Friday, March 4, 2011

Six Questions for Eric James Stone, Assistant 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?

EJS: (1) Intriguing characters (2) facing interesting challenges, leading to (3) a satisfying conclusion. The first two are what I look for at the beginning of the story. If I don't start caring about the characters and what is happening within the first few pages, it doesn't matter that it gets more interesting later on. And if in the middle of the story I lose interest in the characters or the problems they face, that's bad, too. The last one is what I want at the end: satisfaction. That doesn't mean the ending is necessarily a happy one; it means the ending fits the story and doesn't leave major issues unresolved.

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

EJS: Most of my rejections are due to the issues raised in my answer above. Other reasons would be: (1) if the writing is so unclear I can't really understand what is going on in the story, (2) if the story is clichéd  and doesn't put an interesting twist on the cliché, and (3) if the story has content integral to the storyline that doesn't fit with our "PG-13" standards. That last one is pretty rare, actually, as most of the time the more extreme content could be edited out without harming the main story.

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

EJS: One of the big ones I tend to see from newer authors is "false suspense": withholding information that is obvious to the main character in order to supposedly create mystery for the reader. This is particularly bad when it is done throughout the whole story in order to spring that information on the reader as a "twist ending." Surprise! The private detective main character is actually a werewolf! What this technique does is create distance between me and the main character, so I'm less interested in the story. Instead, let me know up front that the private detective is a werewolf, let me see how that affects him and his work, and then tell an interesting story about that.

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

EJS: Seeing a story I picked out of the slush get published. It makes me happy to see other people able to read a story I liked.

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?

EJS: I don't keep a blacklist, but then I've never really had this problem. Due to time constraints, most of the rejections from IGMS are form rejections. A form rejection doesn't mean the story is bad or that it won't be published elsewhere; it just means the story didn't work for IGMS.

In general, there is only one really good way to respond to a form rejection: Send another story.

For the most part, I don't think authors should directly respond to personalized rejections, either.  (Putting something like "thanks for your comments about my last story" in the cover letter for your next submission is fine.)  A personalized rejection is not an offer to give a full critique of the story; it is merely meant to give the author some idea of why the editor rejected the story.

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

EJS: How important is proper manuscript format?

For me, personally, it doesn't really matter any more. That's because I usually read the submissions on my Kindle, so Amazon has reformatted them. However, since I'm not the only person who reads submissions, authors should still follow standard manuscript format for their submissions to IGMS.

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

NEXT POST: 3/7--Six Questions for Joe Ahearn, Editor, Bat Terrier

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