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July 3, 2009

John Scalzi is right
Posted by Patrick at 04:37 PM * 159 comments

Although really, my first reaction to the news that F&SF will be running a writing workshop was to think to myself, okay, that’s another step down the road to being a literary magazine oriented primarily to aspiring writers. Which is arguably a direction in which the “big three” science fiction magazines have been going for a while. Twenty and thirty years ago, I knew lots of people who read the SF magazines without aspiring to write for them. These days, in my own sphere of social awareness, I know only a few such people, most of whom are readers of Analog. (A magazine which, more than the others, still appears to be published to an identifiable group of actual human beings who simply read it because they like it.)

John raises the question of whether F&SF will be paying the lucky workshoppers whose stories are selected, largely because Gordon Van Gelder’s editorial doesn’t actually say anything about this. My own guess would be that Gordon intends to do so, but John’s not wrong to note that this is nothing but a guess. Gordon’s bigger mistake, I think, was to so firmly play up the “you might get published in F&SF” angle. Yes, workshop instructors sometimes do wind up ushering particularly good student stories into professional print—Greg van Eekhout made his first sale to me, for Starlight 3, after I read the story as one of his Viable Paradise instructors; and a decade earlier, Ted Chiang’s award-winning “Tower of Babylon” famously started out as his Clarion submission story. But these are unusual events; neither Clarion nor Viable Paradise promise that your workshop stories will be considered for professional publication, nor do they even (as Gordon is definitely doing) imply that they might be. My guess is that if the F&SF workshop goes forward as planned, Gordon and instructor Gardner Dozois will find it harder than they expect to run an effective workshop when a significant number of the students are having their brains scrambled by the notion that they’re locked in a competition with their fellow students over those semi-promised thrice-yearly chances to be published in F&SF oh my god lights flashing bells ringing hosts of angels from on high I could pass out from the excitement and also throw up. (Yes, I have met aspiring SF writers.) I could be wrong about this, but I fear I’m not.

And while we’re agreeing with John Scalzi, let’s also note that yes, honestly, the attitudes of the “big three” toward electronic submission really have, over the last decade, gone from “practical response to unsolved problems of electronic mail and text” to “old man yelling at clouds.” I mean, sure, it’s their business and they can do as they like—refuse to read email, or for that matter demand that aspiring writers wear plaid pants. But as John points out, here in 2009, in most of the business world, electronic document transmittal has been routine for well over a decade; file formats, version control, and electronic workflow are basically boring issues with multiple solutions—about as challenging as setting up a household budget spreadsheet, and about as cutting-edge. I mean, dudes, just get a GMail account, if it’s that hard. Get three.

Yes, it’s true that Tor still requires printed manuscripts from people submitting unsolicited material. And if it were entirely up to me I’d change that. I already do the overwhelming majority of my work on screen and online. Certainly if I were currently in charge of a short fiction venue with a wide-open submission policy, I wouldn’t just be allowing electronic submissions, I’d be requiring them.

Comments on John Scalzi is right:
#1 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2009, 05:08 PM:

Regarding electronic submissions, the view from one of those aspiring writers: yes, definitely, all the way please. I've sent stories to 4 markets over the past few years, and only one of those markets required paper and ink submissions (Sci-fiction). And I only submitted to it because it was, frankly, the best market at the time. Others that required printed submissions just don't get a second look, with so many available that will accept electronic submissions now.

#2 ::: Lisa L. Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2009, 05:10 PM:

I already do the overwhelming majority of my work on screen and online.

Technical and scholarly presses are increasingly using Microsoft Word's "tracking" feature in editorial processes.

I use it because they pay me to use it, but I loathe Microsoft Word's tracking.

My question: are mainstream publishers using tracking?

#3 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2009, 05:11 PM:

It's because production still needs hardcopy.

(Note: I accidentally posted this as Patrick. I've fixed it now. --TNH)

#4 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2009, 05:25 PM:

Electronic workflow killed my job.

The company I used to work for now does its Quark Xpress page building remotely, thereby being able to consolidate it to one office, and that office wasn't the one I was in.

Now they do their editorial corrections (on newspaper pages) as pdf files, thereby not needing the page builder to be in the same room as the editor.

Heard of the paperless office? I guess this is the paperless paper.

#5 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2009, 05:47 PM:

As far as I know, the majority of publishers do use Tracked Changes in Word for editing and proofreading. I do occasionally hear of those who want you to work on InDesign files or PDFs.

#6 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2009, 05:53 PM:

Academia has similar conflicts of interest. If you go to school for many years it might eventually qualify you to work at a school.

#7 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2009, 06:00 PM:

Erik J. Nelson, that is, indeed what I am hoping!

#8 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2009, 06:01 PM:

(Sorry about the extra J.)

#9 ::: Michael M Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2009, 06:05 PM:

When I read slush for Mike Allen's Clockwork Phoenix anthology, it was all done via electronic submissions to GMail, and the system worked beautifully. Quick, easy, painless, organized, versatile, it saved on paper and energy, could be done by multiple people from anywhere as long as they had email access, and there was quite clearly an electronic trail; only a tiny fraction got lost in the shuffle, mostly from those who didn't follow instructions.

I honestly can't see any way where paper submissions and snailmail retain superiority over an electronic system these days. And I've read the paper-in-manilla envelopes version of slush, and it was a time-wasting hassle bar none.

I agree with John Scalzi on the matter. I, for one, welcome our electronic overlords.

#10 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2009, 06:14 PM:

Cengage Press uses Word's tracking, and then makes PDFs

#11 ::: Emily Horner ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2009, 07:58 PM:

Since I started querying my novel a year ago, the entire process has been digital -- query by e-mail, full submission by e-mail, two rounds of edits and a round of line edits by e-mail (yep -- using MSWord's Track Changes feature).

Fortunately Open Office is just about 99% compatible with Word by now, since I refuse to pay for Word.

I've done the paper submissions thing. But paper is really heavy.

#12 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2009, 09:24 PM:

Just a peripheral observation: I still read and buy F&SF. I'm not an aspiring applicant to publication in it (at least not in the immediately foreseeable future). Gordon manages to find and publish some short fiction that I can make myself read -- and I'm particularly grateful to him for introducing me to Matt Hughes, who is now my favorite fantasy (or "science fantasy") writer. I also appreciated Gordon's willingness to experiment with re-introduction of the concept of serialized novels, last year, in F&SF with Terry Bisson's PLANET OF MYSTERY.

This says nothing about the wisdom (or lack of wisdom) being demonstrated in implementing the current F&SF writers workshop project, but I wanted to enter testimony on the record that as far as I'm concerned, Gordon Van Gelder is a good editor who produces a readable s-f magazine. I wish we had more like him.

#13 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2009, 09:46 PM:

Paper ain't heavy. It's my brother.

#14 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2009, 09:57 PM:

Lenny Bailes @12: I also appreciated Gordon's willingness to experiment with re-introduction of the concept of serialized novels, last year, in F&SF with Terry Bisson's PLANET OF MYSTERY.

Analog has been doing that for as long as I've been aware of them, which is to say spottily since 2003 or so (my awareness, that is). I remember catching the tail end of Robert J. Sawyer's Hominids there. That said, I actually prefer the other magazines over Analog (granted I haven't actually *read* an issue since '04, so it may have changed). I read SF magazines for the short stories, and Analog's stuff in general had too little goodness per unit length to hold my interest. F&SF is okay, and most consistently has actual short stories, but when I pick the month's offerings up I've been finding myself reading Asimov's first, more and more. (It's my subway reading.) And I am not, for the record, an aspiring SF writer, at least along anything short of geological time scales. I think part of it is that Gordon Van Gelder's taste in SF short stories and my taste are at variance, and that's fine -- F&SF is a perfectly cromulent mag. I simply find more stories I consider real gems in Asimov's than in other magazines. (Case in point: "Sleepless in the House of Ye" from a couple months ago.)

I don't think, as a reader, that the F&SF workshop thing will make me more or less likely to pick up F&SF, unless it turns out to be exploitative of the authors or something. But I think Mr. Van Gelder is smarter and a better person than that.

#15 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2009, 10:11 PM:

FWIW, Gordon has said that he'll pay "beginner's rates" for stories purchased from the workshop.

While I think Patrick is in general right that playing up this angle is a mistake, I think that even without the promise, aspiring writers will wrap themselves around the possibility. (Anne Lamott has a trenchant and true chapter on workshops in Bird by Bird which talks about this very phenomenon.) Also, the workshop as described is online, which I think will ameliorate the risk of breathless vomiting that Patrick darkly warns us about.

I've subscribed to F&SF on and off over the years, and my usual experience is that I've loved about 25% of the stories. (I've also submitted about half a dozen stories to them without success, for whatever interest that holds.)

I'm certainly curious about the workshop - by all accounts Gardner is a brilliant instructor. But I don't really see the advantage of the workshop as a pathway to publication; it's not like F&SF doesn't accept unsolicited manuscripts.

#16 ::: Matthew Austern ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2009, 11:00 PM:

FWIW, I subscribe to Asimov's, and I read it for pleasure (although it has to compete with The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books, and I'm badly behind on all three), and I have no plans to be a fiction writer. It's introduced me to writers I wouldn't have known about otherwise.

#17 ::: K.C. Shaw ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2009, 11:55 PM:

Alex Cohen @15: "Beginner's rates" for workshopped stories published in F&SF? This is so wrong on every level.

If the workshopped stories aren't expected to be good enough to deserve pro rates, why publish them at all? If the stories are only chosen for publication if they are on par with other stories selected for the magazine, the authors should receive the same pay any other author would get.

It sounds like the workshop is a thin disguise to A) make money from authors paying for the workshop, B) get some interest in the magazine to combat falling subscriber rates, and C) make the magazine seem like it's all about fresh new authors.

Dangling the possibility of publication will get them lots of participants, and if they do discover a gem, they don't have to pay much for it. Just out of curiosity, how would this affect SFWA's recognition of F&SF as a pro market?

(I haven't bought an issue of F&SF in years, since I rarely enjoy the stories they publish. The last issues I remember reading had a stale, same-as-the-last-issue feel, and I always got the distinct impression that the stories were mostly intended for guys anyway.)

#18 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2009, 12:10 AM:

F&SF pays 6-9 cents a word. My interpretation of Gordon's comment is that stories coming from the workshop would get the low end of that.

#19 ::: Nick Mamatas ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2009, 12:28 AM:

KC @17:
I'm sure Gordon means the rates given to beginning writers who publish in F&SF, which pays on a scale of 5-7¢/wd (plus higher for certain folk, surely). Even the lowest part of the scale is the pro rate though.

#20 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2009, 12:38 AM:

Six to nine cents a word is a hobby, not a profession. Maybe an avocation, if you're more romantic about it. Possibly a loss-leader, if you've got a good plan.

#21 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2009, 12:45 AM:

Post: Twenty and thirty years ago, I knew lots of people who read the SF magazines without aspiring to write for them. These days, in my own sphere of social awareness, I know only a few such people...

#20: Six to nine cents a word is a hobby, not a profession.

I'm guessing these two things are related. From what I understand, literary magazines don't pay much either.

#22 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2009, 12:50 AM:

Incidentally, I have a tangentially related question that editorial folk around here might be able to answer. (It was brought to mind by the whole 'electronic submissions' question.) I've frequently heard it said that publishers (in contrast to readers) prefer endnotes to footnotes because the latter are hard to lay out, to typeset (and to whatever-other-verbs-are-needed-to-get-a-manuscript-turned-into-a-printed-book.) What I don't get is why this isn't anachronistic. I mean, sure, back in the typewriter days laying out footnotes was difficult. But now lots of programs -- any word processing program, and also more sophisticated page layout programs too -- do it automatically. So what's the big deal? Why not make them footnotes and spare everyone the grief? Is there in fact a good reason, or is this just inertia?

#23 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2009, 02:46 AM:

Publications requiring hard copy aren't my bugbear: that would go to those who require a SASE, because, newsflash, newsflash! THE US POST NO LONGER SELLS STAMPS OVERSEAS.

I am pretty sure most magazines haven't realized this, because it's a new development, but yes: if you are in Hawaii, you can order your stamps on the net and have them delivered. If you are in London, England, nope. Security reasons? Costs? Who knows.

(You can still print out a paid-for envelope, but that has a 24hrs time limit, unfortunately, and is therefore unusuable for this.)

So when I decided to send my story out last time, I found out that my roll of US stamps is MIA, probably packed away in some box (yes, it's been that long), and that I couldn't get any more.

I had two alternatives: either use the dreaded, and possibly mythical, International Reply Coupons, or ask somebody in the US to buy a roll of stamps for me and send them to me.

This second route bothers me a little, because even if I have no lack of USian friends, I'd rather not impose on people for favors. I know I can, but I'd rather not.

I mean, it's not that hard to make a provision for people residing outside the US to opt for email as a response channel, is it? You can have a form rejection in email just as well as you can slip a form rejection into a pre-addressed envelope.

