Horror Roundtable 5 – The Editor and The Writer

When: November 18-24, 2012
Time: 3pm Pacific Daylight Time (use the Time Zone Convertor to find your local time)

The Editor and The Writer (a view of both sides of the creation coin, as Jason V Brock put it when posing the idea – thanks Jason!).

What’s it like, as a writer, to have your work selected and shaped by an editor? And as an editor, what are the perils and rewards of editing the work of others? Are writers under any obligations to self-edit and get work into a professional shape before they submit anywhere? What about editors who compile versus editors who use a more hands-on approach? What are the lines delineated between writers and editors, and where are they blurred? How can a good editor help a talented writer?

Special Guests:

Ellen Datlow has been editing science fiction, fantasy, and horror short fiction for over thirty years. She was fiction editor of OMNI Magazine, Event Horizon, and SCIFICTION and has edited more than fifty anthologies, including the annual The Best Horror of the Year, Darkness: Two Decades of Modern Horror, Naked City: Tales of Urban Fantasy, Blood and Other Cravings, Supernatural Noir, Teeth: Vampire Tales, and After: Dystopian and Post-apocalyptic Tales (the latter two young adult anthologies with Terri Windling). Forthcoming is Hauntings, a reprint anthology  and Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells: An Anthology of Gaslight Fantasy  (with Terri Windling).

She’s has won nine World Fantasy Awards, and has also won multiple Locus Awards, Hugo Awards, Stoker Awards, International Horror Guild Awards, Shirley Jackson Awards, and the 2012 Il Posto Nero Black Spot Award for Excellence as Best Foreign Editor. Datlow was named recipient of the 2007 Karl Edward Wagner Award, given at the British Fantasy Convention for “outstanding contribution to the genre” and was honored with the Life Achievement Award given by the Horror Writers Association, in acknowledgment of superior achievement over an entire career.

She lives in New York and co-hosts the monthly Fantastic Fiction Reading Series at KGB Bar.  More information can be found at www.datlow.com or at her blog: http://ellen-datlow.livejournal.com/. You can also find her on twitter.

John Joseph Adams is the bestselling editor of many anthologies, such asOther Worlds Than These, Armored,Under the Moons of Mars: New Adventures on Barsoom, Brave New Worlds, Wastelands, The Living Dead, FederationsThe Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, andThe Way of the Wizard. He is a four-time finalist for the Hugo Award and a four-time finalist for the World Fantasy Award. He is also the editor and publisher of the magazines Lightspeed and Nightmare, and is the co-host of Wired.com’s The Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast.

Jason V Brock is an award-winning writer, filmmaker, composer, and artist, and has been published in Butcher Knives & Body Counts, The Devil’s Coattails, Calliope, The Bleeding Edge, Black Wings II, and many others. He was Art Director/Managing Editor for Dark Discoveries magazine for more than three years, and has a new magazine out called [NameL3ss].

As a filmmaker, his work includes the documentaries Charles Beaumont: The Short Life of Twilight Zone’s Magic Man; The AckerMonster Chronicles!, and Image, Reflection, Shadow: Artists of the Fantastic. Composer/guitarist for ChiaroscurO. Loves his wife, Sunni, reptiles/amphibians and vegan/vegetarianism.

Visit his website at www.JaSunni.com.

John Langan‘s next collection of short fiction, THE WIDE, CARNIVOROUS SKY AND OTHER MONSTROUS GEOGRAPHIES, is forthcoming from Hippocampus Press in early 2013.  His previous collection, MR. GAUNT AND OTHER UNEASY ENCOUNTERS (Prime 2008), was a nominee for the Bram Stoker award.  He is also the author of a novel, HOUSE OF WINDOWS (Night Shade 2009).  His stories have appeared in anthologies including A SEASON IN CARCOSA (Miskatonic 2012), BLOOD AND OTHER CRAVINGS (TOR 2011), SUPERNATURAL NOIR (Dark Horse 2011), and GHOSTS BY GASLIGHT (Harper Collins 2011).  His reviews and articles have appeared in the LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS, THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF SCIENCE FICTION, EXTRAPOLATION, and SCIENCE FICTION STUDIES.  An adjunct instructor at SUNY New Paltz, he teaches courses in Creative Writing and Gothic Literature.  He lives in the Hudson Valley with his wife and son.

* * * * *

Rules and Etiquette

Please be respectful when posting a comment.

Any spam or comments posted for the sole purpose of self-promotion will be deleted, and will see you banned from further Roundtable involvement.

124 Responses to “Horror Roundtable 5 – The Editor and The Writer”

  1. Jason V Brock says:

    Greetings all! I will serve as Moderator. Let’s take a quick poll of who is online…

  2. Ellen Datlow says:

    I’m here.

