has turning the corner looked like in these situations? Is it usually a matter of the writer getting better at voice, dialog, description, structure, or other matters of craft, or is there something more basic that kicks in?

I’m not really sure! I wish I could offer a more useful response, as I can see why it would be a very interesting thing for writers to know. I expect to figure it out I’d have to spend a lot of time analyzing the writer’s previous work and comparing it to the new work to determine what it is that changed. And of course that would only be possible if the writer’s other work was published elsewhere. I can think of a few examples where the writer was indeed publishing elsewhere, but his/her stuff never worked for me, so I could feasibly conduct that inquiry, but frankly I don’t think I have the tools for that particular experiment!

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HELP FUND MY ROBOT ARMY!!!

From October 1 – October 31, I’ll be running a Kickstarter campaign for a new project called HELP FUND MY ROBOT ARMY!!!, an anthology of improbable, futuristic, magical, & alternate-world crowdfunding projects. Please check it out, consider backing it, and, if you’re so inclined, spread the word!

 

 

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Codex Q&A: Will you forgive me for every terrible story I’ve sent to Lightspeed?

In July 2013, I served as the “editor-in-residence” for the Codex Writing Group, which meant basically I was asking a month-long AMA (“Ask Me Anything”) interview. With Codex’s permission, I’m re-posting the Q&As here on my blog. The questions were all provided by members of Codex.

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Your publication has quickly become my favorite sf/f venue and I join the chorus of admiration here for your efficiency and professionalism.

All I really want to ask is your forgiveness for every terrible story I’ve ever sent to Lightspeed. Hopefully I will repay your efforts with one worthy of your time at some point — I’ve got a few pro sales under my belt now, so I’m optimistic that I’m slowly emerging from the category of “hopeless aspirant” (grin).

Anyway, thanks again for the magic you work with Lightspeed, and of course for stopping by here!

You are forgiven, my son. Go with Crom.

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HELP FUND MY ROBOT ARMY!!!

From October 1 – October 31, I’ll be running a Kickstarter campaign for a new project called HELP FUND MY ROBOT ARMY!!!, an anthology of improbable, futuristic, magical, & alternate-world crowdfunding projects. Please check it out, consider backing it, and, if you’re so inclined, spread the word!

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Codex Q&A: Have you ever read anything “so bad it’s good”?

In July 2013, I served as the “editor-in-residence” for the Codex Writing Group, which meant basically I was asking a month-long AMA (“Ask Me Anything”) interview. With Codex’s permission, I’m re-posting the Q&As here on my blog. The questions were all provided by members of Codex.

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You get a ton of stories, and stories are stories, regardless of format. I know I’ve seen some really bad movies, movies so bad that they actually became good movies for reasons the producers never intended. Have you ever run across a story so utterly bad that it actually crossed the event horizon into good?

I’m probably the wrong person to ask about that, as I’m not one of those people who can really enjoy the “so bad they’re good” movies. Not typically, at least. I mean, maybe if I get a room full of friends who are making fun of it to make it bearable, it could be fun. But when you’re reading a story, how likely is it that you’ll have a peanut gallery to mock it as you’re reading it?

That said, I’ve certainly read stories that were so bad that they were amusing in some way, and I remember them to this day because of that. But I couldn’t say that those stories crossed the line over into being good (or publishable).

I should hasten to say that my answer here applies only to me and my editorial point of view. I’m sure there are books and stories out there that are terrible, and the people who love them will even acknowledge they’re terrible, but they love them anyway.

Oh, and have you ever been confused with JJ Abrams by someone?

I’m not sure if that’s ever ACTUALLY happened, but I’ve had my suspicions a couple of times. I joked that I should totally change my byline to J.J. Adams though to help foster that confusion. Like we should do a new edition of my FEDERATIONS anthology (with lots of lens flare on the cover) and make my byline J.J. Adams and see if it sells any better.

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HELP FUND MY ROBOT ARMY!!!

