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A Networking Tale

  • Apr. 18th, 2009 at 4:12 PM

Thought this might interest some folks, so I've decided to share a tale of one author's successful networking.  Back in 2007, I went to the World Fantasy Convention.  While there, I visited the bar one night.  In the bar, I met this bloke named Al Robertson.  We got to talking over some beers, and it turned out we enjoyed many of the same authors.  A conversation about Clark Ashton Smith led to each of us talking about stories of our own that were influenced in some way by Smith's work.

Al ended up telling me about a story he'd had in mind for years, but had yet to sit down and write.  I told him it sounded really interesting and encouraged him to send it along to me when he finally cranked it out.  Some months later I came across a submission in the slush: "Changeling" by Al Robertson.  This was the story he'd told me about, and while my drunken memories of that night had gone somewhat hazy, I did remember saying to send this one along.

So I gave it a read and liked it.  I also thought it could use a little work, so I requested a rewrite.  A little back and forth ensued as we discussed the particulars, but ultimately I decided to pass the rewrite along to Shawna for further consideration.  Shawna ended up passing on it, but some months later I received an email from Al, letting me know that it had been accepted by Andy Cox for Black Static.  This is a great magazine to publish in, so his story's journey definitely had a happy ending.

Now I give 99.9% of the credit here to Al (I'll split the other .1% with publisher/editor, Andy Cox, with the majority of it going to Andy), but when he contacted me to let me know about the sale, Al was quite appreciative for the feedback  I gave him during that rewrite.  And since he'd had the story in mind for years, I suppose I can take a tiny bit of credit for encouraging him to send it along to me.  But he wrote it, he rewrote it, and he submitted it.  Still, Al was appreciative enough that today I received a care package from him, containing the issue of Black Static with his story (as well as an issue of Interzone containing another story of his (that I had nothing to do with)--go, Al!)  This was an awfully nice gesture, especially considering that he sent these magazines all the way from the UK.

So while Al deserves the credit, I should point out that it didn't start with him writing the tale.  It started with his networking.  Now I have no idea if Al is an old pro when it comes to networking or if it comes naturally to him.  Either way, he did it the best possible way: he didn't network at all.  By this I mean that he didn't coming into the bar seeking an editor that he might dazzle with his story ideas.  He just wanted a few good brews and some enjoyable conversation.  He was just looking to have fun at a con.  And that is the true key of networking, I think.  Just engage someone in friendly conversation and let everything go from there.

I would guess it was at least two hours and some drinks later before I took it upon myself to say, "Send it to me."  That's something I rarely do.  But it was clear--even in my inebriation--that Al wasn't trying to sell himself or his story.  I liked the idea too, and he seemed intelligent.  So I wanted to see what he did with it.  And as a result I ended up with a couple of free issues, not to mention Al's gratitude.  Sweet deal. 

And the true genius of it all?  Al didn't even ask me if I wanted to see it.  I told him to send it.  Now that's networking!

Congrats again, Al!  Looking forward to sharing more brews with you in the future.  


Publisher/Editor Dynamics

  • Mar. 27th, 2009 at 7:34 PM

Over the past 2+ weeks I've had a chance to work with and get to know Warren a little.  At the same time, I've had a chance to work with Shawna in my new capacities as well as my old one.  And I've made a few observations that struck me as interesting.

Let's start with the publisher/editor dynamic.  Back when Sovereign Media owned Realms of Fantasy, I had a limited amount of interactions with the publishers.  This was for a number of reasons.  To name just a few:

1) I had less responsibilities with the magazine
2) The way the publishers conducted their business
3) My work was undervalued/underappreciated.  Yeah, I can say this now.  And let me add that this doesn't and never did extend to Shawna, nor does it extend to Laura Cleveland, the former managing editor.  Both of them are great. 

