Picture Me Blinking In Astonishment 11 March 2010Posted by Camille Gooderham Campbell in Hall of Shame.
Theoretically, writers who submit their work for publication want to hear back from the publisher.
So I was surprised, a while back, to come across a writer who had set up an email spam blocker that would only accept incoming mail from an approved list — our response to a query generated an auto-reply email asking us to click on a link and “fill out a short request form to be added to the list of approved senders”. The automated email noted: “I apologize for this one-time inconvenience”. Did we click on the link and fill out the short request form? No, we did not.
Ever since then, I have mentally enshrined that particular incident as the most counterproductive author communication effort possible. It couldn’t possibly be outdone — send a query, but make it impossible to receive the response without an extra step that involves clicking a link and filling out a form. Quite apart from it coming across as a phishing trip (you don’t know me! click this link! give me your personal information!), neither I nor any other editor that I know of has time to go around filling out little forms. Brilliant strategy for getting published? No. Gold star for total bemusement factor? Yes.
Today, I encountered something that rivals even that one.
The subject line of what was clearly an auto-response email read: “I am no longer communicating via e-mail”. In the body of the email, it said: “If you wish to get in touch, please write me at [snail mail address here]. My website, [website here], is still active and contains a list of my recent publications. Thank you!”
So, picture me blinking in astonishment. Gold star for arrogance in thinking that I’m seriously going to go get a stamp and send a snail mail letter. Welcome to my Hall of Shame.
Feeling the Love 18 February 2010Posted by Camille Gooderham Campbell in Random Thoughts.
It’s been tough lately. EDF’s slush pile is mountains high, and the decisions ultimately come down to me. With nasty commenters lurking around every corner, hating every story and casting aspersions on my editorial skills and integrity, I was starting to doubt myself and second-guess every decision I made.
The EDF team made a decision to crack down on nastiness in the comments, and that helped a bit, but my confidence was still seriously shaken.
When a story sticks in someone’s mind and speaks to him or her, when someone is compelled to re-read a piece two days later, when someone feels she or he would have been sorry to miss it… that story has done its job right. When I’ve had a hand in bringing that story to publication, when I was the one who said ‘yes’ to it, I know I’ve done my job right too.
None of this is even about me — it’s all about the stories and their authors — but I’m feeling the love anyway.
Decisions, Decisions 8 February 2010Posted by Camille Gooderham Campbell in Uncategorized.
So, an editorial decision is just that — a decision. And like any decision, it is subject to all the factors of the moment.
How badly do we need stories to fill the calendar right now? At the end of the month, when I’m desperate for pieces to fill open spots in the upcoming calendar, and I’m actively hunting for one more humour piece and two to three speculative genre pieces, chances are that I’ll feel a little more generous toward a marginal piece if it would meet one of the urgent needs of the moment. In fact, if I have 48 hours left before the calendar posts and I’m still a story or two short of a full month, that critical decision sometimes becomes one of panic rather than a calm, cool intellectual selection — not “is this good?” but “will this do?” At the start of the month, when I’ve just put a calendar to bed and have at least two solid weeks before I start to worry about the gaps in the next one, I can afford to be more critical and pass up something borderline on the chance that something else decent will come along before I get into a jam again.
How does this stack up against what I’ve just been reading? After a string of uninspired failed-relationship and spousal-murder pieces, dead-cat and dead-baby stories, and a few more variations on the bad-humans-punished-by-wise-aliens-or-deities theme, even Jesus-on-a-motorbike starts to look halfway decent in comparison. On the other hand, if I’ve just read something that blew my socks off, even a very solid and moderately original piece is going to suffer by comparison. And because we have to keep up with the avalanche of incoming submissions, I can’t just read one thing at a time with palate-cleansing breaks in between. Comparisons are odious, yes, but they’re part of this game.
What’s going on in my world? When I’m busy up to my neck, with a stack of book orders to fill and queries to answer and authors to pay, an editorial team to manage, potential problems to defuse — and a teething baby on top of everything else — maintaining a calmly objective frame of mind is challenging, to say the least. I tend to trust my slush readers’ opinions more when I’m under pressure, when there isn’t time for debating and conferring. I never intend to be hasty in my decisions, but sometimes there just isn’t the leisure to reflect critically on every aspect of a piece before giving it a final yes or no. Did a slush reader like it? Did I enjoy it? Did I notice any hugely glaring flaws? Okay, done.
There are times when I say yes to something, send out the acceptance, and then later wonder what it was I’d liked about it (sometimes EDF’s readers hate these ones, and sometimes they love them — there doesn’t seem to be a predictable correlation between my post-acceptance doubts and subsequent reader reactions). There are also times when I say no, send out the rejection, and then wish I’d said yes after all. The fact remains that something made me say yes or no, and it’s futile to second-guess that all the time.
