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john smith
Posted on Saturday, November 10, 2007 - 12:38 am:   

Pardon me while I jump the gun just a little, but I -- *bang!*

The accepted theory seems to be that once a first-timer's short story has been, well, accepted, then he/she need never worry about being "discovered" ever again. So, if I were to submit a story and have it accepted by F&SF, what then? Would this mean I'd be able to circumvent the regular slush pile at the magazine from then on? And if I were to submit another story to a different magazine after being published, would it be considered gauche of me to let them know that I'd previously been printed in F&SF? And does reading about such past achievements in a cover letter make a significant difference in how the story is evaluated? (For example, a subpar story from an amateur writer might get dismissed outright, but would an unsatisfactory story from a published writer get a gentler treatment, as in a referral to an editor at another SF magazine?)

Oops, sorry...forgot to preface that this was an 18-part question. Mea culpa. ;)

Thanks in advance!
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Sam Wilson
Posted on Monday, November 12, 2007 - 03:37 pm:   

Orson Scott Card & Mike Resnick have both stated that a subpar story by a "name" will get better treatment than the same story by an unknown. More than the story itself, the "name" writer is selling the "good will" readers who have enjoyed his/her stories in the past have towards his/her byline. Of course, all editors have their minimum standards. Card & Resnick have also said this is why a newcomer must present a superior effort to compete.

It would be a sign of intelligence to mention to another editor a publication in F&SF. Considering the high number of submissions a magazine receives, mention of previous publication means that statistically speaking, the submission being made is more likely than not to NOT be a waste of the editor's time.

I can't speak for F&SF, but I would imagine that a sale there would take you out of the slush pile, at least as long as your subsequent stories don't start going sour.

Remember: it's human nature to take a chance on something someone else has already taken a chance on.
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Luke Jackson
Posted on Monday, November 12, 2007 - 03:50 pm:   

I was glad that Mike Resnick was so open about names getting a closer read than non-names in that JBU article. It's pretty obvious that's how the slush pile works-- that's probably a major reason why people do things like the Clarion workshop, i.e., to get the editor's eye.

Let's stop pretending that the slush pile is some kind of survival-of-the-fittest pure meritocracy. It's more like playing in a band: you have to do a countless series of gigs in small bars and clubs, slowly building up that fan base. One incredible show isn't going to instantly put you in the arenas.
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S. Hamm
Posted on Monday, November 12, 2007 - 11:53 pm:   

Card/Resnick's point is too self-evident to bear much consideration. A big name on the cover is likely to sell more copies, so a subpar story by a big name will almost certainly get more favorable consideration than a subpar story by a relative nobody.

That said, please note that the last F&SF story by erstwhile F&SF columnist Mike Resnick appeared in 1998, and the last F&SF story by erstwhile F&SF columnist O.S. Card appeared in 1999. Make of that what you will.
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Jason K. Chapman
Posted on Tuesday, November 13, 2007 - 02:36 am:   

I know that a single anecdotal data point doesn't mean squat, but name authors in short fiction mags never did mean a whole lot to me. Give me good stories this issue, and I'll be back for the next. Give me a bag of poo, and not even a million dollar line up on the outside will get me to open the next one.

Having said that, I'm not sure how many writers ever did think the deck wasn't stacked against newcomers. The part that luck plays in getting even the best stories through the slush pile has been emphasized in every "getting published" piece I've ever read.
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David de Beer
Posted on Tuesday, November 13, 2007 - 04:50 am:   

I read and/ or buy a mag for the mag, for the product they bring me which I expect to deliver enough times to my satisfaction to make it worth my while.

The odds are stacked against me buying a mag, or even an antho, based on recognizable names. Sure, some names make me happier than others, but then I'll find them in a venue I do read and it'll give me a warm-fuzzy glow towards "my" mag, but I don't trace them to a venue I don't read.
Novels -yes, the names influence my buing; shorts, no, completely different mediums. I buy the venue, not the authors.

Truth to tell, name authors are more likely to put me off buying a mag or antho than vice versa. Personal taste, of course, but there are established names who consistently don't appeal to me. Post their names all over a mag and I'm not buying.

