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Author Topic: Sample Copy
Denevius
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So, I'm in the process of doing something which I haven't done seriously in several years. I've been looking up markets online to submit material to, and I gotta say, one thing I'm pretty stoked about is that I no longer have to buy one of the massive, expensive, and mostly useless "Writer's Market" anymore. At the same time, what I find kind of surprising is how many magazines don't allow E-subs. I mean like, this is 2012. But I suppose they figure that this helps keep down the slush pile just a bit, which is understandable.

What got me thinking, though, is the usual suggestion by journals, magazines, zines, to purchase a sample copy to see what type of content they publish. I always get a pang of guilt when I send off a piece to a journal that I've never read; that pang is doubled when I send off to a journal I've never even heard of. But lately, I've begone rationalizing it this way:

I have a B.A. in Creative Writing, and MFA in Creative Writing. For my B.A., I took the scenic route through undergrad, and after going back and forth finally got a degree ten years after I started. With the MFA, it was two years. That's twelve years, and over that time, for various reasons, I read plenty of short story journals. I read them for class, I read them at the suggestion of professors, I read them because they were available for purchase at forums or conferences or author readings. I've subscribed to magazines and journals of literature, poetry, and genre fiction. Over a twelve year period, I really delved quite deeply into what's available in the short story market because I had to, because I wanted to be supportive, because it's suggested to know the market before sending a story. But when I graduated with my MFA three years ago, I came to a final conclusion:

I do not like short story magazines.

Like, I've given them their chance, I tried to be supportive, but I just don't like 95% of what they publish. And I always find this so strange, as I like short stories. Heck, in workshops, that's generally all you're allowed to submit. Whenever I meet authors in daily life, if we're going to swap anything, it's usually a short story, and there's been lots of stuff I enjoyed. In the last year, I've read more short stories than ever before because I belong to several workshop forums like Hatrack. And there's been some really great stuff.

So why in the world does it just so happen that magazines tend to publish so much of the bad stuff? From the first journals I began reading in 1996 to the last ones I read in 2009, I honestly can't remember ever having a pleasurable experience. And I know it's not just me. Seriously, I can't recall the last time I got in a conversation about fiction and someone suggested I read a short story magazine that they really enjoy (and if someone does make this suggestion, it's generally because they work at the journal, which is common when meeting writers in undergrad/graduate school, or because they just published in it).

Anywho, this came to mind because if I was fortunate enough to get published in one of the markets I'm sending pieces to and the editors asked me if I'd ever read their magazine/journal/zine, I would hate to lie and say "Yes"; but I would really want my response of "No" to be put in context of, "Yeah, but dude, I really tried to be interested in this fiction venue, but now I've given up."

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Pyre Dynasty
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Aim for anthologies perhaps? I think the issue many people have with short story magazines is the tend to aim wide. They try for as many different tastes as possible. So you find one story you like, and someone else finds a different story they like.

Or possibly just focus on novels.

Personally I think although it's conventional wisdom to get a sample copy to figure out the tastes of the editors, if you have a long list (and you should) of markets to send to you can't deeply investigate the artistic decisions of each one. (Although you should deeply investigate the business side of each one.)

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extrinsic
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I will not submit to a market without sampling their wares, their publications, their web sites, their content, their staff bios, their track record, their standing. I do due diligence because I don't want to waste my time, because I don't want to get caught up in trouble, because research gives me insight into the state of the publication and the marketplace as a whole.

I too have degrees in creative writing, AFA, BFA, and soon an MA, perhaps an MFA or PhD if circumstances warrant such. I also have a degree certficate in publishing and life experience in publishing. Internships and apprenticeships in every publishing aspect from typesetting to editing and proofreading and layout and design to production and marketing; worked on newspapers, journals and digests, book publishing, and bookmaking and distribution.

The one standout thing I've noticed that handicapped each organization was the brain trust of the staff. Weak publications had one overall, strongly opinionated boss. Those bosses confused ownership with supervision. They were more about caretaking command and control than nurturing caregiving. The workplace morale was troublesome. The product was monocultural and narrowly construed, usually weak in the appeal department except for a small personality cult following that were the main contributors and subscribers. This is university, taxpayer-supported, nonprofit publishing. The commercial marketplace is a little more performance driven, but nonetheless handicapped by personal agendas and sensibilities and bigotries. Not least of which is poor appreciation for artistic merits.