In the event, my first port of call now instead of being IASFM is Interzone (which always turns my stories down with a form, the only one to do so now), and then Strange Horizons, who let me do all of it electronically and....

(roll of drums)

bought my story.

#24 ::: Nick Mamatas ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2009, 02:50 AM:

Six to nine cents a word is a hobby, not a profession.

Yeah, but who wants to spend forty hours a week writing and marketing short stories anyway? For an afternoon's effort at some enjoyable thing, why knock 6-9¢ (plus money from occasional reprints)?

For writers, it's a sideline. For editors/publishers it can be a part time or full-time job. So what? Plenty of freelance writers who get 50¢-$1.00 a word for non-fiction feature articles also have other work, because it's difficult to publish 25,000-50,000 words of such articles each year, which, with higher tax burdens of the independent contractor, isn't much of a salary even when it happens.

#25 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2009, 02:54 AM:

And as for the meat of the article, yeah, what you said. There is nothing, after all, stopping the workshoppers submitting their stories to F&SF and selling them if they are good enough.

Selling to people you have some sort of relation to also has the unfortunate effect of convincing you that it's not a "real" sale. I sold my first story to one of my Clarion mates (and good friend) who had founded a magazine. I'm sure she bought it because she liked it and she paid me pro rates, and it was a professional sale... but it never felt completely like one. Which is unfair in a number of ways, not least to my friend.

The fact that the number of people who want to write so much exceeds the number of people who want to read is sad. Real, but very sad. My friend, whose magazine eventually folded because it was, well, critically acclaimed but a flop at the box-office, often tells me that if only everybody who sent her stories had bought a copy of the magazine, it would have been a viable concern. That, also, leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

#26 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2009, 05:25 AM:

Some points of information:

1. The last three or four stories I sold to Asimov's were submitted electronically. (On the other hand, they weren't exactly unsolicited by that point ...)

2. None of my last ten novels have been anywhere near a printer until some time after they first arrived in my editors' inboxes.

3. The standard Asimov's rejection slip includes the phrase "we receive over 900 submissions a month ..."

Taking this at face value (and assuming it hasn't changed), let's do some numbers. Assuming 10,000 words per story, submitted as MS Word files bloated by quick save, that's about 150Kb per story. Or 135Mb per month.

Back in the bad old days it would indeed take a modem connection some considerable time to choke down 135Mb of inbound email (bloated up to 200Mb of TCP/IP packets due to the usual networking overheads). But to a 2mbps ADSL line -- the bottom end of what passes for home broadband in a big city these days -- it's about 20 minutes. Over a month.

If they switched to accepting submissions via email ... it'd be smart to use a gmail account; that way the stuff isn't even hitting their servers, and using gmail allows automatic conversion of attachments for reading/editing in Google Docs (and for downloading in RTF if it's the rare story that is wanted).

The biggest problem they'd have would be spam. And guess what Gmail is famous for being very good at filtering out?

So, yes: old men yelling at clouds FTW.

#27 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2009, 09:06 AM:

"Selling to people you have some sort of relation to also has the unfortunate effect of convincing you that it's not a 'real' sale"

I recognize the psychology behind this perception, but I think it's worth pushing back against.

First, because it's impractical. People are social. We tend to know other people in our fields of effort.

Second, because it reflects a misperception that's unfortunately common among aspiring writers: that the editorial selection process ought to be some kind of impartially-administered Olympics of fiction. Not only isn't it that, it shouldn't be that. An acquiring editor's job isn't to be fair, it's to secure good material. If she does it while buying only material from her siblings and first cousins, and the result works (by whatever criteria of "works" is pertinent), guess what--that editor has done a good job. In other words, the answer to the charge that editors often buy from their friends is the plain fact that one of the characteristics of an effective acquiring editor is that they have talented friends.

#28 ::: Suzanne ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2009, 11:10 AM:

AFDD@23, I'd be happy to mail you stamps.

Personally I don't have any great preference between electronic and paper submissions. Electronic is easier and a whole lot cheaper, but also has to navigate unknown spam filters before reaching its destination. I've had more than one story (and more than one response) go missing that way. OTOH printing out a story and holding the paper in my hands has a very satisfying feel to it, and there's a sense of accomplishment in that moment when you hand it across the counter to the postal person. Except then you have to hand them money, too. So, meh, I'm happy to send stuff either way without complaint.

#29 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2009, 11:17 AM:

electronic document transmittal has been routine for well over a decade

My first reaction to the idea that SF magazines refuse electronic submissions was one of amusement that publications about the Future would refuse the future. Then I thought some more about it and reminded myself that I don't embrace everything about the Future either. I'm a computer programmer and, circa 1990, the field really started changing, as mainframes were being superseded by smaller machines. I definitely didn't enjoy that time of my life as we tried to do our jobs while trying to implement this or that fad tech that people were saying would be the Future.

Still, things have stabilized, and unless someone sends the mags a story written on their homebrewed word-processing software or... gasp!... WordPerfect... compatibility shouldn't be a problem.

#30 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2009, 11:20 AM:

Yes, there is nothing like waiting six months for a reply on a submission only to learn it got eaten by a spam filter. I guess there is something to be said for paper.

But that is about all. I immediately check off my list any venue that requires paper submissions. Too much hassle.

#31 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2009, 11:57 AM:

I like the ritual of paper, and I think it's good for someone's first few submissions to take part in that ritual. At the end of the Alpha workshop, we have a disorganized submitting party, and it's not as fun with email.

But paper only? Not so much.

The only two submissions I've ever had go walkies were paper. I got a new and lovely computer this year, and it's Vista, which means my printer doesn't work with it-- granted, I haven't tried very hard, but it's still a hurdle.

At the same time, it may take me longer to work up to an electronic submission simply because the format isn't standard (good reasons for it, I know). But the editor is not responsible for my nerves.

#32 ::: Jaws ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2009, 12:38 PM:

I read the Quasibig Three — at the local libraries, to convince them to keep up their subscriptions, and to avoid potential conflicts of interest* — without aspiring to write fiction for them. That "conflict of interest" thing is fairly important.

That said, Scalzi is right on multiple levels. In fact, he doesn't go far enough. For two out of the three, the response time is so inexcusably slow+ that anything done to speed things up — even just dropping out the average week roundtrip for physical mailings — would help. "No simultaneous submissions" is a cop-out (not to mention yet another sign of bad management at the next level up from the line editors), even at novel length.

Further, going electronic would get rid of the font wars in submissions. The next time I see an editor claim that he/she gets a better idea of how much space an unedited submission will fill from a monospaced printed manuscript, but can't do so from any other form, I think I'll impose a properly designed study on his/her butt and demonstrate otherwise. (BTW, it's been done at book length... and demonstrated with statistical significance that monospaced manuscripts lead to less accurate castoffs.)


* Sheila may or may not connect this persona to that classmate from all those years ago (Go Bears!), and I've finagled Gordon into appearing on panels for me with malice aforethought.

+ I've been in charge of much scarier slush piles than the Quasibig Three have, and I think the longest we held a piece — even over the summer, when we were in three separate cities — was about five weeks.

#33 ::: Adrian ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2009, 12:52 PM:

K.C. Shaw (17), I don't work in the industry (nor do I aspire to) but I don't think "beginners' rates" have anything to do with the quality of the story itself. It looks more like a marketing thing. Will readers be more likely to buy the magazine because they see that author's name on the cover? Famous names, or even vaguely familiar names, can help sales, and beginners usually don't have that. (There are a few people who become famous doing other stuff, but beginner=unknown doesn't seem unreasonable as a first approximation.)

#34 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2009, 01:43 PM:

"Selling to people you have some sort of relation to also has the unfortunate effect of convincing you that it's not a 'real' sale"

I recognize the psychology behind this perception, but I think it's worth pushing back against.

This.

I've been trying to sell photos as art (instead of illustration, or portrait, etc.) for about five years. I was visiting someone the other day. That someone happened to be the person who bought the first art print I ever sold.

It had that sense of, "charity". The next couple felt slightly the same. It's a nasty thing to do to oneself. It undercuts the drive to sell, because one questions the worth of one's work.

It also makes one undersell one's work.

I am, mostly, past that. When a friend says they want a print.... I call it good, and quote the price and hope they realise it's a good deal.

But those first sales... in the short run they were setbacks, because I damaged my faith in myself which was unfair to them.

#35 ::: Henry ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2009, 01:55 PM:

Fwiw another F&SF subscriber, without any aspirations to write for them beyond vague aspirations of the 'maybe some day if my life was radically different' class.

#36 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2009, 02:36 PM:

Anna@23: usps.com offers to sell stamps; I haven't worked through the pages but I would think that would mean mailing them, which they might even do internationally. Have you tried them?

@25: The fact that the number of people who want to write so much exceeds the number of people who want to read is sad.

Is it any sadder than the number of people who \want/ to play professional sports? i.e., how much of the unpublished stuff is worth reading? I know it's not 0% -- IIRC, Elizabeth Bear proved herself online before getting a hardcopy contract -- but I doubt it's a large fraction. (I've done some reading for amateur story contests, so I have a \little/ idea what I'm talking about; but I know I'm guessing about the extent of quality.)

FWIW, I've subscribed to F&SF for >15 years now, but it has been almost 40 years since I tried to write; I found that I couldn't come up with anything that was more interesting to me than what I was reading. (I also ran into another demonstration around then that I was more of a solver than a creator....)

#37 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2009, 02:50 PM:

If it's unfair and behind the times to not accept electronic submissions, isn't it also unfair to not accept paper submissions?

There are still people, lots of people, who don't have a computer or easy access to them. Particularly among the poor and/or disabled. So isn't "electronic-submission-only", at heart, a class issue?

(I'm not Will Shetterly. I just sound like him sometimes.)

I've been reluctant to submit stories electronically (that said, my last two published stories were submitted and sold electronically).

Part of this is because I'm a grumpy old fart of aesthetics: I like paper, the feel of it, the permanence of it, the sharp contrast of the black ink on white paper bounded by set and unchanging dimensions.

Another reason is that the format for submissions on paper is pretty cut-and-dried. Sometimes you see a call for 1" margins, sometimes for 1.5" margins, but otherwise you can pretty much send the same printout of a story to any market out there.

With electronic markets, I keep seeing publications where they want manuscripts sent in a particular font and type size, even with specific leading and kerning applied.

I don't think I should have to go thru and re-format a manuscript every time I send it to a new market. What requirements like that say to me is that they not only want you to write a story for them, but to typeset and format it for them as well, where they can just do a straight "Copy" from your file into their website or page-design program.

I call that "pretty fucking lazy".

When submission formats for electronic markets get as standardized as they are for hardcopy markets, I'll be a LOT more comfortable submitting electronically.

#38 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2009, 03:09 PM:

Any organisation which cannot generate an automatic confirmation email, acknowledging receipt to a particular address, is less than competent.

Unfortunately, the behaviour of spammers, using fake origins for their crap, does make for problems for this. Spamming Big_Surprise_SF to mess up somebody's mailbox is a risk.

I hope nobody reading this sets up an automatic message when they're away from the office.
Anyway, I'm reading Charlie Stross's account of his experience of being a key programmer in a dot.com boom. There are similarities: new technology, organisations reluctant to adapt, and ill-planned enthusiasm for change.

But isn't this prolonged wait for any response a part of what gives the vanity press scams their opportunity? They look to be way ahead of you publishing professionals in their reaction time. Six month turn-round, no simultaneous submission: is it any wonder the frustrated turn towards any half-plausible alternative?

No, I doubt that there's an easy answer.

And I half-expect drive-by advertising by Six-Sigma consultants, who don't know why the system can't work for writing books.

#39 ::: Patrick M. ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2009, 03:58 PM:

Dave Bell @38

"Six month turn-round, no simultaneous submission: is it any wonder the frustrated turn towards any half-plausible alternative?"

Keep in mind PNH's comments @27 - There's no reason to think that an editor is under any obligation to read unsolicited material - at all - nevermind in a timely manner.

#40 ::: TK ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2009, 04:24 PM:

I'm currently trying to work out how many IRCs I need to send for a submission to Asimov's. I know how to get the darn thing there, it's making sure they can reply that's the tricky bit. Email subs would make my life so much easier. And the lives of the Post Office staff -- they were hunting around for an IRC for me today and looked pretty baffled.

#41 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2009, 07:26 PM:

I don't want to write, but I read Asimov's. I'm sure there are more of us than thought.

#42 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2009, 12:58 AM:

When you make an electronic submission, do you have to enclose the Self Addressed Stamped Envelope as an attachment?

#43 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2009, 01:52 AM:

Patrick M @39

So there you are, an editor, with an open submission address, and there is no implicit promise to even read a submitted work?

Yes, I know about the Terror of the Slushpile, the Beast From 20,000 Pages, but the whole thing does make it easier for the scammers.

If nothing else, the pace of the world has changed.

#44 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2009, 02:34 AM:

I AM a writer, I took a long hiatus, mostly because of writing at work (public relations) and then a stressful job that took the desire out of me.

