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Thread: Mag editors don't want boring?
December 12th, 2014, 06:51 AM #1
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Mag editors don't want boring?
This is a followup to another thread that got closed. Some one who has read slush piles said writers reject stories because they're unoriginal and/or boring. Here's why I have trouble buying that: I've actually been reading the magazines, and... guess what. Much of what they publish is unoriginal and boring.
I see these categories of stories published:
1 Classic old stories from long ago that aren't too bad.
2 New stories that are written in a turgid, pretentious style with lots of purple prose, set wherever the author grew up, and that lead to a rather predictable "shock." Basically, literary magazine style thumbsucking slightly dressed up as fantasy or horror.
3 New stories that are annoyingly cutesy, trying too hard to be funny but without genuine wit, perhaps featuring some young smart alec getting into and out of some predictable sitcom trouble.
4 New stories that are somewhat clever conceits, of a sort one might write as a lark, but which only seem good in comparison to the garbage of types 2 and 3.
It's very, very rarely I encounter a story worth reading that doesn't turn out to be a reprint.
I look at types 2 and 3 and think: I could write better than that. In fact, lots of people I know could write better than that. Almost any random person older than fourteen could do as well as 2 or 3. I could certainly do as good as 4, but I'd try for much better.
Surely editors have better than this in the slush to choose from?
Examples conveniently at hand, from the short story section of Fantasy and Science fiction, July/August 2014 follow:
Type 2: "The Girls Who Go Below"
Type 3: "Seven Things Cadet Blanchard" blah, blah, blah
Type 4: "End of the World Community College"
The Novelets (their spelling) section seems better. I've only gotten around to reading the first one, and it was decent. I was thinking short stories as a way to start, so not paying much attention to longer forms as of yet.
Maybe I should just skip short stories altogether and go straight to longer forms. But first, I'd like to understand what's going on here.
December 12th, 2014, 07:35 AM #2
Yah, sometimes I think F&SF suffers a little bit from trying to be "accessible" at the same time as trying to find something new, and the result is mixed. I find Lightspeed and Clarkesworld are better more consistently, and once you discover what you like about stories, there are more narrowly focused zines. For me, that means Unlikely Journal, Interfictions & Lackingtons. Betwixt and The Dark. But everyone likes different things.
I also feel like the overall quality is higher in anthologies. Have you tried G.R.R.M.'s Mars/Venus/etc anthos? Or Rogues/Dangerous Women/etc. I loved Heiroglyph (based on a Neil Stephenson project) too.
Early on, someone recommended I find an author I really like, and then look through their bibliography and see where they have published. Aside from the fact that many venues have gone under since my favourites wrote a lot if short fiction, I find this is a good approach.
December 12th, 2014, 07:37 AM #3
Oh: and for longer, more imaginative work, maybe Beneath Ceaseless Skies would suit you?
December 12th, 2014, 08:36 AM #4
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I have not yet tried anthologies in the sense I think you mean. I've read anthologies in the sense of collected classic reprints. I suppose I should read some anthologies.
I'm trying to discover a variety of magazines, but I'm getting stretched thin. Maybe I should have started sooner. I took a decades long hiatus from reading SF&F because I thought I'd read it all, and it was starting to all seem the same. I've just recently renewed an interest in it.
What happened was I decided I needed to "get a life," so I did that. Ironically, that's brought me almost full circle. My life experiences make me want to write, and non-genre stuff is even more tedious than bad SF&F. I can't bear to read literary journals. Those tedious self-absorbed stories... thumbsuckers, I call them. So, it's genre for me.
My head is bursting with story ideas. I'm not used to this. I've got to learn how to deal with it. So I've come back, from a different angle and with a different purpose, and I find the neighborhood doesn't look the same as I remember it. I'm still trying to figure out whether it's for better or for worse.
But I do thank you for your insights. I'm just trying to digest the information. I'm worse off than a noob -- everything I think I know is suspect.
December 12th, 2014, 10:27 AM #5
Well, my current take on things, not limited to SF even is that editors don't really want something 'completely new' what they want is something like what they've recently published but told in an different interesting way.
In other words it's all about the narration.
December 12th, 2014, 11:17 AM #6
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I'm reading for Allegory at the moment. Admittedly, not a pro-market, but it has given me a bit of insight on the sort of stuff people send in (which applies to my own writing).
Most stories are just not quite there. They are good. Many have the elements a story should, but something is off. Maybe the pacing is off. Or they don't tie together the threads properly. Or it's cliche (which is fine if done in a way that is entertaining). And the thing I do most often: end on a cliff-hanger. The ending has to satisfy and wrap up the story. Otherwise, you just feel cheated.
Of the ones that seem to get all the story elements right (or at least there), they may still have some issues. Maybe the author stuck too much to the same sentence structure giving the piece a monotone feel or maybe their personal politics shine through a bit too much. And then there's the ones with all the typos! There's no excuse, people. Fix those typos and grammar.