Now with Warren I've had a good number of interactions.  This also is for a number of reasons.  To name a few:

1) I have additional responsibilities in the form of art director & nonfiction editor.
2) Warren is in the midst of resurrecting a magazine.  While there are many things he can handle on his own as publisher, there are other things he needs to discuss with people continuing to work on the magazine, chief among them Shawna, myself, and Jeff Kight (advertising director).
3) I believe Warren has deeper roots when it comes to the genre.  Therefore, he's bringing more enthusiasm to the magazine and to his interactions with those associated with it. 

Of course, I never knew Warren until recently.  I knew of him, but prior to early March I'd never had any conversations with him, I'd never submitted to him as a writer, and I'd never even subscribed to his magazines (sorry, Warren).  So I'm definitely still getting to know him.  And when I started working for him, while he seemed nice enough, I didn't know what to expect from "the new boss."

Believe it or not, I have to say that so far working for Warren is a lot like working for Shawna.  The biggest differences are that Warren is also Shawna's boss, and that Warren writes the checks.  As to the similiarites ...well, like Shawna, Warren is proving to be pretty easygoing.  Shawna has displayed a tremendous amount of faith in my abilities.  So has Warren.  With Shawna, if I have a suggestion and/or request regarding the magazine or my position, I've always felt that I am free to express it.  So far it's been the same way with Warren.  I also know that when I make suggestions to Shawna she'll take them seriously.  Warren has already proven that it's the same with him.  Shawna trusts me to do my job.  So far it's been the same with Warren.  

Now it might seem a little absurd to make these comparisons when I've been working with Shawna almost 4 years and I've only been working with Warren 2+ weeks.  But look at this way: I've been handed two important promotions that I'm taking on in addition to my previous responsibilities, all while we're in the midst of resurrecting a magazine with a history spanning 15 years.  So this isn't your typical first two weeks on the job!

I also wanted to discuss my dynamic with Shawna.  When it comes to the editor/assistant editor dynamic, it's pretty much as it's always been.  Sure, there's been some stuff to figure out as we resurrect the magazine, but otherwise having a new publisher hasn't really changed anything.  I won't bother going into the specifics regarding our releationship here.  If you read this blog, it's pretty obvious how things work: Shawna is in charge and makes the final decisions, but she trusts me, listens to me, and gives me a lot of freedom to operate as I see fit. 

But at the same time, I am noticing a new dynamic developing between us.  I've asked Shawna for some early advice concerning my role as nonfiction editor and she's graciously provided some, but there haven't really been any real interactions between our respective departments here.  With my role as art director it's proving to be another story.  There is a lot of communication that takes place between the publisher, editor, and the art director, especially these days.  And it struck me the other day that when I'm talking to Shawna in my role of art director, I'm doing so as a peer.  Now this hasn't caused any problems between us, and I'll be surprised if it does.  After almost 4 years of working together, there is a lot of mutual respect.  I'm also aware of certain issues Shawna might have had with certain aspects of RoF's artwork in the past, and I'm sensitive to that without her making any demands as to how I should handle my new role.  Of course, it also helps that I've agreed with her all along. :)  

So while little has changed between us, I find it interesting/amusing that the same person is both my boss and my peer.  Anyone else ever find themselves in a situation such as this?  How did it work out for you?        

Reality is a Funny Thing

  • Jan. 29th, 2009 at 4:47 PM

As I've said before, I'm going to avoid getting into specifics regarding ROF's closing until I've spoken to Shawna.  And honestly, I can't even begin to guess what I will discuss after this conversation takes place.  At this point, I just know what I won't discuss.  Regardless, reality is a funny thing.  As you might expect, learning about our closing was quite a shock.  I don't think I fully accepted it until the following day.  But even after I accepted it, seeing the ROF forum taken down so suddenly really helped drive the reality of the situation home.

So did today's occurrence.  I hope all of the authors who had stories coming out in ROF find homes for their orphaned tales, and I hope all of those authors who planned on submitting to ROF find other markets that welcome their writing.  I really and truly mean that.  I just didn't expect to learn a mere 2 days after ROF came to an end that a story I was supposed to pass along to Shawna the next time I see her has already sold to another market.