That said, I've sold the first thing I've finished that I think is salable as an electronic submission I've ever done to Hadley Rille for a Renaissance Festival anthology.

I have an editor friend who helped me iron out some glitches, she would get it as a Word .doc and send me back a .pdf with her red pencil because she likes paper.

It was just way easier.

#45 ::: Gray Woodland ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2009, 03:20 AM:

Dave Bell@43: I think it is ordinary business courtesy to read one's correspondence, especially having announced that such is welcome. But attached manuscripts aren't correspondence: the letter is a proposal that they be read, a proposal that may and sometimes must be declined.

In a better world, matter held for too long with small prospect of viewing might be automatically returned, without prejudice to resubmission - thus allowing the author to determine whether the next trial should be with the same house or another, and avoiding the black hole problem.

In practice, I suspect that the explosive "OMG you didn't even READ this?!%?" responses liable to occur, precisely from all the least desirable potential partners, might become so tiresome as to make the game seem not worth the candle. But that's just a guess, and I'd be interested to know whether it rings true to those on the slushy end of the stream.

#46 ::: martyn ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2009, 06:13 AM:

The Post Office staff here in rural Northumberland (and deepest sarf London when I lived there) have never had the slightest difficulty in producing IRCs when I have asked for them. Not that I have recently, but there you go. I have only submittedly electronically for some time.

#47 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2009, 07:31 AM:

Gray @45

Read the Tor submission guidelines: they ask for the manuscript, and treat the submission as one whole package. I can see reasons for the parts of the whole thing, but I'm not sure the total effect is good enough.

Anyway, Tor isn't so bad. But I think all the publishers look worse from outside the USA. The UK is a much smaller market, less able to take a chance on a new writer. Last I heard, UK publishers were even dropping established authors, mid-series. The printed-manuscript/SASE system is an extra barrier from here.

#48 ::: Gray Woodland ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2009, 09:01 AM:

Dave@47: Thanks for the link. To me that amounts to specifying under what circumstances letters of that kind are welcome/ will be answered, so the submitter has no beef when the time is longer than they care for. Some day somebody will no doubt quote this against me.

I also can see the reasons for the parts and the unsatisfactoriness of the whole, but don't see it changing any time soon - if at all, for as long as traditional publishing remains such a buyer's market.

One would expect bad effects (for the publishers) to crop up first where a given amount of writerly work produced the worst pay and incurred the most submission costs. Alternatively, where rival publication channels imposing lower costs started making real inroads. Both are true for short fiction, which brings us right back to Scalzi's point.

Doesn't extend it to novels, yet. But electronic subs are already "strongly preferred" over at Baen, and Patrick has just stated that he'd like to see them at Tor, given his 'druthers. Whatever the reasons involved, I think we have some signs of which way the wind is blowing, here.

#49 ::: K.C. Shaw ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2009, 09:20 AM:

Alex @18 and Nick @19: Ah, okay, I didn't think of "beginner's rates" as translating to "the low end of our usual pay scale." It just had a nasty ring to it, particularly considering that the workshop isn't free.

Regarding markets that won't accept electronic submissions and/or that have very slow response times, I've solved that dilemma for myself by not submitting to those markets. Sure, it narrows the field for me and I doubt any of those editors are ever going to think, "OMG, why isn't she sending us stories?", but it makes me more likely to send stuff out.

#50 ::: Patrick M. ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2009, 09:47 AM:

Dave Bell @ 43 "If nothing else, the pace of the world has changed."

And yet the pace of publishing has not. :) I defer to my friends who have books coming out 2 years after the initial purchase for proof.

Is your sole argument that they should be faster so impatient writers don't fall victim to scammers?

Unfortunately, they(editors) are under no obligation to protect you as a writer. Most do try to provide the information so that you may protect yourself, but it is on you - not the editors or publishers.

What you should have heard is - the slush pile is not the only door, nor is it the fastest. Look for the other doors. That's what was in PNH's comments @ 27. Be the sibling of an editor. :)

#51 ::: Patrick M. ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2009, 10:36 AM:

Sorry. Realized I wanted to say more.

Dave Bell @ 43 - " there is no implicit promise to even read a submitted work?"

Nope, though the Tor guidelines indicate a 'fair hearing'. I assume that they use that wording so they are not claiming that they will 'read' your work before rejecting it.

You are selling them something. It's up to the buyer to decide how they determine what and how they will select something for purchase. In this case, they are a reseller since they will turn around and try to sell the book to booksellers.

They may simply be keeping this submission process open in case they need to fill a hole in their schedule when they can't fill it through nepotism. Then they select who ever is on top of the stack. Cross your fingers!

They might be keeping it open because they don't want to give power/responsibility to agents who might be telling authors to re-write perfectly good manuscripts and never passing them to editors, because the agents think they know better.

They might keep it open so they can use the shredded manuscripts to line the bottom of their rabbit cages.

Or, they might actually read them.

#52 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2009, 11:11 AM:

The Internet is an escaped lab experiment. The results include some extremely ugly drawbacks, including
o spamability,
o extreme susceptibility to transmission and distribution of malicious email and applications which variously facilitates identity fraud, wire fraud, credit card number theft, signing people up for useless but expensive services, stalking, theft of privacy, corruption of data files, deletion of software, replacement of working software with dysfunctional or malicious software....
o standards which don't exist (RFQ is NOT the same thing as a standard... apparently there are a very limited number of actual -standards- which made it out of RFQ to standard... but some things have stayed as drafts long past the dates the drafts were supposed to have expired...)
o inconsistent look, feel, and operations, including having the same webpage not appear the same or be differently functional (including dysfunctional...) on different web browers and on different types of computers.
o security which is a bad joke.

A printed page copied looks like a printed page. A .doc file, there is no casual way to tell WHICH .doc format the file is in... Microsoft keeps -changing- the format and not changing the file extension. That means that there is no assurance that the .doc file that Person A sends to Person B or Company Y, will open and have the the contents display the same way it displayed on the computer Person A created and sent the file from.... It may or may not open, even. It may or may not display. It may or may not, if openable and displaying, show the pagination and headers and footers the same [e.g., ever try to deal with a .doc document with the header -flickering- on it?! It's very unpleasant....]

#53 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2009, 12:08 PM:

Bruce Arthurs @ 37 -
If it's unfair and behind the times to not accept electronic submissions, isn't it also unfair to not accept paper submissions?

There are still people, lots of people, who don't have a computer or easy access to them. Particularly among the poor and/or disabled. So isn't "electronic-submission-only", at heart, a class issue?

I know plenty of really impoverished fiction writers, and all of them own computers. Are you positing an *actual* case for people so poor all they have is a typewriter, but who have a burning desire to submit to F&SF? Or are these hypothetical people? Because paper or not, I'd bet that F&SF isn't taking handwritten submissions.

#54 ::: Sarah M ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2009, 12:32 PM:

Perhaps one major difficulty of e-slush is that it would limit the number of slush readers to the number of computers available. It was many moons ago that I interned at a Major Skiffy Publishing House in NYC, but, if I recall correctly and extrapolate from that experience to the experience of other offices that accept slush, those treasured employees who read slush probably don't have individual computers, and those they do have (that, the one they do have) are used for things other than slogging through slush.

#55 ::: Tom West ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2009, 12:41 PM:

Would one simple reason for requiring paper mail submissions be to simply cut down on the number of submissions?

Forcing a mail submission requires an investment on the part of the writer, and I cannot help but think that the correlation between writers willing to invest in their work and the quality of the work is positive. Given the cost of evaluating submissions, any process that decreases the number of submissions while increasing overall quality (even at the cost of possibly losing a few quality submissions) might well be considered worth it.

Of course, for writers who have proven the quality of their submissions, such a barrier would not be beneficial.

#56 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2009, 01:14 PM:

Paula #52 et prev.:

The most important point where the Internet has a drastic advantage over paper mail is this: Informing the hopeful writer that their manuscript, or even query, has been received! I'd say that failing to make use of that capacity is just rude. Even just an autoreply will suffice for that....

#57 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2009, 01:50 PM:

OK, reading the Tor guidelines has reminded me that the USPS offers a return-receipt capability, albeit at their usual speeds.

On the flip side, I also note the trailing "If you have not heard back from us after six months, please resubmit". In such a case, I would be sorely tempted to "resubmit" to a different, hopefully less-burdened publisher. (This, even given my "fluorescent" bias toward Tor!) Yeah, it's a buyer's market -- but that doesn't mean there's no market competition....

Come to think of it, that's an additional advantage of electronic handling -- the capacity to autorespond to any submissions not handled within e.g., 6 months, with "We're sorry for the delay, your work is still in our input queue...". An even kinder policy would be to also "release" the work, allowing the author to try elsewhere (while internally flagging the item, to warn the editor of the situation). Either way, that's something that manifestly can't be done with a pile of unopened manuscripts!

#58 ::: Sean Wallace ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2009, 02:06 PM:

I keep hearing the same old hoary statements that two of the reasons print editors refuse to accept online submissions is that that 1) it's going to mean every Tom, Dick, and Harry will submit a story, with the click of a button, and be deluged with thousands of submissions and 2) that the quality of paper submissions are somehow higher than online, because of the time and expense authors take in prepping said stories.

I call bullshit. And I call it bullshit because I've done both, with transitioning FANTASY MAGAZINE from print to online. (And I've seen the slush for WEIRD TALES for several years). I was a bit apprehensive, at first, but I actually found the following to be true: 1) the number of submissions, statistically, did not go higher, and 2) the quality of the submissions actually got better. Yes, you heard that right.

Consider this: for the print edition of FM we would get paper manuscripts from inmates, from little children, from whackjobs, in various formats and layouts and god-knows-what-else, and it was pretty bad stuff. The chance that I would find two great gems in that great slushpile was pretty slim. And it just ate up time to go to the post office, get the envelopes, open them, respond to them, mail them back, it was just a big waste of item and energy.

However, with the online submissions I'm far more likely to find four to six, or more sometimes, every month. And possibly one of the reasons why the quality might be higher is that the magazine is out there, online, for authors to read, which helps them to determine if their fiction is right for this venue. On top of that a lot of writing workshops are very much attuned to what's going online, and are more inclined to submit. Quite a lot of the online submissions I know for a fact have workshop credentials.

The idea that authors mailing out paper submissions somehow are better "invested" than authors submitting from online is just nonsense.

#59 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2009, 03:26 PM:

Paula @ 52: Most of those complaints can also be applied to paper.

- Spamability. I get junk mail made from dead trees in my letter box at home and at work every day. Thanks to some smart filtering, the daily junk email count is lower than the junk snail mail count.

- Transmission of malicious stuff. The first 419 scam I ever saw arrived by snail mail. The second by fax. Much of my junk snail mail wants me to sign up for useless but expensive services. I have no filters against malicious stuff arriving by snail mail. Gmail's filters eat almost all the malicious stuff that comes by email.

- Standards. Yes, there are standard formats for submitting paper manuscripts. The standards still need to be spelled out in great detail by publishers. Mentioning which formats digital data will be accepted in would be no more difficult. In the meantime, Sean @ 58 reminds us that submitters don't often abide by them even when they are spelled out in detail. It seems to me that a lack of standards isn't much of a problem if people don't abide by standards anyway.

- Inconsistent look and feel. That would come under standards, non-compliance.

- Security... I don't leave my computers un-passworded or my doors unlocked. I don't hand my credit card details to random unknown persons in the street or on the web. Security is a bad joke anywhere there are untrustworthy people.

A printed page copied looks like the same printed page and if the sender didn't stick to the requested standard there's nothing you can do - it will always look like that. A text file can be reformatted if you can open it. You might have problems with different versions of files but if you can take the time to spell out the margin sizes, spacing and font of your printed manuscript standard, you should also be able to list the file formats and versions you can accept. Non-compliance with stated standards by the sender is not the problem of the receiver whether the text is sent on paper or by email.

Microsoft do change the .doc format regularly but they also make newer versions of Word capable of saving in older versions' file formats. If you tell your prospective submitters what you are prepared to accept and they don't send it that way you don't have to deal with it any more than you would have to deal with a paper manuscript submitted on torn and crumpled sheets of butcher's paper, written with crayon and full of inappropriate apostrophes.

#60 ::: Suzanne ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2009, 03:45 PM:

Paula #52, all the markets that I've run across that take actual attachments for electronic submission (as opposed to having online forms you cut&paste your text into) allow you to submit .rtf instead of .doc, which eliminates a fair bit of the inconsistent formatting problem. (I'm willing to believe there are markets that exclusively require .doc, but I haven't noticed any.)

