Monday, February 7, 2011

Six Questions for Edmund R. Schubert, Editor, Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show

From the website:

"Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show is an online fantasy and science fiction magazine. We are a bi-monthly publication featuring content from both established as well as talented new authors. In addition to our bi-monthly issues, we offer weekly columns and reviews on books, movies, video games and writing advice." Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a story and why?

ES: More than anything else, I look for a story that I can get lost in. I want to all but forget that I’m reading and become completely immersed in the tale.

Secondly, and just as important, I look for stories with a sense of purpose. I want a story that is not only going somewhere, but knows where it’s going.

And third, I look for characters that act in a believable fashion. It goes back to that first item I mentioned, because nothing pulls me out of a story faster than characters who act like puppets or morons or cardboard cut-outs. Believability from the characters is key.

SQF: What are the top three reasons a story is rejected, other than not fitting into your answers to question one and why?

ES: Stories that start well but fail to end get rejected. Not end badly, but simply fail to provide a sense of resolution. I don’t know how people can write stories like that, yet it happens all too often. I suspect those authors think they have an ending, but they don’t. A good writing group can help with that kind of thing.

Stories that fail to provide contact information on the manuscript get rejected. I know that sounds insanely simplistic, but I’m continuously stunned by how many submissions come in without contact info. People assume that because they have emailed their story to the magazine, that’s enough, but we have a virtual staff and stories get passed around the country (literally) without the original email it came with. Why in the world anyone would send a story to a magazine without putting their name and address (physical and email) on it is completely beyond me.

Frankly, some stories get rejected not because they’re not good, but because they’re not better than enough of the other submissions. We publish between 26 and 30 stories out of the slush pile each year, but often receive hundreds per month, so some decent stories get rejected. “Good” isn’t good enough; a story has to stand out, excel, compel. Make me read your story and you’ll get published.

SQF: What other mistakes do you encounter that turn you off to a story?

ER: Sloppy grammar is a sure-fire way to kill my interest. I don’t have a problem with a typo or two – it happens to even the best writers – but if you’re making spelling and grammatical errors left and right, it does not inspire confidence that you’re going to do the other parts of writing/storytelling any better. This is another thing my assistant editors usually screen out, but occasionally I like to dive into the regular slush pile just to see what’s there, and sloppy spelling/grammar is often what’s waiting for me.

SQF: What is the best part of being an editor?

ER: I’ve learned a lot about writing myself from reading and analyzing so many stories. I’m constantly asking myself “Why did this work?” or “Why didn’t this work?” The answers have taught me so much. Now if only I had more time to apply those lessons and write more of my own stories. . .

I also really enjoy working with and publishing newer writers and promoting writers who I think have talent but have been overlooked. It’s a genuine pleasure to be able to help writers along in their careers.

SQF: I read a comment by one editor who said she keeps a blacklist of authors who respond to a rejection in a less than professional manner. I'm sure you know what I mean. What do you want authors to know about the stories you reject and how authors should respond? Along this same idea, do you mind if authors reply with polite questions about the comments they receive?

I was a writer before I was an editor, so I think that makes me more forgiving than some other editors. I also have the luxury of having four assistant editors who weed out a lot of the amateurish writing (and by default a lot of the more amateur writers), so I generally don’t have to deal with too much of that kind of thing. If authors want to say ‘hello’ or ‘thanks,’ I have no problem with that. I appreciate it when they say thanks, especially if I’ve taken the time to give them personal feedback on their story, but I generally don’t have time to engage them in any kind of dialogue. It’s not personal; it’s just a question of how few minutes there are in a day.

SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?

ER: What is your favorite color? Red… no, blue! Aaaaaaaaaaaaa…
(Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Thank you, Edmund. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.

NEXT POST: 2/9--Six Questions for Stewart Grant, Editor, MediaVirus Magazine

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