My War (Or Not) With the “Big Three”

Got an e-mail today from someone who noticed an oblique reference to me in a recent Analog editorial which, in part, explained why the magazine still doesn’t accept e-mail submissions (I was referred to in it as a “young writer,” which as a middle-aged scribe with two decades of professional writing and publishing experience, I found to be as charming as it was inaccurate). The correspondent wanted to know if there was some sort of war going on between me and the “big three” science fiction magazines, in which I and the editors go after over each other with lead pipes and then laugh at whoever ends up on the ground, bleeding out.

In short: Nah. I have my disagreements with the editors of the “big three” on a couple of things here and there, most famously about their continued and persistent inability to join the 21st century and accept e-mail submissions, and on that particular subject I continue to be rather unimpressed with their arguments regarding why they don’t; the Analog editorial, for example, aside from poorly characterizing the discussion that went on here on the subject, was basically Stanley Schmidt taking the long way around to saying “because I don’t wanna.” That’s fine, and it’s his business, but it’s still not much of an argument, for reasons I’ve noted before.

That said, we’re all grown-ups here, and grown-ups can disagree from time to time. If you think on the basis of these disagreements that I have it in for the “big three,” you’re just silly. Differing opinions about the value of e-mail submissions and other such things aside, at the end of the day they’re pro markets in the genre, their editors are good people passionate about writing and about science fiction and fantasy, and on a month-in, month-out basis, they buy and publish fine work. What’s not to like about any of that? Far from wishing them ill, I want them to thrive and succeed.

When I’m griping about them, it’s not because I want to push them along into the dungheap of history, or because I’m some sort of grinning, loudmouthed fool who likes poking at wasp’s nests just to see what angry things fly out of them. It’s because I want them around, buying the stories of my fellow writers and generally contributing to the health and continuance of our genre, for all of our mutual benefit. “Young writer” cracks aside, after two decades in publishing, in both print and online media, I’m not wholly ignorant on this particular subject. I feel qualified to opine.

So, no: I’m not at war with the “big three,” and I very much doubt their editors feel they’re at war with me. I want them to do a few things differently, and clearly I’m not shy about saying so. They are equally clearly able to agree with me or not. But when all is said and done we all want the same thing: For the magazines to be doing their thing for a nice long time. If that’s a war, it’s a pretty strange one.

101 Comments on “My War (Or Not) With the “Big Three””

  1. Dude:

    From my point of view, you ARE and young man and I am middle aged. :-)

    PS – Love your books, I write MORE MORE MORE!

  2. Oops

    That should have been

    PS – I love your books, please write MORE MORE MORE!

    Sometimes I type way too fast for my brain. :-)

  3. in which I and the editors go after over each other with lead pipes and then laugh at whoever ends up on the ground, bleeding out.

    …wow. Those are either some sharp lead pipes or you dudes are committed.

  4. My nonfiction writing this year (pure academic, plus some $110.00/hour confidential writing for clients), as usual, amounted to more words and more pages than my fiction (all the fiction being on spec).

    But, to look at one subset of my short fiction this year, there are the stand-alone stories, some coauthored with my wife or son, and other thrashed out in emails and discussions with them, some of which also work as chapters of 2 novels in progress.

    Of the below, “Qian Xuesen Meets Wernher von Braun” is considered by my wife (one of my sternest critics) to be the best thing I’ve written in quite a while. At Christmas dinner, my wife and son were both startled that I shall have to snail mail each of these, with roughly doubled postage for SASE, to the Big Three. Practical people (she’s an experimental physicist; he, a big Scalzi fan still glowing from f2f at last year’s Loscon, is halfway through his 3rd and last year of USC’s Law School), they could hardly believe me that online submissions were not allowed. I could proffer no rational explanation.

    Most of these short stories/novellas. novelettes take Hard SF quite seriously, and have well-researched backgrounds. My wife and I have made multiple sales to Analog, and (in its day) Amazing. The first two listed below are, in my imagination, ideal for Analog.

    Most SFWA major markets that DO take online submissions get online submissions from me. But this year most of my works organically grew to exceed the word count limits of almost off the online-SFWA-majors.

    12,700 “Black Physics”
    17,450 “Qian Xuesen Meets Wernher von Braun”
    7,050 “All Along the Watchtower”
    5,750 “Dobie Gillis in Paradena”
    12,150 “Albert Einstein Arrives in Paradena”
    8,400 “Love is a Fallacy”
    21,250 “Feynman Solves Murders in the Rue Morgue” [long version]
    10,800 “Love of Two Alchemists” [long version]
    18,500 “Wolfe in Sheep’s Clothing”
    114,050 9 works
    12 700 + 17 450 + 7 050 + 5 750 + 12 150 + 8 400 + 21 250 + 10 800 +
    18 500 = 114 050

    I need story sales to make the book-length fix-ups credible. I need the book sale to get another used car to replace the one that blew up during my student teaching. I could use the car to drive the Mss to the post office to submit to get the story sales. It’s recursive chicken and egg.

    Postscript: Having made my first [paid SF sale (an SF crossword puzzle) at age 12, and being now at at 58, am I still a “young writer?” I’m certainly ready to be an overnight success.

  5. John – yeah, you’re at war.

    Jon – serious overshare.

    Fascinating that Asimov’s is so medieval.

  6. I’m finding this whole discussion very interesting, as I work with a small scholarly journal that recently implemented a copublishing agreement with their field’s “evil empire” and entered the world of online submission systems. (I’m also new to reading this journal, so I’m commenting here rather than on the older post.) There are a myriad of great online submission system vendors, or you can go relatively low-tech and deal with email attachments or plain text. Any of these are better for your authors and for you than paper, for several reasons.

