April 7th, 2006

Bare Feet, Notice, and Critiques

So mornings are turning into an interesting time for me. I was in NYC once again today, and when I reached Penn Station, the calling of nature descended. So in the bathroom, what should I see but bare feet. Someone was sitting in one of the stalls, without shoes or socks. And these, I tell you, were some scary feet. Ten toes, yes, but the nails were yellow and several strains of fungus had taken up residence on the real estate in question. Only in New York (and consider yourselves duly warned about the bathrooms at Penn Station).

From here I went to the literary agency. For those of you who don't know, I've been interning at a literary agency since November. I've found it to be an interesting experience, as it has exposed me to another side of the business. I'm fairly decent at it too, having helped find a couple of clients for the agency (and not just in speculative fiction, thank you very much). In time, I might have become an agent with this place. Instead, I gave them my notice today. For reasons I won't go into publicly, I've reached the conclusion that if I decide to be a literary agent, this agency isn't the best fit for yours truly. So I told one of the partners today that next week would be my last one, and she was completely understanding of my reasons. Things are being left on excellent terms, and she is more than happy to write me a recommendation should I want one. So all in all I'm glad about my time spent here, and should I decide that this is a career I want to pursue further, I now have some experience under my belt.

After my day at the literary agency was finished, I met with my critique group. This group (known as the 8th of February, in honor of Jules Verne's birthday) features some great talent that I've really enjoyed working with. I've been with them since this past summer or roundabout, and I love the talent I'm surrounded by. People have worked at or have publications with publications in places such as Asimov's Analog, RoF, and Weird Tales. We also have a Nebula nominee (good luck, Rick!), a script supervisor for the Conan O'Brien Show, and graduates from a plethora of the best of the speculative writing workshops out there. Needless to say there is always something to learn from this bunch. We usually critique between 2-3 stories each month (small group, obviously)and afterward we go out for dinner. Tonight was Vietnamese, and I'm still stuffed. And sleepy.

More later. And wow! A day with minimal time spent on LJ. I am most pleased.

***And a point in LJ's favor! I accidentally exited before I could post this, and when I came back the blessed beast had saved everything with its autosave function. Never noticed before that it had this. Good LJ.

Slutmaster & Editorial Answers

"So I've started a blog," I say to this girl I know.

"Oh really?" she says. "What's the address?"

Of course I tell her slushmaster.livejournal.com

She gives me a weird look and walks away. Then all day I'm getting some serious cold shoulder. I've known this girl for months, so this strikes as odd. Finally, I go over to her.

"Hey, what's the problem?" I ask.

Cue the snort and rolling of eyes. "As if you don't know," she says.

"I don't," I tell her. "So, please. Enlighten me."

"Hello? Slutmaster? That's disgusting!"

I must have laughed a good two minutes before I was able to catch my breath and explain things. Anyway . . .

Two posts ago, on behalf of all writers, Hilary peppered me with 10 questions about my editorial process. Promises were made to answer these questions, and the slutmaster . . .ahem . . .the slushmaster always keeps his promises.

Question 1: When going through the slush pile, how far do you get into an average manuscript before moving on?

I read between 1-2 pages on an average manuscript before moving along to the next one. Some people may consider this unnecessarily harsh. I assure you, it isn't. It doesn't take long to tell if someone is writing a worthwhile short story. Orson Scott Card must feel the same way, because when applying to his writing workshop, your writing sample consists of the first page of your story, no more. Every word counts in a short story, and every mistake is that much more glaring. Don't send in less than your best work.

Question 2: What percentage of slush pile manuscripts do you read through to the very end?

Actual slush? Not much. Around 15-20 stories. My primary responsibility is to find work that I think has a chance at publication. Once I know (or rather, feel, since your work can certainly be published elsewhere--I've already seen this happen!), this isn't the case, I consider myself free to stop reading. Sometimes I'll finish anyway, because I'm so far along I want to see how it ends. Sometimes (but rarely) I know I'm not passing the story along to Shawna, but the tale is so weird that, if I have the time, I'll finish it.

Question 3: Are there any that you read through a second time before deciding to send it on to Shawna?

Occasionally. Most get rejected, although all such stories get the sacred Yellow Form of Promise, aka the YFOP. One such story that I was on the fence about got a second read from me, and I subsequently realized it was one of the best in the batch. I passed it along to Shawna and it was accepted for publication.

Question 4: I have heard from Michael Merriam and Jason Wittman that you have passed manuscripts of theirs up to Shawna. So clearly, you notify the authors when they've passed to the next level. How is that notification done? Do you send an e-mail or send a form? (I know that I could ask this of Mike and Jason, but I think that others might be interested in knowing the process.)

The notification is done via email. If there is no email, there is no notification. I'm not taking the time to mail my slush survivors. These notifications are a courtesy, which means they're not part of my job description.

Question 5: Is there any order that you follow when deciding which slush pile manuscripts that you read first? Do you just grab the next one off the top of the pile, or the first one received by the office, or the shortest one, longest one? Do you skim the pile first for manuscripts that are badly formatted and thus obvious rejects? Do you read ones by authors that you recognize from previous slush expeditions first... or last... or do you just let them come in whatever order they come?

