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John William Thiel
Posted on Friday, December 08, 2006 - 09:46 am:   

Some months ago I suggested that a story called "The Druyard Spectre", by Albert J. Manachino, which the author had sent me for my publication Pablo Lennis, be submitted to F&SF for appraisal. It seemed to me to be the sort of fiction the magazine would be interested in. The only problem with it was that it required editorial advice---the author would have to do a lot of revision before it would be considered.

Now he tells me he's tried three stories out with F&SF and gotten form letter rejections. He didn't say whether the story I mention was one of them, but he had said he was going to take my advice and submit it.

I would like to know whether any further consideration is given to a story that needs a lot of revision? It's a buyer's market, but I hate to see a story that I think has possibilities losing out because it's not up to standards. Do you pay any attention to potentialities nowadays, or is there too much of a rush?
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Sean Wallace
Posted on Friday, December 08, 2006 - 10:26 am:   

I'm not too certain that a magazine editor should be expected to revise heavily prospective submissions. It's just not worth the trouble, not when you can slot in any number of other polished stories. There's certainly no lack of the latter, after all.

It's the responsibililty of the author to hone their craft, and keep trying.

Sean
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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Friday, December 08, 2006 - 02:41 pm:   

I think we get 500-800 submissions each month. Out of those hundreds, we buy 5-10 a month. That means we say no to roughly 98 or 99% of all submissions.

In an average month, I might tell 1 or 2 writers that if they'll make revisions along the lines I've suggested, I'll give their story another look. It's rare for me to do so; experience has taught me that such stories usually take a lot of time and effort, and they rarely wind up being stories that our readers love. But it does happen; I'm planning to send out a check next week for one such story.

In general, though, I'm going to put in most of my editorial time on the stories I like enough to buy right away.
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Sue
Posted on Friday, December 08, 2006 - 04:23 pm:   

Gordon, out of interest, what proportion of that 98-99% is:

-Great and our cup of tea but we can't buy because we have too much already

-Great but not our cup of tea

-Good and even though our cup of tea, not good enough to buy

-Not our cup of tea and not good

-Too Horrible To Even Judge Which Applies
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Sean Wallace
Posted on Saturday, December 09, 2006 - 05:42 am:   

I agree with Gordon, in terms of spending time, especially if you're balancing other demands of the magazine. Looking through the five issues of Fantasy I had only three stories that required any amount of revision, minimal at best, with the exception of one story. If I had to guess we get about two hundred submissions a month, buying only one. If an author has something that tweaked our attention, however, we might ask them for submit more, but that happens rarely.

I tend to agree with JJA on a panel at Balticon, when he indicated that the stories have to be their very best, to get in. Anything less and it's simply not worth the time or energy.
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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Saturday, December 09, 2006 - 07:20 am:   

Sue---

Here are some rough estimates:

Gordon, out of interest, what proportion of that 98-99% is:

1) Great and our cup of tea but we can't buy because we have too much already: less than 5 percent

2)Great but not our cup of tea: less than 5 percent.

3) Good and even though our cup of tea, not good enough to buy: 25-30%

4) Not our cup of tea and not good: 50-60% (This one should actually be Not our cup of tea and/or not good. If a story hasn't engaged me within the first few pages, I'm not likely to stick around long enough to find out whether or not it's sfnal, fantastic, horrific, or not.)

5) Too Horrible To Even Judge Which Applies: 10-15%

As one would expect, the quality of the submissions fall into a bell curve.
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Bronwyn Elko
Posted on Saturday, December 09, 2006 - 10:20 am:   

I'm afraid I don't see how a writer can expect an editor to buy a story based on its potential: the story shouldn't even go out unless it's top-notch, can withstand (in my view) a critical re-read at least forty times.

