Saturday, September 22, 2007

CATCH-22, Publishing Version

My class in Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy has resumed again. I teach this three times a year, eight weeks a session, at a local arts center, Writers & Books. My students are all motivated adults who want to write professionally (a few already do). As usual, I have about half "regulars" and half newbies. Next week we start critiquing eacch other's work, Clarion style.
After doing this for a great many years, and reading the SF magazines for even longer. I've noticed something curious. Some of the stories I see in class seem to me better than some of the ones I see in the magazines. Now, this could be just bias on my part, since some of these students are also my friends. But I don't think so. I think something else happens in publishing, which is that you have to be better at the beginning of your career than you do later on. At the beginning, when your ms. turns up in a slush pile, it does not get the benefit of many doubts. The editor or first reader, having read some truly dreadful stuff in the slush pile, doesn't allow a beginner the same automatic, if partial, suspension of immediate judgement that he will allow to a pro, who he knows can tell a story. I think a lot of pretty good work thus gets dismissed too early. Also, a beginner's name on the cover of a magazine does not sell copies. Robert Silverberg's, or Charles Stross's, or Connie Willis's, does.
Finally, editors, being human, sometimes just flat out make mistakes. My most famous story is the novella version of 'Beggars In Spain," which won a Nebula and my only Hugo. It was rejected by the first editor who read it.
If you're a beginner, that rejected story of yours may be better than you think. Hang in there.


David de Beer said...

Mike Resnick said the exact same thing in his recent editorial for the JBU - newbies can't be as good as, they have to be better than the pros.
As Jay Lake calls it -it's a meritocracy, just not a fair one.

Roger Zelazny it was, I believe, who once advised someone to put a story in his drawer, and then re-sub it again later, to the same editors who previously rejected it.

You know, it's not really all that comforting? although I suppose it should be; I find it far easier to get back on track again now that I don't much care anymore.
It's the only way I can get over that confused paralysis that sets in every time I sit down to write, or did for most of this year.
I just write, and what will be will be. But I don't invest much of myself in short fiction anymore.
It's easier to weather the disapointments that way, and I ignore the fact it may be years before the yes votes could outweigh the no votes.

Everyone has their own way to deal with it, I guess, their own way to come to terms with it, etc, etc.

What you say is true, and the unjust meritocracy is not likely to go away anytime soon:) More likely never, tbh.

Unknown said...

A good reminder.

Nancy Kress said...

Mike and I often end up agreeing, although I didn't know he'd said that there.

none said...

I think this is much more noticeable in novels. Look at how much longer Rowling's books got once she could do no wrong.

José Iriarte said...

I'm so jealous of the folks in your class . . . too bad you only do that up north. (And at Clarion, but both may as well be Timbuktu for me right now.)

My problem, and, duh, I should know better, is I eventually stop sending stories around well before I've exhausted the market, even if I really believe in them. It just takes so long to hear back, that by the time a half dozen rejections pile up for a given story, it's been making the rounds for most of a year, and I lose interest in that particular story. And then there are the markets that never reply, and I just wait and wait . . . hoping.