But here’s the thing:
To snarky commenters who think that what gets rejected can’t be worse than what we’re publishing… yes, it can. A lot worse.
To snarky commenters who think they know something about the quality of what we’re rejecting… no one is objective about their own work, or their spouses’ work, or even their friends’ work. If you’re not one of our slush readers, you don’t know anything about what we’re rejecting, beyond your own little circle, so don’t pretend that you do.
To snarky commenters who think gratuitous rudeness makes them look insightful and clever… it doesn’t.
My decisions may not be perfect, but they’re my decisions to make. So to snarky commenters who think they could do better… go start your own magazine.
EDF’s Calendar for October 30 September 2009Posted by Camille Gooderham Campbell in News & Announcements.
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It’s the end of September already, and the lineup of stories for October is up at EDF. This will be an interesting month, since it’s the first one where Jordan has had virtually no input — September’s calendar still had a few stories that had been accepted by him but this one is all mine — and it’s also the first one where our new editor Elissa has had some influence. It will be interesting to see how the readers respond to the different stories.
October’s Table of Contents
|Oct 1||K.C. Ball||Canticles|
|Oct 2||Alexander Salas||The Hungry Squirrel|
|Oct 3||Donna Gagnon||Ilker Drennan|
|Oct 4||Scotch Rutherford||Harvest Moon|
|Oct 5||Matthias R. Gollackner||Real World Heroism|
|Oct 6||Harry Steven Lazerus||We Had No Right|
|Oct 7||Megan Arkenberg||Grown from Man to Dragon|
|Oct 8||Jim Steel||Enemy of the Party|
|Oct 9||Mickey Mills||Trajectory|
|Oct 10||John A. Mackie||Destination: Beach|
|Oct 11||Rachel Lim||Water Bottle Musings|
|Oct 12||Fred Meyer||Blind Spots|
|Oct 13||G.T. MacMillan||Evidence|
|Oct 14||Sarah Hilary||Invisible Mend|
|Oct 15||Essie Gilbey||The Love Stone|
|Oct 16||Erin Ryan||Fark Those Takkloving Aliens|
|Oct 17||Wayne Scheer||Stripped of Innocence|
|Oct 18||Martin Turton||A Song for Cara|
|Oct 19||Krystyna Smallman||Miss Flossy and the Ferals|
|Oct 20||Karl El-Koura||Beat-Down|
|Oct 21||C.L. Holland||Beauty Sleeping|
|Oct 22||Eric V. Neagu||The Vegetarian|
|Oct 23||Shelley Dayton||Identity Crisis|
|Oct 24||Kendra C. Highley||When Mom’s Sick|
|Oct 25||Sharon E. Trotter||The Haircut|
|Oct 26||Karel Smolders||Brains|
|Oct 27||Stef Hall||Fingers|
|Oct 28||B. J. Adams||A Hearty Breakfast|
|Oct 29||Patrick Perkins||Feeding Time|
|Oct 30||Barbara A. Barnett||Dumping the Dead|
|Oct 31||Stefan Bachmann||The Pale Lean Ones|
Professional Writers — How An Editor Can Tell 21 September 2009Posted by Camille Gooderham Campbell in Advice For Writers.
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A couple of weeks ago, Robert Swartwood posed a question on his blog: “what is a professional writer?”
The various responses interested me, not so much because of the different arguments on how one determines professionalism, but because of what the responses had in common — they were all from the writer’s perspective. That is, all the responders were discussing either how they determine their own status as a professional or amateur, or else how a writer could hypothetically be pinpointed as one or the other. All assumed and required some inner knowledge of the writer’s life (a professional is paid to write, a professional makes a living at writing, a professional writes every day…), knowledge to which no one but the writer and maybe family and friends might be privy.
My own response to the question was instantaneous: professional behaviour makes a professional writer.
And this is why: it’s the only thing that the editor sees.
As an editor, when a story comes up on my computer screen, I don’t know if the author has ever been paid for his or her writing. I don’t know how many hours a day he or she writes, I don’t know if it’s a full-time occupation or a hobby (or therapy, or a compulsion, or a dream being chased, or some combination thereof). I can’t make a judgement based on those things. But there are writers I believe to be professionals, based on what I see.
Quite apart from the usual suspects — abiding by submission guidelines, submitting only their best and most polished work, and so on — there are certain things I notice that make me think, “that one’s a pro”.
One is regular submissions. Professional writers are constantly submitting work; they don’t pack up and go home after one rejection (or one acceptance, for that matter). So when I start to recognize a writer’s name because I’ve seen it in our slush regularly enough, I find that I start to take that writer more seriously — he or she is obviously committed to the craft.