I suppose that sounds excessive, but I really do think that if it can't withstand that many cold readings it shouldn't be published, not only for the reader's sake but for the writer's. As well, I know English profs who agonize over student work, who make themselves ill trying to suggest revisions for hundreds of essays; I can't imagine an editor going through that with even two or three writers every month and not burning out. I think we need to show editors a little mercy by being first and foremost merciless with our own stories. I myself could never and never did show that much patience when I attended Clarion. Did my best but it was difficult. The trick is to find a constructive way to criticize stories; that's seldom easy. As writers our egos are inextricably and too often bombastically entwined with our work. The last writer's group I was in a guy prefaced our critque by saying his brother-in-law didn't like his story, and how he'd like to kill him. This is no doubt an extreme reaction, but, needless to say, I then told him it was a "great" story.

John: did you suggest changes to your friend's work before suggesting he send it in to F&SF? Just curious.
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John William Thiel
Posted on Saturday, December 09, 2006 - 11:29 am:   

The revision I mentioned is revision in terms of what would make it satisfactory to a particular magazine editor, not to people in general.

No, I didn't tell him to revise it; he wouldn't have done so at my suggestion. But if an editor told him it needed revision, then he might do it.
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Sue
Posted on Saturday, December 09, 2006 - 12:36 pm:   

Thanks Gordon.
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Ahmed A. Khan
Posted on Saturday, December 09, 2006 - 04:21 pm:   

My suggestion would be to let the story pass through workshops like "critters".
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Brendan Connell
Posted on Sunday, December 10, 2006 - 01:55 am:   

An interesting topic.

My experience, as a writer, is actually a bit different. I can understand editors not wanting to get too involved in re-writes, but I also think that often times material gets published without being properly edited. Truth be told, outside of the major slicks, I have rarely seen a publication without some grammatical errors. These are often things like proper usage of past perfect or conditional tenses.

Furthermore, in my own rather limited career, there have been some interesting correlations between edits and the subsequent success of the publication. For example, out of the numerous stories I have had published only a very few have received what I would call relevant revisions, that being more than one correction/suggestion per page and possible suggestions for alternative endings. Those that come to mind are:

A Season with Dr. Black (Leviathan 3, ed. Jeff Vandermeer, Forrest Agguire)
The Maker of Fine Instruments (Strange Tales, ed. Rosalie Parker)
Lake Success (Adbusters)
The Life of Captain Gareth Caernarvon (McSweeney’s)

Now, interestingly enough, the two books listed here both won awards (P. Dick and World Fantasy), while the two periodicals both have quite high sales figures. To me there is some correlation. In the case of Rosalie Parker for instance, she really took the time to make the stories top notch. For my own, she had me change the ending. And, in the end, it really paid off.

This isn’t of course to detract from what Gordon and Sean are saying, because I can appreciate your comments, and it is clear that you have both made great successes.

But are the most polished stories always the best? (not a rhetorical question)
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Dflewis
Posted on Sunday, December 10, 2006 - 03:28 am:   

But are the most polished stories always the best? (not a rhetorical question)

I'm a great believer in unpolished raw flair (or a story polished to look like unpolished raw flair!?)
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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Sunday, December 10, 2006 - 05:26 am:   

I don't mean to dispute your point, Brendan (it's a good one), but none of the works you mentioned actually won the Philip K. Dick Award. Leviathan 3 was a finalist in 2002, but Carol Emshwiller's The Mount was the winner that year.

As to your question, did you read my first post? What I said was that I'd rather put in my editorial time on the stories I like well enough that I want to buy them right away. That is, we edit the stories after buying them.

In my opinion, your question should be a rhetorical one, because there's no way to answer it. To do so would mean that we'd all have to agree on what the best stories are, and I don't think that's going to happen.
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Brendan Connell
Posted on Sunday, December 10, 2006 - 05:46 am:   

Hi Gordon - Sorry, bad memory (short and long term).

And yes, I did read your first post.

But I wasn't trying to specifically address your or any other publication, I was trying to address the topic generally. I guess my feeling is that (in a general way):

1) All stories should get more editorial attention, even the polished ones.

