Thursday, August 4, 2011

Six Questions for Sue Babcock, Fiction Editor, Silver Blade

Silver Blade publishes cutting edge science fiction, slipstream and classic and modern fantasy in the following formats: short stories (1,000-4,000 words), flash fiction (100-1,000 words), poetry (no longer than 1,000 words), and art. Read the complete guidelines here.

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

SB: Intensity, great characterization and action.

Intensity: I love stories that engage me on an emotional level. The intensity must flow naturally from the action, characterization and plot, and I do not want to feel manipulated. I want to be awed by the strength, the wickedness, the forgiveness or gentleness of the characters, by the intensity of the characters feelings and resolve, by the action and the risks the main characters take. I want the author to have risked something – to have allowed the reader into his or her most private world where the soul and heart are hidden.

Great characterization: Stories with great plots, but with flat characters leave me saddened by the wasted potential. Characters should live and breathe, should be rounded with good traits and with faults. Even the antagonist should have something the reader can appreciate about him or her (or it).  No one is all good or all bad, and I love characters that reflect this complexity.

Action: Silver Blade thrives on action, but the action must emanate naturally from the characters and the plot. I love action that has meaning, is a metaphor for something greater, and leaves me breathless.

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

SB: f there is consistently poor grammar and spelling, or if the plot is confusing, clichéd or incomplete, or if it doesn’t meet our guidelines in major ways (such as the wrong genre), I feel that these issues are often the result of poor workshopping and editing, as if the author didn’t care enough about either the story or about the publication it was submitted to. These indications of apathy will turn me off to the story faster than anything else.

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

SB: I see a lot of poor hooks and poor endings. I like stories that engage me, if not immediately, at least within the first paragraph or two. Occasionally I have seen stories with a poor hook turn, as if by magic, into something that engages and excites me. The hook does not have to be action, it can be a softer hook, but it still needs to tell me that this story is worth reading.

Poor endings happen, I believe, because the author did not think enough about the theme of the story, did not focus on what the story was really about, and then did not know how to end it.

Both hooks and endings are important, but at Silver Blade we often work on these issues with the author. If, for example, the story has a great theme and plot, but the ending is weak, we’ll work with a willing author to see if we can come to a mutually acceptable resolution. It is this aspect of working with the authors, creating something that shines, that I particularly love about the editing effort.

SQF: What is it about the characters in a story that makes them pop off the page and grab hold of you?

SB: Contrast. I love to see individualism in characters, where each of them has their own voice and behavior that contrasts strongly with others in the story. Also, characters should be like real life, only more so, with contrasting traits. The wicked person should be really wicked, the gentle person should be gentler than anyone can image, but both of these characters should have contrasting traits. Maybe the wicked person wants to destroy the world, but this character really believes in what he or she is doing, and is doing it for altruistic reasons. Or the gentle person has a violent side when stirred up. Nothing in real life is one-sided, and stories should not be built around one-sided characters.

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?

SB: Authors should know that I am not rejecting them personally. It takes a bit of a tough skin to write and submit your babies to unknown and unseen entities, and I admire and respect the courage of every single author of every submitted story I read. Rejecting (or declining, as Submishmash calls it) a story is often about personal tastes. I love stories with meaning, with action and great characters, but other people at other publications may want something different. Just because a story was not a good fit for me and Silver Blade does not mean that someone else won’t love it. I really do hope every story I read gets accepted someplace.

As for authors asking polite question – ask away. We always try to provide feedback. I have been thanked for this feedback, even in cases in which I was worried that I had been a little too critical. I’m a forthright person, and I’ve never learned to sugar-coat, so my comments, although brief, try to be to the point. I’m always glad to provide more information if the author asks (politely, of course).

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

Question: Why does Silver Blade exist?

Answer: I’ve browsed through dozens, if not hundreds, of online and print magazines, and frankly wonder in some cases why they exist. I’ve seen websites with such poor layout I can’t figure out how to navigate; I’ve seen websites with colors that startle and bother my eyes so much I have to turn away; I’ve seen websites with poorly edited stories, with no commitment to archiving, with horrible graphics and worse layouts. In each of these cases I wondered what the publisher was trying to accomplish. Silver Blade is supported by the non-profit organization Silver Pen, and we want to encourage reading and writing, and to encourage websites that make someone return again and again, whether to read the stories, or to write and submit. We are by no means perfect. At Silver Blade, we are continually striving to make the site better, more accessible, and easier to find on the web. We are continually experimenting. I love this desire to be better and our mission to engage more readers and writers to spread literature and literacy everywhere.

Thank you, Jim, for providing this invaluable resource of questions through your blog, and for inviting me and Silver Blade to participate!

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

NEXT POST: 8/8--Six Questions for Sylvia Hiven, Editor, Linger Fiction


  1. Brava, Sue! Your straight-to-the-point, crystaline answers are very helpful in so may levels. Thank you very much for such generous interview, through which you share insights and approaches to editing Silver Blade. Thank you so very much.

    Bravo, Jim! Six Questions For is a brave, ingenious, and precious enterprise. As a writer and an assiduous reader of SQF I'm extremely grateful.

    Peace & Plot,

  2. I'm glad you find the information helpful. That's what keeps me going.