There are other issues as well with .doc, in particular Word's fondness for keeping track of changes made to the document -- if you're keen-eyed, you'll notice that your .doc file gets bigger every time you save it, even if you're taking out large chunks of material. I had a vendor send me a quote as a .doc, and I used the change-tracking feature to discover he'd quoted the same item to another institution only a few weeks previously for significantly less money. I called him up and said, "Hey, I heard you'd sold this to Other Institute for $x" and he was flabbergasted that I'd heard that (and obviously somewhat dismayed) and offered me the lower price as well. Saved me close to $1K, and I don't think he ever did figure out how I came by that info. So my advice is never, ever, send anyone anything in .doc format. RTF strips out that crap, makes your file smaller, and avoids potential gaffes. Obviously you run less risks with fiction than for commercial quotes (or political press releases) but it's still a good habit to get into.

#61 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2009, 05:18 PM:

#59, #60: Also, RTF can't carry macro viruses.

#62 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2009, 05:25 PM:
  • Testing to see
  • whether unordered lists
  • work in Making Light's
  • comment software.
  • (Speaking of formatting.)
  1. Yes! And
  2. ordered lists
  3. as well.
#63 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2009, 05:39 PM:

Those options to print US mail postage labels with your home PC sound good, though I wonder how it works out for what would be occasional use. It's good of Tor to point at it as an option, easier all round than dealing with IRCs.

But an IRC is some protection against the USPS changing the postage rates.


Still, I'm feeling evil: this isn't supposed to be serious.

"By opening the envelope you have signified your consent to a contract between Albert Haddock ("the author") and Tor Books ("the publisher"), by which the publisher undertakes to remit a fee of twenty thousand dollars ("$20,000") to the author, as an advance against royalties to be paid at the publisher's standard rate."

Computers and publishing: you can get such interesting ideas from combining the two industries.

#64 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2009, 07:15 PM:

Bruce @37, word processors, printers, paper and postage aren't free, so I'm not sure why this is a 'class issue'. As someone has already pointed out before me, magazines do not accept handwritten manuscripts anymore either, but nobody is issuing ringing accusations of "classism" at editors for expecting the poor to scrape up enough money to afford a typewriter.

Tom @55, as again has been pointed out by others before me, requiring mailed-in-print-only submissions tends to exclude your entire international market. Not sure if that's exactly the quality barrier we want. As for effort, meeting any submission standard is going to require a little thinking by the author, and it's very easy to set up an email program to reject a lot of violations of submission policy ("We only accept plaintext in the body of the email, therefore all files with attachments will be deleted").

#65 ::: Jaws ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2009, 07:19 PM:

63 I'm more evil than you.

<span style="tongue: cheek">

I'm sorry, Dave, I can't do that. That is not an enforceable contract, for three reasons:


  1. Legally, what Tor is doing is to solicit merchandise for consideration. That "envelope" constitutes a counter-offer that — under both the Uniform Commercial Code and the Statute of Frauds — requires a signature to be valid, not mere acquiescence. And the Copyright Act itself also requires a signed writing to transfer any portion of a copyright.

  2. The publisher doesn't have a "standard [royalty] rate." It varies among form, escalator clauses, timing, rights at issue, original or reprint, etc... and that's before getting into what an agent might negotiate.

  3. There is no number three.

</span>

#66 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2009, 09:36 PM:

Suzanne @ 60: RTF is an excellent and very widely supported format for submitting text, especially to people whose software for reading such things is unknown to you.

The book I am writing now was originally outlined in Scrivener. That outline was exported as RTF and submitted as the original proposal. I use Scrivener to turn the outline into a first draft which is exported as a Word document formatted with a publisher-supplied template. Edits and rewrites are suggested via Word's comments. To avoid clogging email inboxes the editors and myself have a shared dropbox (which also makes a dandy off-site backup).

The use of Scrivener is my choice. I like it as a tool for organising my usually disorganised notes and early drafts but editors don't care. They like their Word docs for the change tracking and commenting. We're now two months into the project and I don't think a single word of it has seen paper since the original outline was printed as an appendix to the contract.

#67 ::: Suzanne ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2009, 10:05 PM:

Paul @66: Yeah, I haven't ever had any problems with RTF, and use it fairly exclusively.

The use of Scrivener is my choice. I like it as a tool for organising my usually disorganised notes and early drafts but editors don't care.

I use a Wiki for my notes. But then, I tend to generate an unbelievable quantity of world-building and character detail, so the cross-referencing ability of the Wiki comes in very handy. Also, it's great cat-vacuuming when my writing is stalled, as in, "My characters are all sitting around staring at the floor and refusing to talk to me, so instead I think I'll open up the Wiki and work out the details of the political structure of this alien race that gets mentioned in passing in one paragraph of the WIP..." Never know when that's going to come in handy later (-:

#68 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2009, 10:13 PM:

I just have a collection of "bob" files for information that's needed for background but that doesn't belong in the finished story.

#69 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2009, 10:51 PM:

I adore Scrivener to pieces for writing. Being able to juggle around little tabs named after upcoming plot points I haven't quite decided on an order for yet is remarkably soothing when I'm figuring out what needs to go in the next chapter. Plus separate tabs for tracking setting info, character names, and notes...

But, yes, one of its advantages, and why it took over from my previous writing in word processing programs like Word or Pages, is that it drops beautifully into RTF or plain text format. I have to send bits of what I'm writing to friends using three different OSes, all with different preferences for how they read things. It's very friendly for such things.

Dragging myself back to the actual topic, I can't see why I'd ever bother submitting to a place that only accepts paper submissions. It's enough of a hassle in time and delay and printing and hauling things to the post office and buying appropriately sized envelopes that I'd try any other place with vaguely comparable rates first, and if every other location with comparable rates didn't want my work, by the time I got back down to the Big Three, I'd pretty well be assuming that meant the work I was sending out wasn't worth publishing.

I own a printer only because I need it to print papers for classes. I have used it once to print out a tax document, for convenience, and...that's really it. Printing off drafts of my own non-academic writing would seem like a waste of paper, and I go through enough trees already on Spanish worksheets and what not.

#70 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2009, 11:32 PM:

#60 Suzanne
Word's tracking can get to be a big fat crash-roulette PITA.... I can make Word crash, by generating tables, having tracking on, and making lots and lots of changes and typing/copying/pasting too fast in the tables. There's also the issue that thing rapidly become on-screen illegible...

(Having written thosands of papes of documents in Word and regarding it as less abominable that WordPerfect once WordPerfect became a slavish imitation as far as legally allowable of Word--before then WordPerfect was less abominable than Word--I consider myself relatively experienced in using various different versions of Word, and getting more and more annoyed with it over time as it got more and more of a PITA to use...)

#71 ::: Suzanne ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2009, 11:50 PM:

Paula @70 -- one of the nice things about RTFs is that Word opens, edits, and saves them just fine with minimal hassle and w/o constantly trying to convince you to save them back as .doc

Seriously, unless you have a use for the change tracking feature, I recommend just switching over.

#72 ::: Nick Mamatas ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2009, 12:00 AM:

Anyone who has ever poked one's head in to a US public library even once over the last decade knows that writing and submitting for publication is free, even for people poor enough to be literally homeless.

#73 ::: Janni ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2009, 01:05 AM:

Anyone who has ever poked one's head in to a US public library even once over the last decade knows that writing and submitting for publication is free, even for people poor enough to be literally homeless.

Yes and no. My public library, at least, has such a high demand for its computers that there's a 30-minute time limit. Since stories that are going to be submitted online also need to--at the least--manually into a word processing file if they're not first written in same--and then proofread and edited--that half hour isn't going to realistically cut it. Over a few visits, sure--but the hassle factor there is exceedingly high.

Far higher than the hassle it is for those of us with reliable computer access to drop a manuscript into an envelope, in fact--and how many folks are saying that is more work than submitting ought to require?

#74 ::: Nick Mamatas ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2009, 02:15 AM:

Not all public libraries have time limits. Many of those that do have time limits do not enforce them unless someone else is waiting to use a particular machine. (My local library allows up to an hour and allows for a renew-- you can get two hours per day in the central library and then hoof it over to one of the branches for a third hour. Hell, if I'm already homeless I may end up with some free time on my hands...)

With Gmail, also free, one can store one's composed work fairly easily and access it whenever one likes and has access to a a net-connected computer. Is it a hassle to, say, write out a story by hand and then type it in to a file? Sure, though many many writers still compose that way anyway.

Of course we're assumeing a homeless person. It wouldn't be necessarily all that difficult for a poor person with a home to get a very inexpensive old computer, type up stories on an old word processing program that allows for saving as text or RTF, save them on a blank CD, and bring that CD to the library for emailing.

My first non-public (school or library) computer was a 286 about nine years out of date at the time. I used DOS and lynx for my browser; the machine couldn't support Windows. My first monitor was a street find and thus free. I did have the computer gathering dust for maybe a week while I looked for a free monitor. This was 1997. It would have been very difficult for me to, say, also find a working printer and matching toner on the street. Or, for that matter, a typewriter and carbons.


Would I like to have to depend on public computers to write and submit short stories? No, of course not. I also wouldn't want to, if I were homeless or very poor, depend on trying to find carbon paper or typewritter ribbons in 2009, or pay for toner ink on the laptop and small printer I'd be carrying around with my blankets or leaving hidden in a park or a storage unit. Or pay for photocopying at the library to make copies of my paper stories.

Being homeless is a hassle, period. Being poor is a hassle, period. That is not the same as saying that paper submissions and the costs associated with them—stamps for manila envelopes and SASEs, a paper and toner and a printer, or carbons, or photocopying typewritten originals—are less expensive and less of a hassle than a computer in a public library.

#75 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2009, 07:43 AM:

63 confirms that someone else other than me has had the vision of Haddock v. Tor Books, in which Tor is upbraided for refusing to pay its contractually agreed advance to Haddock, simply because he submitted the manuscript written on the side of a cow.
(Lord Milk. Was the cow double-spaced?
Defence. Yes, my Lord. And we will be bringing in typographical evidence that the cow was in 12-point font.)

#76 ::: Janni ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2009, 09:54 AM:

I also wouldn't want to, if I were homeless or very poor, depend on trying to find carbon paper or typewritter ribbons in 2009, or pay for toner ink on the laptop and small printer I'd be carrying around with my blankets or leaving hidden in a park or a storage unit. Or pay for photocopying at the library to make copies of my paper stories.

That even used computers cost more than carbon paper and typewriter ribbons and a cheap typewriter, and that these are all findable things, is nonetheless true. As is that at least some libraries do enforce their time limits, or--more likely--rarely have a time when someone isn't waiting. (My library opens at 10. If I get there at 10, folks are already there waiting for the machines--all of which are full more often than not.)

Last I heard something like one in five people don't have computers--a significant portion of the population, for all that our all being around each other makes it hard to believe said people really exist sometimes.

Given that it's an easy thing to state that one prefers electronic copy, but will accept hardcopy if necessary, it seems a reasonable (not to mention kind) thing to err on the side of accessibility, in this one thing at least.

Most folks are already overwhelmed by submissions, true, and some filtering up front never hurts--but best it be on the basis of something other than economics as much as reasonably possible--and as accommodations go, this really is a pretty minor one. (No one's being asked to read manuscripts in purple ink, or cover the return postage, or anything like that.) I think BruceA makes a very good point.

#77 ::: Nick Mamatas ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2009, 10:36 AM:

Hmm, I have no problem believing that many people do not own computers. I'm well-acquainted with several myself, mostly relatives.

I just fail to see how paper submissions make it easier for the poor than email submissions, given both free email and file storage (Google), a generation or two of very inexpensive computers and that can generally be found on the streets for the taking, and free public Internet access.

Where should our poorest writers get their free stamps, their free photocopying, their free paper and envelopes...

#78 ::: --E ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2009, 10:55 AM:

Stephen @22:

I'm a few days slow, but in case no one else answered your question:

1. Footnotes really are harder to set. MS Word doesn't typeset pages. It takes nothing to put notes at the bottom of the page, but it does take attention to make them (a) appear on the same page as their call-out while not (b) taking up more than 1/3 of the page, and (c) keeping facing pages the same depth and alignment. Also, (d) avoiding widows on plain-text pages is bad enough.

In short: footnotes are hard to typeset, for values of "typesetting" that pay attention to the layout of facing pages. My comps charge a premium to set them. It's okay to use them on something like Terry Pratchett's books, because at least those sell enough to amortize the unit cost to nothing.

2. Now that I work at an academic publisher, I have learned another reason to avoid footnotes: footnotes make it easier for someone to chop chapters out of a book and include in a photocopied course packet. Endnotes make the theft a little more difficult.

#79 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2009, 12:01 PM:

Paula Lieberman@52: "A printed page copied looks like a printed page. A .doc file, there is no casual way to tell WHICH .doc format the file is in... Microsoft keeps -changing- the format and not changing the file extension. That means that there is no assurance that the .doc file that Person A sends to Person B or Company Y, will open and have the the contents display the same way it displayed on the computer Person A created and sent the file from..."

Which is why academia - no, I mean science, I don't know what arty types do - converted to using PDF entirely over five years ago. There was always more PDF than Word, now there is basically nothing else. If you make your papers available online you do it in PDF. Come to think of it I do know what arty types do because I look at JSTOR. Its all PDF.