2) It isn't the writer's job to turn in a perfect manuscript.
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Brendan Connell
Posted on Sunday, December 10, 2006 - 05:50 am:   

And I am not suggesting that you don't edit your magazine but more (once again in a very general way) that the writer/editor devision of labour seems to often be somewhat skewed.
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Brendan Connell
Posted on Sunday, December 10, 2006 - 05:53 am:   

I think my comments actually are more addressed to Bronwyn's remark: "the story shouldn't even go out unless it's top-notch, can withstand (in my view) a critical re-read at least forty times."
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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Sunday, December 10, 2006 - 09:10 am:   

I think that when a person sends out anything for publication---an article, a story, a letter of comment---it should be in the exact form that the author would like it to appear in. Anything less seems unprofessional to me.
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Brendan Connell
Posted on Sunday, December 10, 2006 - 09:23 am:   

Well, On the Road, was heavily edited. Hemmingway's manuscripts were full of errors. Balzac routinely completely rewrote his novels based on proofs.

Ponson du Terrail's books, though great fun, are often chock full of negligent sentences that weren't caught by the editor.

The truth is that, at least in books, the finished product is rarely as the author originally intended it. Many great authors also have not been great with things like gram. or spelling.

I am just not sure that writing fiction should be viewed as a professional occupation like lawyering or the like, as often great writer's have problesms - are dope fiends, depressed, think themselves demi-gods or what have you.

Obviously such characters make life hard for the editor, but that is all part of the fun, isn't it?
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Sunday, December 10, 2006 - 09:27 am:   

Sorry, I'm late coming to this but I had just gotten back from out of town when the discussion started.
I agree with both Gordon and Brendan on some points.

A submission should be as perfect as it can be when sent out. A writer cannot and should not count on an editor to see the problems with a submitted piece of ficton. It's not our job UNLESS we want to buy that story despite the problems. Only then should we be expected to edit the story.

I often go through several rewrites with an author (occasionally before committing to buy) if I really love the story and think that the author can fix it with guidance.

Bronwyn, I cannot imagine reading a story 40 times before publication. While editing a story, I might read it five times before publication --that's more than enough. By the time a story I've edited is published, it's very likely I won't want to reread it for several years, if ever.
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Bronwyn Elko
Posted on Sunday, December 10, 2006 - 09:44 am:   

Brendan,

I see your point, and can sympathsize. It's simply my experience that forty times (anal though it is) works, for me at least. One of my teachers taught me that formula; perhaps he recommended it because I have dyslexia. I can read and gloss over obvious mistakes many, many times. But he uses the same formula and his journalism reads like the very best fiction. (He does contract pieces that take months to write, not daily articles.) I think what's really great about his writing is that it's so polished it feels like one continous piece of silk; you can't detect the stitches let alone the polish. If someone can do that without reading it forty times that's fantastic. My standards are probably extreme; to each his own.

I still don't understand, however, why a writer would send out a story that isn't top-notch. If you're trying to beat out of the competition, it just makes sense. If I were an editor and had the choice between two equally interesting stories, I'd pick the one that was technically superior. Life is short and I'm lazy.
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Dflewis
Posted on Sunday, December 10, 2006 - 10:10 am:   

Reading stories by unnamed indviduals (as I do for Nemonymous) makes me read a story blind as it were. In the past, I have had no negotiation with the author prior to acceptance or rejection. Sometimes I enjoy (apparent) raw or imperfect flair, sometimes the silky polish. The story works for me or it doesn't.
I only edit for obvious typos. Self-evidently, I do not accept a story that I do not like for whatever reason, nor would I presume to ask for changes for fear of spoiling the story. The author may be a better editor than I. I do not know who it is.
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Sunday, December 10, 2006 - 10:15 am:   

If you don't edit, you're not an editor. You're just a "collector" of stories.