  3. John Langan says:

    Hello, everyone!

  4. John Joseph Adams says:

    Hi all. Thanks for having me.

  5. Jason V Brock says:

    OK: 3:00pm on the nose on the West Coast. Let’s start.

    The topic is “Editors and Writers.” This is sometimes a complex area, especially for new authors, to get their minds around. What are some things that are reasonable expectations for authors just beginning their careers with regard to the role of an editor?

  6. Ellen Datlow says:

    Do you mean once a story is bought or even before that?

  7. Jason V Brock says:

    I’ll augment that by stating that I’ve been a writer and an editor, and they are certainly different hats.

  8. Jason V Brock says:

    Before and after.

  9. Ellen Datlow says:

    Ultimately, my job -when working with a writer–is to help that writer communicate what he/she wants to in a specific story. That’s assuming that I’ve bought the story or plan to buy the story.

  10. Ellen Datlow says:

    Ok. Before–I read read read read. For whatever project on which I’m working, whether reprint or original, I am constantly reading and making choices. The choice to buy and publish a story or to reject it.

  11. Jason V Brock says:

    Would you consider yourself a “hand’s on” type of editor, Ellen? I feel that I am; I will help the writer shape the tale. Sometimes there is no need to do anything… Other times, well… ;)

  12. John Joseph Adams says:

    Every editor is different, I think–and obviously it may be different if you’re talking about novels vs. short fiction–but generally, I think editors are always on the lookout for new talent, so for authors new in their careers as writers, that’s the big hurdle: How to START that relationship with an editor. And of course the answer is to send him a story that blows him away. (Easier said than done, I know.)

    But as Ellen says, it’s the editor’s job to bring the best out of the author’s story, and this can be especially relevant to new authors, who might be close to being ready for primetime, but not quite, and so they might need a little editorial feedback to get there.

  13. Ellen Datlow says:

    Oh definitely. I’ve only come across a handful of stories during my 30+ years of editing that were “perfect”–usually there’s at least a few missplaced or overused words. Something that needs a wee bit of clarification…But mostly I work with writers on their stories and go through the revision process with them.

  14. Jason V Brock says:

    I think that the “editing” process is different for different folks, true. Some are more “compilers” than “editors” in the Maxwell Perkins sense.

  15. Ellen Datlow says:

    JJ is right (to distinguish him from John Langan :-) ). The biggest hurdle for new writers is to get an editor’s attention.

  16. John Joseph Adams says:

    My first reaction would be to say that I’m a hands-off editor, since most of the stories I buy, I don’t request any massive editorial changes. But on the other hand I seem to have a hard time letting stories go–the ones that are almost there but not quite, and so I’ve done extensive revisions with authors on a number of occasions. And there have been quite a few that I really hemmed and hawed over because I liked certain aspects of them so much but couldn’t quite figure out how to save.

  17. Jason V Brock says:

    That’s interesting JJ (barrowing Ellen’s shorthand!). Know that feeling well. Sometimes I’ve had editors like a story of mine, but they want clarification, etc. It truly is a give and take scenario. Especially if you work a lot with someone.

  18. John Joseph Adams says:

    And as Ellen says, few stories are perfect as-is, but I wouldn’t consider a line-edit to me “hands on” per se; the term hands-on makes me think that the editor is working with the author to make drastic changes, or suggesting complete rewrites etc. I do do a line edit on every story I publish, and of course some need more tweaking than others, but generally I try to stay mostly hands-off in that regard, and try to only make suggestions that are actual problems and not just matters of preference.

  19. Jason V Brock says:

    Do most writers respond well to the changes on average?

  20. Ellen Datlow says:

    I expect the writer to “save” a story that’s “just missing something”–if they can’t I’ll usually let it go.
    But JJ it does sound as if you’re sometimes a hands-on editor.

    How much time one spends on a story is dependent on 1)whether I think I can work with the author to get the story to work 2) how much time that will take

  21. John Langan says:

    Thanks for the disambiguation, Ellen…

    My own experience with editing has tended to be of the “could we change this word” or “could we clarify this sentence” variety, which has bred in me the belief that your story has to be pretty close to publishable in order to make the editing stage. I have the impression some new writers believe that as long as they can come up with a reasonably interesting concept, the editor will essentially help them write the story. (It’s not unrelated to those people you meet who, when they find out you’re a writer, tell you they have a great idea for a screenplay or novel, and all you need to do is write it up for them, and they’ll split the profits with you 50/50.)