    The best argument I can make to the Big Three (and to other small publishers) for accepting online submission systems, is that our processing times for mss have dropped drastically. It took us less than a month to configure the system (as a part-time project for three staff), and we’ve been active less than three weeks, and we’re already starting to get reviews back. From academics OVER THE HOLIDAYS. And processing copyright forms has gone from a task that took half an FTE of clerical time, to something I do every other day on my lunch break.

    Here’s the thing–if you, as an editor, prefer to read/edit mss on paper (something I do feel is valid), print them. Everyone’s happy. And if you do it right, by training the people who are currently processing your mss to use the system, you don’t even have to fire anyone–and you can put their time to more profitable uses, like increasing your marketing reach or doing more editing.

    And if paper is truly going to break your budget and/or you’re completely terrified that every noob who’s taken a creative writing class is going to submit to your journal if you let them email you, require a small submission fee–something truly representative of the cost to print, like a dollar or two for a short story–payable by Paypal.

    This is definitely hurting you. I’m watching an institution like yours come into this brave new world, and find out that it’s not so bad after all.

  7. Not that I’ve made it past a “thanks for trying, see you next time” yet, but I personally loved clarkesworld’s submission process – not only online, but they keeper the writer at bay with an actual view of where you are in the queue. Brilliant! Because, let’s face it, the obsessive writer checking the mail isn’t a stereotype for nothing…

  8. Wow. When people aren’t painting you as being against small press, they’re accusing you of being against the “big three.” You can’t win either way, can you?

  9. Sounds like someone (or a few someones) forgot the difference between constructive criticism and hatred.

    Manufactured drama isn’t the spice of life, but it may be life’s MSG.

  10. “What happened to Smiley?”

    “Aahh, he ended up in the middle of a lead-pipe tango.”

    It does have a certain ring to it.

  11. Whoa, whoa, whoa! You’re not allowed to be middle-aged, John. Because I think you’re only 3 years older than me. Let’s give it to fifty, huh? Fifty’s the new forty these days.

  12. Ahem…. I just read the “Urban Dictionary” version of a morning constitutional. Hey, whatever works, right?

  13. “If that’s a war, it’s a pretty strange one.”

    Heh. Strange Man’s War. Great book title!

  14. John Scalzi @ 7: Unless you’re dancing the masochism tango that is!
    It’s also nice to know that you’re not at war with anyone, I’d hate to think how much time that would take out of your writing.
    But it is really weird that the Big Three don’t accept e-mail submissions, I wish they’d come into the 21st century.

  15. Who isn’t scalzi at war with? Romance publisher, small time publisher, the ‘big’ three scifi magazines, teenagers, noobie authors…

    The list goes on.

    John Scalzi is clearly a bloodthirsty camera wielding maniac.

  16. The Coming Convergence
    “No one can show the opportunities and dangers of the future better than Stan Schmidt. The Coming Convergence should be read – and enjoyed – by anyone who wants to understand what tomorrow will be like.”

    Hmm, with regards to the issue of electronic submissions, didn’t tomorrow already happen . . . like a decade ago?

  17. hard copy submission does keep the submitted stories out of circulation for far longer than e-sub…perhaps that’s the reason. You may not want to buy it, but your competition can’t even look at it until you’re finished with it….

  18. “because I’m some sort of grinning, loudmouthed fool who likes poking at wasp’s nests just to see what angry things fly out of them.”

    That’s good. Because it’ll likely be April before you can get a really good cloud of pissed-off wasps.

    However, I don’t recommend you apply this little hobby to hornets’ nests. Don’t ask me how I came by that hard-won piece of wisdom.

  19. Hm, well it seems to me that your argument also boils down to “I don’t wanna.” Nonetheless, you and Stan Schmidt are two outstanding individuals, who, much like chocolate and peanut butter, would be great together. Much as I would love to see Scalzi’s name on an Analog cover, I am thinking I’d have better luck going to Gaza strip and asking people to try harder to “get along,” than to get these two “don’t wanna’s” any closer together. Le sigh.

    By the way, Sheila Williams is another simply fantastic human being, and excellent editor, so I can personally vouch for two out of the three. Stan and Sheila are both good people to have in your corner, and while I understand John isn’t doing much short fiction these days, any new writer could do a lot worse than spend the $49 for a printer (it’s deductible) so that you can interact with these markets. :-)

  20. I’m trying to imagine Sheila Williams at war with John Scalzi. Or anybody else. Nope, doesn’t seem to be working for me; perhaps it needs someone more imaginative?

    Teasing Stanley Schmidt, on the other hand, is easy to picture; the challenging part would be doing it better than he does it himself.

  21. Catherine Shaffer:

    “well it seems to me that your argument also boils down to ‘I don’t wanna.'”

    Well, and obviously so; I’ve made no bones about “I don’t wanna” being the central tenet of my reason for not submitting to the “big three.” Of course, my “I don’t wanna” affects only me; Dr. Schmidt’s affects his magazine.

    As I’ve noted before, I don’t recommend other writers do as I do in this regard; just because I can’t be arsed to buy a printer doesn’t mean it’s a viable maneuver for anyone else. That said, as I’ve also noted before, I write for a lot of venues and consider writing for many others, and the “big three” are in the minority in terms of requiring paper submissions at this point. It’s a silly extra hoop to jump through, especially when venues which pay more don’t make me do such a thing.