An important part of an editor's job IS to ask for changes, if they're necessary for the story to move from merely very good to brilliant. Editing can be an arduous process. My job is to get the author to produce the story they mean to in the best way possible.
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Dflewis
Posted on Sunday, December 10, 2006 - 10:21 am:   

Ok I am collector and publisher of stories for 'Nemonymous'. Things don't always need to be arduous to be (serendipitously) good, and I pride myself on finding (a better word than collecting) - in an original way - such 'good' stories. des
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Brendan Connell
Posted on Sunday, December 10, 2006 - 10:58 am:   

Ellen - I think that is the point, or one of them, that I was trying to make - that an editor's job, ideally, might go beyond simply selecting the stories.

I used to sort of bridle when an editor suggested I make a change to a piece, but now, in all honesty, I feel a certain satisfaction, because I think "Ah, he/she really cares."

Des - I seem to recall you doing a certain amount of "editing" on my pieces.

In any case, you certainly didn't publish them without suggesting some minor alterations.
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Sunday, December 10, 2006 - 11:00 am:   

Serendipity is nice, but you can't rely on it if you're editing an ongoing magazine or an anthology with deadlines.
I love the process of working with my authors. That's probably the most fun part of editing.
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Dflewis
Posted on Sunday, December 10, 2006 - 11:16 am:   

Fair enough, Ellen. I suppose the nature of story Nemonymous pays for and brings to the world is geared to how it was found. I am not an editor. I do not profess to know more than those who send stories to me. I facilitate, I do not pretend to do otherwise. And I think my approach is germane to the title of this thread in a different way to the strong 'editorial' approach (*when* editors actually edit i.e do not just choose stories they do not need to edit!).

Brendan, re both stories of yours that I 'facilitated' for world exposure, I can only recall typo editing.
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Bronwyn Elko
Posted on Sunday, December 10, 2006 - 12:29 pm:   

Ellen,

I see your point, and it's well taken. But given the volumes of stories you read, your seasoned experience, I'd also argue your eyes are sharper than most.

However and on second thought, I should not have imposed my anal, dyslexia-driven standards onto others. I apologize for scaring any new writers who may have taken my madness seriously.

I also want to say that I love what you said about an editor's job being to prod an author to produce the best story they can write. I'm sure that's what all writers want in an editor. And I totally agree that authors don't always write the story they are trying to tell; happens to me all the time. A good editor's incisive insight from a cold reading does push the writer into new and sometimes radical narrative perspectives. A deeper, rounder vision of the characters or story may then evolve. Ideally, the editing process is co-creative, stimulating for both writer and editor. I would imagine that's one of things you like about your job. Also why you're successful: you know how to bring out the best in your writers.

Brendan: Ditto when an editor offers suggestions; it's a sure sign they do care. I think that's what good critiquing is: fond meticulous grooming of the story.
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Sunday, December 10, 2006 - 12:41 pm:   

Bronwyn, you sure scared me ;-)
Thanks. You absolutely get what I love about my profession.
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Dflewis
Posted on Sunday, December 10, 2006 - 12:45 pm:   

I agree with Bronwyn. And the editors we all know and love do in fact do all that you say.

But beware of editors who would make your story worse, con you into believing that they know best. If I edited in that way, all the stories I published in 'Nemonymous' would all be like DF Lewis stories! Heaven forfend! :-)
des
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Brendan Connell
Posted on Sunday, December 10, 2006 - 01:24 pm:   

Des - As I mentioned earlier on this thread, my memory is not always perfect...
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Bronwyn Elko
Posted on Sunday, December 10, 2006 - 01:49 pm:   

Ellen: Sorry for the fright. Reading what I wrote, it does sound scary, even ludcrious. Nor did I think of the affects my statement might have on editors. Most feedback I get from others indicates I mostly scare myself, in any case. :-) When my teacher said that it scared me, too; I recall whining to him about getting old, hence slower, not having that much time left. But I also read the forty times proofreading formula in a book on writing, believe it or not. Can't remember where.