  22. Ellen Datlow says:

    Oh see I consider “hands-on” both–many editors don’t line edit any more. I’m not a structure editor–although I can sometimes see and point out structural problems, it’s not my forte. There’s a point where if I love a story but feels it’s missing something or the ending doesn’t work (and the fault there usually likes about 3/4 through the story in sf), etc. that’s very much hands on.

  23. Ellen Datlow says:

    John (L) so how do you feel about being edited?

  24. Jason V Brock says:

    Do you think it valuable for writers to edit a larger work? Say an anthology? Just to get a feel for the editorial needs of putting a book together? I found it educational.

  25. Ellen Datlow says:

    With someone I’ve worked with a lot, I know I can be straightforward and just go into here are the problems. With writers who are newly writing for me (not only new writers but just those I haven’t before published) I’m a little more careful in how I broach changes. I don’t want to scare them away. :-)

  26. John Joseph Adams says:

    Ellen, yeah–I think it’s mostly a matter of personal misperception on my part. When I explain how I work, it sounds like I certainly am hands-on, at least on occasion, but I don’t FEEL like I am. :)

    But yes, how much time do you spend on a story depends on several factors. One you didn’t mention is if the story in question was a solicited story for a theme anthology, and so in those cases I know a lot of editors (myself included) will spend more time than you would otherwise to help try to save a story, since the authors wrote the story specifically for my book (and especially if the theme is so restrictive that they might have trouble placing it if I don’t take it). When I’m just working on my magazines, one factor is how much material I have in inventory. At Lightspeed, I’m often well-stocked on fantasy but low on science fiction, so I’m probably more likely to go the extra mile to save an ALMOST THERE science fiction story.

  27. Ellen Datlow says:

    Uh no. I think that’s a terrible reason for someone to edit an anthology. The experience can of course be useful but it doesn’t mean it should be done. (I’m not a writer. I’m a professional editor. There are plenty of reasons to edit an anthology, but for the experience isn’t one of them.

  28. Jason V Brock says:

    That’s reasonable. I’ve done both: If something doesn’t need anything, I won’t touch it. Other times, I’ve either had them re-write (per my suggestions), or (in a few cases) re-written the story to demonstrate the logical flaws. In those rare instances, the writers have signed off on the changes and run with it. Those are exceptions: A case of a great idea that could be a brilliant one, but there was too much “forest for the trees” fog… I always copy/line edit.

  29. John Joseph Adams says:

    I think it can be valuable for writers to do some work on the editorial side of the fence, sure. I often tell new writers that the best thing that they can do to improve their writing is read slush. That’s where I got my start, and though I quit writing in favor of editing, I know that working in the slush mines improved my writing (and, of course, editing) ability by leaps and bounds.

    I wouldn’t say that I would necessarily recommend writers edit anthologies. I think editing an anthology is a lot of work when you do it right, and it involves so many other people that you have a responsibility as the anthologist to really do it right, so you’re not wasting everyone else’s time. Most writers want to spend their time writing, not learning how to edit a good anthology.

  30. John Langan says:

    Ellen–in the end, I’ve always been happy to be edited, however much I initially might gripe (to myself) about the changes an editor’s suggesting to my work. Mostly, this is because, when I look back on my published work, I usually find myself thinking, “Oh, yeah, here’s where so-and-so suggested that extra sentence, and look at how much that improved this scene,” which in turn has made it progressively easier to accept editorial feedback.

    Jason–I’m not sure. The only real editing I’ve done was for a couple of the original stories that Paul Tremblay and I included in the Creatures anthology a couple of years ago. Of course I’ve read work from my friends as they were writing it, but I’m not sure how much the comments you offer someone when they’re writing a story overlap with those you offer when they’re revising it.

  31. Ellen Datlow says:

    I’m always hopeful that the stories coming in for a theme anthology are brilliant and will work in the overall anthology but first and foremost: “do I love this story?” -so before even trying to work on the story I need to love it even with its flaws. This letting go is harder when you have a big name submitting a story but it must be done for the integrity of the antho.

  32. Jason V Brock says:

    Great point. ESPECIALLY if you’ve requested the author’s story! Ha! Be terrible to then have to decline it! Happens, though…

  33. Jason V Brock says:

    What are your expectations for a writer during the editorial process?

  34. John Joseph Adams says:

    Re: how do writers deal with being edited… I saw a book in the story the other day that billed that edition as the “Author’s Cut” (akin to the Director’s Cut of a film). I imagined that “Author’s Cut” was code for “the pure undiluted awesomeness of a brilliant mind before those damn editors got their hands on it.”

  35. Ellen Datlow says:

    With editing, I think it’s always crucial to bear in mind that it’s the “author’s story” not the editor’s. The danger of writers editing is that sometimes (I’ve been told) the editor/writer consciously or subconsciously imposes his/her own biases on the work.