It doesn't hurt, the more big name mags you can put on your resume, and maybe the odd slushie will be overly impressed by it, but as a general rule every market for a new writer is a new market where s/he has to prove themselves first. Some markets you have to the slush every time, others after a while allow you to bypass the slushie and then you only need the nod from the senior editor. Which doesn't always happen.
So, no it doesn't hurt, and it's pretty much accepted that this is what everyone does - hell, you got a sale to Asimovs, or Cemetery Dance, or F&SF or Strange Horizons, any of the SFWA pro mags, brag about it. Datlow or Dozois picks you for a Year's Best, even better.

to address the question specifically:

he accepted theory seems to be that once a first-timer's short story has been, well, accepted, then he/she need never worry about being "discovered" ever again.

whoever's telling you that is giving you bad advice; the best that happens is that you may get a leg-up from a specific market's slush pile direct to the senior editor, and you may get some attention if you make the sale, but it's a damn long time before anybody hits that established name thing that Card and Resnick were talking about.

Speaking under correction, but I think it was Robert Reed who mentioned that it took him a long time to get a sale at Asimovs, and even longer to get consistent sales there.
There's a difference between the two.

I've been given too much stupid advice in my few years in short fiction, and the only advice I would give to a starting writer is write the damn stories, write harder with every rejection and keep subbing and keep at it, and when you start hitting the odd sale now and then (especially at a big mag) write even harder, cause that's just a brief moment in time and guarantees you nothing.

I'd go so far as to say that what Resnick and Card referred to, about established names being allowed to get away with less than their best (which is what it boils down to), may not even hold for that many more years.
There are way more writers now than the eras they started in, and way more stories circulating than possible slots in a given year and the bar has been raised these last twenty years.
Every writer dreams of that one sale, that one story, with which they will break into the big time. Maybe that was once so, although I have my doubts, but it's a dangerous way to think for the future.
Approach every story, every sale, every market as if you're a freshman sending out your very first sub.
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Alex Irvine
Posted on Tuesday, November 13, 2007 - 06:16 am:   

A sale should be noted in a cover letter (duh), and it can get you more specific attention. But it's no guarantee of anything, and a sale at a particular magazine might also have specific connotations to an editor at another magazine. Say Editor A hates Editor B's taste; you put a credit from Magazine B in your cover letter, and who knows what that's going to mean to Editor A? The process is more complicated than sale->attention->more sales.

I've had maybe a dozen stories in F&SF since 2000, and Gordon still bounces my stuff sometimes. Which just proves that even his legendary perspicacity has its limits.
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Sam Wilson
Posted on Tuesday, November 13, 2007 - 10:30 am:   

Alex, don't you think that even if Editor A hates Editor B's taste, Editor A is more likely (since his/her job is to fill the magazine with acceptable material on a regular basis) to look at material from an published name BEFORE the tidal wave of manuscrpts waiting for him/her from unknowns? The odds are that the manuscript from a writer beloved by Editor B, figuring the probabilities, will be at least, to quote Roger Zelazny, "suitably composed, if not terribly compelling." Whereas there might be a gem or masterpiece in the Everest of unknowns, the odds are more than likely that the story is a waste of time, rather than another BORN OF MAN AND WOMAN or TOWER OF BABYLON, to name just 2 famous "first stories". You need a law degree to be considered at least minimally qualified to practice law; to consider yourself a writer you don't even need to be literate, just some paper or a computer to type on.

I agree the process is not one given to simplistic analysis, getting out of the slush doesn't guarantee a sale, only that it will be looked at faster.

Robert Heinlein had probably the best (most useful) advice: write it, finish it, keep sending it out: shampoo, rinse, repeat. And one day your story (not yours in particular, Alex!), as bad as it may be, will hit the desk of an editor who absolutely needs it to fill a hole in the mag. That happened to me with my first sale, to a national (thought admittedly not top-tier) mystery mag.

And if you keep writing, your chances get even better, because presumably, you'll improve as a writer.
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David de Beer
Posted on Tuesday, November 13, 2007 - 11:24 am:   

Sam, if Editor A hates Editor B's taste, then it would actually be a case against putting sales in your cover letter, since it follows logically that Editor A doesn't find Editor B's tastes acceptable and would therefore be more reluctant to read a story from a writer listing sales with B, whom A well knows publishes stories he dislikes, therefore he may actually sift them to the bottom of the pile.

And, it's possible that a specific editor may simply not like your work, no matter how big a name you get to be. The odds of said editor publishing you in that case, ever, is slim. Why would he? if he's the editor of a top-tier magazine, or even semi-pros now, he's guaranteed to have a lot of names he does like submitting on a regular basis, or that he can ask for stories.

There's so many things that can come into play, that there really is no point in spending time thinking about it.
Assume you have a chance, keep writing and subbing. What else can anyone do really?
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Byron Bailey
Posted on Tuesday, November 13, 2007 - 12:16 pm:   

There's so many things that can come into play, that there really is no point in spending time thinking about it. Assume you have a chance, keep writing and subbing. What else can anyone do really?