And, the Big And, publishing culture is a sieve. This year's catch might not be as inspired as last year's. But over time, chaff separates from the grain. This year's blockbuster may be next year's one hit wonder and have declining popularity. This decade's critically and popularly acclaimed title may be timeless. More likely than not, however, the crop has no staying power. The crop was just a placeholder of the best available at the time of need. Next year, who knows, genuinely inspired works may fill the space. But in order to do that, writers and publishers have to get their act together.

Currently, the state of the publishing culture is in flux and turmoil due to technological and public culture changes. Out of hardship, though, comes great works. It's time.

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Owasm
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When you interview for a job, you should research the company, know a bit about them, talk to any employees that you may know, understand their culture to see if its a fit... and then you are prepared to interview. In short story writing it's the same thing. If you want to increase your chances to be hired (sell your work), a bit of research will improve your chances. That's just the way the world works.

In novel writing, it's the same thing. If you want to get an agent, then your chances increase when you research agents that deal in your genre and you learn to write a query that has a better chance of getting a response. And that's not to mention writing works that the public will want to buy.

To ignore those things only reduces your chances of being successful. It doesn't mean success is forever blocked off, but you may have to wait longer between your sales.

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Denevius
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The job comparison is interesting, in that I actually think most people send resumes out en masse, and if they get an interview, actually then do research on the perspective employer for the interview process. Now, if a short story mag shows interest in a piece of writing, yeah, it's probably best if you read what they publish as that may help in understanding any editorial changes they suggest.

I think the problem, in my mind, comes in with what extrinsic said about the incredibly narrow slice of readers most of these short story venues inevitably end up catering to. Beyond knowing and keeping with the broader type of genre they're intersted in, perhaps it's better not to know more specifically what they publish, because then all you're doing is writing more of the same of what they've already got. Does this lower your chance of success with that particular magazine? Probably. So it's kind of a catch-22. Give them what they want that only, in most cases, a ridiculously small number of readers, *their* readers, are interested in; or give them something else within the broader definition of what they're looking for that will increase the chance of being passed over.

Anyway, like I said, I feel I've put effort into trying to be be supportive of short story venues, but I'm curious, do you guys have subscriptions to journals/magazines/zines? Like, one or two, several, or many? Do you mostly enjoy them?

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extrinsic
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I haven't subscribed much for decades. I did have a six-month subscription to one digest last year. My funds are low. I will buy a novel or digest from a bookseller or newstand or publisher if there's noteworthy buzz.

I won't go to a theater either, not since theater operations turned into mall dungeon cubicles. I'm an agoraphobe. Those tight spaces and long lines and elbow rubbing make me scream. I'll wait for broadcast TV unless I have a pressing need, then I might get a disc.

The libraries hereabouts cover a fair sampling of the marketplace and access to electronic libraries' periodicals. Again, if I'm interested, I'll buy. I'll follow a writer who's ascendant or falling from grace just to see out the whole career of who I'm interested in. I'll sample best of anthologies to see who's who according to So-and-so.

But otherwise, I wait for time and the publishing culture to do the sorting. Then I can read what suits my sensibilities and time and money budgets.

I recently read a story by C.J. Cherryh that I enjoyed. One by K.D. Wentworth that was passable. But the state of the art is a bit inaccessible and unappealing in general. I'm working on what I can contribute to reinvigorating the culture. It's time for a renaissance, like the golden age, the silver age, and the two later major ages since the opening of the 20th century. Hmm, four per century?

I get sample journal and digest copies through creative sources, like libraries, sampling online, borrowed from acquaintances. After reading several thousand over the years, they start to run together in terms of pea green soup. There aren't too many imaginative publications to speak of. The one criteria I seek out is creative slant. Most publications don't know their creative slant. They wing it, though I believe defining a creative slant ought as a best business practice be part of a publisher's masthead and in the business plan from day one.

[ September 23, 2012, 09:18 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Osiris
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I currently sub to Clarkesworld and IGMS, and had Asimov's as well until recently. Of the three, I like IGMS the most, but certainly don't love everything I read. In general, about 1 in 4 stories I read hold my interest.

I recently decided I am going to invest in anthologies instead, hoping for some best-of material. I just tried to read "The Fifth Head of Cerberus" but couldn't get into it.

I grew up exclusively reading novels, and only began reading short stories after i got serious about writing, so it may be unfounded for me to say this, but it seems like SFF short stories have trended toward less exciting and more literary. I suspect that is a major factor behind the decline of science fiction's popularity.

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