    I was once asked by a writer how I could be an editor without being a writer. I responded that as an editor I’m the “ideal reader”–in the sense that I have nothing invested in a specific story the way the writer does. I would never try to rewrite someone’s story, which has happened many times in publishing (not as much as in the very old days). If the writer can’t make the fixes necessary then I just reject it.

  36. Jason V Brock says:

    I think that’s a mistake to do. They final version that made the grade should be the one that is definitive. Of course, if you were a really well-known author (King, etc), you could have two versions to use for illustrative purposes. To demonstrate the editorial process…

  37. John Joseph Adams says:

    I think we all expect the writers we’re dealing with to act professionally and courteously, though of course that doesn’t always happen. Also, I like to expect that writers will reply to correspondence–and process contracts and checks–in a timely fashion. (I recently lectured at a couple of workshops, and I had a segment I just called “Cash Your Fucking Checks.” Seriously–you’d think that people would cash checks when they receive them, but no, they let them sit around for months after they arrive…)

  38. Ellen Datlow says:

    When I send a writer my queries/suggestions I ask for her feedback and if she don’t agree let me know. I try to be as specific as possible in my queries. If I say that I don’t “get” something in a story that likely means that whatever the writer tried to say ended up only in her head but not on the paper/screen and that there needs to be a clarification.

  39. Jason V Brock says:

    I was responding to JJA, Ellen, by the way! I think what you’re saying is spot on.

  40. John Langan says:

    Well, there are a couple of cases, such as Peter Straub’s decision to release the original version of what was published as A Dark Matter through Subterranean Press, where I think an argument can be made for such a decision. As a rule, though, I’d tend to agree that the published version is the one that the writer signs off on, and so should be treated as such.

  41. Jason V Brock says:

    Yes: The checks. Sadness. When you’re writing, JL, what is your personal editorial process?

  42. Ellen Datlow says:

    JJA I agree–I’ve occasionally sent out checks that were large enough that I was boggled that the writer didn’t deposit the check until I nagged about a month later.
    Because I work from home and am online so much I always expect an immediate response from my authors…that may be unreasonable. However, when in the middle of the editing process I do I expect at least a quick confirmation of receipt of my editing queries –to not do that is just rude.

  43. Ellen Datlow says:

    oops I see a “don’t” that should have been a “doesn’t” –I changed plural to singular but forgot to fix that (ignore ;-0 )

  44. Jason V Brock says:

    No worries.

  45. John Joseph Adams says:

    Re: checks — I started using my bank’s online billpay system to issue checks, since it makes it a lot easier to send out all the payments, since the bank sends the checks (and pays for the postage). The checks, which are essentially cashier’s checks, expire after 90 days if they’re not deposited, so that’s mitigated my rage at folks who don’t cash their checks. It’s still annoying because when the check expires, I get a notification, and then I have to reissue it, but that’s better than having a check out there and never knowing when the author is going to deposit it (thus making it harder to keep your checkbook straight).

  46. Jason V Brock says:

    What is another complaint, other than the checks, and the “Author’s Cut” (which I must say seems quite pretentious!)? Non-responsiveness, I agree. Perhaps a lack of understanding why the edits are needed?

  47. Ellen Datlow says:

    I’ve started to use paypal as much as possible. It’s a joy, especially for royalties and foreign payments (they take out a hell of a lot less than the banks).

  48. Jason V Brock says:

    We try to use PayPal only. Some folks aren’t open to it, though.

  49. Ellen Datlow says:

    Jason-if a writer refuses editing, on even minor things, I probably won’t work with him.

  50. John Joseph Adams says:

    Ellen, my wife often has to remind me that not everyone lives online like we do, and might need more than a day to reply to something. :)

    Actually, the cases where it’s boggled me the most that I didn’t get a quick reply to an email is when I accepted a story for publication. I’ve seriously had to wait like two weeks at least once to hear back from an author after accepting a story. I’d be more sympathetic if I held onto stories for weeks before accepting or rejecting, but I almost always reply within 3 days one way or another.

  51. Jason V Brock says:

    I think that’s reasonable.

  52. Ellen Datlow says:

    Minor stuff like formatting correctly (the move from print to web makes it a morass of differing instructions).

  53. Jason V Brock says:

    Replying to Ellen and JJA!

  54. Ellen Datlow says:

    Jason: I was responding to your question about other complaints.

    JJ: Yeah, but when I see the same writers posting on twitter and/or fb I get really pissed if they don’t get back to me.