  22. Ok, I’m going to show my ignorance and age here: which ones are considered the “big three”? I’ve read Asimov’s a few times, but the stories don’t appeal to me. It can no longer be found at any of my 4 local bookstores, and I don’t like it well enough to subscribe.

    I suppose this is the problem with the “big three” then? My brother and I are in our early 20s and both love sci-fi, but neither of us can come up with 3 publications that we’d call the “big three”. Most of what we read in the way of short stories are all found in online publications, not print publications. The rest of what we read are all from publications that we know are too newly founded to be a “big three”.

  23. “Wow. When people aren’t painting you as being against small press, they’re accusing you of being against the “big three.” You can’t win either way, can you?”

    He’s pulling up the ladder away from people below him, and sawing the legs off of the ladders of people above him. Perfectly logical.

  24. Danielle @31,
    The “Big Three” are Asimov’s, Analog, and Fantasy & Science Fiction, as per the earlier post of his Scalzi linked to.

    People more knowledgeable than I would need to explain the details of the history of those being called the “Big Three,” but from reading Scalzi and his ilk for a while, it seems to be a pretty common thing in SF fandom.

    But I think your comment is a very nice example of points Scalzi’s made in the past, if I recall correctly, about the decline of those magazines.

  25. PalookaJoe @ 14:

    Sounds like someone (or a few someones) forgot the difference between constructive criticism and hatred.

    I blame Fox News.

    Manufactured drama isn’t the spice of life, but it may be life’s MSG.

    They both give me a headache.

  26. Is there a link to the article; I would like to read both sides of the argument (probably for the second time).

    My google skills have failed me on this one.


  27. Andrew:

    The editorial is in the magazine; to read it you’ll need to buy a copy.

    That’s right! Not all information is online! It’s… it’s… madness.

  28. @LVE #10

    And if paper is truly going to break your budget and/or you’re completely terrified that every noob who’s taken a creative writing class is going to submit to your journal if you let them email you, require a small submission fee–something truly representative of the cost to print, like a dollar or two for a short story–payable by Paypal.

    This carries far too strong a whiff of some of the Scams of Christmas Past, and would be roundly criticized. It might work for an academic journal–it won’t work for fiction. At least not this corner of it.

    @Steve Davidson #26

    hard copy submission does keep the submitted stories out of circulation for far longer than e-sub…perhaps that’s the reason. You may not want to buy it, but your competition can’t even look at it until you’re finished with it….

    You’ve never read slush, have you. And if you don’t want to buy a given story, why in the world would you care if your competitors had a crack at it? Fiction venues don’t work that way.

    I think it’s true that electronic submission lets you handle subs more efficiently–but the subs that get more efficiently handled are, by and large, the ones that are obviously not in the running for your particular zine, for whatever reason. The ones you want to take time and think about are still going to sit for a while.

  29. I see a new book title, “Middle-Age Man’s War” Might want to change the subject though, not sure a writer fighting book publishers over email submission would be a page turner. But hey maybe you want the challenge…

  30. “When I’m griping about them, it’s not … because I’m some sort of grinning, loudmouthed fool who likes poking at wasp’s nests just to see what angry things fly out of them.”

    Are you denying that characterization in general, or just for this specific case?

  31. Martin:

    Generally, actually. If I’m poking at something, I usually have a reason outside of “just poking to poke.” Whether other people find the reason to be a good one is another matter entirely. Even so.

  32. While you’re chipping (poking) away at the foundation of the printed medium, perhaps down the road you’ll lob a rock at Random House for asserting that it gets digital rights on a lot of its books even though the contracts for many of those books are obviously pre-ebook.

    As for the big three, they obviously know that their email submission boxes will be brimming with slush. Note to the Amish editors out there: taking your digital reader with you on the train filled with five hundred submissions, is a hell of lot easier than dealing with the paper.

    Hello Kitty? You crack me up.

  33. John @ 43:

    That all depends on the street, doesn’t it?

    Working that Sesame Street cred, man.

  34. Sometimes being a young writer never wears off. When I’m with Jack Vance or Fred Pohl, who are both past 90 and were big stuff in the field when I started selling stories 55 years ago, I STILL feel like a newcomer. And I suspect that when Fred Pohl was hanging out with Jack Williamson, who got his professional start ten years before Fred, he felt the same way.

  35. “Well, to be fair, it is possible to buy magazines in electronic form.” (@scalzi)

    To include, I might point out, theirs – at least for Analog and Asimov’s, which are available for subscription on the kindle.

  36. The big three aren’t the only ones who refuse to join the 21st century. There are plenty of agents in SF&F who will not accept electronic submissions. If submitting a 10-20 page short story via snail mail isn’t expensive enough (keeping in mind that you’re only allowed to print on one side), try 50.

  37. “I’m reminded, for example, of some that has recently appeared on a couple of websites commenting on this magazine’s practices. Much of it originated with a young writer who was miffed that, at least up to the time of this writing, ANALOG chose not to accept submissions by e-mail rather than on paper. He thought we should, not just because it would be more convenient for him (which hardly constitutes a reason), but because “everybody’s doing it” (which was not true, and in any case would not be a reason either). ”

    I’m not too sure John’s original post on this matter boiled down to “everybody’s doing it.” I think Stan misunderstood the thrust of the argument, which is a shame. Perhaps he should re-read the post.

    “We reserve the right to change our preferences at any time—conceivably even before you read this—but if we do, it will be because our preferences or circumstances changed, not because we felt compelled to go along with somebody who thought everybody should do things his way.”