One is attention to detail. Queries specify submission ID numbers, story titles, dates submitted. The submission form is fully and correctly filled out; the author knows what a byline is, has selected an appropriate genre for his or her story, and has included a bio. The word count is accurate.
And here’s a funny one: the author bio had better be in the third person. All of EDF’s author bios are in the third person — all of them, and it’s been that way every day since September 2007! — so when I see a first-person bio I think, “Well, here’s someone who hasn’t bothered to check out the magazine before submitting to it…” I have no problem with the goofy and humorous bios, the story-related bios, or the sparse and bare bios. But the first-person bios trip me up every time. On that note, bios which announce that the author writes as a hobby (or otherwise advertise a less-than-professional self-perception) do take away from the professional impression a bit.
A professional writer’s correspondence with editors is appropriately businesslike and even a touch on the formal side, unless we’ve published a number of your stories and have naturally moved to a friendlier level over time. And for whatever sweet sake you believe in, if you want an editor to think of you as a pro, don’t argue with a rejection notice!
A professional writer has a professional website. Now, technically I know that this may not always be true, and I’m sure there are plenty of well-respected technical recluses who refuse to cooperate with the information age, but we’re talking about perception here. A professional-looking website with regular updates (the “latest news” on the site shouldn’t be from January 2008) is virtually essential if you want to be taken seriously, especially in the world of online magazines. Bonus points are awarded for having your own domain name, a growing list of publication credits, and current news about recent acceptances and publications.
And finally, a professional writer always shows professionalism and restraint in comment threads and forum topics and other public places. Whether in receiving criticism on one of his or her own stories or entering into a discussion about someone else’s work (or a publication, contest, editor, book retailer, or anything else under discussion), a true professional will be aware that anything posted online can travel far and wide — participating with a degree of dignity, intelligence, and restraint shows that the individual has the ethics and responsibility to go with his or her creative skills. Whining, bitching, rudeness, gratuitous unkindness, holding grudges and slinging mud… that stuff just doesn’t scream “pro” to me.
So now you know what I look for, and what it says to me.
Would You Tip a Guy Handing Out Free Lattes? 7 September 2009Posted by Camille Gooderham Campbell in Random Thoughts.
Imagine a guy standing on a street corner handing out lattes. Or chai, hot chocolate, whatever suits your fancy. And he’s just handing them out, not asking for anything in return — he’s got a tip jar, though, on the pavement near his feet.
A little further down the block, there’s a smiling girl with a tray of sandwiches and an empty paper cup marked TIPS. “Help yourself,” she says. “No charge.”
There is also a café that serves hot drinks and sandwiches, right there in the same block: eight-dollar paninis that you can have cold or grilled, the coffee made from expensive beans.
Do you buy the $8 sandwich and $4 latte from the café? Or do you take the free ones from the nice people standing on the street?
You take the free ones; of course you do. We all do, and if the supply of free food is constant and continues for long enough, the café goes out of business. The real question is: do you give the latte guy and the sandwich girl a tip? (Oh, and you might also wonder who’s paying for the food.)
Just in case anyone has missed it, this is really about web content.
Online readers don’t want to pay, and they (you) don’t have to. It’s the street where free food is handed out. The donate-now buttons are easy to ignore.
Writers want to be paid. It’s a profession, it has value, those pennies-per-word are earned, dammit!
The publishers are supposed to figure this thing out: pay the writers what they’re worth, don’t charge the readers anything, hope the Google Ads at least cover the webhost bills. The way I see it, there are currently only two solutions — backing from a group with money and an agenda (which kind of moves away from the point of pure unbiased journalism or an untainted commitment to quality fiction), or else sales of tangible products and commercial services (books, t-shirts, training courses, etc.).
This means that if Latte Guy wants to make money, he’s going to be selling you Amway (or at least an enviro-friendly travel mug) while he makes your free coffee. And Sandwich Girl would like to talk to you about faith and the state of your soul.
Taste Is A Factor 3 September 2009Posted by Camille Gooderham Campbell in Editor's Opinion.
Tags: Clinton Lawrence, Every Day Fiction, flash fiction
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Coincidentally, today I was smacked in the face with not one but two separate bits of proof that personal taste is one of the biggest factors in editorial decisions.
A story is really the mutual creation of the writer and the reader: the writer provides the framework, the ideas, the language; the reader brings his or her personal experiences, taste, and imagination to fill it out and colour it in. The more skilled and powerful the writer is, the closer the reader may come to the writer’s intention, but I believe that no two readers experience a story in exactly the same way. Reading is by its nature a subjective experience, and while technique can (perhaps) be assessed in an objective way, even that might be coloured by taste — say, the reader’s preference for one particular prose style over another, or the degree to which the reader follows trends such as the modern distaste for adverbs and the passive voice.