  55. Jason V Brock says:

    Yes: Formatting. It seems so simple, but I guess not. I try to outline that VERY specifically. I figure if you’re not paying attention to that, then you’re not paying attention to other things…

  56. John Langan says:

    Jason–It’s evolved a bit over the years. When I started writing seriously, I tried to write at least two pages a day. The first page I wrote was a re-write of the last page I’d written the day before–which of course I’d edit as I went–and the second page was new material. In this way, by the time I finished a draft of something, it already had been pretty heavily (self) edited. I handwrite everything, so typing it into the computer resulted in another round of revision, and then I’d show it to my wife, whose response and suggestions would lead to another round of revisions. By the time a story was ready to go out in the mail, it had been pretty heavily edited.

    These days, my initial writing process tends to be a bit more streamlined. I’ve gained enough confidence in myself as a writer that I get through my first draft without rewriting every page–though I still tend to look at what I wrote most recently and tweak whatever needs tweaking–and while I still go through a round of revisions while I’m typing the thing, that tends to be about it.

  57. John Joseph Adams says:

    Oh, one of the things that bugs me the most is when people query about sending a story, even though my guidelines specifically say not to query, to just send the story. Or when they reply to a rejection and tell me what an idiot I am.

    I actually had a guy at Lightspeed post a 1000 word screed as a comment on one of the stories we published (an award nominee!), in which he basically said that it was the worst story ever and I was an idiot for publishing it. And then he submitted a story to me the next day. Likewise, the people who reply to rejections calling me an idiot still keep submitting, which is puzzling. I would have thought that them doing that was them going out in a blaze of glory, never to be heard from again. But no, they call you an idiot and then keep submitting. My favorite one recently was the guy who passive aggressively explained that his stories were obviously “too abstract and intellectual” for me, and that he’d try to send something more my speed in the future.

  58. Ellen Datlow says:

    I have gotten increasingly annoyed at the lack of response to copyediting/galley questions that come from my publishers and have deadlines.

    I leave plenty of extra time for the editorial process when I edit anthologies but once the book is in production I expect the contributors to respond asap with their corrections. If they don’t get back on time the entire book might be delayed.

    To me, that’s inexcusable -if someone becomes trouble I’ll be far less likely to publish them in the future.

  59. Jason V Brock says:

    Interesting. I start with a handwritten page or two, then switch to the computer. I try to blast through the story before editing (though I can’t always resist touching it that long). I am a chronic reviser. I have rewritten stories 10 or 15 times from beginning to end before! I usually give it a “rest” period for a few days (or weeks) before rewriting. I can mostly get by with three complete revisions now.

  60. Ellen Datlow says:

    JJ: I could tell you stories about big name writers who did that to me over the years at OMNI. I kept their letters :-)

  61. Jason V Brock says:

    Trouble, yes. Thankfully I have not had too much exposure to that, though I did have a VERY right-wing guy explain what a jerk I was, then sent me a story! WTF?

  62. John Langan says:

    Jason–Much as I believe in revision/editing, I’ve tried to balance that more recently with a quotation from Henry James: “Genius does not require perfection.”

  63. Jason V Brock says:

    I didn’t work with him… ;)

  64. Jason V Brock says:

    HAHAH! Good point, JL. When I get there… ;)

  65. Ellen Datlow says:

    I hope I’m not sounding too harsh. I love working with writers–to me the editing process is one of the best parts of editing (pre-production). I love the back and forth–hoping that my input will help make a very good story even better. And I don’t mind arguing back and forth with my authors about what should stay in or not (and why). Sometimes I’ll let something go even if I think it’s wrong and say ok -if the in-house editor and the copy editor don’t notice, we’ll leave it in.

  66. Jason V Brock says:

    Basically, this is a strange enterprise we’re all engaged in. Everyone has an ego, some more sensitive than others. I guess we have to try to keep that in mind… Of course, some people you just want to slap! HAHA!

  67. Ellen Datlow says:

    Oh yeah.

  68. Jason V Brock says:

    Final thoughts before we let anyone comment? Thanks to everyone for participating!

  69. John Langan says:

    I’m glad that neither Ellen nor JJA has slapped me.

  70. Ellen Datlow says:

    I think it’s really important for an editor to keep her ego out of the editing process….I don’t been the process of soliciting, buying, rejecting stories but the process once a story has been bought –or committed to. I have sometimes told a writer that I’d like to see a rewrite but can’t promise to buy the story even if she does revise.

  71. Jason V Brock says:

    Give it time, JL! Give it time… ;)

  72. John Joseph Adams says:

    I’d just say thanks again for having me. And to all the horror writers out there: NIGHTMARE (www.nightmare-magazine.com) is currently open to submissions!

  73. Ellen Datlow says:

    Heh heh

  74. Jason V Brock says:

    Good point, Ellen.

