Thursday, December 30, 2010

Issue One, by the Numbers

This is probably only interesting to the writers who submitted stories to FU or are considering submitting in the new year.  Here are the numbers...

We received 301 story submissions, and 31 poems.

Our reading period was longer than it will be in the future, at three & a half months.  That means we received a bit less than 100 subs per month.

The ratio that made it to 'round two' was about ten percent, but this is guess work, since our process eliminated that label.  We are handing almost all tasks via Google Docs, and it has worked fairly well, much better than the now defunct Google Wave (something we started using for Aether Age and eventually abandoned).  Google Docs has the benefit of being free and required little expertise to set up.

The bulk of our stories were read by two slush readers, with a handful of stories read by a max of four readers.  Of the 10% that made it to 'round two' but weren't selected, virtually all were fine stories that would have been perfectly acceptable selections.  At that point it became a matter of defining for ourselves what felt the most like  'an FU story' and fit with the other accepted stories (not too similar in content/theme/storyline, etc.)

Perhaps lacking from issue one is that story of swashbuckling, pulp-inspired adventure.  While we received submissions written in that mode, and I desperately wanted to include such, I found myself most critical of these tales.

We accepted 3-4% of the stories received, and 10% of the poems.  10% of the stories made it to 'round two' and serious consideration.  A single story was accepted on the basis of a single reading.  We accepted one reprint.  I did start out with the intention of not including reprints, but Rochita's story (the quality of the tale as well as its availability and --I think-- importance as a story of non-anglo-centric fantasy) convinced me to reverse this decision.

Some poets have asked for more feedback into our methodology in selecting poems for publication.  We eventually intend to have a dedicated poetry editor.  In the meantime, sorry though it may be, my selections come down to 'what I think is good.'  I dislike rhyme in general, but I'm not absolute about it.  A poem that works for me will either use language in interesting ways to help me see from a fresh perspective, or it will convey an emotion or epiphany without pretense or clutter.  The first issue is still discounted on B&N as of this moment, so grab an issue and read those three poems for examples.

Of the stories in issue one, only two are something I'd let my 4th grader read (and I might need to go back and make sure I'm right about one of those.)  Seeing the cover, she would have been upset if she'd not been able to read any of the issue.  This has nothing to do with our selection process, just noting what we ended up with.  I'd say all are acceptable for a kid in her late teens, but I am a bit on the liberal side.  Acceptable for that age, but perhaps too adult to attract?  I'd love to hear from our younger readership as to what stories you enjoy. (Hell, we'd love to hear from you all, of course.)

Discussing reasons for voting 'no' on stories, the other slush readers offered these:

  • Clich├ęd - just nothing new or not a unique enough twist on the old
  • Poor writing
  • Ending - not satisfying for various reasons: too abrupt, no real resolution, anticlimactic 
  • DDIFM - the dreaded "while well-written, it just Didn't Do It For Me" - god, I'm so tired of seeing this myself!
To this I will add poor hook/beginning of the story.  I try to give a story a chance, especially if the writer is relatively new.  If the writer has a laundry list of credits  --I think your three or so top publications are generally sufficient-- then I'm set up to expect an expertly crafted intro to your tale.  A story hook doesn't need to be explosive or shocking, but your story exists for some reason and that intro should compel the reader to want to find out why.

Language was not an issue in terms of rejection.  In fact, the one story in which it came up, the writer had me telling him: if we go with the story, I'd rather have these 'effing this and effing that' graduate to full f-bomb status.

Sex wasn't an issue for the most part.  A few submissions dealt with issues of abuse, abduction, and rape/molestation.  And though I felt these writers generally dealt with this subject matter in a responsible way, I will continue to be very cautious in publishing such content.  Peter Straub's The Juniper Tree and Thomas Ligotti's The Frolic are both stories that I love and I'd count as personally influential, and which deal with these issues.  So, it can be done. But if you include that sort of material I'm very selective about its inclusion in FU.

Last, we received stories in which the premise seemed to be, 'better accept this particular religion's formula for salvation before you die, or else!'  We're not really the publication for that sort of thing.  Stanley Elkin's The Living End, Harlan Ellison's The Region Between, make great use of theological/ontological subjects as do a huge number of fantastic works.  Ripe areas for exploration.  And beyond this, stories featuring people of faith: non-issue.  Proselytizing?  Not so much.

Our reading period for issue two opens in just a few days. As much as I dislike going the 'reading period' route, for my own sanity I think this is what we'll do moving forward.  Issue one is fantastic, but still includes some errors I do not want to make again that more time for the proofing process will help alleviate.

Expect us to be open for subs January and February.  This greatly reduces the reading period compared to issues one's, but perhaps increases the statistics for acceptance.  We'll see.  Though I'd love to include an Aether Age story in issue two, it'll have to measure up to general standards.

Have a fun and safe New Year!