I also haven't always practiced what I preach. Unfortunately, I have sent out stuff that wasn't top notch (as you may recall). Now I don't want to waste time and postage when all I have to do is let the damn thing stew a bit longer. Besides, ideally, if I grunt through 40 readings then the editor buying it might have to only read it twice. :-)

Dflewis: Yeah, I've heard of editors who foist their vision of the story onto the writer. But I haven't had the experience. I'll bet it's a rare phenomenon. I think editors are similar in nature to a teacher in that real teachers are always happiest seeing their students run with the torch, produce the unexpected, extend previous knowledge, re-connect the dots of an old or underdeveloped paradigm in new, delightful ways.
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Dflewis
Posted on Sunday, December 10, 2006 - 02:10 pm:   

Yes, but when I was at school, there were good and bad teachers. Roughly 50/50. Or so I thought.
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Bronwyn Elko
Posted on Sunday, December 10, 2006 - 02:31 pm:   

Dflewis: wow. Sounds extreme. That wasn't my experience. But then I skipped school a lot. Maybe I'm naive, but I think most people who stay in teaching and editing are there becse they love it. And they love it becse they are good at it.

The rewards of either profession aren't that terrific if you take away job satisfaction, which in this case means working with others to get something for yourself that sparks creativity on some level (versus being destructive or tearing down other people's work, for the sake of, let's say, power-tripping; so your stats sound about right for a politician and a lot of cops, however.)
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Sunday, December 10, 2006 - 02:50 pm:   

Bronwyn, the problem with reading and rereading anything over and over again is that you still miss things that a fresh eye will catch. It appalls me how many times the writer, I, the copy editor, and the proofreader all miss something.
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Bronwyn Elko
Posted on Sunday, December 10, 2006 - 04:02 pm:   

Makes some weird sense, Ellen. Given that new study on how the brain automatically fills in letter gaps in words in which they are mssing. They say it's been shown that as long the first and last letter in the word are correct, our synpses prvde the ncesary hokus pokus to drive home the message. Interstng hw the md dos tht. I was fooling around with it last night. Some kid blogs and chatrooms are really outstanding examples of whole conversations written in chopped up soundbytes and ephemeral symbols, swiftly changing cultural icons and such. It's a new language based on the mind's ability to gloss over missing letters and right wrong mistakes in word order, etc. Kind of fascinating.

Still, it's terribly odd what you say about four fresh pairs of eyes being blind to flaws. I guess that's how stubborn a writer's imperfectations are on the page. Now I'm really scared. :-)
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Matt Hughes
Posted on Sunday, December 10, 2006 - 04:35 pm:   

With any writing prject, there comes a time when you know that further effort can make it different but not necessarily better. That's the time to send it out.

I don't worry about typos or minor textual infelicities. I care whether or not the characters are who they are meant to be and that the story flows smoothly from beginning through middle to end.

My experience has been that editors, whether magazine or book, do not require perfection in what arrives on their desks. They just want something they can work with.

Matt Hughes
Majestrum
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Jonathan Strahan
Posted on Sunday, December 10, 2006 - 04:45 pm:   

I don't know that there's a right or wrong approach when it comes to editing stories. For me, I've never accepted a story for publication that I wouldn't publish "as is", but I've only occasionally actually done so. When it comes to original anthologies (the only place I deal with original fiction these days), I tend to read a story once or twice and either accept or reject it. If I accept it, I flag at that point whatever changes I think might be necessary. Quite often there really are only copyedits or minor line edits, but occasionally it's more substantial than that. If so, I work with the author on the understanding that the story's been accepted, but I think it could be improved. I had a number of less than joyful experiences when editing a magazine years ago with asking for lots of changes before accepting a story or not, and I really tend to avoid that now.
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Sunday, December 10, 2006 - 06:02 pm:   