  75. John Joseph Adams says:

    Aren’t you a black belt in some martial art, John? I wouldn’t dare smack you now!

  76. Ellen Datlow says:

    Just trip him !

  77. Jason V Brock says:

    Thanks again, everyone! And thanks to the HWA for the Roundtables, and to the inestimable Marty Young for his guidance and help!

  78. John Joseph Adams says:

    So now the gates of hell are going to open and all the demons are going to swarm around us or something?

  79. Ellen Datlow says:

    I’ll hang around if anyone has questions.

  80. Jason V Brock says:

    HAHAH! We’ll see…

  81. Jason V Brock says:

    *crickets*

  82. John Langan says:

    On a more serious note–remember that the editor tends to have the best interests of you and your work at heart. If the piece doesn’t work, it isn’t going to reflect well on them, either. Be humble, and listen, and don’t do anything before you’ve had at least a day or two–maybe more if you need it to view things calmly–to reflect.

  83. John Joseph Adams says:

    Good point, and good advice, John.

  84. myoung says:

    Thanks everyone. I know this Roundtable had a lot of delays and changing dates, so I really appreciate you all sticking with it and providing an really informative chat.

    And now, as John said, the gates of hell are open and anyone can post a comment or ask a question of our wonderful guests.

  85. John Joseph Adams says:

    If NIGHTMARE continues to do well, I’m thinking of starting TORTURE PORN MONTHLY. Judging from the slush I get, there is high demand for such a thing.

  86. Ellen Datlow says:

    Good advice, John. Most editors aren’t deliberately trying to bust your chops. For a new writer if you get personal feedback that’s a very good start.

  87. John Joseph Adams says:

    I could also probably publish RAPE FANTASY QUARTERLY.

  88. John Joseph Adams says:

    Both of those magazines would be TERRIBLE, but I’d never be hard up for material…

  89. Ellen Datlow says:

    That’s a bummer.

  90. John Langan says:

    *note to self…*

  91. John Joseph Adams says:

    Ba-dum-bump. I’ll be here all week, folks.

  92. Jason V Brock says:

    God! That’s horrible!

  93. Ellen Datlow says:

    The problem with a lot of horror stories I read are that they are high concept but don’t really tell a story. They’re a scene (and a bad one at that).

  94. John Joseph Adams says:

    Hopefully the prevalence of that kind of stuff is just because we’re a new market, and so everyone who had such a story in their trunk already dusted it off and sent it our way.

  95. Jake Kerr says:

    Esteemed editor types,

    Do you find that you get typecast over a genre or style? For example, in your previous comment John, you mentioned that a writer said that his submission was too arty for you. Expanding from that, do editors get pegged as being a “Hard SF” type or a “fantasy” person? Oh, I guess I should add Ellen–since you edit the year’s best horror, do some people think of you as a horror person?

    Oh, and John, I read that comment you discussed earlier. It was GENIUS.

  96. First, let me thank you all for doing this. It has been very informative and it is most appreciated. I have a handful of questions here, so I hope I’m not being bothersome asking so many.

    My first is, what are your thoughts on replying to an acceptance? I saw something JJA mentioned, but personally I’ve always felt editors likely would frown on this. I’m not talking about replying to edits, but that initial “Congrats” email.

    Next, I have read on one set of guidelines that the editors of one magazine prefer a very basic, simple cover letter; a simple “Please consider…” note. Do you all have a preference?

    I know JJA said that he has a tendency to look for science fiction given he has plenty of fantasy. Being his this is the HWA, are their sub-genres of horror that interest you more than others?

    And, my last question, how long do we get you? Do you read the whole story each and every time or if we don’t have by say the first or second sentence, is it a no?

    Again, thank you all for your time.

  97. John Langan says:

    Jake–yes, yes it was.

  98. Ellen Datlow says:

    I’ve been editing sf/f/h throughout my career so not so much. In the past few years I’ve been editing fantasy and horror more in my anthologies, although now that I’m acquiring short stories for Tor.com I hope to be buying more science fiction again.

  99. John Langan says:

    Ken–Anytime I have a story accepted, I always send a brief e-mail thanking the editor and expressing my excitement. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

  100. Ellen Datlow says:

    Ken-I expect to hear back from the author if I’ve taken a story–in fact, I find it quite weird when I don’t.

    Considering how much I have to read for my Best horror, I read far too much of a story that I realize 1)isn’t horror 2) is not going to make the cut immediately

  101. John Joseph Adams says:

    >My first is, what are your thoughts on replying to an acceptance?

    ALWAYS reply to an acceptance! Even if it’s just to say “Thanks very much! I’m excited to have the story appear in [publication].” It’s just weird not to, I think.

