Science Fiction and Electronic Submissions

I’m occasionally asked why I’ve never had a short story in Analog, Asimov’s or Fantasy & Science Fiction. I’ve discussed the reason for this before, but it’s been a while and enough has changed that I’ll go ahead and address it again.

The reason I’ve never been in Analog, Asimov’s or Fantasy & Science Fiction is:

I don’t own a printer.

Which I would need in order to submit to any of those magazines, because none of them accept (unsolicited) electronic submissions. So in order to submit work to any of them, I would have to go out and purchase a printer, as well as ink cartridges, paper, stamps and envelopes. Then I’d have to get my act together enough to actually format, print and mail the story (and cover letter) off to the magazines. It could happen, but speaking from previous experience, i.e., during the years where I did own a printer and occasionally thought about querying magazines, it doesn’t seem likely. Pretty much the only way I’m going to send anything to any of these magazines is if they start accepting (unsolicited) electronic submissions. I don’t expect that to happen soon; they have their reasons for having their submission standards be what they are, and I certainly don’t expect them to bend their rules for me. So: No Analog, Asimov’s or Fantasy & Science Fiction for me.

Yes, I’m aware how deeply idiotic this sounds. I know it because I’m not a fool, and I don’t confuse my own slothful nature with a right state of affairs for everyone else. I also know it because at the last Worldcon, the editor of one of the previously-mentioned magazines said that he’d like to see some work from me, and I said “Yeah, but then I’d need to buy a printer, and stamps and envelopes, and I kinda don’t wanna,” and then he looked at me like I was bleeding ebola virus right from the head. Which, you know. Fair enough.

The thing is, the reason I don’t own a printer is that I don’t need one. I’ve done fine building a career in fiction, non-fiction and in business working with clients and markets that do work electronically. One of the reasons I didn’t buy a new printer when my last one died in 2004 was that I used it so infrequently that I couldn’t justify the cost; I mostly used it for printing up pictures of my kid and my cat. When that printer died I decided to wait and see if I had any real reason to get a new one. I’m still waiting.

Now, I exist in this sort of blessed state for two reasons. The first is that when people solicit work from me, I let them know that electronically is how I work. This generally doesn’t present a problem; rare is the individual these days who can’t accept an electronic document and work with it on their end, if they choose to. The second is that when I go looking for clients/markets or whatever, I look for the ones that will take work the way I work. There are a sufficient number of these that I don’t typically have a problem finding opportunities. I don’t do this just with writing markets; one of the reasons why Ethan Ellenberg is my fiction agent is that when I was looking for an agent, I went looking for one who would accept a query via e-mail. He would. Not the only reason I went with him, to be sure. But it actually was a requirement.

Likewise, with science fiction short stories, there are markets who work the way I work. Strange Horizons published my first short story and I’ve been a big fan ever since. These days most of my short fiction gets funneled through Subterranean Press, either on its online magazine or through chapbooks or limited editions. Indeed, daresay Subterranean Press is probably the place that best gets the power of working electronically. To explain why, let me recount the experience of selling this particular work: I wrote it and e-mailed it to Bill Schafer at Subterranean; he read at it, approved it and paid me for it through PayPal. Elapsed time from submission to payment: about fifteen minutes. All handled electronically. Welcome to the 21st century; we have many wonders here.

(But, you say, Subterranean Online doesn’t have the same number of readers as any of the Big Three SF/F magazines. This is true enough; it’s new and building an audience. However, I have the same number of readers; I averaged 26,000 visitors a day during the work week last week, which is pretty much on par with the monthly circulation of any of the Big Three. Not every one of them is going to click through to a story of mine when I link to it, but enough will that I can say not unreasonably that when one of my short stories gets posted, it won’t lack for readers. What the Big Three still have that online and other SF/F markets don’t is a majority of Hugo nominators among their readers; getting published in the Big Three is still the best way to get your work considered for that particular award. I don’t know that that will always be the case, however.)

Would I like to be published in Analog, Asimov’s or Fantasy & Science Fiction? Sure; I like to read all of them and I like the idea of being part of a publishing continuity that includes so many of the authors I admire (this is assuming, mind you, that something I’d submit to them would be accepted for publication in the first place). But I’m not going to buy a printer just to send work to them. I’m not suggesting these magazines need to change their submission requirements, since nearly all other writers at the moment are not as profoundly electronically oriented as I am, or if they are, are not as gripped with ennui as I am when confronted with the need to print and mail something. I mean, I don’t know why I manage to get away with this sort of crap; I don’t suggest others do what I do.

That said, the native writing medium of nearly every writer my age or younger is electronic; I suspect at some point there’ll be a bend in the curve where most writers will prefer to do their submissions electronically. Which is to say I strongly suspect most writers would prefer to do it that way now, and as time goes on more writers — and the best writers — will choose to hit first the markets that they see working the way they do. That day won’t be a very good day for the markets that aren’t working that way.

2 Comments on “Science Fiction and Electronic Submissions”

  1. I’ve three, you just send it to me and I’ll print it out, address the envelope, put it in the envelope and put stamps on it. I’ll even leave your name on it.

    On the other hand I’m an old fart with bad eyes and it is easier for me to edit long documents, 100+ pages, on paper and transcribe back to Word.

    One is a photo printer, one color multi-function with broken scanner/fax and the third high speed BW laser with working color scanner fax.

    My first printer was an original Laserjet, which cost $4000 in 1985. You had to write your own drivers if you wanted anything but mono-spaced courier, such as graphics. That was a lot of fun and paid well.

  2. I’ve long suspected the reluctance to move from snail to email is because it’s simply more work to pint, package and send a submission and, I suspect the thinking goes, people are less likely to submit unpolished stories.

    Whatever the real reason, the not-very-environmentally-friendly, rather expensive and tediously long process of paper subbing drives me bonkers. I haven’t bothered with a paper submission in a long time.

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