Daily Archives: July 3, 2009

And Yes, In Fact, While We’re On the Subject of “The Big Three”

Dear Asimov’s, Analog, and F&SF:

Please be aware that here in 2009, you look absolutely foolish for not accepting electronic submissions. We are a decade into the 21st century now. You really have had more than enough time to accept the fact that almost all correspondence and transmission of documents has become an electronic affair, and to create a system that allows you to process and respond to such submissions in an efficient and timely manner. A list of complaints like this, apparently written when Eudora was the hip e-mail client and 56k dial-up was blazing fast, no longer cuts it. Why not? Let me explain.

* On average, it would take us approximately two hours each day just to download submissions. First, only if you’re still working on dial-up, powered by hamsters. Second, so don’t download submissions. Require plain text submissions and have them sent in the body of an e-mail. If download time is really an issue here in 2009, have the e-mails sent to a GMail account; no time required to download because the submissions are hosted on a remote server.

* The risk of computer viruses is higher if we accept attached files. Don’t accept attached files. Route any e-mail with an attached file into a folder that deletes mail unopened and sends an automated response to the sender reminding them that you don’t accept attachments. That way you don’t even have to deal with opening the files or exposing yourself to viruses.

* In our office, it’s very inconvenient to pass around an electronic submission from one reader to another. Why? Because you’re trying to lift a CRT from one desk to another? Put the submissions you want others to see into an online collaboration space, like, oh, Google Docs, which is free and dead simple to use. Heck, several people can look at the same submission at the same time that way, which is actually easier than passing around a paper version.

* I have found it much easier to lose electronic submissions than it is to lose manuscripts. In this day of GMail and online document space it is in fact almost impossible to lose an electronic submission unless you intentionally delete it (and if you unintentionally delete it, on GMail at least, you can undo that delete right after). Whereas it is all too easy to lose paper documents in a pile of other paper documents, or on someone else’s desk, or in a pile of mail, or whatever.

In fact, here in 2009, the only still “reasonable” reason on that list not to accept electronic submissions is this one:

* I hate reading on screen.

Which is fine, but it’s not actually reasonable, any more than a writer insisting on continuing to use a typewriter is reasonable. It’s not reasonable, it’s a quirk or an affectation, since in this day and age everyone else needs to work around that quirk. Eventually people wonder why they have to work around a quirk. Especially for six to nine cents a word.

The real reason “the big three” continue only to accept printed submissions is this one: A postage stamp is an excellent bozo filter. They live in the fear that without that bozo filter they will be awash in substandard submissions from every half-wit with an e-mail address. I understand that fear, which is why when I edited a humor area for AOL, I required paper submissions, too. But that was a dozen years ago now, and in the interim when I’ve worked as an editor I’ve discovered that the crap level is not really all that much higher online than offline, and that in fact it’s easier to deal with the obvious crap online than off (send it to a reject folder; send out a batch rejection at the end of the reading period). The only real difference is that the population of who is sending you crap is slightly different. The point is that the “bozo filter” defense no longer really works.

I’ve been writing freelance since 1998, in which time I’ve written for corporations, for newspapers, for magazines, for online sites and for several different book publishers. In all that time, the only things I’ve been required to print out and send in were W9s and other sorts of contract employment forms, and occasionally an invoice or two. I’ve never had to print out work. On one hand, this is an artifact of me intentionally working with people who accept electronic work. But on the other hand, it’s not as if the Washington Post, the Dayton Daily News or the people who make the Uncle John’s Bathroom Readers are known for being on the absolute bleeding edge of technology, either. And this is my point: Everyone accepts electronic submissions. They have for years.

That the “big three” science fiction magazine won’t accept electronic submissions in this day and age isn’t merely anachronistic in both a business and social sense, it’s actually a bit embarrassing. Written science fiction already has enough problems working around the image that it is trapped in its own alternate universe branching off from 1971; the fact the major print publications of the genre deal with the electronic era as if it was something to be handled from a great distance, with tongs, isn’t helping any of us. The editors of the magazines are always talking about how they love seeing new writers, but I can’t help but think one of the reasons they have difficulty publishing new writers is that they’re showing up to the party in the communication equivalent of 70s powder blue polyester leisure suits and trying to assure the kids that seriously, they’re hip — why, they listen to that groovy cat Dan Folgelberg and everything. I mean, shit, guys. Meet 2009 half way, you know?

I don’t doubt all three magazines still get hundreds of submissions a month, so there’s no reason from their point of view to change what they see working for them. Their choice. I do suspect they’re going to miss out on more writers that they are going to need to survive, as these writers ask themselves what “the big three” are offering that they can’t get elsewhere, and where they’re not required to jump through a truly pointless hoop like printing out their submissions. I don’t really think “the big three” are in a position where they can ignore those writers for much longer. The “big three” really aren’t that big any more.

Dear Writers: For God’s Sake, Don’t Assume You’ll Get Paid

An interesting and frankly alarming thing in the comment thread of the last post. I noted in the last post that a major issue I saw with the proposed F&SF online writing workshop, which offers the chance that work in the workshop could get published in the magazine, is that there was no indication that those chosen stories would then be paid for. To which several people in the comment thread said something along the lines of “oh, well, that wasn’t a problem for me, because I just assumed there would be payment.”

Jesus, people.

Never assume as a writer that you’re going to get paid. Ever. There are too many people who assume writing shouldn’t have to be paid for — and too many writers willing to be paid little or nothing for their work — that your default assumption when there is no mention of payment for your work is that there will be none. Commensurately, your very first question when you see that there is no mention of payment for your work should be “What are you paying for the work?” If you’re worried that this being the first question out of your mouth will offend someone, then you’re not ready to be a working writer. If people who want your work are offended that this is your first question, they’re not serious about wanting your work.

To be clear, someone not mentioning payment right off does not mean the writer won’t get paid. In the case of F&SF and its workshop, I’m fairly certain the intention is to pay for those workshop stories. But in my case “fairly certain” is followed immediately by “so, you are paying for those stories, right?” Because, you know, I was fairly certain LeBron James was going to the NBA finals this year, too, and I was also fairly certain earlier in the year that right now I would be working on a project that fell through. “Fairly certain” by definition leaves room for a fair amount of uncertainty. A working writer learns to zero in on uncertainty, especially when it comes to him or her being paid. It never hurts to be absolutely certain you’re going to get paid, and to know how much. And when!

This is, incidentally, why this post by John Green arguing against advances is not a brilliant thing from the point of view of an author (a point which appears has already been mentioned to him by other authors, given the number of backpedaling updates he’s added). Green argues for higher royalties rather than higher advances, which is a fine idea if a) you have an independent source of income and/or b) are already raking in the bucks from your book sales and you have infinite faith that c) your publisher will always be there to send you royalties on a regular basis and/or d) won’t try to screw you on contractual details that allow them to hold on to your money for as long as humanly possible. As most authors don’t fulfill conditions a) or b) and should never assume c) or d), most authors are better off getting a large, upfront chunk of cash into their hands asap — that is, they should have an advance. Anything other is assuming you’re going to get paid, and fraught with danger.

So: Know that you’ll get paid. Know how much you’re getting paid. Know when you are going to get paid. Don’t assume any of it. Know. That is all.