    > Next, I have read on one set of guidelines that the editors of one magazine prefer a very basic, simple cover letter; a simple “Please consider…” note.
    > Do you all have a preference?

    I don’t have much of a preference on cover letters, though simple, very basic ones are fine for me. I don’t want the writer to provide a synopsis or anything like that, or brag about how great their story is, so I tend to prefer the simple ones. I don’t spend a lot of time analyzing them, though. :)

    > I know JJA said that he has a tendency to look for science fiction given he has plenty of fantasy. Being his this is the HWA, are their sub-genres
    > of horror that interest you more than others?

    I guess I have a strong preference for what Charles Grant called “quiet horror.”

    > And, my last question, how long do we get you? Do you read the whole story each and every time or if we don’t have by say the first or
    > second sentence, is it a no?

    Oh, a very small percentage of slush stories get read all the way til the end. Once the editor knows the story is going to be a “no,” he or she stops reading.

  102. Ellen Datlow says:

    As most of the actual submissions I see are solicited I don’t care about cover letters. However, if I’m sent a ms or printout of a horror story that I haven’t seen in a magazine or anthology then a cover letter saying where it’s from and when it was published is crucial (or typing that on the ms itself).

  103. John Joseph Adams says:

    Jake,

    I do find that writers sometimes seem to get a funny idea of what kind of stories I like or don’t like. I expect this is probably due to writers maybe not reading the markets they submit to closely enough, but it is bothersome when I hear about that happening.

  104. Jason V Brock says:

    “The problem with a lot of horror stories I read are that they are high concept but don’t really tell a story. They’re a scene (and a bad one at that).”

    Indeed. It is the influence of MFA degrees I think! It’s a bit of navel-gazing with literary pretensions (which CAN work, but there seems to be a lot of it these days).

    ——————————————-

    “Do you find that you get typecast over a genre or style? For example, in your previous comment John, you mentioned that a writer said that his submission was too arty for you. Expanding from that, do editors get pegged as being a “Hard SF” type or a “fantasy” person? Oh, I guess I should add Ellen–since you edit the year’s best horror, do some people think of you as a horror person?”

    To me, personally, ALL writing is genre. You can slice how you wish: so-called Chick Lit, SF, horror, literary… It’s all genre, which is just a collection of marketing handles. If a tale is well-written, well-constructed, and has something to say, then I like it, irrespective of the handles.

    —————————

    “My first is, what are your thoughts on replying to an acceptance? I saw something JJA mentioned, but personally I’ve always felt editors likely would frown on this. I’m not talking about replying to edits, but that initial “Congrats” email.”

    I’m fine with it.

    “Next, I have read on one set of guidelines that the editors of one magazine prefer a very basic, simple cover letter; a simple “Please consider…” note. Do you all have a preference?”

    I don’t care. I’d rather read a piece then read the cover letter. I don’t want to be biased.

    “I know JJA said that he has a tendency to look for science fiction given he has plenty of fantasy. Being his this is the HWA, are their sub-genres of horror that interest you more than others?”

    See my reply to the other fellow’s question, above.

    “And, my last question, how long do we get you? Do you read the whole story each and every time or if we don’t have by say the first or second sentence, is it a no?”

    Here’s my basic rule: A novel needs to grab me in the first page; a short story in the first paragraph; a poem in the first line. If something is meritorious, I usually skip to the middle, then the ending, just to gauge the structure and flow, then I’ll read the whole story.

  105. Great answers! Thank you, all.

  106. Ellen Datlow says:

    Jason, I’m not talking about “literary” stories at all. I’m talking about torture and slasher type stories. By writers who only know horror by what they see on the screen. If anything “literary” horror is low concept and more mainstream (which by some writers is brilliant-eg Dan Chaon)

  107. I know this likely will drudge up the standard answers, but are there certain tropes that are a “no” right off? Or do you still give those stories a chance, perhaps seeing if they might surprise you in the end?

  108. John Joseph Adams says:

    Kenneth,

    For me, there’s nothing that gets an automatic “no.” If there were, I’d specify them in my guidelines. But I don’t, because even themes and tropes that I don’t like (or actively despise), there’s a chance that the best possible example of that trope will work for me, even if most examples of it don’t.

  109. Jason V Brock says:

    Oh, I see. Yes: The “one stage” Grand Guignol sort of things. Awful, I feel. Haven’t had to deal with those too much, thankfully. I do tire a bit of first person narratives, though, where all the characters are Charles Bukowski untermenschen (without the ability or insight, I mena).