Jonathan,
If I really like a story but feels it needs a lot of work, I let the author know that I'm willing to work with her on it. But I make it very clear that I can't commit to buying it until I see the rewrite. It's then the author's choice as to whether she wants to try revising or not.
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John William Thiel
Posted on Monday, December 11, 2006 - 06:51 am:   

I think the stories discussed are stylistic maneuvers. What about TALES? That's where you get interested at once in what the writer has chosen to write about and how he writes is another matter. Don't tales have any currency anymore? I thought F&SF could use an actual tale, and that's what the fellow had; there was also a lot of black humor in it by way of material also interesting,but he had not styled it according to an editor's needs at all.

It was interesting to see Bronwyn's remarks on what is called closure in behavioral psychology. There's been more than one study of that in psychological writing.
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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Monday, December 11, 2006 - 08:14 am:   

First of all, I am not going to discuss Mr. Manachino's submissions in a public forum unless he invites me to do so. I think it's very bad form to go public discussing someone else's rejected work.

Second, you say "the stories discussed are stylistic maneuvers." What stories discussed? The only stories I've seen mentioned are Brendan and Bronwyn's own stories, plus the examples Brendan brought up of famous works that were sloppy submissions. (To which list I can add plenty, but they're beside the point. If you want to be treated as a professional, you'll submit work in a professional manner.)

Third, you're implying that F&SF doesn't publish "tales." I disagree. I think I've got stories in every issue that engage the reader immediately.

Fourth, you initially posted here asking about how much consideration is given to a work that needs revision. I think I've answered that question. Now you're saying that the subject is actually storytelling, not revision. If this change is just thread drift, fine by me . . . but after your post, I've got to ask if your real issue isn't simply that you don't like my taste. Is that the problem here? You're welcome to do so---taste is always going to be subjective and I don't pretend my taste is like everybody's. (I keep a note posted above my desk that says in Latin, "He labors in vain who tries to please everyone.")

Lastly, I have to tell you that I got a letter last week from a longtime subscriber and submitter whose work I have never published. He said: "...I am grateful that you never sent a rejection note that said: 'This is wonderful, but it's just not right for us. Send it to Magazine X.' ... You might be surprised how many rejections I have gotten telling me to send the story to F&SF. Apparently a number of your colleagues think they can edit F&SF as well as their own magazines."

I'll bet there are at least a dozen people around who can edit F&SF as well or better than I do. But for better or not, I'm the editor of the magazine and when it comes to submissions, I've got to call 'em as I see 'em.
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Monday, December 11, 2006 - 11:33 am:   

Gordon, I agree with everything you say except the letter you just received. I realize you're using it as an example of editorial taste.

But I regularly DO indeed rec a submission to other venues if I think it may work for that editor. And a decent percentage of those recommended stories are indeed bought by the magazine I've suggested.
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Bronwyn Elko
Posted on Monday, December 11, 2006 - 12:16 pm:   

Hi All,

I'm pleased and grateful when an editor suggests submitting a story to a specific venue, figuring he or she knows the tastes of other editors and markets far better than I do. But, I don't expect their recommendation to hold much actual sway with the other editor to buy it. Story preference is and should be a highly subjective act, an alchemical fireworks between author and reader. To some degree thatls always unpredictable. Authors are always rolling the dice when they submit their works. Comes with the turf.

Gordon, you're so right about laboring in vain. Pleasing everyone poisons the muses, to whom we owe first allegience. :-) When the muses depart from the literary cloth our stories wind up dressed in the emperor's new clothes.
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Sean Wallace
Posted on Tuesday, December 12, 2006 - 08:52 am:   

I'd have to agree with Ellen. I regularly channel submissions to other markets (including those in our stable, like Weird Tales), if I feel that it isn't right for my own projects. This doesn't happen a lot, but when it does it helps the author place their material. I don't think it reflects any opinion on the part of the editor themself to make this judgement call as much as an acknowledgement that certain stories work better in certain markets . . .

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