SF Editors in Conversation at Clarkesworld Magazine

Eskimo Nebula
Eskimo Nebula

So we bounce from Romance to SF. This month’s Clarkesworld Magazine carries an interview with ten of the top spec fic editors: Patrick Nielsen Hayden from Tor Books and Tor.com, Shawna McCarthy from Realms of Fantasy, John O’Neill from Black Gate magazine, Cat Rambo from Fantasy Magazine, Mike Resnick from Jim Baen’s Universe, Stanley Schmidt from Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Jason Sizemore of Apex Magazine, Gordon Van Gelder of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (my dream would be to be published by them), Sheila Williams from the venerable Asimov’s Science Fiction (I might as well hold out for the winning lottery ticket), and Ann VanderMeer from Weird Tales.

Gordon Van Gelder struck fear in my heart with this comment when asked what he looks for in a short story:

[Freshness] is often the hardest, as I see lots of stories that are skillfully rendered but in the end, they leave me feeling like I’ve read them before (or like they’re too similar to something I’ve read).

WAAAAAAAA!!! This is my nightmare. I feel like I need to read everything out there to avoid this.

This whole interview is a treasure trove of info for writers, whether you write science fiction, fantasy, or anything else. In response to the question for advice to people submitting fiction, McCarthy has this to say:

Don’t include money, candy, condoms, underwear, stamps, four leaf clovers, photos of yourself, photos of your cat or photos of your kids. We have gotten all of these at one time or another. Send it to the right address. Enclose an SASE. Neatness counts. So does spelling. Don’t copy someone else’s work. Sit up straight. Cover your mouth when you cough. Look both ways when you cross the street.

Nielsen Hayden is always amusing, when I’ve read interviews with him (which may only be one other time, but still…). His advice to same question as above:

Read something other than SF. Do something with your life other than struggling to sell SF stories. Sheila Williams, above, rightly recommends that you populate your stories. I’d say you should populate your life. Do some stuff that not all the other striving writers have done. Go out into the world and discover interesting things about how it works. Report back.

Or, alternately, live in a closet and eat cactus. Emily Dickinson barely ever left her room. It really doesn’t matter how you do it. It’s not about writers and editors, it’s about stories and readers.

They discuss what “fit” means for them, why they’d reject a good story, how the business has changed. Anyway, go read the rest of it, great stuff.

11 thoughts on “SF Editors in Conversation at Clarkesworld Magazine

  1. Again, thanks for the heads up on this stuff. I’m not online a lot and I really appreciate your providing these links. I have to get ready for work now but I will definitely read this article this weekend. I’m always interested in what editors have to say, no matter the genre. And since I love SF&F anyway this is a real treat. Thanks again! 😀


  2. You are so very welcome, Jenna! 🙂 I thought this was a particularly good one, with ten of them giving responses, and there was no sniping or snarkiness that’s been so prevalent of late.


  3. D D. Are you writing Sci Fi? For some reason I thought you were writing historical fiction and of course, the vampire story which sounds exciting. Also, I wanted to echo Jenna’s thanks for the links. You do provide one of the best collection of links and it is very helpful, so thanks for doing that.


  4. Hiya Venus,

    Thanks, glad you enjoy the links! I like to share things I find inspiring, exciting, informative.

    No, no historical fiction yet. That will be the prequel to the novel I started. It’s more along the lines of magical realism, set in the not too distant past. SF was my first love, but not being a scientist of any stripe it’s hard for me to try to write the stuff I like, which is the real “hard” SF. Readers are a lot more sophisticated these days with regard to technology, you can’t just dream up some weird device or freaky planet and expect to get by with it if it’s not grounded in some real science. The days of the “space opera” are pretty much over, I think. You can only bend the rules of physics so far 😉


  5. Ah, that’s where I thought it was historical fiction – from the post about book research for the prequel. Your novel sounds fascinating! I love the sound of “magical realism.” My knowledge of SF is limited to Star Wars, the very first season of Star Trek and Frank Herbert’s Dune books. Magic, on the other hand, I love.

    Ironically, I am a scientist by education and I have kept up with advancements in quantum physics out of own curiosity but I cannot even visualize a SF world. I can’t watch most of them for the same reason. I keep saying, “But that’s not scientific!” I prefer the “space opera” type SF because I can let my imagination run wild without getting caught up in details.

    Anyway, good luck on the story. I am sure whatever you are writing is great and I hope to read it in print someday!


    1. That’s interesting, that you like the “space opera” better despite having a background in real science. You might like Ursula K. Le Guin. She once said something along the lines that she just writes stories, but sets them in outer space. It’s kind of low-tech, but social issues. I can’t find the exact quote right now (I can never find anything when I’m looking for it). If I do get around to trying my hand at SF, it would be more along those lines, I guess.


  6. “Neatness counts. So does spelling”

    Isn’t it amazing that people who want to be published writers need to be TOLD?


    1. The mind reels. But I’ve seen comments online from writers (can’t recall if it was someone’s blog, or just some article on writing) that writers shouldn’t have to worry about all that, that’s the editors’ job… I guess they just see themselves as the concept man, and the editors are supposed to actually produce the thing. I saw something just recently, dealing with sending in a query, consisting of the ubiquitious first five pages. The article said the first couple pages should be ABSOLUTELY perfect spelling and grammar, but after that a couple errors here and there wouldn’t be catastrophic. If I can find it again, I’ll post a link to it.

      What happened? People used to know how to spell, use punctuation and good grammar. When did that become a relic of the past?


      1. “The first couple pages should be ABSOLUTELY perfect spelling and grammar, but after that a couple errors here and there wouldn’t be catastrophic.”

        That’s almost exactly what I tell my students, because I want them to be ready for the real world. Any clown can convince herself that her concepts are so unique and fabulous that some editor is just dying to clean them up and make a bestseller out of ’em, but people have to realize that publishing – or any job where communication is essential – is so competitive, that if you submit some sloppy, unpunctuated, garbled mess, it just implies that

        a. you don’t have much respect for your reader/client/employer and
        b.you don’t have much respect for your own content.

        I blame the whole thing on the bogus self-esteem movement that cropped up around the time our generation was having kids: grammar/punc are difficult to teach, and sometimes arduous to learn, so the New Age phonies punted, telling their offspring and their students that “creativity” was the only thing that mattered, without really doing much to reward or encourage truly creative, innovative thinking or writing or problem-solving (I see all three as related.) As a result, the potentially creative souls are limited to what they can express in simple, boring sentences consisting of 1 noun and 1 verb, and the poor souls who are maybe not so creative can’t even sell themselves in decent cover letter, or write a letter to their credit card company to explain that they were overcharged.

        There -now I’m off my soapbox and can let my bloodpressure settle back down to normal 😉


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