1. Black magic.
2. Blackmail.
3. Extortion.
4. Intimidation.
5. Torture.
6. Beg.

Even if you never get published, at least you're building real world skills that no amount of writing can replace.
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Luke Jackson
Posted on Tuesday, November 13, 2007 - 12:25 pm:   

You forgot sexual favors.
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Byron Bailey
Posted on Tuesday, November 13, 2007 - 12:48 pm:   

That's all subsumed under #1-6. Yeah, I don't have a very fulfilling sex life but #1 ain't too bad.
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Jason K. Chapman
Posted on Tuesday, November 13, 2007 - 01:18 pm:   

I've tried all of these, but they didn't help. Maybe I'm not doing it right. Do you target someone specific, or just any random person off the street?
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David de Beer
Posted on Tuesday, November 13, 2007 - 01:33 pm:   

I used to like random, that way I never had to vary my approach. But, you know, turns out people talk and put your picture in the newspaper and stuff.

My #2 skills need working on, may have to try the target specific approach there.
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Bill Gleason
Posted on Tuesday, November 13, 2007 - 03:01 pm:   

Well, I'd say you absolutely should mention the credit in the cover letter. If for no other reason than because you can.

I've made exactly one sale and I'm telling everyone I know. Heck, I was telling the TV repairman and he doesn't even read sci-fi. Why wouldn't I mention it to someone I'm hoping will let me do it again?

If nothing else, it lets the editor know I'm capable of at least one story capable of escaping the slush, and even if it was for an editor/magazine not particularly well liked by this editor, I think there is to some extent respect and collegiality among the top editors. For example, Analog in its Jan/Feb issue acknowledges Gordon Van Gelder's Hugo for Best Professional Editor, Short Form. Stanley Schmidt, inexplicably, has never received a Hugo. I have no idea how the two men feel about each other personally, but I imagine there is mutual professional respect.

And, really, someone who would reject my story because of another editor's prior approval? I really don't want anything to do with that mag anyway.
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Tuesday, November 13, 2007 - 03:50 pm:   

A few random responses to various questions/comments in this thread:

Once you sell a story to a professional magazine or anthology, you'll probably no longer be IN the slush pile.

You should certainly mention any professional credits you've got under your belt.

"Let's stop pretending that the slush pile is some kind of survival-of-the-fittest pure meritocracy. It's more like playing in a band: you have to do a countless series of gigs in small bars and clubs, slowly building up that fan base. One incredible show isn't going to instantly put you in the arenas."

The above paragraph ain't necessarily so. Ted Chiang's first story ended up in OMNI and won the Nebula. Do you really think his work wasn't noticed after that? A brilliant story trumps everything.
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Luke Jackson
Posted on Tuesday, November 13, 2007 - 04:32 pm:   

Oh yeah.. well I've always thought of Chiang as an exceptional case beyond the ken of us mere mortals. :-)

Someone should give him a genius grant already, so he can spend more time writing.
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Byron Bailey
Posted on Tuesday, November 13, 2007 - 05:26 pm:   

Oh yeah.. well I've always thought of Chiang as an exceptional case beyond the ken of us mere mortals.

Nonsense. Ted Chiang has merely mastered the principles of skill #1.
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Tuesday, November 13, 2007 - 06:20 pm:   

Ted has plenty of time to write. He just writes very slowly.
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Aragon Duran Ramos
Posted on Wednesday, November 14, 2007 - 12:34 am:   

So if he's practicing magic, his best bet would be something along the lines of 'haste'.
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Byron Bailey
Posted on Wednesday, November 14, 2007 - 08:37 am:   

No. His best bet would be a virgin and an obsidian knife which explains why he takes so long to write a story. Perhaps virgin isn't the proper word. Perhaps an "innocent" would be a better word, one who is innocent of the evil rolling over the world like a fog of ozone, evil not so much because of anything intrinsic to its nature but rather a simple matter of location. Ozone isn't bad if it's high up in the increasingly nonexistant ozone layer. But it usually isn't. It's down here in your lungs, in your eyes, stinging your nostrils.

To make an innocent and ripen him or her up properly so that the eldritch forces won't scoff upon your offering is a process that takes decades. Considering Ted Chiang's output, prodigious all things considered, I can't help wondering how many other innocents in various stages of development he has stashed away in caverns, cellars and cages throughout the country. I can only hope they number in the hundreds, even thousands. But I know I'm being optimistic to an absurd degree. I have a feeling that the current number is closer to five.
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R.Wilder
Posted on Wednesday, November 14, 2007 - 09:09 am:   

Ellen: "Once you sell a story to a professional magazine or anthology, you'll probably no longer be IN the slush pile."

