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Friday, April 5, 2013

The Slush Pile Survival Guide

"Things Change"

by Bruce Bethke, Editor


Why bother reading submission guidelines? After all, you know your story inside and out, and you also know everything worthwhile there is to know about the magazine to which you plan to submit it. (Or at least, you read a paragraph or two about the magazine, on someone else's blog, about a year ago.) Why waste your time looking at submission guidelines now?

Short answer: because in the publishing business, things are constantly changing.

Magazines come and go all the time. If you've been in the writing trade for any length of time, you already know this. Even entire publishing companies can spring into being overnight and vanish again just as quickly, obliterated by bankruptcy or reduced to gray goo by a corporate acquisition.

Inside the typical magazine's office, things change just as often, and often just as abruptly. Some publishers should put revolving doors on the assistant editors' offices (if the assistant editors even rate offices) and seriously consider doing the same for the editor-in-chief. Editors come and go frequently, and when there's a change in a name on the publication's masthead, it's worth investigating. Did he jump, or was he pushed?

Sometimes the transition is benign: the outgoing editor got a better offer or decided it was time to retire, and there is an orderly transition of power to the groomed replacement. Sometimes it's bizarre: I know of one case where the editor simply got tired of pretending to be a man, and decided to reveal to all the world that she was in fact a woman. Even the most benign of transitions are still changes, and like Dr. Who, the new editor -- even if it's the same person -- is unlikely to have exactly that same tastes or make exactly the same choices as the previous editor.

Other times the transition is not so benign, and that's when paying attention really pays off. Editors get fired all the time because publishers are unhappy with monthly unit sales, or ad revenue trends, or subscription renewal rates, or the current editorial stance of the publication, or any of a vast number of other reasons, not all of them entirely sensible. When this happens the owners generally decide it's time to bring in someone new to shake things up and change directions, and I've seen new editors take their mandate to shake things up very profoundly to heart. I've seen new editors reject submissions precisely because "that's exactly the kind of [stuff] that [the previous editor] got fired for buying." I've even seen new editors go so far as to reject unread all submissions addressed to the previous editor, on the grounds that any author still putting that guy's name on the envelope clearly isn't paying attention. [An aside to those of you still addressing your submissions to M. David Blake: do I really need to say it?]

And then, once in a rare while, you get into a situation where the editor has an equity stake in the publishing company or is otherwise dug-in like a tick and well-nigh immovable, but the publication still undergoes a significant change in direction, because the editor and the other stake-holders have agreed that a significant change in direction is necessary.

Therefore, after a year and a half of going off in six directions at once, we are now announcing some substantial changes to STUPEFYING STORIES. First and foremost we've decided to stop calling it an anthology series, to abandon our ad hoc release schedule, and to change over to being a monthly magazine, released promptly on the 1st day of each month, and to begin selling it by annual subscription as well as by individual copy. The monthly mag launches in July. Stay tuned for more details.

Second, we've decided to let it become the science fiction and fantasy magazine our fans seem to want it to be. We're still willing to stray further out-of-genre that most other SF/F publications, but we're no longer buying straight-up mystery or crime stories, contemporary mainstream stories, or I-don't-know-what-the-heck-this-is-but-I-thought-you'd-like-it stories. We're still committed to publishing all the stories we have in current inventory, but we're not buying any more stories that do not have some kind of SF/F element.

Third, we've decided to expand beyond ebook-only publishing and currently are exploring our options for doing a print edition. To reiterate, this is still in the exploratory stage, and we'll be announcing more details when we know more.

There's more to come; it'll be filtering into our submission guidelines over the course of this coming weekend. But these are the most salient points.

Thanks for reading,
Bruce Bethke
Editor, Stupefying Stories

11 comments:

Wayne Helge said...

Bruce - this is good to know! I'm assuming you would like authors with non-SF/F in the slush to withdraw?

~brb said...

Your call. I've just read "Canto de Amor," and it's a beautiful piece of writing -- you really have a great way with words -- but it doesn't fit in with the direction in which we've decided to take Stupefying Stories.

Would you prefer to withdraw it, shall I send a rejection, or is this exchange of posts sufficient? (It is for me.)

Kind regards,
Bruce

Wayne Helge said...

It's fine for me, too Bruce, so long as you won't be offended that I note this as a personal rejection on duotrope! Sarcasm aside, thanks for the nice note. I'll send you my next good SF/F piece.

Chris L said...

Bruce, so I guess I thought Captain Thunder would be appearing in Throwbacks! If that's not happening, will he be making an appearance in the monthly format? Will they still be themed?

Regards
Chris Large

~brb said...

Are you kidding? "Captain Thunder and The End of All Things" is one of the *anchor* stories in _Throwbacks!_ We're still doing that book -- and _Putrefying Stories_, and the Mystery special, and three more besides that I haven't talked about yet in public. We remain committed to publishing everything we've accepted so far. We're just changing the positioning and long-term direction of Stupefying Stories proper.

Rebecca Schwarz said...

Exciting changes!

Chris L said...

Super :)

… M. said...

Bruce said: [An aside to those of you still addressing your submissions to M. David Blake: do I really need to say it?]

As an aside, in reference to the previous aside: I'm flattered that anyone would continue to do so! However, as Bruce has noted, I am but one of our associate editors. (Also sort of the de facto head of our Skunkworks department, and a few other hats that I wear from time to time... but unless I've specifically been announced as the head of any particular project, it's safest to assume that Bruce is the "Editor" to whom all STUPEFYING correspondence should be addressed.)

Judith said...

When's your next issue coming out? Is it the July one you mentioned? Looking forward to it.

~brb said...

As soon as we can get it out. We've got three more issues to get out *before* we cut over to the new format, and we're already late on March and in danger of running late on "Death & Taxes." We'll probably have to file for an extension.

mark said...

cool, can't wait!