How much does an editor's individual taste influence his or her story selection, versus choosing by literary values?
This very loaded question occurred to me this morning because over the weekend Mike Resnick bought my 'China story," now titled "First Rites" (thank you, Jack ) for his on-line magazine, JIM BAEN'S UNIVERSE. I had hesitated to send it there, even though Mike bought another story from me, "Laws of Survival," which will appear in the December issue. The reason I hesitated is that "First Rites" is a far different story from "Laws of Survival." The latter is very much mainline SF; the former has a strong streak of mysticism. So I sit at my desk with my finished story, thinking, "Does Mike do mysticism? Does it matter if Mike does mysticism? Will he judge the story on its literary merits instead of its content? What are its literary merits?"...the kind of pondering every writer does when it comes to marketing, except that I've known Mike for decades and know his own work as well, and this naturally influences my assessment of the story's chances at JBU.
I've never been able to predict any editor's tastes. All of them, both in magazines and books, have rejected work of mine that I've liked and accepted with enthusiasm work of mine about which I had doubts. The editor I can come closest to predicting is Gardner Dozois, whose taste seems closest to my own. Does that mean that it is taste and not literary merit that matters, after all? What is the literary merit of this story...
And so it goes, around and around. But I guess Mike does do mysticism, for which I'm now grateful.