Sunday, June 26, 2011

Short Stories: Working with Fiction Magazines

I have Karl Johanson, editor with Neo-Opsis Science Fiction Magazine, to talk about the challenges he sees when writers submit their fiction.

1.       What is the biggest mistake new writers make when they edit a short story?

For me, sending out a sexist or racist story is the biggest mistake. I don't mean a story which includes racist or sexists characters, but one where the *point* of the story is the racism or sexism. We get stories submitted from all over the world, but a fair percentage of the stories we get from one country in particular, make the erroneous point that all women are evil and that when a man does something evil, it’s because a woman influenced him to be that way. Rather shocking for the 21st century.

2.       What are the most common editing issues you see?

If a story has italic text in part, it is common to submit the story with the italicized text marked with an underscore at the beginning and end of the text. (I'm told this had something to do with the way manual typesetting worked.) I have to manually convert all the relevant text to italics, so I'd just a soon people submit any stories to Neo-opsis with the italicized text already italicized (especially if there's a lot of it).

3.       There is a misconception amongst some new writers about the role of an editor. What can someone expect when their story or novel is accepted for publication?

That the story won’t be in print the next day: ) Some publishers will do some promotion for your story or book, but remember that the writer can promote as well.

4.       If an author has a dispute with their editor, what is the best way to deal with it? (i.e. editor wants to change something significant, author doesn’t want to...let’s say make a gay character straight, change the ending of a story, etc.)

Don't make it about egos. Be respectful and treat it like any other negotiation. Explain why you don't want the changes, and listen and understand the editor's reasons for requesting the changes. See if a compromise is possible. Know what you're willing to change and what you aren't. Don't be angry if you and the editor can't come to an agreement. Shake hands, then send the story to another publisher.

I've only asked writers to ok changes (other than fixing typos or changing to Canadian spelling, etc.) a few times. In each case it was a science or technical flaw. To avoid conflict, I spelled out what I thought the problem was, and told them I was interested in publishing the story, pending the change. For example, if the writer has people using a chemical fueled Saturn V rocket to explore Neptune's moons, I'll want that adjusted before I'd want to publish it (assuming I like the story otherwise). By spelling out the changes I want, *before* making an agreement to publish, I avoid a conflict. If the writer agrees, good and we publish it. If the author doesn't agree, good and we don't publish it.


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