Sean Wallace@58: "... for the print edition of FM we would get paper manuscripts from inmates, from little children, from whackjobs, in various formats and layouts and god-knows-what-else, and it was pretty bad stuff."

Way back in the 1980s I saw some Interzone submissions from some people who thought it was artistic or creative or radical to tape various bits and pieces to the manuscript of their "story" (IIRC it was more a cross between a whinging rant and bad poetry than a story). One of the things was some human excrement. You won't get that in email.

Janni@76: "That even used computers cost more than carbon paper and typewriter ribbons and a cheap typewriter, and that these are all findable things, is nonetheless true."

I'm not sure it is true. I can't remember when I last saw a typewriter of any sort for sale, cheap or otherwise.

Out of date computers can be very cheap or even free (that probably depends on knowing the kind of people who have lots of computers - though I have sometimes seen what looked like salvageable machines just dumped in the street.)

Doesn't even have to be a full-size PC. People have written novels on a Psion 3 (I think Charlie Stross did) and they must be cheap second-hand. And come to think of it the later Psions were exactly what are now called netbooks - and you can get them new for not much more than a hundred quid - so I bet the second-hand price is going to be low pretty soon. Either of last year's netbooks or of the old Windows laptops people are replacing with netbooks.

I think we all know that there are millions of people with no access to computers. But its not likely that not many of them also have access to a typewriter and large supplies of paper. I wouldn't be surprised if nearly everyone who still uses a typewriter is or has been a professional writer at some time in their life. And there won't be many of them.


#80 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2009, 12:58 PM:

In the NYPL system there is a half-hour limit to use the computers and there is never not someone waiting to use them. You sign up in the AM to get a place in the afternoon.

This was BEFORE this economic crash.

It's far worse now.

Also the libraries' budgets have been slashed again and again, as per usual. We barely managed to save Open Saturdays, and we may yet lose them as well as much more library service thanx to the asshats in Albany. And Bloomberg, of course, who would rather always slash any public service than re-impose property taxes upon empty buildings that landlords just sit on while waiting to find some chump tennant ready and willing and able to lose a whole buncha of his/hers and their friends' money on the outrageous rent.

Yet, these library computers are easier to deal with than trying to find a place that sells ribbons, etc. and does typewriter repair ....

Love, C.

#81 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2009, 01:11 PM:

Indeed, I'm writing this from a 5-year-old computer! The thing about Ubuntu is, if you overload it, things slow down, but it doesn't collapse entirely. And I haven't even bothered stripping the system down to Xfce or whatever -- GNOME works fine. Even my next-newest computer, 10+ years old, would be usable, modulo my new wide-screen monitor. (It fell off the compatibility edge, for graphics cards new enough to handle screens that aren't 4:3.)

#82 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2009, 02:00 PM:

#71 Suzanne
It's at work and required for traceability etc.

As for PDF, I strongly dislike it. Graphics types told me years ago that Adobe implemented it with errors, and that those errors have stayed in... also, it's intended as a format for hardcopy output, not designed for on-line interactivity and easy editing--the idea was locking things down for -delivery- and printing out as final hardcopy, not for web distribution and reading/editing on-line.... It's often a PITA to deal with documents one is not only trying to read and excerpt from, but also has blanket rights/permission to copy from and incorporate into whatever one is working on....

#83 ::: Emily Horner ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2009, 02:05 PM:

If electronic submissions are a class issue, it's at least as much a class issue how many jobs require e-mail resumes or electronic applications -- including a surprising number of retail, manual labor, and food service jobs; and how many social service organizations are switching to electronic communications.

But a computer and internet access is still cheaper than a car and gas and insurance, and try getting a job in most of the country without those.

#84 ::: Charlie Dodgson ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2009, 02:58 PM:

I got curious, so I managed to google up last-few-years circulation figures for the "big three" here, and for a bunch of literary reviews here.

Some data points, in very round numbers:

  • Analog: 27,000
  • Asimov's: 18,000
  • F&SF: 17,000
  • Paris Review: 20,000
  • Zoetrope: "15-20,000"
  • American Poetry Review: 17,000
  • Granta: "50-80,000". (Other sources for Granta in particular are universally toward the low end of this range, but still...)

You can easily draw distinctions between the literary reviews and the "big three". But not from sizing the audience.

(BTW, if anyone's curious about the age of the audiences, Charles Brown's talking about that over here...)

#85 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2009, 03:15 PM:

#84 Charles
What are the subscription numbers I wonder for the on-line fiction markets.

In my own case, I've had on again, off again subscriptions depending on e.g. my income status. But also, a lot of what gets published in the magazines isn't material that I'm receptive to, there are particular styles of writing, that while they are not as offputting to me as some of the totally tedious-type specifications and standards that I read for work and get PAID to slog through, don't resonate positively to me, and don't provide enjoyment compensating me for the reading time and such.

#86 ::: Nick Mamatas ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2009, 03:40 PM:

The lj user "oldcharliebrown" is not Charles Brown, it's Sean Wallace.

#87 ::: Suzanne ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2009, 04:16 PM:

Paula @82: Well, okay. Myself, I work at work and write at home, so my tools are my own to choose. You seem very attached to your dissatisfaction, so I will cease trying to convince you to part ways with it.

#88 ::: Charlie Dodgson ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2009, 04:43 PM:

Nick@86:

Thanks for the correction. Though I guess the mistake is trapped in amber at this point...

#89 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2009, 05:03 PM:

Charlie Dodgson @ 84... I for one welcome each and every issue of my subscription to Asimov's Zoetropic Paris Review of Analog Poetry.

#90 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2009, 05:07 PM:

Serge #89: And soon, every restaurant will be Taco Bell?

#91 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2009, 05:16 PM:

Several people have noted that it can actually be cheaper, in the long run, to get a computer and associated costs than to try and find a typewriter, ribbons, and repair service.

This can be true. It's also often true that, when you're poor, you can't afford to save money.

When you're poor, cash flow is not just a king, but a despot.

You can get free computer access at your local library? Sure, let's just hop in the car... oops, the car's broken down again and you can't afford the parts to try and fix it yourself yet. So let's just go catch a bus and... ooops, a roundtrip by bus costs $3.50 now, and you don't have $3.50. So let's just walk the four miles to the nearest library branch; let's see what the weather's like...oh, hey, it's a hundred and ten degrees right now. (On my own back porch at the moment.) Or it's raining cats and dogs, or snowing, where you're at. Yeah, that's tempting.

And even if the weather's nice enough to walk to the library, can you find a neighbor or someone willing to watch your pre-schoolers for a few hours, for free?

And if you're poor and disabled too... well, you're just screwed. Deal with it.

If you're completely destitute, homeless, and living on the street, yeah, you can still write your Great American Skiffy Novel, you just do it on the backside of pages fetched from trash cans, with pencil stubs or gutter-found pens, and hope that someday things will get better and you'll actually be able to type the sucker.

If you're doing a little bit better than that, maybe you can make it to a library once a week or so, wait for your thirty or sixty minutes at a terminal, and eventually get something written that can be sent to some of those Internet-submissions-only publications.

Or if you''re doing a little better than that, maybe you have a friend or relative who has a typewriter gathering dust in the back of a closet, and you can hit the dried-out ribbon with a shot of WD-40 to make it usable again, and get a cheap pack of paper at the dollar store, and you can get that 30th-century GASN written and ready for submission on that 19th-century technology. Because you can probably squeeze out a few bucks a month for a small amount of stamps and some envelopes a LOT more easily than you can save up a few hundred for even a cheap computer of your own, never even mind the ongoing cost of Internet access.

There's a piece of writing available on the Internet (yes, yes, very ironical, indeed) that really makes this truism -- that poor people can't afford to save money -- strikingly clear.

It's called "Being Poor" and it was written by... oh, what was that guy's name again? Give me a minute. Give me a minute and I'll think of it.

Oh, yeah! "Being Poor" was written by some guy named John Scalzi.


#92 ::: Nick Mamatas ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2009, 06:00 PM:

Bruce, it's easy enough to play the game of adding obstacles, especially when you ignore the costs and likelihoods associated your own scenarios.

What if you don't have any friends or relatives with typewriters? Most people don't save them, they chuck 'em as they have no resale value and contain no data. (Indeed, those friends are more likely to have an old computer in that closet.)

How much does WD-40 cost? (Just about the same as that bus trip you mentioned. But we don't have $3.50, remember.)

What if the typewriter breaks again? Do they have packs of typing or copy paper at the dollar stores? (They don't at the Dollar Tree. I shop at dollar stores all the time and have in NY, NJ, MA, VT, and CA and have never seen copy or typing paper in any of them.)

And of course you have to make copies of your stories if you want to mail them out as you can't trust originals? Sounds like that four-mile walk to the library in 110 degree weather is back on because the copy machine there still takes dimes and the one at the Kinko's costs more and requires a card and you have to deal with unfriendly Kinko's employees as you count out change for that card...

And, also, though we were talking about short stories—some as short as six or ten pages, easy enough to write up on a pad and type in over the course of an hour, or to type up on an old computer, save to disk, and then email at the library—you've decided that our hypothetical person has to write a novel. That's a good $35 of photocopying added to your submission costs per submission. And you may wish to hit multiple agents at the same time...

and how much does it cost to mail a 350 p. ms as opposed to email it? We don't have $3.50, remember?


Amazingly, despite the obstacles you whipped up, whenever I go to the public library (weekly) I see a fair number of poor and often homeless people on the computers doing everything from looking for jobs to viewing porn to downloading documents from state and local websites to updating their flickr accounts. And I've been one of those people who depended on library computers and school computers (to the point of using my expired student ID to get into labs and being turned away when the security guard was attentive or unfriendly, allowed in when he was distracted or cool) and managed to do a my first book on those moments of borrowed time and access.

I cannot imagine that trick on a typewriter, not even twelve-thirteen years ago when typewriters will still not too hard to find.

Of course, it wasn't 110 degrees outside way back in my days of being poor, but then again I've managed 37 years in the US without ever experiencing that temperature, much less every day. I've also managed multiple-mile walks without a car each day, including in snowy Vermont. But then again, I only have one chronic illness (chronic bronchial infections)—I'm sure we can pile on a bunch of other disorders to make sure that Only. A. Typewriter. Makes. Sense. if we need to, right?

My experiences are nothing I'd want to repeat and, again, nobody is arguing that poverty isn't a hassle. But cheap is not free, and typewriters and paper and ribbons and carbons and photocopying are not free and are very often more difficult to come by than cheap computing equipment, simply because computing equipment is being produced in large quantities and abandoned in large quantities. Public access to the Internet IS free.

One does not need the Internet at home in order to use a very inexpensive word processor at home and then save their work on a CD and bring it to the library for email submission.

One does not need the Internet at home to write a 1500-3000 word short story on paper and then transcribe it in a thirty-minute visit to the library either.

Changing the scenario to writing novels and for some reason needing the Internet at home is simply changing what we are talking about. All that said, I know of someone who was on welfare and wrote out her first novel in longhand while nursing drinks at a cafe, whenever she could manage to get her young daughter to sleep.... Some have even called her work that Great UK Young Adult Fantasy Novel Series. (GUKYAFNS for short!)

#93 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2009, 06:38 PM:

Stephen Frug, #22: InDesign does footnotes (& so does TEX), Word...well...sort of. --E, I'd be very surprised if you're typesetters are using Word; it is a very rough typesetting tool.

#94 ::: J M McDermott ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2009, 07:32 PM:

Regarding the e-mail submission policy discussion, I'd love to know if any house or magazine that only accepts snail-mail submissions receive any number of typewriter submissions. Does the Tor slushpile recieve a significant number of typewritten slush?

Personally, I have done Google Docs at the library in my impoverishment, and found it a manageable way to handle a broken computer and temporary poverty.

I had access to a typewriter, and it never occurred to me not to ride my bike to the library instead.

#95 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2009, 11:04 PM:

#78, --E: Thanks! Although it still sounds like things that ought to be programable (although of course these things are hard to judge).

re point 2: this surely is just a side-effect of the fact that they are easier to use?

(Although it reminds me there is a worse option than either endnotes or footnotes: notes at the end of each chapter. Ugh!)

#93 Randolph: I wasn't suggesting using Word (and I don't think --E took me that way); it was more along the lines of, "If a piss-poor program like Word can do it, surely other programs can do a decent job...".

Still would love to hear more people on this, if anyone has any insight.

#96 ::: Janni ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2009, 12:05 AM:

The fact that there are scenarios in which a typewriter is the harder route doesn't mean there aren't also scenarios in which it's the only doable one, and the fact that there are poor or disabled individuals for whom a cheap computer is within easier reach than said typewriter does nothing to discount the notion that there are people for whom the reverse is true, because people's lives and the constraints on same differ from person to person. Which is the whole reason one can't generalize from "this works best for me" to "this is what works best for everyone and so ought to be required" in the first place.