    Stan is right, to a degree, but let’s take it to a logical extension: people do have choice, and that means authors have the choice of not submitting to a magazine that is obviously not trying to be a part of today’s publishing environment. Or it can apply to readers, too. That’s the nature of business markets. If you don’t anticipate change, or adapt quickly enough, you have only yourself to blame. This editorial strikes me as too much passive-aggressiveness, and not enough engagement, ie: “what are we doing wrong?” or “what would you like to see changed?” Etc. Assuming that one’s position is the end-all be-all of an argument, without room for budging or discussion, is a surefire way to fail.

  38. DED:

    “There are plenty of agents in SF&F who will not accept electronic submissions.”

    My agent accepts electronic submissions — which is in fact one (small) reason he is my agent.

  39. I do find the reluctance to accept electronic submissions amusing. 90% of slush in any form can be eliminated by seeing if they adhere to the submission guidelines. Those are an editor’s brown M&M’s. (See Roth, David Lee; Halen, Van).

    My agent only accepts electronic submissions and takes an “If you must…” attitude towards print. Part of this is because she’s in Ireland, and 50% of her clients are American, Canadian, or residents of those two countries where A4 is in short supply.

    As I’ve said in this venue before, though, the editors’ successors will likely change the process because that’s what they know. Right now, it’s really not urgent enough for the current editors to bother with.

  40. Most agents I know take electronic submissions, and I remember the day when Russell Galen went bonkers over the new Sony Reader he had gotten, and had eliminated most of the paper in his office. I’d say that more and more agents (and publishers) are using ebook devices these days, and that trend is accelerating.

  41. Wow, Alan, Stan sure comes off as a snotrag in the portions you quote. Describing John as “miffed” is belittling, for one thing. Goes along with calling him a “young writer,” which I didn’t realize until I saw the full sentence was a way of dismissing John’s arguments too.

    Maybe he Just Doesn’t Get It, as you suggest. But it looks more like a malicious mischaracterization of John’s position to me. Distorting someone’s argument to make it easier to argue against is called the Straw Man Fallacy where I come from (proposals to rename it the Fox News Fallacy were withdrawn when it was realized that Faux Noise uses almost every fallacy known to humans to mislead its viewership).

  42. Xopher:

    I wouldn’t assume intentional malice. He’s always been perfectly pleasant with me in real life. I do agree Dr. Schmidt’s argument on this particular subject is not especially well constructed, from a rhetorical point of view.

  43. Do you think he’ll ever figure out the connection between the declining circulation of the magazine and the stubborn refusal to engage the new generation of writers?

  44. Sheila:

    There are a fair number of new writers happy (or at least willing) to submit on paper. There are other reasons to wonder if the “big three” are slacking off in discovering new talent (among them the fact that it’s now been a solid decade since a Campbell Award winner had a short story in any “big three” magazine prior to winning that award), but paper submissions may not necessarily be correlative to that.

    I think the actual risk re: newer writers is that newer writers won’t see the “big three” as part of their first tier of venues to submit to, in part because the magazines don’t match their own submission process.

  45. With laser printers being as cheap as they are and paper being relatively cheap as well, you’d only be spending ~$1 for printouts and another $5 for shipping (assuming you’d want delivery confirmation for the peace of mind in knowing that your story arrived at its destination) PER submission. Even if you only submit to the “big three” you’re looking at ~$20.

    By forcing writers to pay to sub to you, you are essentially ensuring that you are one of the last companies to be submitted to.

    If I were a writer & saw plenty of venues offering
    what amounts to a free submission AND paid equivalent rates, why would I bother with printing my story out (repeatedly) and mailing it out (repeatedly) until I’ve exhausted my free options first?

  46. I’m not entirely sure if I agree with that. Obviously, you know the game better than I do but it seems to me that the attitude of “you kids and your crazy internets! Get offa mah lawn!” is likely to turn off a lot of writers to the point that they don’t even want to submit to them and would, in turn, be less interested in reading what is contained in the clubhouse that conspicuously doesn’t want them there.

    Then again, my view on the matter may be clouded slightly by my own issues with the “big three” and all that they represent. I may write at length elsewhere about them so as not to clutter your comments pages.

  47. Are they still the ‘Big Three’, or have they simply become the ‘Oldest Still-Surviving Three’?

    Not that I have anything against any of them. I still carry subscriptions to all, albeit the e-version through Fictionwise, since I’m against anything that forces more paper than necessary into my house. I also still submit to them when I have something I think is up their alley, which seems increasingly less and less (I’ve lost writing time to a longer commute and what I am writing is coming out more slipstream than straight sf these days). I remember the first time I got a story back from F&SF with a rejection from Gordon rather than from JJA. Made me feel like I’d come up in the world.

    Having been subjected to slush, I have some idea of why the magazines might want to put up some sort of barrier to entry that keeps the sheer number of waiting manuscripts down to a semi-manageable pile, but there has to be some better way to deal with that than refusal of electronic versions. The self-selecting nature of those who are willing to invest the time and money to submit hard copy as opposed to simply clicking the send button in their email program does serve some filtering purpose for aspiring writers who aren’t all that serious. What’s a reasonable alternative?

  48. GVDUB: So far as I’ve seen, from talking to editors who have had experience dealing with both online and print submissions, there doesn’t seem to be a big difference in the number of submissions. So that can’t be the reason why The Big Three are refusing to adopt such a system. It may simply be personal preference coming into play, or in the case of the Dell Magazines, the big heads in corporate aren’t prepared to go in that direction. But we’ll never know.