This sounds like a big encouragement for a well-written cover letter.
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Wednesday, November 14, 2007 - 03:37 pm:   

Yup. But it only helps if the credentials you provide are good ones ;-)
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Sam Wilson
Posted on Wednesday, November 14, 2007 - 03:50 pm:   

Ellen, I'm very proud of the Honorable Mention you once gave me, and I always put that down!
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Wednesday, November 14, 2007 - 05:41 pm:   

Well, _I_ think that's a good thing. Don't know if any other editor would notice though ;-)
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Byron Bailey
Posted on Thursday, November 15, 2007 - 07:46 am:   

I've always been confused about the matter of blood stains on the cover letter. Yea or nay? As far as I can figure out, most editors tend to ignore them much like they would ignore "SFWA Member" on the cover letter. However, some editors give cover letters with blood stains favorable treatment thinking that since the writer is sparkling with life on the inside, their prose just might sparkle with life as well.

I find this favoritism towards blood stains very unprofessional. What woould writers without any blood of their own need to do to get a fair chance with these editors? Wouldn't using someone else's blood be plagiarism?

I need to know. Until I do, though, I guess I'm stuck using a cover letter sans blood stains, and I think it's holding me back.
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John Kratman
Posted on Thursday, November 15, 2007 - 08:11 am:   

I've always been confused about the matter of
blood stains on the cover letter...


Blood on the cover letter is only allowed if you survived the JBU slush conference.

There is one exception: it can also be used to signify you've received three or more rejection letters from Clarksworld.
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Clint Harris
Posted on Thursday, November 15, 2007 - 09:41 am:   

Wow, John. Three or more rejections from Clarksworld? You've got a masochistic streak in you a mile wide!
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John Kratman
Posted on Thursday, November 15, 2007 - 09:55 am:   

Nah, just embellishing. :-) Once was enough.

I'm just mad because they didn't want to buy my story. I'd kill to get in there.
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Jason K. Chapman
Posted on Thursday, November 15, 2007 - 10:27 am:   

I'm on my third try with CW now. I'm bloodied, but unbowed. It's good medicine for when I start deluding myself into thinking I can actually write.

I'm currently rewriting one story along the lines of Nick's suggestions just to see where it takes me. Apparently, the thing wants to be a novella when it grows up. (Of course, he might have just said that because he's got a 4k word limit.)
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Byron Bailey
Posted on Thursday, November 15, 2007 - 12:28 pm:   

I've only sent one thing to CW. I told them the first two paragraphs were posted on an online forum and 50 days later, a good 10 days past when any other submission reported on the blackhole at critters had been rejected, I get back an email saying sorry Byron but they don't take reprints, even partial reprints. That's all it said.

So the story ended up in Bewildering Stories. I'm not sure if I was close or that I was so utterly clueless he couldn't figure out what to say.
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Clint Harris
Posted on Thursday, November 15, 2007 - 12:39 pm:   

Bryon, I read that one and liked it too! If only Jerry Seinfeld had read it, "B Movie" might have turned out entirely different. :-)
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David de Beer
Posted on Thursday, November 15, 2007 - 01:23 pm:   

Byron, it's not unusual for Clarkesworld to take 60 days, but they seldomly take longer. Which is still pretty fast; I'm a bit surprised at the reasoning though. Maybe a communication glitch somewhere.

I do like Clarkesworld, and yeah, I've had the Nick M treatment as well:-)
Not all their stories work for me, and my tastes in fiction do lean more towards Sean Wallace's picks, than Nick's, but when they work they work big. I do admire the ambition I see in the stories, and it's interesting to have seen that even stories I personally disliked were well thought of elsewhere.
And the ones I liked a lot not necessarily; so, a bit of something for everyone.
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Byron Bailey
Posted on Thursday, November 15, 2007 - 01:31 pm:   

Byron, it's not unusual for Clarkesworld to take 60 days, but they seldomly take longer. Which is still pretty fast; I'm a bit surprised at the reasoning though. Maybe a communication glitch somewhere.

Yeah. Their respose times have gone up. When I submitted over a year ago, though, my response was ten days later than any other response on the blackhole and a number of responses had come and gone while I was still waiting.
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Marguerite Reed
Posted on Friday, November 16, 2007 - 09:24 pm:   

Actually, Byron, it's Ted who is the innocent....
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Byron Bailey
Posted on Saturday, November 17, 2007 - 06:57 am:   

So he's got kind of a Joan of Arc thing going on. Cool.

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