I'm happy for the author ...but wow.  Talk about driving things home.      

End of an Era

  • Sep. 3rd, 2008 at 9:34 AM

You know, every so often I'll pause and wonder if a day might come when I'm no longer with Realms of Fantasy.  Anything is possible, I guess, but whenever I (rarely) consider such a possibility, I know in my heart of hearts that I'm planning on being with the magazine for a while yet. 

But it came as a shock to me today to learn that a colleague of mine, Jetse de Vries, has stepped down as assistant editor of InterzoneJetse was the one who pulled my story "Feelings of the Flesh" out of the Interzone slush.  He worked with me on the rewrite, sometimes challenging me as he poked and prodded at my story (I make it sound like we're handing cattle!)  Without his time and effort, I doubt the story would've been accepted by Andy Cox for publication.  I owe a great deal to Jetse for believing in my story enough to help me land my first publication with such a fine venue.  And if I'd gone on to publish this story elsewhere, it wouldn't be the same story, not even close. 

I understand his reasons for leaving if not the specifics behind them.  Either way, it saddens me.  I'm sure Interzone will continue being an excellent product, one I'd be proud to appear in again.  But it's a shame knowing that Jetse will no longer be part of the editorial team.  I'm certain the fine folks at Interzone appreciate all the work Jetse has put in for them over the years.  And I hope all the writers out there--slush survivors and otherwise, whether they've published in IZ or not--appreciate it as well.  I have a feeling (pun not intended) that they do, since I first learned about this from Mercurio Rivera, a fellow slush survivor in IZ.

Jetse, thanks for all you've done.  I wish you luck with all your future endeavors, both in publishing and outside of it.

On a less personal note, I wonder if IZ means to bring in someone else to join the editorial team, and what this means for the future of email submissions with this venue.  Mind you, if the email submission periods cease you won't hear me utter a word of complaint.  Since ROF doesn't accept email submissions, it would be rather hypocritical of me to do so.  And if I have a story that I'd like to see in IZ and I think it's a good fit, I'm more than happy to submit via snail mail if that's the route I must go.  Still, I am curious ...      

Enough With the Damn Summaries Already!

  • Aug. 27th, 2008 at 9:57 AM

 Dear Writers:

Please stop listening to whoever it is telling you to include a synopsis in the cover letters of your short stories.  There is no need to do this.  If I like your story, 99% of the time I'll read it one sitting.  If I don't like your story, 99% of the time I'll stop reading within a couple of pages.  Either way, I don't want to know what happens before I start reading the story.  One of the beautiful things about a shorter work is that I can read it in one sitting, and it won't require an inordinate amount of time to do so.  So why in the world would I want to read a bunch of spoilers?  Realms of Fantasy is not a literary agency.  We do not have to slog through countless novel manuscripts, and therefore we do not require synopses to help us figure out what works to invest our reading time into.  We are a short story market.  Please let your story speak for itself.  Please let go of this silly notion that we want to read a synopsis of your short story.  I will skip over them every single time.   Other than your contact information, you may include your worthwhile publishing credits (or just a sample of them if you have a lot), your worthwhile awards (same as before), and if you feel there is some other relevant information I must absolutely know about you before I read your story, please keep it brief.  Beyond this, little else is necessary.  As to your story itself, telling me anything more than its title and word count is overkill 99% of the time.  Unless a short story market specifically requests queries or synposes in their guidelines, please assume you should never use such devices when submitting.


Assistant Editor
(Presumably on Behalf of All Short Story Editors)

For the Record

  • Jul. 15th, 2008 at 9:44 AM

So this whole William Sanders mess is showing no signs of settling down anytime soon.  I posted some of my thoughts in a comment over at samhenderson's blog, but I think I should post them here as well (and in more detail).  As you might expect, after Sanders made his "sheethead" comment in a rejection letter the author subsequently posted online, controversy ensued.  But his comment engulfed more than just him, that author, and the group of people his language was targeting.

