I Have A Lot of Reading to Do…

As does everyone else who is attending the 2019 Anthology workshop here in Las Vegas the first week of March.

And even better, the stories are all written by writers who sure know what they are doing. This is not slush. This is what Kris and I used to call back in the days (early 1990s) of Pulphouse or F&SF reading, the “pro pile.”

Everyone attending the workshop is reading like editors, not readers, or they should be, even though only five of us professional editors will be up front actually buying stories. But I have a real advantage in this reading. I am reading for the new incarnation of Pulphouse Fiction Magazine.

Now for any of you who have read issues of Pulphouse, you understand that the stories in the issues are not regular, standard stories that might well sell to Asimov’s or Ellery Queen. These stories are not low-hanging fruit or standard middle-genre writing. Nope, Pulphouse stories have to feel different.

For example, I started off Issue Zero of the new magazine with a story called “Spud Wrangler” by Kent Patterson. A story of a young cowboy having to turn a stampede of Idaho potatoes. Not kidding. And it works and is memorable and funny as hell.

The first issue started off with a Robert T. Jeschonek story about sentient underwear. Sometimes what makes a story a Pulphouse story is topic, other times tone, and always high quality and in any genre. Cross genre often really fits.

And the stories have to be to my taste on top of that.

So as I read as an editor, my goal is to give every story the exact same chance. Level playing field completely.

So as I read, these great authors draw me into their stories and in short order I can tell if it is or isn’t a Pulphouse story. If I think it is a story that might fit, I keep reading hoping I will buy it.

If I am in doubt at all, I keep reading, worried I might not be able to buy it.

But with a great number stories, I know pretty quickly, like in a page or so, that even though it might be a great story, it might be perfect for one of the other anthologies, it is not a Pulphouse story.

And with that realization I get to stop reading. And I do.

Not easy, but I can, after long years of training. I just stop. After all, time is the most precious thing any editor has. Why should I spend the time to finish a story I can’t buy.

It is easy to stop on stories I don’t like. Crazy hard to stop on stories I am enjoying, but that don’t fit my publication.

Now, it is sometimes very, very difficult for writers to understand the concept of editing.

— A story must first draw the editor into it. (Topic, or lack of depth, or unlikable character can push me away and not even let me get drawn in.)

— Then it must fit the magazine or anthology (both in topic, feel, and length).

— Then it must be to the editor’s tastes. (Yes, editors are human.)

— Then it must not be too similar to something bought just lately.

So perfectly great stories get rejected all the time for a mass of reasons beyond any writer’s control. Makes my head hurt when some young writer wants to change something in a story, rewrite it because the story was rejected. Never do that. Just get the story to the next editor. (sigh)

So as I read, I get the wonderful task of finding great stories that I love, that are different, off-beam, and high quality. Pulphouse stories.

But sadly, in many instances, my feed back will be what it has been for years on many stories.

“Sorry, not a Pulphouse story.”

And that does not mean the story is flawed or poorly written. It just means for one reason or another it doesn’t fit the market I am editing for.

All writers need to learn this.

And a couple more submission hints to help young writers sending out short stories to top markets.

First, after you finish the story, plan your submission schedule, meaning put the magazines in order from one-to-ten. That way you know where the story is going next after it gets rejected.

Second, make sure the story is back out to a market within 24 hours.

Third, don’t think about rejection time. You are mailing the story to sell it. Who gives a crap how long it takes to reject something. Stupid thinking and negative thinking at the same time. Figure every market you send a story to will buy it. Duh.

Fourth, put it in the submission process and forget it. And for heaven’s sake, make sure you follow the magazine submission guidelines. Another duh.

One note on a personal side. I got a rejection a long time back from the very first editor of Asimov’s magazine. It said simply, “Sorry, we do not want to pioneer new roads into tastelessness.”

I sold it the next time out a month later to Grandmaster Damon Knight for an anthology he was editing and his introduction said simply, “I can’t say a word about this story for fear of ruining a perfect story.”

Now back to reading.