Remember, an editor has limited funds and/or space, and can only choose a few stories from a wide pool. Also, what an editor (or reader) finds appealing, you might not.
I don't read Fantasy and Science Fiction that often (though I do have a subscription), but I do read Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Shimmer, and Daily Science Fiction (plus a few others here and there when I get a chance). BCS and Shimmer tend towards the literary (and purple prose), but I like that. Daily Science Fiction features some fun, sometimes poignant, flash fiction, but I would say half of their stories I don't particularly care for. They are fine, but it's more like 'meh' than 'wow!'.
I guess, the important thing to consider is that not every editor/reader is going to like the same piece. They might not even like the same piece on the same day. My mood changes and I imagine so too for editors, but they do know what they like. They recognize when a story grabs them and doesn't let go until the last sentence. That's what they are looking for. If your piece does it for them, great. If not, try another magazine/editor.
Also, don't be afraid to share your story with your peers and get their opinion. I read a potentially great post-apocalyptic military piece the other day. It had an interesting team of soldiers and a protagonist with a great voice that dies at the end to save his unborn child. It had the potential to be a very moving story that I thought the editor would like. But every single paragraph mentioned the big bad in the piece - every. single. paragraph. Okay, I get it! The big bad is REALLY bad and it is messing with his mind, but for me, it was too distracting. If the author had toned that down, I would have passed it onto the editor for possible acceptance. (shrugs)
December 12th, 2014, 11:33 AM #7
December 12th, 2014, 11:38 AM #8
December 12th, 2014, 11:56 AM #9
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December 13th, 2014, 12:44 AM #10
Bear in mind folks that there are a lot of different writers from all over the world who use and/or read this Forum. So when you start denouncing whole styles of fiction, rather than individual stories, styles that some writers here may like and be writing in, it doesn't really set the stage for a discussion. One of the things that frustrates me, is that we have authors coming in very much wanting to write things they care about, and at the same time, voicing that other authors should be limited and stick to styles, themes and approaches that they approve of or they're bad authors, or won't sell, etc., which actually does upset and demoralize new authors. So just keep it in mind when you're talking about the market.
Magazines also pick styles and approaches that are what they want to do because they have a specific audience of readers. Analog and Lightspeed are both SF mags, but they are very different from each other. There are a wide variety of magazines; trying to say that the entire market is doing one thing or another is not accurate and isn't going to help you market when you have stories ready. The one thing that all magazines do is go fishing; they don't know necessarily exactly what they're after because they don't know what they will find. It's not a checklist of attributes. It's a reaction, sometimes the reactions of several people, to a particular story within very general interests.
This is why, as we've talked about in the Write One, Sub One thread before, the guidelines of magazines are not iron-clad boundaries, and you won't necessarily know if a story will work for a magazine unless you go ahead and submit it. While you won't want to bother sending a fantasy story to a mag that does only SF, a fantasy magazine that says it's not thrilled to get stories about elves may in fact decide it wants your elf story. So by and large, guidelines give you the general flavor of the magazine, but they do not really pinpoint what you should and should not submit to a magazine. It's best not to freak out over them. "Originality" simply means stories that don't bore them, and again, nobody knows what that's going to be until they take a look at a story. That's not to be said that some writers don't come up with interesting things; there's a lot of experimentation in short fiction in SFF. But it's a subjective qualifier and of less import than whether you think you've got your story working for what you wanted to do with it.
Most writers write their stories and then go market them, looking for a publication that will be interested or self-publishing for low prices. Sometimes some writers will pick a magazine and try to write a story that they think will fit for that magazine, especially with mags that have themed issues, or anthologies that have themes, as with this forum's spin-off. But that doesn't require tearing your hair out over it. A lot of what you write will get rejected; you may find a home for it eventually, retire it as an experimentation that didn't find an audience among magazines, or self-publish.
Whether you like other stories that are being published or not is totally irrelevant. If you really don't like all the stories in a magazine, you might not bother submitting to it, but otherwise, the other stories in a magazine with you help you sell, whether you like them or not, because written fiction is a symbiotic market. And their acceptance in a magazine was based entirely on the assessment of their story; it has no effect on the reaction the editors have to your story. In other words, no matter how many self-reflective, quirky, turgid, etc. stories the magazine is publishing, that doesn't mean that they won't publish your story. The odds aren't in any writer's favor for short fiction or books because there are lots and lots of writers submitting. But given that we have a number of authors here who have published short fiction, and many different kinds of short fiction, the odds aren't impossible either.
If you are going to enter the short fiction market, though, you have to really want to do it. Because it's a lot of work for very little cash (although it's way easier than it used to be.) I would suggest viewing it as an adventure. So is writing a novel. And it's a process of keeping going out there.