It engulfed all the authors who have contributed fiction to Helix.  For those unaware, fiction that sells to Helix stays in their archives.  In that respect, it makes authors permanently associated with the site.  And following the Sanders fiasco, these authors are forced to ask themselves a question I doubt any of them ever envisioned: do I want to be associated with this site?  Do I want my fiction taken down from there?

Given what started the controversy, it's a very uncomfortable question to ask yourself.  On the one hand, Helix was building itself a nice reputation for producing some quality speculative fiction.  Having your work archived in such a place gives you a chance for exposure to new readers all the time.  OTOH, Williams' comment--regardless of the legal implications of whether or not it should have been posted online--is bigoted.  It's creating a negative image of Helix in the public eye.  And authors find themselves faced with the moral implications of leaving your work up, as well as the professional implications of taking your work down.  I've read the blogs of a number of Helix authors addressing this very subject, either why they're taking their work down (and I can't believe Sanders reacted as he did) or why they're leaving it up.  I've read other blogs like this.  These are just the ones I came across today.  Unless you're one of the few Helix authors unaware of this situation, you've probably given this matter some thought.  I doubt anyone that has reached a decision one way or the other has done so lightly.

Personally, I'm glad I'm not in the situation where I'm faced with this choice.  But I will say this, and here's the "for the record part."  If you're an author who  has published in Helix, I don't consider you guilty by association.  If you choose to leave your fiction there, it doesn't bother me.  If you have choose to have your fiction taken down--for whatever reason--I don't have a problem with that either.  If you mention Helix in your cover letter I'm not going to hold it against you.  And building on that, when I saw Helix in your cover letter, it meant something.  It still does/will.  The personal comments of one its editors will not erase the fact that you published a story on a site that had built a reputation for publishing quality fiction.  And if you took your fiction down from Helix, as far as I'm concerned you can still mention in your cover letter that you've published there (not that I expect you will, but just saying).

I will not speak for other editors on this matter, but that's my take.  If your story is a slush submission, I am 100% certain that when reading your manuscript I can make the distinction between your artistic achievement--both being published in Helix as well as reading the story in front of me with an impartial eye--vs. the comments of one man.  One doesn't influence the other, at least not for me.  You are not responsible for what was said, so there is no reason to punish your blood, sweat, and tears when you submitted to Helix in good faith.  So while I may not approve of the original comment that started everything, I still look upon your publication in Helix as meaningful.

Just my for the record.   

So my last post noted the run of short story editors who have landed in hot water over the last year and change.  I cited six different examples.  # 3 was about myself, and while I didn't post the links (my main argument being the other examples had drawn far more attention and mine was hardly worthy of mentioning in comparison to the others), I said that if anyone wanted links they merely needed to ask and I would dig them up.  No one has asked so far, but the offer stands.  # 6 was something I noted as not being a controversy yet (though certainly a controversial statement from the jump), but looked as if it might become one, which was why I was posting it.

Well, it seems I was right.  Once Sheila Williams, the current editor of Asimov's, feels compelled to respond and defend Gardner Dozois, her predecessor, I'd this post has moved into the realm of controversy.  You can judge for yourself the worth of her comments (there are a lot of them, so scroll down to those on 7/12), but I think she handles herself in a thoughtful and classy manner.

I'm not surprised this one became controversey.  After reading about so many of them for the past year and change, it's pretty easy to spot another one in the making.  It's all about who said or did what (or didn't), and who or how many are objecting and leveling accusations as a result.

So, how long before another controversy erupts surrounding another short story editor?  I'd say less than four months.