    John: “There are other reasons to wonder if the “big three” are slacking off in discovering new talent.” I’d agree with you, certainly at least with regards to ANALOG, and F&SF, though perhaps less with ASIMOV’s. In just 2008 and this year it’s run stories by Elizabeth Bear, Sara Genge, Matthew Johnson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Holly Phillips, Cat Rambo, Gord Sellar, and more, which has brought me back into the fold, in reading ASIMOV’s. So it seems like ASIMOV’s is trying a bit harder, and I’ve bought more issues of that magazine than the rest.

  49. However, as a follow-up to my previous post, The Big Three still dominate the award systems, though that seems to be changing, slowly, and I hope that we’ll see a lot more come onto the ballot from other venues. But maybe that’s a long shot, and many years from now.

  50. John @67 Oh, it doesn’t have to be lead.

    I can’t say I’ve so much as looked at an issue of Analog in years, but I do find it odd that an editorial would be oriented toward such an insular topic. It seems like a prima facie admission that a great fraction of readers are would-be submitters who’d care about such an issue, which is never a good sign for a commercial periodical.

  51. @53 explains what @9 missed in critiquing me @8.

    I’m a wet-behind the ears rank beginner compared to Robert Silverberg @49 (who reminds me how great it was to know and do favors for Jack Wlliamson). Robert Silverberg was selling 2,000,000 words per year at the age at which I was losing my scholarship in university.

    Experience and prolific output do NOT reduce the sting of having to print several hundred (or thousand) pages per year, and send them to editors by snailmail, with self-addressed stamped envelopes included.

    Having a good agent can help a lot. I am currently unagented. Some editors, on principal, will not look at my manuscripts. Others prefer to lose them, have no records to say so, and bitch at me when I ask for the status. “Didn’t I return that one to you?” No, I would have noticed. In one case (no names here) an editor suggested that I resubmit the novel manuscript. And then lost that one too, without record, and again claiming that he must have returned it to me in my own SASE. Electronic submission OR good agent OR organized editor would solve such problems.

    More and more of my writing in ANY genre goes to on-line venues with electronic submission mechanisms.

    Furry little mammals they may be, scoffed at by the Bigthreeosauarus. But just wait…

  52. Nick Mamatas:

    Yeah, it was a little odd.

    It might also be a pre-emptive thing so that when Analog does ever get around to accepting e-mailed submissions, they can say it wasn’t because they were pushed to do so from outside. Which, if so, is also a little odd.

  53. . . . and this is his way of responding to the pressure. Otherwise I see no point or reason for him even bringing up this topic in an editorial. It’s an internal matter. What reader is going to care, after all?

  54. Oh, it doesn’t have to be lead.

    Whoo, let’s make it Nick v. John with PVC pipe! We’ll make ’em the 6-inch diameter kind and 7 feet long so it’ll look as ghouphie as possible; only allowed to wield it by the handles one foot from the end. Heavily pad both of you, of course, in case one of you actually manages to connect.

    We’ll play tango music during the bout, and charge admission as a fundraiser for TAFF, or for Peter Watts, or whatever Good Causes the two of you agree on. Or, to make it interesting, we could make it so 55% of the raised money goes to the winner’s favorite cause and 45% to the loser’s!

    It seems like a prima facie admission that a great fraction of readers are would-be submitters who’d care about such an issue, which is never a good sign for a commercial periodical.

    And that is a very good point. Scary (if one is fond of Analog). On the other hand, maybe he’s just getting a lot of mail from Analog readers who are also Scalzi fans, and they’ve been complaining that their favorite writer is never featured there and won’t even submit. On the gripping hand, Scalzi isn’t known for his short fiction, so perhaps your dire surmise is the correct one.

  55. While I do not write fiction, I am a career scientist who writes papers – and the idea of any journal, publishing house, conference or other outlet not accepting electronic submissions strikes me as shockingly strange. Every journal that I know of required electronic submissions through their own systems; the same applies for every conference in my field and for every granting agency.

    Also, none of the various outlets in research-land do direct-email submissions, as that is a disaster waiting to happen. They all have their own web-based submission systems; the journals and funding agencies have cute PDF assemblers attached to them; you push up the various bits and pieces, it spits out a PDF, you check the PDF and then you submit.

    The idea that any publication actually wants a large pile of metabolically challenged trees to show up on their doorstep on a daily basis strikes me as deeply strange in this day and age.

    That being said, I do prefer editing manuscripts, abstracts, funding applications and everything else in dead tree – and I can more than understand if the editors of various F/SF magazines prefer to read and comment on a dead tree copy. That is where you buy a big honking laser printer and print as needed – read the first page or two electronically; print it if you think it is warranted (otherwise, reject electronically).

  56. Alan Walker@66: Sheila Williams and Brian Bieniowski were on Sofanauts a little while back to discuss the future of specifically Asimov’s, but of print genre short fiction in general. They didn’t talk about submission policies, but I did get the impression that Sheila Williams was doing her level best to make the magazine as contemporary and relevant as possible.

    I also got the impression that she was being hamstrung by Dell Magazines. Note that she never said this. However, she doesn’t have full control over her own website, for example. Apparently, all the Dell magazines share one webmaster (who must be horrifically overworked). Anything Sheila Williams wants to do really needs to cleared with the people above her.

    Again, since they didn’t discuss submission policy, I don’t know if higher ups at Dell have anything to do with that. It certainly sounded to me though like there were lots of things she wanted to do but hadn’t won those battles. (To be fair, it also sounded to me like the Sofanauts had suggested some things that hadn’t occurred to her.)