From October 1 – October 31, I’ll be running a Kickstarter campaign for a new project called HELP FUND MY ROBOT ARMY!!!, an anthology of improbable, futuristic, magical, & alternate-world crowdfunding projects. Please check it out, consider backing it, and, if you’re so inclined, spread the word!

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Codex Q&A: How often do you request stories from specific authors?

In July 2013, I served as the “editor-in-residence” for the Codex Writing Group, which meant basically I was asking a month-long AMA (“Ask Me Anything”) interview. With Codex’s permission, I’m re-posting the Q&As here on my blog. The questions were all provided by members of Codex.

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I see, on occasion, sales in which you requested a story from the author directly. How often does this happen? How do you choose (and how open are you about) who to invite? And, how many of those direct requests end up as rejections?

There is a pretty large number of writers who I have approached directly about submitting stories, though most of the time it’s just a general nudge to let them know/remind them that we’re around and we’d love to see something by them.

Much rarer is when (for Lightspeed), I request an author write some specific type of story for me. For example, I asked Ken Liu to write me a dystopian story (“The Perfect Match”) because I was releasing the 2nd edition of BRAVE NEW WORLDS, and I wanted to get something new that I could add to the book and simul-pub in Lightspeed. I also specifically asked Sarah Langan to write me a SF-Horror hybrid story back in the early days of the magazine, when we did our October 2010 Horror issue of Lightspeed. (I had one SF-horror story in inventory, and had my reprints lined up, but I needed another original SF-Horror story to round out the horror issue.)

As to how often are such stories accepted–I’m not sure of percentages, but I’d say pretty often. That’s not to say I never reject them; I certainly do sometimes. But most of the time if I reached out to you personally, you’ve written at least one thing that I really, really liked, and so I have good reason to suspect that something else you write would be to my liking as well.

As to how I decide… it’s mostly about figuring out which authors I wish would send me stuff but haven’t been, and nagging them enough until they do. :)

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HELP FUND MY ROBOT ARMY!!!

From October 1 – October 31, I’ll be running a Kickstarter campaign for a new project called HELP FUND MY ROBOT ARMY!!!, an anthology of improbable, futuristic, magical, & alternate-world crowdfunding projects. Please check it out, consider backing it, and, if you’re so inclined, spread the word!

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Codex Q&A: What’s the experience of reading a story you decide to buy like?

In July 2013, I served as the “editor-in-residence” for the Codex Writing Group, which meant basically I was asking a month-long AMA (“Ask Me Anything”) interview. With Codex’s permission, I’m re-posting the Q&As here on my blog. The questions were all provided by members of Codex.

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What’s the experience of reading a story that you decide to buy like? It probably varies, but what are the more common things? Do you get to the end and realize you were completely immersed in the story? Are you thinking analytically about it as you read? Does it feel more like reading for pleasure than editing work? How many times do you tend to re-read or ask for other opinions before you buy?

It does vary, of course, but usually it’s like you say: It feels like reading for pleasure. That’s the goal: To forget I’m even working. I don’t really think about the story analytically as I read, at least not more so than any reader does; I don’t edit it on the fly in my head as I go along or anything, though occasionally I’ll come across something in an otherwise good story that I think should be tweaked that I just pick up right away on first read, and I’ll jot a note down.

Sometimes I read a story and I know right away when I’m done with it that I want to buy it, so I do–usually immediately. Like I’ll go right to the computer and issue the acceptance right away. Other times, I’m not 100% sure about a story, so I need to re-read it; in those cases I usually ask my staff for some second opinions in the meanwhile since I usually won’t re-read the story right away (both because I have other things to do and also it’s usually best to give it a little time so I can approach the story as freshly as possible on the second read). As for how many people I ask to read the story, that can vary quite a bit, depending on how much trouble I’m having making up my mind about a story. I also tend to ask for lots of second opinions when an author sends me a story whose work I USUALLY like, but for some reason this one wasn’t quite connecting with me and so I want to see what other people think of it, because maybe it’s just me.