#97 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2009, 12:22 AM:

Stephen Frug @ 95: I'm not a professional typesetter and will happily accept correction from one, but here are the problems I see with footnotes:

--No aspect of typesetting can be completely automated yet, if your standards are high. This is particularly true of footnotes, which are fiddly and, in some cases where the footnote must be broken across multiple pages, have no non-hideous typesetting solution.

--Footnotes are inherently ugly, so even if they can be as well automated as plain text there's still a trade-off to be made.

--Personally, I think anything meant to be read should go in the text, not in the notes, and for things that are merely meant to be looked up (e.g. citations), endnotes are better. I'll make exceptions for post-modern frolics like The Mezzanine, Infinite Jest, and that J.G. Ballard story with one sentence and a footnote for every word, but in regular non-fiction, having a substantial amount of text in footnotes is a bit of a writing failure. That said, if you're going to do it, footnotes are better even if ugly.

--Sidenotes (in the margin) are worth considering--they look better than footnotes and force concision.

--I agree that chapter notes are the worst.

#98 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2009, 12:55 AM:


I prefer chapter notes to end notes, and footnotes to chapter notes, and I have used footnotes, as footnotes, particularly an extremely snarky one in a research study paper I wrote long ago, in which the level of conditionals I was using got to me.... the footnote read something like, "*The word "would" keeps appearing because while it is possible to do these things, there isn't a high likelihood they will actually get done!"

That sentiment belonged in a footnote--note in the main text, and note in an endnote. I felt I -owen- the readers an explanation, if not apology, for the all the weasely conditional case sentences.... and I had reached the limits of my tolerance of it, as the author!

As both reader and writer, I want the notes close to the text material they're annotating, not at the end of the chapter, and definitely not spatially way at the end of the book.... ADD or ADHD hits if I have to got page to the end of the book and look for Endnote 5 of chapter 10 when there a fifteen chapters with up to 40 end notes per chapers... trying to find the applicable Endnote 5 sends me off trying to find where the notes for chapter 10 are, to find end note 5 for chapter 10, and hope I won't forget while trying to the notes for chapter, that while I am trying to find the notes for that chapter, that that was what I was doing-=looking for chapter 10 notes, as opposed to "oh look, lots of text that looks interest in these endlots even though I don;t know which chapter(s) they go with...." so that I could find Endnote 5 of Chapter 10 and read that specific referenced material before forgetting that that was why I was in the endnotes section.

#99 ::: Nick Mamatas ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2009, 01:44 AM:

Which is the whole reason one can't generalize from "this works best for me" to "this is what works best for everyone and so ought to be required" in the first place.

Nobody's doing that. I (and JM) used ourselves as examples, but nobody is starting from "works for me" and ending at "works for everyone."

What we are saying is that:

a. inexpensive word processors are more accessible than inexpensive typewriters and are more likely to function.

b. Free Internet access in public libraries is cheaper than non-free stamps, envelopes, typewriter ribbon, photocopies, carbon papers, and/or printer toner.

c. Free Internet access in public libraries is more easily accessible than typewriter ribbon or carbon papers.

d. A single CD on which to store work to be transported to the library is cheaper than photocopying, carboning, or printing the work.


And the reason people are saying these things is because they are all so. The result of these four things is that e-subs do not only not harm more poor people than paper subs help, but e-subs actually make the submission process more accessible in more cases than paper subs.


The reason people are saying that well if it's 110 degrees outside and you have money for WD-40 but not for the bus even though they are the same price and if you're next to a magic store that sells paper for 1/5th the price of what paper sells for and maybe someone somewhere has a typewriter that still works and comes along a cache of ribbon that happens to fit and and and and...well, I don't know why people are saying these things.

There may well be 1 in 100 people helped out by paper subs. The paper sub-groups are, in the meantime, holding back 20 out of that same group of 100.

I can even think of a reason to accept a paper sub not otherwise mentioned. Religion. Th. Metzger, for example, has religious beliefs that essentially keep him off the 'net, though he is still published online (see?) thanks to the cooperation of his friend and publisher. But if you're not a genius like Metzger, I guess you won't end up in Flurb. On balance, it's still a positive trade-off. It's not worthwhile to accept paper subs for the one or two outliers for the most part, given the costs of dealing with paper subs one might wish to buy when otherwise the field has gone electronic.

There are certainly writers who'd benefit from being able to send their submissions verbally as they are great oral storytellers (and there are probably more of those given the tradition of oral storytelling than there are poor people in the exact situations necessary to make typewriters cheaper than the 'net) and yet where is the demand for open calls to perform in front of an editor's desk?

#100 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2009, 02:16 AM:

Has anyone suggested a publisher can't do both?

#101 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2009, 04:23 AM:

As a reader, I like footnotes. I like inline citations, and footnotes for clarity. I don't want to have to either wade to the end of the volume, or wait to the end, to get those details.

#102 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2009, 04:49 AM:

Class issue re writing? Well, there's the assembly line plus exhaustion one, and it comes way before ownership of a computer. I have been a white-collared assembly-line worker for three years - when they said that I was allowed five minutes to rest my eyes every three hours, they meant it. Try working with no pause for eight hours, not like people do in offices, doing creative tasks that allow for interpersonal communication and lunch breaks, but with the clock ticking and no access to the net because otherwise you'd be distracted, and then try going home and writing. Can be done, but requires more stamina than I had. Same problem as "why where there no female Beethovens?" 'Cos if they weren't giving birth to their tenth child they were washing up for the previous nine, that's why.

But talking of class issues re electronic submission - no. Just no.

As for pre-printed labels, unfortunately they come with an expiration date - usually 24 hr. Not good for a SASE.

#103 ::: BuffySquirrel ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2009, 05:39 AM:

At GUD, we do everything electronically. Submissions, slushing, editing, proofing, layout, all down to sending the magazine to the printers. Kaolin Fire has built a fantastic website that enables two editors in California, one in Connecticut, one in New Hampshire, and another in England to create a magazine together. We like to think it's awesome :).

(and we'd love to pay more than semi-pro rates, but we're making a loss as it is....)

#104 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2009, 07:58 AM:

I like footnotes for general usage, for the reasons Paula gives at #98. I will note that a writer whose footnotes often run to full paragraphs, might wish to seek a different way to organize their text.

#105 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2009, 09:28 AM:

@94: The Tor slushpile receives every form of words on paper you can think of. Handwritten, typed, fanfold printed, standard printout, overfancy printout, bound stuff, self-published stuff, etc.

The older a writer, the more likely the work is typewritten rather than printer-printed. (Or why my mother still has a working IBM Selectric that she uses for all written communication--which she then photocopies for her files--despite having a 2-yo desktop computer next to the typewriter.)

Handwritten work is sent by older as well as younger writers.

Both typewritten and handwritten work are encountered at pretty much every slush session. I'd guess that they are maybe 1-2% of all physical submissions. As far as I can tell, this percentage has remained constant for at least a decade, though it was higher when I first started in publishing, 30 years ago.

Also note: there are working writers who use typewriters because that is what they are comfortable with. The late Walter Wager owned a bevy of typewriters so that he would always have at least one working machine. His typewriter repair person made housecalls.

#106 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2009, 09:28 AM:

@94: The Tor slushpile receives every form of words on paper you can think of. Handwritten, typed, fanfold printed, standard printout, overfancy printout, bound stuff, self-published stuff, etc.

The older a writer, the more likely the work is typewritten rather than printer-printed. (Or why my mother still has a working IBM Selectric that she uses for all written communication--which she then photocopies for her files--despite having a 2-yo desktop computer next to the typewriter.)

Handwritten work is sent by older as well as younger writers.

Both typewritten and handwritten work are encountered at pretty much every slush session. I'd guess that they are maybe 1-2% of all physical submissions. As far as I can tell, this percentage has remained constant for at least a decade, though it was higher when I first started in publishing, 30 years ago.

Also note: there are working writers who use typewriters because that is what they are comfortable with. The late Walter Wager owned a bevy of typewriters so that he would always have at least one working machine. His typewriter repair person made housecalls.

#107 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2009, 09:31 AM:

Apologies for the double post. I've no idea why it did that--I only hit post once.

#108 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2009, 10:09 AM:

I'm a bit confused on the footnote issue. I do all the layout for _Mythlore_ in Word, including footnotes, headers, footers, mirror page layout, multiple columns, charts, inset quotes, bibliographies, inserted pics, decorative initial letters, multiple fonts, and other fancy bits. Sometimes I have to manually adjust a page break or change the font size of a blank line to get footnotes to go exactly what I want. Our printer has no problem working directly from my Word file. Maybe I'm not seeing something, but it all seems to work out fine for me. What's the problem with Word that so many people don't like it for layout?

Oh, and all submissions are electronic, and basically I keep no paper files -- any paper I do get, like contracts, is scanned, filed, and multiply backed up. Since my referees are scattered around the globe, the only way to get submissions into their hands in a timely manner is by email attachment. A paper submission just means I have to ask the author to resend electronically.

#109 ::: Jack Siolo ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2009, 10:35 AM:

As a reader, I love footnotes, and have no patience for endnotes, though, I will endure end-of-the-chapter notes if they are mostly just references.

As a retired typesetter, I have no patience for the idea that footnotes are difficult to set.* There is a field of publishing that regularly incorporates multiple blocks of text on the same page, some related, some not. I believe that you might know of such, they are called in the French, magazine.

*I'll accept, not necessarily cheap, or free, but difficult? Aesthetically displeasing? I think not!

#110 ::: Nick Mamatas ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2009, 10:50 AM:

Also note: there are working writers who use typewriters because that is what they are comfortable with. The late Walter Wager owned a bevy of typewriters so that he would always have at least one working machine. His typewriter repair person made housecalls.

Certainly. But once you're in the "My typewriter guy makes housecalls to service by two dozen typewriters" bracket, you're pretty much not poor. You can pay someone to key your stories into a word processing program, much the same way a generation or three ago one might pay someone to key in their handwritten stories on a typewriter.

#111 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2009, 10:58 AM:

Nick Mamatas: I don't know about cheap with regards to computers vs. typewriters. I know I seem the latter at thrift-shops all the time. I also see the former.

If I were looking to buy one of them used, it would be the typewriter. Maybe it's a failing in me, but I have no trust in discarded computers. I can tap at the typewriter and know it will work.

For a book, I'd rather use the typewriter, given those choices. The output isn't going to vanish on me (which reminds me, I need to start doing back-up copies of the work I'm doing; as I'm doing, just in case something goes wrong).

#112 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2009, 11:31 AM:

Nick Mamatas @ 110: I don't think she was disagreeing with you.

#113 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2009, 12:12 PM:

@112: You're correct, I wasn't disagreeing, simply informing.

Writers are an idiosyncratic bunch and each one has his or her preferred method of work. Some type. Some keyboard. Some write in longhand first and then transcribe, or have the work transcribed by someone else. Some dictate (and then transcribe or have the work transcribed by someone else).

No one method works for all, nor should it.

And some people use different methods depending on what they are writing. My daughter writes poetry in longhand but fiction on the computer.

#114 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2009, 01:10 PM:

I write in different media depending on my mood.

Poetry is easier on paper, by hand because revisions are a sort of overlay, not replacement.

I can keep track of the bones of the thing, in a way straight replacement doesn't allow. Sometimes I rough a screed by hand too, for the same reason.

#115 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2009, 02:09 PM:

For endnotes, I find it tremendously helpful if there are page numbers saying where that page's batch of footnotes came from at the top of each page.

This makes navigation tremendously easier, and I think it's a relatively modern invention.

I used to read comments by writers that they hated using computers because, since the computer was humming, they felt it was impatiently waiting for the next word. I wonder if anyone still feels that way.

#116 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2009, 02:09 PM:

Some dictate (and then transcribe or have the work transcribed by someone else).

"Front!"

[/ObSF]

#117 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2009, 02:38 PM:

ObNeepery:

While I know your reference, the usage comes from hotel desks summoning the Bellhop who is at the front of the line. If the duty is something that the Bellhop should not expect a tip from, the call is for "Service".

My brain will now let me carry on with my life now in progress.

#118 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2009, 02:46 PM:

Ah, so I'm not the only person who writes poetry on paper and prose on computer! The kinetic difference goes with some of the different brainspace for the two types of writing, I find. I can swap between, but it's noticeably harder to write poetry on computer, or prose on paper, than the other way around.

When I was much younger I wrote all my schoolwork in blue ink, and my creative writing in black ink, because black ink was too pretty for schoolwork to deserve it. But that fell by the wayside when I learned about how much faster and more clearly I could write via computer than longhand.

#119 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2009, 03:20 PM:

John Hooughton: I learned that usage in the cityroom of a newspaper. It may be they borrowed it from bellhops, but it was the call the made when one finished a story.

Copyboys were called to carry stuff from desks to the copydesk. (this was when it was all done on paper). The reporters would call, "front" and the next copyboy would come get it.

We didn't have a staff of copy boys, but the person on the short leg of the slot would come fetch it from the desk when the Managing Editor released it to to the copydesk.

At which point it got tossed to one of them.