    To your list of writers, I’d also add Aliette de Bodard who has a terrific story in the February 2010 issue. I agree with you and I agree with John Scalzi. I love the mix of writers in Asimov’s too, but it’s a fact that when writers win the Campbell, they invariably have not yet had a sale in Asimov’s, Analog, or F&SF.

    Sadly, I think Aliette de Bodard, a 2009 Campbell finalist, is not eligible in 2010. Otherwise, she could become the exception.

    I don’t know what happens if you substitute in the names of three other prominent genre magazines. What I have noticed is that it seems like whenever writers are nominated for their first Hugo, Strange Horizons has already published them. Their website congratulates them and links to stories of theirs in the SH archives. (If it weren’t blatant cat waxing, I’d look into whether that’s just observation bias or not.)

  57. I don’t get the impression at all that Analog/Asimov’s/F&SF are suffering for not having submissions from the very small minority of writers who flat-out refuse to print out a manuscript and send it in. The quality seems pretty consistent to me. I agree at this point that taking e-submissions would streamline the process all around, but that hasn’t been the case for very long. Until a few years ago, email submissions have represented a broad spectrum of P.I.T.A. that a lot of people just don’t want to deal with. High on that list is just the eye strain of reading 1000 manuscripts per month, which Stan has always done himself. I could NOT read 1000 manuscript submissions per month on my computer screen. Could. Not. And I am not even 40 years old, yet, and do not wear bifocals. :-) The new e-readers are pretty easy on the eyes, and if I were a “big three” editor, I would definitely check it out for submissions. Would be much more convenient for reading on the train to/from New York than a stack of paper mss. Now that we have more robust interchangeable document formats, that helps, too.

    I’ll add that with circulation hovering somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000, Analog is not a magazine patronized only by wannabe writers. I imagine that the reason Stan addressed the issue in his column was that John brought it up here, on his pretty highly trafficked blog, and that he’s probably been asked about it a lot of times since then. Usually at least a couple of times a year, Stan covers “writer stuff” in his editorial. I’ve seen Sheila do this, too.

    In regards to the Campbell, I’ve noticed that this award almost always goes to a novelist, and slants heavily toward fantasy, and never, ever goes to MAFIA. :-)

  58. Catherine: I got the impression that The Big Three have lost between 10k and 20k subscribers over the last decade. (Can anyone put out the stats, to back this up?) That suggests that subscribers are either disappointed with the product, or that the publisher is failing to reach potential readers. Or a combination of both. This might be a stretch but perhaps some small part of that disappointment could be that readers aren’t finding what they like, in the magazines. It’s hard to say, either way. However, as someone said on another journal, the refusal to take online submissions is a mindset that bodes ill for The Big Three.

    By the way, I don’t know if you’re aware, too, but quite a lot of mainstream and literary magazines have been taking online submissions for years:

    and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Suggesting that handling online submissions might be difficult, in 2009, is just silly, really. There is no excuse not to use such, except for personal reasons. (Or corporate idiocy).

    I thought I saw in an interview with Gordon or Sheila that they process only about 500 or 600 submissions. (About the same volume as SH handles, monthly, I believe, along with other online magazines). Do you know for a fact that they process 1000 a month? I can’t imagine that it takes all that long to read through that many submissions.

    “Analog is not a magazine patronized only by wannabe writers.”

    What makes you say that, on what basis? There’s evidence, possibly, to point to both sides of the argument. Either way, the point, I think, Nick was making was that such a topic seems unusual for Stan to discuss, much less being personal, when it wasn’t necessary. If Stan eventually takes up online submissions, or is forced-to, then surely the matter could have been handled a bit better? As it is it came across as rather churlish.

    John Chu: I think you’re right. I found that Sofanauts episode and it definitely does sound like they don’t have firm corporate support, which could be a problem, and means it isn’t their fault, certainly, though they also came across as slightly clueless as how to actually handle matters. But as we’ve both said, it does sound like Sheila is taking point on this, and I look forward to whatever she gets accomplished, with ASIMOV’s (my favorite of the three!).

  59. Catherine: You’re right, the Campbells have been mostly dominated by novelists, at least for the winners. You’d have to look at the nominees, that did so on the basis of short story sales, to get a better idea, maybe from the last five years:

    Aliette de Bodard (Writers of the Future)
    Mary Robinette Kowal (Strange Horizons)
    David Moles (Strange Horizons)
    Sarah Monette (Strange Horizons)
    Tony Pi (Writers of the Future)
    Gord Sellar (Nature; Fantasy Magazine)

    Though, if you take a look here:

    out of some ninety authors, only three are Campbell-eligible because of The Big Three: Tracy Canfield, S.L. Gilbow, and Felicity Shoulders . . . the majority are dominated by STRANGE HORIZONS, I think. This backs up Scalzi’s contention, surely?

  60. 1000 mss a month in submissions and 20-30K readers suggests that indeed a great fraction of readers are submitting material to the magazine, since that 1000 per month certainly aren’t coming from the same 1000 people each month.

    We’ll be kind and pretend that the submitters are actually reading the magazine, at least occasionally.

  61. It is indeed a curious position in which I find myself.

    If this keeps up, I may have to needlepoint you a pillow reading “SCALZI CONTRA MUNDUM.”

    Although “Middle-Aged Man’s War,” per Paul @39, might work, too.