An Observation and a Question

  • Jul. 10th, 2008 at 7:46 PM

So in yesterday's post I swore off flame wars and such.  Time will tell if I keep to my word.  But while I've sworn off these miserable wastes of time, I couldn't help thinking about them in a somewhat analytical light.  And I noticed some stuff.  Or at least I think I did.  I'm putting it out there to see if people agree, as well as what they think.

When it comes to the big debates in the speculative community on the internet, the ones that really get people's hackles up, is it my imagination or does it seem that lately many of the biggest ones have revolved around stuff going on in the short fiction community?  And doesn't it seem that it's often a fiction editor at the heart of the controversy?  Take a look at the last year or so and here's the stuff that comes to mind for me (note: I'm going to try to provide links with a wide range of views to keep this as impartial as possible):

1) Whether Gordon Van Gelder was reading women's submissions with an unfair bias for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.  Here we have the publisher and senior editor of the one oldest and most respected print magazines in our field being called into question.

2) Not long after that came the much anticipated and updated article about whether there was gender bias among the major speculative magazines, which comes back to all the editors of these magazines.  There was much pre and post-discussion regarding this one.

3) I'll add that I've had a spat or two during this period regarding issues with short fiction, but I'm an assistant editor as opposed to an editor.  Also, I don't think my spats earned such widespead attention that they can be mentioned in the same e-breaths as these other examples.  Of course, if anyone would like to call me out on these matters (friend or foe or other) say so under comments and I'll dig up links.  I'm not going to pretend to be squeaky clean, but IMO these other examples really did draw greater attention. 

4)  Then last month we had the controversy surrounding Jonathan Strahan only having one woman appearing in the TOC of his anthology.  So we've moved away from magazines in this scenario, but we're still dealing with an editor of short speculative fiction. 

5) Even more recently (as in a couple of days ago) there was the controversy surrounding William Sanders, one of the co-editors of Helix Quarterly, when he used an offensive term in a rejection letter to a writer, and the writer posted said rejection online (and subsequently took it down).   As you might expect, this one isn't even close to winding down yet.  And this one deals with an online magazine.

6) And now we have the latest one.  It's not a raging controversy just yet, but given the above examples I wouldn't be surprised if it turns into one, so I've decided to mention it.   This one wonders if Gardner Dozois' rejection letters may have been less than savory because he focused on the legal implications of the William Sanders situation as opposed to the issues of bigotry.  As I said, not a raging controversy just yet, but I'm seeing signs that it might erupt into something more.  For the sake of completion, I'll note that this one targets the former fiction editor of Asimov's, and the editor of the last 25 editions of Year's Best Science Fiction, the current grandaddy among the speculative year's best anthologies.

So these are the examples I can think of off the top of my head.  Feel free to mention others if they occur to you.  I'm not commenting on any of them here, and I've tried to be as fair as possible in providing links to a wide range of opinions.  Tempest (she of link # 6) and I don't even get along, but I don't mind giving her this bump in traffic (though I strongly suspect her blog does more traffic than mine overall) because I'm rather curious about this topic.  So what do you think, folks?  Is there a pattern here that should make us expect more of the same to follow with unfortunate regularity, or am I grasping at straws?  And if there is a pattern, what do you make of editors being put under this constant microscope?  Is it fair and right, and how much (if it all) is the internet distorting information or leading to miscommunications?  The blogosphere is rather notorious for this sort of thing.

I realize that posting this sort of question and providing these links one on top of the next risks fanning a lot of flames, but hey, I'm the assistant editor at Realms of Fantasy.  This matters to me.  I'll ask people to keep things civil, though I worry this may not be a realistic request ...

Shawna Rules ...Really

  • Jul. 10th, 2008 at 12:34 PM

You know who's great?  Shawna is.  I'm not talking about her tastes in stories or the respect she's garnered in the field.  I'm referring to the Person Who Is Boss.  

I don't make too many suggestions to Shawna regarding the magazine.  There isn't much need most of the time.  But every once in a while something occurs to me that might help us, and/or might make my/her/our lives easier.  And I'm never worried about bringing this stuff up.