If they were all busy, it went into the (one presumes empty), working basket.

If it was something which touched on expertise, needed experience, couldn't wait, it passed the working basket, and got plopped on the person who was chosen to edit it. Which put it next in their queue.

#120 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2009, 03:23 PM:

Dave Bell @ 100:
"Has anyone suggested a publisher can't do both?"

What people are annoyed about with the Big Three is that they won't do both. The argument is that it's technologically possible to set up a system for having submissions sent electronically, so of course the Big Three should do so.

This is what I call Geek Rule #1: Whatever can be done with a computer MUST be done with a computer.

But the Big Three have a working system in place, and they already receive far more submissions than they can use.

What compelling reason is there for them to change? Because it will make it easier for MORE writers to send manuscripts? When you're already receiving more manuscripts than you can optimally deal with, that's not an argument to change; it's an argument to NOT change.

On the flip side, I've tried to point out that markets that have an "electronic-submissions only" policy are cutting out submissions from writers who don't have access to computers or the Internet. If "hardcopy-only" is unfair, isn't "electronic-only" just as unfair?

The argument against dealing with hardcopy seems to be mainly that it's Too-o-o-o Friggin-n-n-n Hard-d-d-d-d-d to deal with actual physical objects.

WTF? I edited a couple of anthologies back in the 90's. You know what? It's dead simple easy to deal with printed submissions.

Congratulations, you've just become an editor. Magazine, anthology, novels, doesn't make much difference.

First thing you do, you clear off a corner of your desk and put an open-topped cardboard box of appropriate size on it.

As manuscript envelopes arrive in the mail, you stack them upright in the box. New arrivals go at the back of the stack. When you're in editing mode, you take the front envelope from the stack, open it, read the story, and respond appropriately. (Three trays on a different corner of the desk: "Accept", "Maybe" for stories that might only need some revisions to end up in the "Accept" tray, and "Out" for the stories that you've done a rejection for, put into their SSAE's, and put the SSAE's into the tray to go out in tomorrow's mail.)

Dead simple, and I don't think I ever had a submission sitting in that box for more than three weeks. (I've heard the stories about markets that keep stories for months and months and months before responding, and markets where manuscripts just vanish mysteriously. I hear those stories, and I scratch my head and wonder "How do they possibly manage to do that?")

(I wasn't dealing with 900 submissions a month, I hasten to add. The Copper Star book got a bit more than 200 submissions over about nine months. The Olympus book was put together in five months, and stories were mostly solicited, but I still got 30-40 stories from people who'd heard about it from the grapevine.)

Plus, that cardboard box didn't cost me anything. It didn't need an electrical socket or batteries to work. It never crashed or locked me out of access to the envelopes inside. And I didn't have to pay a monthly fee to be able to use the Postal Service.

So, really, I don't understand why some people act like it's a really big problem to deal with hardcopy submissions. Learning to use an electronic system, it seems to me, would be a much bigger hurdle.

#121 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2009, 03:41 PM:

Bruce @120 -

If it's the case that the Big Three have no cause to be concerned about circulation reduction and thus have no need to search about for avenues that may lead them out of the whole, then sure, they can keep doing things their way.

Actually, they can keep doing things their way whether or not they're sinking.

There is, however, a growing body of evidence that a lot of people are starting to feel better about not bothering to do things their way, and still get paid better to boot.

As for notoriety, while the Big Three are still supplying a little less than half of the nominees for the Hugo awards re: short story, novelette, and novella, it seems to me that they're starting to lose their ground here as well---what ever happened to the majority lead they had on the Hugo nominees? Or even the "over half"?

Either this year and the recent previous years were flukes, or it's a disturbing (for them) trend. (Not so disturbing for others.)

At any rate, "I refuse to use a computer for this purpose" even though there are a lot of people who do the same kinds of things much, much more efficiently, and who have had the experience of doing things via paper versus doing things electronically, is kind of silly. There's been lots of testimony from writers, anthology compilers, and other magazine editors who are clearly on the side of electronica.

I've seen only a few of them on the other side, and for whatever reason, many of their arguments aren't nearly as pragmatic. Romantic, yes; "you should be prepared to DO this, you lazy ingrates", occasionally yes; pragmatic, less so.

In an age where people are using computers for medical records instead of "good old fashioned paper" and where this has made a difference in the quality of health care for entire countries, I think explicitly excluding a computer for the possible use in any place is a little short-sighted.

#122 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2009, 04:42 PM:

Why would I ever want to deal with a paper submission? That means that I, myself, one-person operation that I am, will either have to type it all in myself or find a scanner with a decent OCR program, then proofread the heck out of it. Or tell the author to find a computer and type it out himself. If it's electronic when I get it, it can go from me to the referee, back to me, to the author for revisions, then straight into my Word file for layout and editing, without ever being printed out. (Except I do print it in the final stages, because I catch a lot of typos that way.)

#123 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2009, 06:28 PM:

Bruce @120

And what happens to your system when there are multiple readers/editors? You have a nice, simple, situation, and I'm not sure things scale.

OK, the magazines aren't big businesses, and maybe don't hit the scaling problem.

But this is old technology. First IBM PC was 1981, and if you want to match that with the Wright Flyer (arguably that matches better with something 8-bit) we're in the time of the Tiger Moth and the UK winning the Schneider Trophy.

Heck, if we take an early 8-bit computer as analogous to the Wright Flyer, some of those hot gamer's PCs are in Supermarine Spitfire territory. And not as well-engineered a package, I reckon.

#124 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2009, 07:28 PM:

Some dictate (and then transcribe or have the work transcribed by someone else).

Which SF author was it who wrote by lying on the couch with his eyes closed, beaming his prose telepathically to his wife in the next room, who typed it up?

#125 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2009, 07:49 PM:

As opposed to the one who wrote lying dead and buried in his coffin, beaming his prose telepathically to the officials in the "church" he created?

#126 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2009, 08:52 PM:

In #124, Alex Cohen writes:
Which SF author was it who wrote by lying on the couch with his eyes closed, beaming his prose telepathically to his wife in the next room, who typed it up?

I don't know. It probably worked in the opposite direction for E. Mayne Hull and A.E. Van Vogt, though.

(Isaac Wilcott has assembled evidence that all her stories were written by him. It's true that she did his typing.)

In #125, Joel Polowin writes:
As opposed to the one who wrote lying dead and buried in his coffin, beaming his prose telepathically to the officials in the "church" he created?

Is there any evidence that L. Rn Hbbrd did not write a ten-volume series of turgid SF novels himself (while alive)? Seems to me that he was quite capable of it, or at least he would have been earlier in his career.

#127 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2009, 08:57 PM:

I am haunted by Teresa's brief remark back at #3:

It's because production still needs hardcopy.

Is this because hardcopy is an inescapable ingredient in the process of Production, or is it because Production is hopelessly stuck in the pre-computer dark ages, or is it some other reason?

#128 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2009, 09:24 PM:

#127
Well, I can say that the production and quality control [read 'editing'] in our GIS group runs on paper, and so does the mapping department. We mark up the hardcopy so we know what changes go with which location. Not to mention the sticky notes that go on the stuff to mark pages that need corrections - red ink and pink highlighter!

#129 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2009, 09:43 PM:

Since Teresa hasn't been back to reply about the needs of Production yet, I'll quote her from 2007-01-07:

These are the doings of people in the next country over. If you think of Editorial as ethnic Scandinavians, then Managing Editorial is Finnish, and hardcore Production people are reindeer-herding Lapps. I think this schema winds up with pressmen being scary aboriginal Siberians into mushrooms and magic drums, but that doesn't seem altogether inappropriate. There were days when I was Managing Editor when it seemed to me that all the parts of the industry I dealt with were structured around the twin imperatives of keeping normal people from having to deal directly with authors, and keeping normal people from having to deal directly with pressmen.

#130 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2009, 10:03 PM:

Bill @ 126: Is there any evidence that L. Rn Hbbrd did not write a ten-volume series of turgid SF novels himself (while alive)?

The story of the making of a certain series of novels as told by the guy who edited it.

#131 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2009, 10:59 PM:

On the flip side, I've tried to point out that markets that have an "electronic-submissions only" policy are cutting out submissions from writers who don't have access to computers or the Internet. If "hardcopy-only" is unfair, isn't "electronic-only" just as unfair?

Isn't this kind of like saying because LeBron James gets millions of dollars a year to play basketball, everyone should get millions of dollars a year to play basketball? The quoted statement posits an unjustified equivalence between postal submission and electronic submission. (I mean, if there really were absolutely nothing that distinguished the two, then it wouldn't be a big deal for the Big 3 to support both.)

The most likely reason for the Big 3 not to take electronic slush submissions is inertia. "But the Big Three have a working system in place, and they already receive far more submissions than they can use" is right on the mark. That doesn't mean things will always stay that way though.

In any case, as someone pointed out at John Scalzi's blog, the upcoming F&SF workshop will, in effect, be a way to submit electronically to F&SF. If the workshop is successful, it could be one way for them to transition to also allowing electronic submissions. (The irony is that F&SF is already one of the faster genre markets.)

#132 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2009, 11:07 PM:

Joel #125: When the first of them came out posthumously, I wrote to a mailing list of the time (I'm not sure offhand if it was still bandykin) "what does it *take* to stop this guy?", only to be informed that he'd finished all 10 volumes before kicking the bucket. So, that was "well-known" at the time, if apparently incomplete.

The story from his editor is interesting -- it sounds like he wound up in a pretty screwed-up condition by the time he died. But hey, that's the hazard of creating a new religion with malice aforethought....

#133 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2009, 11:46 PM:

"What's the problem with Word that so many people don't like it for layout?"

Despite your positive experiences, Word is sometimes unpredictable, some layouts are difficult, and it used to set paragraphs line-by-line, rather than as units--I'm not sure what it currently does. I have never been able to get Word to produce predictable results with complex graphics-heavy layouts--the automation determinedly moves the graphics away from their places, producing bizarre page layouts. I've got doubts about how well Word PDF output will go in a big printing operation, where pages are printed in signatures of multiple pages as well. So Word is ok as long as your print run is small and your material is graphically simple. For professional publishing, maybe not so OK.

#134 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2009, 12:00 AM:

Ah, okay, I hadn't heard that the original MS was done before he died. (Nor that it was originally one long work that was then broken up into ten sections. I don't think I've ever even so much as looked inside one of them beyond possibly skimming blurbs on the jackets.)

#135 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2009, 12:05 AM:

I would NEVER use Word for layout, with the exception of maybe I can use it for laying out a Lulu.com book.

Despite the fact it is my most favorite program in the universe (you can look at just about any file you want to if you open it in Word, even if you're trying to figure out if the client has sent a good file or crap), it can be a whole pile of useless.

Now that I don't have to do the job I used to, I'm discovering other programs, like the iWork set. But I am probably going to do original composition in Word because I'm comfortable with it.

#136 ::: Spherical Time ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2009, 12:16 AM:

Bruce @ 120: This is what I call Geek Rule #1: Whatever can be done with a computer MUST be done with a computer.

That should be, Geek Rule #1: Whatever can be done faster, more efficiently and with fewer problems by a computer should be done by a computer. (And it's better for the environment, too!)

Bruce again: What compelling reason is there for them to change?

Money.

Right now a story from Scalzi might sell a few more magazines, especially since Scalzi himself controls a media outlet that can tout his works to hundreds of thousands of people that care about his work. Cory Doctorow, eBear and others have similar platforms. However, some of these writers won't submit to them due to their submission policy.

Perhaps by getting those boosts from the authors they'll even sell a few copies to the people that aren't 45+ or looking to get published. (Yes, it's a hyperbolic statement, but it's also mostly true.)

After that, maybe they'll be able to do a cost of living increase to their pay rates.

There's also the sad fact that pretty soon the "Big 3" won't be discovering many new talents. New talents are going to submit to cheaper, better paying places first. Sorry if that's upsetting to anyone.

I also find it hilarious that you think that "the Big Three have a working system in place, and they already receive far more submissions than they can use."

Great. They receive far more submissions than they can use. But if their real goal is to be a better magazine and provide better quality stories to their readers then they'll want to increase their number of submissions and thus be able to find more of the gems. If 99% of 1,000 stories "works", then increasing it to 99.9% of 10,000 or 99.99% of 100,000 would mean premium stories.

And don't forget, we all know that computers are better and faster at this stuff. It's a given, considering that this is what they're made to do.

And if you really want an absolutely compelling reason, then there should be an iron-clad one in #79: editors won't have to deal with human excrement smeared on submissions any more. Or even worry about it.

#137 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2009, 12:42 AM:

I don't assume that a place that refuses to take electronic submissions will get fewer submission, or ones of lower quality. But I do take it as a sign that they don't particularly want submissions from anyone under the age of 40, with their interest in younger writers falling somewhere on the scale between apathetic and hostile. Since I'm somewhere below that threshold, if I find a place doesn't take electronic submissions, I assume its editors are the sort of people who wouldn't like the kind of things a kid like me would write anyway.

