May 15th, 2006

Editorial Musings--Issue 1

Greetings, all. I know most of you tune into my ramblings because of my editorial position at RoF. That's cool. In fact, it occurred to me that I should take advantage of this. If you're all interested in what I have to say, you should certainly be interested in the thoughts of other editors in our industry. Since I happen to know a few of these types, I thought it would be a fun feature on this blog to start conducting monthly interviews (as long as they last anyway) with various editors. So I tossed some possibilies to myself regarding which editor we should lead off. And then it hit me like a bolt of lightning. The first issue of Baen's new magazine is premiering this June. Why not interview someone from the editorial staff? So this is exactly what I've done, snagging an interview with Nancy Fulda, one of the Editorial Associate at Baen's Universe.

So below you'll find a bio for Nancy Fulda, along with some Q&A, and finally some links of interest. So, without further adieu:

Nancy Fulda is a mother, an author and, most recently, an Editorial Associate at Baen's Universe. In addition to some rather dry technical papers on
artificial intelligence, her publications include Let
There Be Write
at Strange Horizons and The Man Who Murdered Himself, originally published in All the Rage This Year: The Phobos Science Fiction Anthology. Nancy lives in Germany with her husband, their two children, and no cats. Her hobbies include painting, dancing and sleeping.

1. How did you end up working for Baen’s Magazine?

Quite by accident, actually. I’d submitted a few stories over the online forum, and liked the community there. So I stuck around, critiquing stories and joining the conversations. About a week later I got an email from Paula. She said she was looking for some people with an editorial eye and she’d noticed my critiques. She asked if I’d like to hop aboard as an Editorial Associate. I was ecstatic.

2. What are your responsibilities as Editorial Associate?
Well, there’s the slush, and then there’s the other slush. Baen’s has two separate submissions procedures, a web submission form and the Baen’s Universe Slush conference (details here). I read about 50% of both. The other Editorial Associates do the same, so every story gets seen by several people. On top of that, Paula reads at least the first few paragraphs of absolutely everything. (She has, on occasion, been accused of being an AI in disguise.)

Editorial Associates are encouraged to give feedback on stories submitted through Baen’s Universe Slush. Detailed critiques are time-consuming, so I only comment on about 10% of what I read. We also have authority to request RTFs for stories we particularly like. I try to use that privilege sparingly, though. Eric already has a huge pile of reading to catch up on.

3. Could you describe your interactions with the other members of the editorial staff?

We interact primarily through our submissions database. There’s a comments field where we discuss the merits of each story, and whether we recommend passing it along to Eric. Occasionally, Paula sends out an email asking for feedback on a specific story, and that always spawns an interesting discussion.

It’s odd, really. I’m working with a bunch of people I’ve never met in real life, and I may not get the chance to meet them for years. They could be aliens, for all I know. Albeit very nice ones.

4. Who are some of your favorite authors, both in and outside of the genre?

Within the genre: Orson Scott Card. Lois McMaster Bujold. Larry Niven.
Outside the genre: C.S. Lewis. Eli Goldratt.

5. What sorts of stories would you advise writers to send to Baen’s Magazine? What sorts of stories should they avoid sending along?

Our market niche is upbeat, action/adventure stories. Eric describes us as “competing with the customer’s beer money”. What we do not want—ever—is for the reader to finish a story and think, “What a bummer. I wish I’d bought a beer instead.”

Not that we won’t buy dark stories, or stories with no action in them. Eric’s done both. But he says the most common reason he rejects stories that have been passed up to him is that they’re just too downbeat.

6. Personally, I love to blab on and on about my slush discoveries. What about you? Any forthcoming stories you’ve discovered that you’d like to tell us about?

I’m afraid I haven’t been with the magazine long enough for that. All of the stories I’ve helped recommend to Eric are still sitting on his desk, waiting for a decision.

7. With the rates Baen’s Magazine is paying authors, it’s generating a lot of attention, and also attracting submissions from lots of big names. But so far the online speculative magazines have yet to become commercial successes. Why do you think Baen’s Magazine will be different?

Several reasons. First, Baen’s is starting with a built-in market. They’ve been publishing electronic novels for nearly ten years now, and those customers are primed and ready for a magazine like this: upbeat, short fiction that has the feel of a novel. Second, Baen’s provides substantially more material per issue than most other magazines, including the print ones, and we’re creating a community associated with the magazine through the Universe Club. There’s more there for your money.

But the biggest reason I think Baen’s will succeed is the one you’ve already mentioned. Eric is paying top rates—up to 25 cents a word—for stories by well-known authors. That pay rate is tempting enough to get short stories out of authors who would normally focus their attention on novels. Big name authors means better quality stories and increased subscriptions from those authors’ fans.

Is it working? Looks like. I can’t remember the numbers, but the last public posting regarding Universe Club memberships was pretty good. I also expect to see a big jump in subscriptions once the magazine comes out next month. Immediate gratification, and all that.

8. What is your favorite part about working with the magazine?

Working with authors via the Slush Conference. There’s something exhilarating about helping a story reach its full potential, and then seeing that effort rewarded when Paula requests the RTF for the final version. And one editorial associate really can make a difference. I remember one story, in particular, that most of us didn’t think much of at first. But one of the Associates saw a gem inside, and worked with the author through five rewrites. The end result was quite good, and Paula’s requested the RTF now.

9. What are your pet peeves as an editor?

You mean the ones that’ll make me drop a manuscript, or the ones that just annoy me? I can’t stand it when people write “loose” when they mean “lose” or “choose” when they mean “chose”, but I won’t put down a manuscript because of that. The real show-stoppers are documented in The Seven Deadly Sins of Slush Stories

10. On average, how many submissions a month does your magazine receive?

I’d say about 300. I think Paula’s expecting that to pick up after the first issue comes out.

11. What percentage would you say is fantasy vs. science fiction?

About half-and-half. We don’t seem to suffer from a dearth of science fiction the way other magazines sometimes do.

12. What percentage of fantasy vs. science fiction would you say has been accepted so far?

Same. Eric tries to keep things balanced.

13. How much time do you put in each week on the magazine?

10-15 hours.

14. Do you have additional editorial aspirations?

At the moment, no. But who knows? I never expected to be a slush reader for the highest-paying online magazine in the genre, but I sure jumped at the chance.

15. I know that you also write speculative fiction. Has your editorial work helped your writing at all?

Ah… hindered rather than helped, I would say. I think the quality of my stories has increased dramatically since I started with Baen’s, but I’m not nearly as prolific. There’s just no time for it. And I miss hanging out with all my old online critique groups. After digging through a pile of slush, the last thing I want to do is go read and comment on more stories. I just want to go write my own.

Thanks so much for your time.

Thanks for inviting me :) It’s been fun.

Baen's Universe Issue 1 Cover Image:

Baen's Universe Staff:'s_Universe!_staff

Preview edition of the magazine:

So once again, a big thanks to Nancy for taking time out of her schedule to contribute to my humble blog. I hope everyone found this information as interesting and juicy as yours truly did. Stay tuned for next month, when I interview . . .???