Never.  I might wait for an opportune moment to broach a subject, but once I get it in my head to mention something to her, I know I will (and usually asap).  And why can I be like this?  Several reasons.  First is that I've never once felt uncomfortable bringing such matters up (as an aside I'll also mention that I'm also never uncomfortable telling her what I think of a story, even if we disagree on it).  Second is that I know she respects my opinion enough that if  I'm suggesting something she'll listen with an open ear.  Third and most important is that I've earned her trust.  Which is why I can't recall a single instance when she's told me no.  I just made a rather small request of her.  I wouldn't have minded at all if she told me no.  But she said yes.  She always does.  Because I have her respect and her trust, and she's cool enough not to have an ego over what is unquestionably her magazine (yes, the publishers own it, but you know what I mean).

Thanks, Shawna (who may or may not be reading this, since I never know when she's in the mood to lurk).

Odyssey Podcasts

  • Jul. 2nd, 2008 at 8:00 PM

Let me take a moment to direct your attention to the Odyssey podcasts.  As most of you know, I'm a graduate of the Odyssey Fantasy & Science Fiction Writing Workshop, and I'm fiercely loyal to the program.  It runs each summer for six weeks, and each week a different writer or editor (or agent) works with the class.  Jeanne Cavelos is the director of the program, and she records each of the guest lectures.  And now there are snippets available from various lecture for your listening pleasure.  In particular, I'll point you to the latest podcast (# 17) as the lecturer is none other than Shawna McCarthy.  She is both an agent and editor, but in this snippet she mostly talks about her work as the editor at Realms of Fantasy.  This was back in 2006, so at the time I'd been with the magazine a little over a year.  There's some interesting stuff in here, so if you're curious about what Shawna wants, it would behoove you to listen (it runs about 15 minutes).

I took the time to listen as well, and a few things that occurred to me based on her lecture snippet were as follows:

1) She mentioned how most of the slush passed along to her is nice, but not good enough for the magazine.  I didn't take offense with this comment.  In fact, I agree with it.  There is slush I come across that I'm absolutely crazy about.  Shawna publishes most of this stuff.  But there's also stuff I come across where I'd probably describe it in the same manner as Shawna did above.  But I'm aware that opinions differ, and sometimes what I think is nice Shawna may consider great, and vise-versa.  So if I feel it deserves a look, I pass it along.  This approach has led to more than one slush survivor of mine being published.

2) Shawna mentions the difficultly in finding good high fantasy and heroic fantasy.  I couldn't agree more!  In a little over three years, I've passed along a little under 10 pieces of high fantasy.  Shawna has taken two of these, three if you consider "Of Metal Men and Scarlet Thread and Dancing With the Sunrise" by Ken Scholes high fantasy (you can just as easily make the argument for that piece being science-fantasy).  You can push it to four if you consider Sarah Totton's "A Fish Story" high fantasy, but while the world is secondary, the focus of the piece is the humor (which is excellent).  With herioc fantasy (and let's throw s&s and pulp adventure and such in there), in three years I've also passed along under 10 pieces.  Shawna has taken one (although I have high hopes for a second one she's yet to look at).  I agree with all the stuff she's taken, and I agree with the majority of the stuff she's rejected (but not quite all of it).  You just don't see much in this vein that's makes for good short fiction (not in our slush anyway), and these are my favorite areas!

3) She surprised me by mentioning how stories about faerie are overdone (I tend to agree, which is why you're in for a treat when you read "All Beautiful Things" by Sharon Mock in a future issue of ROF--it's the best fairy story I've ever fished out from the slush), as well as retold fairy tales, because in reading the back issues I know I've read a lot of these.  I guess folks are bringing more unique spins to these areas than those mentioned in # 2.

Anyway, I hope Shawna's thoughts and these additional ones prove useful to some of you.  Enjoy!



Douglas Cohen

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