    Don’t you feel like one of those reluctant gunfighters in 1960s movies, where people are constantly trying to Start Something with you but you just don’t wanna?

  62. Alan–you are speculating wildly about a number of things which you really don’t know anything about, from the factors that play into the business environment for magazines to the composition of the Campbell eligible “class” at writertopia–whatever that is. First of all, there is no mandatory comprehensive listing of all newly Campbell-eligible writers in SFF. Second, the Campbell is just an award, and as already observed its voter base is not really that into hard SF as published in Analog (and frequently Asimov’s). Third, the three digest-sized magazines took a major hit a few years back when the system of multiple distributors got taken over by a single larger distributor (anyone who knows more details about this than me is welcome to fill them in). That means that Analog, Asimov’s, and F&SF disappeared from quite a lot of markets where it once had been sold, and the publisher had no options for getting that lost distribution back. It is not a sign of the doom of the print zines or the doom of sf in general.

    Stan Schmidt has always cited about 1000 mss per month, and he is pretty unique among editors in that he reads every single one himself. I don’t think you will find *any* mainstream or literary magazine where one editor reads every submission. I don’t know of any other SFF magazines where that happens. I believe Sheila Williams has an assistant that helps with the reading, and I know for sure that the other magazines use multiple readers. From that point of view, what the f– is this? –> “I can’t imagine that it takes all that long to read through that many submissions.” I mean, really. What the f—ity f—? Are you from Mars? It sure as hell does take a lot of time to read 500 or 1000 manuscripts in a month. Criminy. And if you did, maybe you, too, would have a few strong preferences about where and how you did the work.

    Lastly, no, it is not *unusual* for Stan to address an issue like this in the editorial. If you read the magazine, you’d know that. But, of course, I’m sure you can be an expert on the magazine, and the entire business of publishing and editing it, including the demographic composition of its readers, without actually reading it.

  63. Catherine: “The three digest-sized magazines took a major hit a few years back when the system of multiple distributors got taken over by a single larger distributor.” This happened quite a long time ago, and doesn’t impact subscriptions as much as you think. Take a look at the February 2009 ish of LOCUS. Don’t take it from me. Draw your own conclusions (which may be different than mine). I think I saw something a bit elaborate at CW, though . . . can anyone point me to it? (I found it: Either way newstand sales continued to decline long after the distribution consolidation of the 80s. Let me repeat that: the 80s, which is more than twenty years ago, now. Do you want to continue blaming consolidation for newstand slides, today? Pull the other one.

    True, not having personal experience with slush, however, I’ve seen citations elsewhere that the magazines get 500, for ASIMOV’s and F&SF and less than that for REALMS OF FANTASY. 1000 a month sounds unlikely, frankly, considering that even the online magazines sound like they barely break 400 . . . and they are the ones that are cited, when The Big Three editors point to, as a reason not to take online submissions. (“Omigod, we’ll get flooded!”) Whether or not it’s a great idea to let a fiction editor read the slush without help is a different issue, and simply doesn’t come into play, however.

    We’ll have to agree to disagree, on some points, here, I think.

  64. Catherine:


    This suggests only 239 fiction submissions from ANALOG, and 2000 fiction submissions from ASIMOV’s, for a given month. Where in the world did you get 1000? The only way you could possibly get that is if Stan was including the nonfiction submissions, in his total, which no one here is taking into account. (Nor should they). Until I see otherwise, I’m going to take these numbers, straight from Sheila and Stan, as gospel.

  65. Catherine: I see you’re published at ANALOG, and NATURE, but I also note that you’re a science-writer (and congratulations on both!). However, with regards to my posts here, I try not to speculate myself, too much, not when I have access to google, which provides all kinds of evidence and proof to contradict most of your points, which appear to be just corporate-speak. Dig deeper. :-)

  66. Apologies all around! I was taking time between points, to google around, and that resulted in the posts being scattered . . .

  67. It sure as hell does take a lot of time to read 500 or 1000 manuscripts in a month.

    Depends. A truly bad manuscript does not need to be read all the way through before it can be rejected. I heard about an experiment one writer did which suggested that a manuscript can get chucked on the very first sentence–a short story that started with “She was laying on the beach” was sent back and all the rejection notices reportedly had a little notation about proper grammar. (The punchline, if you will, was that it was grammatically correct: the second sentence of the story was “It was the first clutch of eggs that season.”)

  68. @93: Now you know what sentence not to use, ever, as an opening hook.

    All this talk about time spent reading submissions is a bit misleading. It’s time-consuming, yes, but an editor who knows what she’s looking for can usually figure out whether or not a story is headed in a promising direction well before the end of the first page. And if it’s not looking promising, and if she uses her time wisely, she’ll stop reading right there.

  69. Alan, I think you have to make better use of your access to Google. David Moles and Gord Sellar were both published in Asimov’s before they received their Campbell nominations. By the way, a quick glance at tells me that in addition to the three that you noticed—Tracy Canfield, S.L. Gilbow, and Felicity Shoulders—Alex Wilson, Kim Zimring, Sara Genge, Sarah K. Castle, Gord Sellar, Juliette Wade, Ian McHugh, Ruthanna Emrys, Paul E. Carlson, Oz Drummond, William Gleason, and Philip Edward Kaldon are or were Campbell-eligible because of work that appeared in either Asimov’s or Analog. There may be others that I missed, and others that appeared in F&SF. Plus, I’m sure there are some new writers—e.g., Lezli Robyn, E. Salih, Ferrett Steinmetz, Nick Wolven—who don’t show up on the list.