Answering some of these questions gets a little tricky because I can think of some examples for some things that might be handy for providing context, but then I worry that if I say something bad about an unnamed story, every author I’ve published will assume I was talking about them and feel terrible (or vice versa, which I suppose isn’t the WORST thing in the world, but still it seems like a cruel game to play!).

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HELP FUND MY ROBOT ARMY!!!

From October 1 – October 31, I’ll be running a Kickstarter campaign for a new project called HELP FUND MY ROBOT ARMY!!!, an anthology of improbable, futuristic, magical, & alternate-world crowdfunding projects. Please check it out, consider backing it, and, if you’re so inclined, spread the word!

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Codex Q&A: Does being published in the semi-pro market doom ones chances of being published in Lightspeed?

In July 2013, I served as the “editor-in-residence” for the Codex Writing Group, which meant basically I was asking a month-long AMA (“Ask Me Anything”) interview. With Codex’s permission, I’m re-posting the Q&As here on my blog. The questions were all provided by members of Codex.

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I have heard – and read in an interview of Mike Resnick – that editors frown upon writers who have published works in the semi-pro market. He stated, “…you do your reputation and your future absolutely no service by appearing in non-professional or semi-professional markets.” And later added, “Appearing in a semi-pro or free market is a public declaration that your story couldn’t compete in the economic marketplace, and the very best thing you can hope for is that no professional editor you wish to sell ever becomes aware of it.”

Is this commonly accepted belief? I understand why you would prefer to publish works from authors who have proven they can draw an audience but would you steer clear of a writer whose portfolio is filled with several, less-than-pro-paying publications but only a few professional or SFWA recognized sales? Would a cover letter with semi-pro sales credentials doom my chances, with Lightspeed or with other editors you play pinochle with on the weekends?

I can only speak for myself–well, and for Gordon and F&SF more or less–but where an author has published previously isn’t a factor to me. I actually, generally, will have read the story and at least partially made up my mind about it before I get around to reading the cover letter, so chances are good I won’t even know your history when I’m making my decision.

Take a look at the copyright page of some of my reprint anthologies; there’s plenty of stories in those that appeared in small or out of the way venues. Or take a look at some of the reprints I’ve run in Lightspeed for that matter; while LS reprints are typically from more well-known authors, we have reprinted some material from small/obscure venues as well. So if I don’t hold it against a STORY where it first appeared, it would be pretty silly to hold it against the AUTHOR for having published in such places. Likewise, I don’t judge authors for choosing to go the self-publishing route.

So, like I said, I can only really speak for Gordon and myself, but I don’t BELIEVE that Resnick’s view is a common one amongst current pro editors. I think most people fall more into my camp.

All that said, while I don’t think editors generally will judge you for your past publications, I do think there may be SOMETHING to what Resnick is saying, but pertaining to READERS rather than editors. Where I think his advice goes wrong is that he is making a blanket generalization about small/semipro markets. But the thing is, there’s definitely no harm publishing in GOOD semipro markets, but there is potentially harm publishing in POOR ones. You have to imagine that every story you publish may be the first story of yours a reader reads, and so I think writers sometimes need to ask themselves if there’s a good reason why their story didn’t get bought at the various top markets. Ultimately, I think you have to put your faith in the editors of the markets you’re submitting to, that they will only select a story for publication if it’s of high quality; that’s where market selection becomes so important. Not all markets are created equal, so it’s a matter of finding editors whose taste resonates with your own, and who you are confident will put out a quality product, and you can feel confident that if they published your story, then you’ll be happy with that being your first foot forward with every potential reader out there.

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HELP FUND MY ROBOT ARMY!!!

From October 1 – October 31, I’ll be running a Kickstarter campaign for a new project called HELP FUND MY ROBOT ARMY!!!, an anthology of improbable, futuristic, magical, & alternate-world crowdfunding projects. Please check it out, consider backing it, and, if you’re so inclined, spread the word!

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