#138 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2009, 01:11 AM:

Bruce @ 120: This is what I call Geek Rule #1: Whatever can be done with a computer MUST be done with a computer.

In my early days of experimenting with using computers for commercial art (also early days for the field), I imagined this conversation with clients: "If I had a few days, I could do this on the computer. Since you need it tomorrow, I'd better stick with analog art."

Nowdays, the computer file is the preferred medium of exchange. No more oversized illustration boards subject to damage and abuse as you attempt to ship them to the client. Also, when you give the client the illustration, you can still keep it for yourself.

#139 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2009, 02:10 AM:

Being fair to all is kind of beside the point; whatever processes a business uses are supposed to make it as simple as possible to get work done, however 'work' is defined, while touching all necessary bases.

It's easy to get in a rut, though, and not really consider if a process defined ten or twenty years ago is actually optimal. It's similarly easy, once you've decided to change things, to stumble over problems you've not ever seen before because the previous process eliminated those sorts of problems, was designed to do so, and now just look at that mess.

One advantage of a paperless slushpile I can see would be reclaimed floor space. I don't think this is trivial, if we're talking about slush that takes six months to churn through. That's a hell of a lot of paper. At the same time, if every process a publishing house uses assumes a paper manuscript in hand, from pristine to thumbed-over, to covered in notes from this or that department, changing to paperless is non-trivial. It's not, I don't think, a reverence for the feel of paper, or a distate for reading onscreen, so much as not wanting to chuck a bagful of spanners into a decently working engine. Not when that engine pays the rent.

#140 ::: Mister Brian J. Bieniowski ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2009, 07:44 AM:

I figured I'd take a break from shouting at clouds. I tell you it sometimes feel as if my whole career has been all about shouting at clouds, "Take me away from all of this! Take me away!" I asked my good friend Trevor at Analog how the statements "old man shouting at clouds" and "we don't accept electronic submissions" were related. He said, "both statements don't make sense?" He's usually right. My thought was that these were the kinds of things that just passed for clever, nowadays, I don't know. I'm only thirty-two. When I'm an old man, say fifty years old, it would almost certainly become clear. Anyhow, I think old people get a bad rap. All my favorite writers are old, or, worse, dead! I think science fiction would be a lot better if these guys were still alive. On the other hand, when you're dead, it's like getting a promotion out of the customer service department.

Anyway, I didn't come to type all of that, but I did anyway because this comment box is so big. I guess I just wanted to know how you guys at Tor don't get in trouble on the internet for not accepting electronic novel submissions. Is that decision David Hartwell's department? I guess I just don't understand the structure.

The hardcopy being necessary for production makes sense, I guess. I do most of the production at Asimov's (we don't even have a department for that any more!), and it's all done electronically from a Word file that the author emails me, when he or she remembers. It's pretty convenient, maybe your department could try it some time. I know Penguin's production department does it electronically too because one time I interviewed over there because I wanted to try to break into the romance field because I felt like it would be nice to work on books romance fans enjoy. They love books that almost everybody else in the world maligns, and they don't care! That's a good lesson for SF, where most people in the world malign the books, even the people reading them for enjoyment. Christ, I'm shouting at clouds again! Maybe it's because I married an older woman.

What was I writing about? Right, electronic submissions. I was always told at work that we didn't accept them because it took longer to open an attachment than it did to reject most stories we received. It sounded good to me. Personally, if we accepted electronic submissions, I think we could make it even faster. See, I have a lot of experience with girls, and not all that much with science fiction, when you get down to it. If we took e-submissions, when we disliked something, we could just insert the "reject" punch-card (or whatever computers have today), and delete the file. It's like when you give a girl your number and she never calls you back! Maybe I'm not that experienced with girls after all, I just know my phone number. Hey, sci-fi girls, I want you to know that I have a winning smile, but sorry! married.

Maybe it's better that we don't yet accept e-submissions. That way people don't have to complain about our pay rates! And if somebody submitted electronically and got paid, I bet they'd be unhappy about my socks or something. I mean, Tim Pratt was so mean about Asimov's over on Scalzi's LiveJournal (that was some "internet" humor, folks, he doesn't really have an LJ) and he was published by us, was paid by us, and won a Hugo for the story! Shucks, Tim, I'll change my necktie, I swear. Was it because I got up on the table that one time and shouted, "I'm the BIG ONE!" (That's some "big three" humor, folks; we're basically like a crazy fraternity party, except I'm the one who takes the rohypnol to forget the conventions.)

I forget why I came here. Hey, wasn't it beautiful last weekend? I worked on my tan and went swimming.

#141 ::: Jack Siolo ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2009, 08:36 AM:

Randolph, 133,
So Word is ok as long as your print run is small and your material is graphically simple. For professional publishing, maybe not so OK.

I'll agree with that, but the real reason Word is actively avoided for layout in publishing is that the interface is terrible compared to alternative software from 1994. Back then I could draw a box that text would go into, drag, it drop it, invert it, rotate it, stretch the boundary that repelled other text from overlapping it, all before OR after I poured text into that box. Word then, or up to Word '03, not so much.

Anyone have luck with the latest version? Also, Adobe's decision to charge an arm and a leg for their layout software was a tremendous mistake. They so could have eaten Microsoft's lunch, at least after win 95 came out. While I'm at it, how's the Open Source world doing? Does LaTex have a decent UI yet?

Janet Croft, 108,
you have my admiration and respect.

#142 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2009, 10:12 AM:

For unsolicited submissions--the slushpile--the current Tor policy is paper-only, with a 4-6 month response time.

Personally, the cost of submitting to a paper-only slushpile seems like a bad bet. The publishers don't want the crap, in either sense of the word, and they are competing to find the good stuff.

Baen Books accepts electronic submissions, but takes 9 to 12 months to respond.

Ace/Roc promise 3 months for electronic submissions, 12 months for paper.

I'm not sure I'd submit to Baen ahead of Tor, but Ace/Roc look as though they ought to be first on the list.

Yeah, think of it as evolution in action.

#143 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2009, 10:50 AM:

And don't forget, we all know that computers are better and faster at this stuff. It's a given, considering that this is what they're made to do.

I've been staying out of most of this, but the question here isn't about creating copy. I'm not even willing to stipulate computers are de facto faster at that. It's about processing copy. Computers can't do that. A human being has to do that. How said human being does it is another question altogether.

BUt I don't think letters on a screen are somehow faster for the reader to appreciate than letters on a page.

I know I have a harder time losing my place in a hardcopy. Am less likely to mis-file/lose track of a hardcopy, and read them with greater ease, and pleasure (for non ephemeral texts, fiction/non-fiction. Politics/news is different. It may relate to how, more than what, I read those different subjects).

So, as an editor, I would have a predjudice for hardcopy.

#144 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2009, 12:10 PM:

Allen Beatty #129, quoting Teresa: There were days when I was Managing Editor when it seemed to me that all the parts of the industry I dealt with were structured around the twin imperatives of keeping normal people from having to deal directly with authors, and keeping normal people from having to deal directly with pressmen.

So what happens when authors come in contact with pressmen? Some kind of antimatter implosion?

#145 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2009, 01:59 PM:

Jack S, #141: Word 2008, same story, though the interface is much more navigable. I've gone back & forth between that and InDesign, and InDesign produces much better typographic results, but Word is (when I don't need those results) much easier to use. InDesign also provides support for web publishing of large documents like catalogs via XML; very important when a document has both a print and a screen form.

There's a TeX GUI called Lyx--no idea how well or poorly it works. Probably the UI is rougher than Word.

#146 ::: pat greene ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2009, 03:37 PM:

Jack S., the issue is, do most people need the sort of layout capabilities possible with InDesign? I would love to have it, but then I'm a wannabe graphic designer. And can't justify it in the family budget -- especially as I would want to get the rest of the Creative Suite to go with it. And pricewise, weren't they were pretty much in line with their competition, which for InDesign was Quark, not Word?

The interfaces on the most recent Word releases are very different from Word 2007 for Windows to Word 2008 for Mac. The Mac 2008 is an improvement over earlier, but Word 2007 for Windows rocks. I am a Mac user since 1987, and am not in the least happy about the differences between the Mac and Win versions in the latest Word iterations.

#147 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2009, 04:08 PM:

Anyone have luck with the latest version?

I have the latest version of Word for Windows, but I tend to just keep using 2003, as they changed the interface so much that I find myself wasting a lot of time trying to figure out how to do things that I'm completely certain I should be able to do, but I just can't find the right trick in the new interface to do it.

New features are great, but hiding established features from experienced users isn't so great.

Plus, the new interface has many tools much larger on the screen than the old interface, plus fewer tools available on any given "tab." Which means that making a series of changes that could be done in a few clicks before requires more work switching back and forth to get to the tools you want.

#148 ::: E. Liddell ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2009, 04:08 PM:

In terms of free GUI page layout tools, I'd say that Scribus is reaching the point where it's genuinely useful. This is not to say that it doesn't have its quirks (convincing it to set only parts of a block of text in a different font requires a bit of careful handling, for instance), but if you can dodge the pitfalls, it produces quality PDF output.

#149 ::: Nick Mamatas ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2009, 04:26 PM:

@112: I made no claim that she was disagreeing with me.

I was pointing out that typewriting as an issue came up here due to the question of class in #37. Once you're offering up the example of writers who have dozens of typewriters and can afford housecalls, you're not talking a class issue anymore, at all.

#150 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2009, 04:33 PM:

Coming from the perspective of having to lay out research papers and grant applications for submission, according to fairly strict layout rules, I like Pages (from Apple's iWork suite). I had neverending trouble with the Word behavior Randolph describes at #133 -- if you put in an image of any kind, it gets automatically moved around to really bizarre places as you add more text or more images, and dragging it back to where you wanted it causes other images or text boxes to get misplaced. The whole thing becomes one of those sliding puzzles, and laying out a research paper or grant submission does not need to be a sliding puzzle. Pages doesn't do that.

I haven't really used Word since 2005 and don't particularly miss it. Furthermore iWork is MUCH cheaper than MS Office. And I've almost never had compatibility issues (can only name one time, and that was definitely a weird one-off situation involving some variety of Excel-specific encryption). It'll open Office docs, it'll open and use Word templates (just did a conference submission with one), it's quite cheerful about exporting into Office formats (or into PDF).

Of course it is Mac-only (there's the rub). But if you have a Mac, I really think it's the better choice.

#151 ::: DavidS ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2009, 04:40 PM:

Possibly dumb question: people have written a lot about the difficulties of getting a manuscript properly formatted for submission. Why don't publishers (or publicly spirited third parties) make Word templates that do this for you? Of course, authors who really care about page layout won't find this satisfactory, but most authors probably would, seeing as it is only a manuscript and not the final version.

This is reasonably common in the world of mathematical journals; see http://www.ams.org/proc/procauthorpac.html for a (LaTeX) example.

#152 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2009, 04:48 PM:

As far as general word processing goes, and also conversion between file formats, Open Office is well worth checking out.

I've seen task-specific tools using Word--such things as film-script format--but they seem very version-dependent.

There are stand-alone tools for such things as script-writing. I don't recall anything specific from when I was doing NaNoWriMo last year that was aimed at organising and writing novels. But there were shareware outliner programs in the days of MS-DOS: from what I remember the idea seems applicable.

#153 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2009, 05:00 PM:

DavidS @151 asks: Why don't publishers (or publicly spirited third parties) make Word templates that do this for you?

Snarky answer: Because many people already don't read readily available submissions guidelines so we'd just be providing one more thing for them to ignore.

#154 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2009, 05:09 PM:

Also because Word is relatively bad about formatting pasted-in text. In fact I think if you want it to do so at all you have to set it in your main settings, not in a template.

So to use a Word template for formatting, you'd have to write in the template, normally. Who wants to work in a fixed-pitch font?

No, better to format it when you're done. Besides, you have to change all the italics to underlines, and so on (depending on who you're sending it to).

#155 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2009, 07:00 PM:

Caroline, #150: did you have equations? If so, how did Pages handle them? I ended up falling back on "eqn|groff" and importing the resulting output as EPS into InDesign. I now know the the phrase "lunate epsilon."

#156 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2009, 08:38 PM:

Spherical Time @ 136:

That should be, Geek Rule #1: Whatever can be done faster, more efficiently and with fewer problems by a computer should be done by a computer.*

* Even if it turns out to be slower and less efficient on a computer.

FTFY.

#157 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2009, 06:34 PM:

joann @144, So what happens when authors come in contact with pressmen? Some kind of antimatter implosion?

No, cocktails get served.

#158 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2009, 06:43 PM:

Raphael @157:

I thought that the authors were dragged off and found themselves in the navy?
("That's press gangs, Abi")

#159 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2009, 10:38 PM:

Brian Bieniowski at #140: "I do most of the production at Asimov's (we don't even have a department for that any more!)"

Wow.

Well, signs of the times I guess. My newspaper laid off a whole production department, and I was one of it.

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