  70. Dear John Scalzi,

    I can still remember the Appomattox of 2010 — the day I read that we, “the Big Three of Science Fiction Magazines in the World” were told that we were no longer at war with John Scalzi. I remember the day well. It was January 6, 2010.

    I have to admit I felt some small sense of sadness. All of my preparations undone. I placed the cat back in the bag (to be truthful, it was better used upon my own person). I removed the razor blades from beneath my fingernails, which I learned about as a boy courtesy of Abdullah the Butcher. I de-untwined the razor wire from my cubical boundaries. I removed the small caliber pistol from my afro. I allowed the chi built up in my fists to dissipate, as the Street Fighter had shown me. I placed my Billy Jack hat back on the wall at the barber shop. I laid down the copy of Stan’s editorial in which the Great Debate of Our Time, electronic submissions, were mentioned in but a small portion of the total text. Of course, this last weapon was to be used by the statesmen among us. I looked around. There were no men of state to found anywhere. Maybe they were all debating about the merits of Avatar that day.

    When did the war start? We could not remember. All we knew is that it was over before we could inflict terrifying wounds upon ourselves with our own weapons. An opportunity lost forever.

    John Scalzi, I have to admit, since we are at total peace together, that I believe I could take you. You were not taller than I, and you were certainly older. I think we’re balding around the same way, but, no offense, I think I might wear it better. That’s a low blow, I know. You looked soft, and I — though I routinely stuff myself with beluga caviar and champagne in my office throne room as a card-carrying staff member of the Big Three of the Science Fiction Magazines of the Human World of Beings and Doings — knew I could do some real damage to you. The world will never know, now that peace has been declared across the besieged city states of the Internet States of America. The City of Science Fiction is located between the City of Furries and Scat-town, by the by.

    Now, I don’t know about you, John, but I have a unfortunate tendency to make everything about -me-. I just can’t help it! This business was better before I got involved in it, and I have to imagine it’ll improve when I leave.

    I think I ought to come out and admit it directly: it’s because of me that we don’t accept electronic submissions, and it’s because of me that these magazines have declining circulation. I think this ought to come as a relief to all of the people who try to write science fiction and sell it to various venues for fame and treasure. They don’t have to hope during evening prayer that new writers — all finally submitting electronically to the Big Three Science Fiction Magazines of the Untold Universe and Each Bardo — will be exactly what this industry needs to save it from a nosedive of declining readership.

    See, I thought of all this stuff already. Whatever it is you’re talking about (though I’m not much of reader, to be honest) I disagree with. So I’ve made it easy on you: somebody out there, I don’t care who, has got to come and kill me. This will save science fiction. Don’t worry about improving your writing, folks. Just come and try to kill me. I’ll make it easy on you. Here’s the address:

    Asimov’s Science Fiction
    attn: Brian Bieniowski, Future Murder Victim
    267 Broadway
    4th floor
    New York, NY 10007

    When you get to the front door, just ring the buzzer and tell the receptionist, Mary, that you’re here to kill Brian. She’ll let you right inside. Please note that Asimov’s cannot yet consider electronically attempted murder at this time. We’re trying to figure out how to make that system easier on the editors. (Maybe you could help with that, John.) The office is near the corner of Chambers Street. It’s an easy subway ride from Penn Station and the outer boroughs.

    You have a powerful blog here, blogger. Help me to help you.

    Thank you kindly,

    Brian Bieniowski

  71. Sheila, I checked with the author websites, and writerutopia, in both cases: the first professional sale for David Moles was “The Memory of Water” in 2003, from STRANGE HORIZONS. For Gord Sellar, Gord’s first Campbell-qualifying work was “Junk,” NATURE, August 2007 . . . You are right, however, that I missed a few authors when doing my original statement. So there’s a total of 9, out of 86, I think. (Some of the ones that you cited actually published first at STRANGE HORIZONS, or were eligible because of WRITERS OF THE FUTURE, including Sara Genge, Ian McHugh, and Kaldon).

    With regards to the authors that aren’t listed on that website, well, there’s probably just as many that aren’t, from pro venues that aren’t the Big Three, which probably balances things out. Or considering how many pro venues we’re talking about, it might balance things in the other direction. It’s all speculation.

    However, if you want to base analysis on what is on that website, only, and then break it down by magazine, that’s where things get weird:

    Writers in 2nd year of eligibility (48)

    ANALOG: 2
    ASIMOV’S: 1
    F&SF: 1

    If you exclude non-magazine venues, that’s 29 magazine appearances. So:

    ANALOG: 7%
    ASIMOV’S: 3%
    F&SF: 3%

    Writers in 1st year of eligibility (38)

    ANALOG: 4
    ASIMOV’S: 1
    F&SF: 0

    If you exclude non-magazine venues, that’s 19 magazine appearances. So:

    ANALOG: 21%
    ASIMOV’S: 5%
    F&SF: 0%

    What’s surprising is that ANALOG fares better than either F&SF or ASIMOV’S, though all three are trumped by STRANGE HORIZONS. If we take into account that probably a lot of SH authors don’t submit their eligibility, it probably skews in their favor even more-so. (But that’s too much work!)

  72. One more post . . . as I did have time, but I have to run off to work, now . . . I took a quick look at SH’s 2008 fiction releases . . . and found twenty-two authors whose stories appear to be their first professional sale. This changes things a bit, changing the total to thirty-five, and skewing proportionsL

    ANALOG: 11%
    ASIMOV’S: 3%
    F&SF: 0%

    What does this all mean? Fugged if I know.

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