Monday, October 15, 2007

Editors and Taste

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.


David de Beer said...

I've totally given up trying to get a bead on tastes. Now my new plan is to just write and send, cause the ones that have sold don't neccessarily make more sense to me than the "certain" stories that got rejected.
They do give me more of a warm-fuzzy feeling, true, but it doesn't mean I understand why they were liked and others not.

none said...

Congrats on the sale :). I think david de beer is right, though. I spent years trying to get IZ's tastes right; never did.

Mr. JM said...


As for editors' tastes, I'm still new to the publishing world, so I haven't quite gotten a feel for that sort of thing yet.

Although, from you're saying, you never really do -- you just submit the story you've written and hope for the best.

Carmen Webster Buxton said...

Hi, Nancy! Isn't it a matter of "literary merit" being the first requirement, and then liking/admiring the story being the second? I would think an editor could like a story but feel that it's not up to his/her standards as far as publication.

karen wester newton

none said...

"Literary merit" suggests objective qualities can be found in what's a very subjective area.

When I'm reading slush, I'm looking for sound premises, plots that work, and good writing. Maybe those add up to literary merit, at least from my pov? It's very disappointing to find either a good idea badly executed, or a bad idea (or complete lack of idea) flawlessly written.

The major criterion for me, though, is: do I want to keep reading?

Nancy Kress said...

The question of whether "literary merit" is objective is a good one. I'll ruminate on it in a later post.