  110. Ellen Datlow says:

    I’m not fond of “franchise horror” so I find it really difficult to read for example the robot vs zombie type anthos (sorry Jeff C if you’re here). The reason is that it’s mostly boring because it has to follow a “bible.”

  111. Ellen Datlow says:

    Jason-yes-alas there are way too many non-stories like that out there, published.

  112. John Joseph Adams says:

    OK, this was fun, everyone. Signing off now…

  113. Jake Kerr says:

    As an author, I tend to think of the short fiction markets as a meritocracy. It’s where new writers have a chance if they write a strong enough story. If I may ask you to pull the curtain aside, how true is that? Does a weaker story by a famous writer go in over a great story by an unknown for circulation or sales reasons?

  114. Thanks again for the great responses.

  115. Jason V Brock says:

    I agree! I really won’t read them. I think the marketing of that stuff has gotten out of hand, too. Too many TERRIBLE free e-books/stories out there. I refer to it as “static” that obscures the real deal…

  116. John Langan says:

    Thanks, everyone, but my family’s calling…I’ll have a look back in over the next few days.

  117. Jason V Brock says:

    “As an author, I tend to think of the short fiction markets as a meritocracy. It’s where new writers have a chance if they write a strong enough story. If I may ask you to pull the curtain aside, how true is that? Does a weaker story by a famous writer go in over a great story by an unknown for circulation or sales reasons?”

    No, not by me. I HAVE to really like it. Now, not everyone has the same tastes, so that’s fair, but I won’t put a name in something just to do it, and I’ve published MANY non-name authors, some to great responses.

  118. Ellen Datlow says:

    Jake: Since JJ has a wide open market he may be more able to respond…

    For the Best of the Year, every writer has an equal chance. I’ve only taken one Stephen King story in the four years (so far) of the Best Horror). I published more new or unknown writers in Best Horror #4 than ever before.

    Once I read a terrific stories by a writer I’ll start asking them to submit new stories to me for original projects. I may not buy them, but they have as much of a chance at that point as any other writer I solicit.

  119. Ellen Datlow says:

    And now I have to go and heat up my dinner. I’ll drop by over the next few days to see if there are more questions.

  120. Jason V Brock says:

    Night everyone!

  121. A couple of comments, and a question.

    — I wear both editor and author hats and enjoy them equally. I definitely feel that editing two anthologies in the past six years has helped inform my work as an author. I might be a bit of an odd bird, but I read slush and give a story a page or two. If it makes it past that, I jump down in the trench with the author and try to fix the bugs. It’s enjoyable, I get a lot of appreciation from the authors I’ve worked with, and have built more than one good friendship from this approach. Not to mention, it helps me avoid similar mistakes in my own fiction.

    — I have had a few people “give me a piece of their minds,” over rejections, but have also had some responses that were more humorous (unintentionally) than angry. One author actually sent me a survey with multiple choice answers as to why I rejected his piece.

    What I’d like to ask is how often does the editing relationship end up derailing a friendship or professional relationship? I know I’ve rejected work by more than one friend, and a few respected authors–sometimes because the work isn’t a good fit, but sometimes because the piece just isn’t up to par. So far, I haven’t caused any serious damage that I’m aware of. ;D

  122. Ellen Datlow says:

    Hi Lincoln, I’ve personally never had a rejection derail a friendship but I do know of at least one situation when it did. Robert Sheckley rejected a story submitted by Michael Shaara (author of the Civil War classic Killer Angels) to OMNI and Shaara broke off the friendship because of it. I have no idea how close the two were but to my mind that was utterly unprofessional on the part of Shaara.

    If writers can’t take “rejection” they should be doing something else.

    Even if I loved every story ever submitted to me I can’t buy them all. Part of the job of any editor is to “reject stories”-for whatever reason.

  123. Jason V Brock says:

    I agree with Ellen, Lincoln. I have rejected a lot of stories, and it has not damaged my friendships, but I’m sure it wasn’t the most pleasant thing, either.

    I have to say that I did need to edit a nonfiction piece for a magazine once, and the author got irate; he was irate because he felt it “ruined his work.” That wasn’t the case (for instance, there were several factual errors, and a couple of serious omissions, in addition to some minor copy edits). Since then, we have not communicated, but I feel certain this individual is not at all pleased with what had to be done. On the other hand, I have to take it with a grain of salt and just be OK with it. If this person wanted to work together again, I would. It was never personal. Editing is about letting the AUTHOR be the best that they can: Allowing errors, etc, would have been to their (and my) detriment.

    Writing is a personal thing, however, so one must always (try) to remain mindful of that.

  124. Erinn Kemper says:

    Some really helpful insights, especially once I get over that first hurdle and receive an acceptance. Thank you all for doing this!