Ah, the system. First, I order everything by date on the mailing envelope. If I notice the name of an automatic pass, I put it aside. After the dated ones come those with no postmark on the outside. After those, the ones with smudged postmarks. I leave everything inside the mailing envelope until I read it, because it keeps loose pages from being lost. After everything has been ordered, I count them up. The total # gives me an idea how many submissions I should average per day to keep us on a monthly schedule. After this, I email Shawna with a progress report. Then I inform all automatic passes via email that their submissions have been safely received, along with a guesstimate as to when they'll be passed along to Shawna. After this, I post a quick update in various forums I belong to. I suppose I'll start doing this on my LJ too. The next day, the massacre begins. During the process, if I come across another automatic pass that I previously missed or didn't know about, I set it aside and immediately send a courtesy email to the author. When all the slush has been finished, I read and critique the automatic passes. This strikes me as rather fair, because the automatics already know they're being passed along, and they know around when. Slushees, OTOH, are the ones on pins and needles, so I try to take care of them first. And as previously mentioned, if I come across something I decide to pass along to Shawna, I send an email notice to the author the same day. I also send Shawna periodic progress reports, so that she has an idea of how far along I am into the current batch. When the last automatic pass has been read and critiqued, I send a final progress report. From there, assuming there is enough slush, Shawna and I try to set up a date for our next slush transfer. When I pass the automatics and slush along to Shawna, I also include what I call a "Sush Summary." This usually runs about a page, and passes along a summary of what I consider the important details concerning the batch I've finished up.

Question 6: Do you have a favorite place to read slush?

Defintely my room. I like to read in comfort. The train is probably the next most common spot. But the room is # 1, for sure.

Question 7: Do you keep a big paper recycling bin by you when you read slush?

I would do the whole recycling thing, except they don't pick it up where I live. Environmentalists, please don't jump all over me!

Question 8: Of the slushpile survivors during your current reign, how many of them were people who you had seen submit time and time again, getting slowly better? How many were names you had never seen submit before at all?

Six were people I had seen before. Of these, four ended up getting accepted for publication. Three of these four had previously been given YFOPs. There is another slush survivor currently being considered by Shawna, and he also was given a YFOP in the past. So, while a YFOP sent by yours truly doesn't guarantee that you'll eventually be published with us, my track record indicates it's a distinct possibility.

Question 9: Clearly, having sold to the magazine before puts you in the "automatic pass" category. What other qualifications constitute an automatic pass?

A novel published by or forthcoming from a major publisher. Another possibility is to have very impressive short story credits, even if you haven't published with RoF. If you have to ask what constitutes
"very impressive short story credits," you probably don't have them. Another way is when certain editors recommend a story be passed along to Shawna. If this is mentioned in the cover letter, I'll pass the story along. I won't say which editors can make this happen, in case anyone decides to pull a fast one. And FYI, I wouldn't try guessing. The speculative community is smaller than some of you think, which means word spreads fast about everything. If you're caught lying, kiss your career goodbye. The last way is to be the assistant editor at RoF :) Of course, I don't get preferential treatment once I'm passed along with the other automatics. I have to earn it if I want to be published in RoF. It has yet to happen . . .although the critiques in my rejections have proven most helpful :)

Question 10: I know that in at least one case you asked the author for a rewrite before then sending the rewritten manuscript on to Shawna. How often do you do that? And can we give you a gold medal for taking the extra trouble?

Not often. To date, it's happened less than 10 times. Sometimes I ask for a rewrite via email, and sometimes I'll send a YFOP, with a note telling the author I'd be willing to look at a rewrite. The difference is based on the difficulties I imagine such a rewrite would entail. If we go the email route, I'm determined to get the story up to a level where I'm comfortable passing it along to Shawna. If I go the snail-mail route, this doesn't mean I think less of the author's abilities or the story. It simply means that I think such a rewrite would be tough, but I like the story enough that if you can send something along that shows enough improvement, I'll work with you (or pass it along, if it's right, IMO).

To date, I have made 8 rewrite/revision requests. Some have been extremely light, and with others the author and I had to work at it. Of these, 1 has so far been accepted for publication (and it was actually the first author I ever worked with on a rewrite). With 2 others I received notes from the authors, letting me know they liked my suggestions and they intended to send me a rewrite (still waiting for both). Another author received a rewrite request on a YFOP, but never sent me anything. That is her choice and I completely respect that. And who knows? Maybe she'll send me a rewrite out of the blue. With another, I made a rewrite request via snail-mail, asking the author to shorten the tale to help with the pacing. When I read the rewrite, I sent the author another rewrite request, this time via email, asking him to tighten it up a little more and smooth out a transition or two. I never heard back from him, but that's cool. His story, his choice. I respect that. 2 were passed along to Shawna that were subsequently rejected. On one I made some really tiny suggestions, and on the other the author and I really worked at it. On another story the author and I put a lot of work into it before passing the tale along to Shawna. Either it has been rejected or is still under consideration. I'm uncertain. On the last story, I sent a rewrite via the YFOP, and upon reading it, we graduated to an email rewrite. This story will be passed along to Shawna at our next slush transfer, and I have very high hopes for it.

I always let the authors know that there is no guarantee I'll pass the story along to Shawna, and that if I do, there is no guarantee she'll buy it. In general, if I make a rewrite/revision request, I'll do my absolute best to get it to a level where I'm comfortable passing it along. I don't want the authors to put in the work for nothing. I encourage feedback from the authors during the rewrite process, because I honestly believe this is the best way to bring out the best possible story. I have debated with authors during rewrites, but never argued. Sometimes they convince me to their line of thinking, but it's usually the other way around. :) Every author that has taken me up on my offer and stayed with it (and no judgements on those who didn't) has ultimately been passed along to Shawna. All, as far as I can tell, enjoyed working with me. I like to think of myself as a "writer's editor," because I want to write this stuff for a living. I know how you guys think, which is why I do stuff like courtesy emails, etc.

As for giving me a gold medal for my trouble, I'd rather have a logo. Some generous writer created a logo for John Joseph Adams (aka the slushgod), the assistant editor for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. I'm very jealous (hint, hint).

Hope this helps.