Today’s story at EDF is “The Old City” by Clinton Lawrence. I personally enjoyed it — the prose is clean and sparse, there’s just enough information to whet my imagination, and the ending is open to interpretation. I would say that it is a good example of a particular kind of flash: the really bare-bones kind, not quite as bare as hint fiction perhaps, but with the story arc very much sketched in and a lot left up to the reader. However, the comments on the piece are nearly entirely negative — the only marginally positive comment was “This has kept me thinking. Thinking is good!” — faint praise indeed. And yet, I liked the story. I still do. Both critically and personally. Apparently I have a taste for connecting the dots where others want the Mona Lisa.
And just when I was starting to wonder about my taste in flash fiction and how I could be so off the mark…
…I got a confidential email about the results of the competition for which I’d been one of the judges. The email included a spreadsheet with the rankings that each judge had given the finalists. I was surprised — still am — at the disparity between our different assessments of the stories we’d read. The winning story stood out quite clearly, placing in the top three for all but one of the judges and with the most first-place rankings of any piece. Beyond that, though, it was really quite astonishing which different pieces had found favour with the different judges. And for the record, all of the judges are either writers whose work I admire or editors whose critical judgement I respect.
In the face of all that glaring evidence, I have to conclude that taste is a major factor in both acceptances/rejections and competition wins. Undoubtedly so.
It’s Official — I’m EDF’s Managing Editor! 2 September 2009Posted by Camille Gooderham Campbell in News & Announcements.
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We changed the staff page today, so it’s public news: I am now the Managing Editor of Every Day Fiction.
Jordan’s new title — and just so everyone is clear, he’s not abandoning EDF at all, nor being pushed out, nor anything like that — is Executive Editor, which I think fits his new role perfectly. He’ll still be involved in the direction of the magazine, he just won’t be working on the day-to-day business of reading and accepting/rejecting submissions. The plan is that this will free up his time to do some of the things that we’ve always talked about but never were able to make time to do: promoting the site, organizing competitions, and so on.
This is a good thing for EDF. We’ve grown to the point where the magazine really does need someone in an executive role, handling the big picture, and Jordan does that really well.
This is also a good thing for me. I enjoy the hands-on editorial work and would miss it much more than Jordan will — I think I’d be unhappy in a purely executive role — and I’m already liking the power of being the final decision-maker for story acceptances.
I’m also excited to see what Jordan will do in his new role. We’ve already talked about something interesting for later this year… I can’t reveal it yet, it’s all confidential… but it’s going to be awesome!
Judging A Competition Is Hard 1 September 2009Posted by Camille Gooderham Campbell in Random Thoughts.
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When I was asked, recently, to assist in the judging of a flash fiction competition, I thought — no problem! After all, it’s essentially the same task as what I do every day, or so I assumed.
Making an editorial decision means judging a story only against itself and against the standards of the publication it’s being considered for: does it meet our definition of a story, will it appeal to our readers, is the prose up to our standards, does it have a theme and an impact on the reader — does it achieve what it sets out to do?
Notice that those are all yes/no questions. Each story is either a yes or a no for the magazine. It’s not always easy, exactly, especially in borderline cases, but the practice and habit of it are simple.
Judging stories against each other is hard. Stories aren’t meant to be judged against each other, just as different fruits aren’t meant to be ranked on a scale; I like plums better than pears, say, but that doesn’t make plums better than pears in general — unless the plum in question is perfectly ripe and the pear it’s being held against is a bit too soft or hard.
Picking out the poor fruit is easy enough. This one is overwritten and exploding with purple prose, that one is flavourless and doesn’t present much of a theme. But once the list has been narrowed down to the real contenders, ranking them is the devil’s own job.
I didn’t know that before, and now I do.
EDF’s Calendar for September 31 August 2009Posted by Camille Gooderham Campbell in News & Announcements.
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The lineup of stories for September is now posted at Every Day Fiction. I’m particularly proud of this one as it’s the first time I’ve had a direct hand in making final decisions on acceptances as well as rejections — Jordan has been away at the Writers of the Future awards gala for the whole past week so I’ve been completely on my own in finalizing the calendar, writing the editorial, etc.
I’ve also learned that making decisions about acceptances is even harder than making decisions about rejections.
Editorial musings aside, there are some really fine stories coming up this month.
September’s Table of Contents
|Sep 1||Jonathan Pinnock||Hidden Shallows|
|Sep 2||Sarah Hilary||Burial of the Bells|
|Sep 3||Clinton Lawrence||The Old City|
|Sep 4||Joel Willans||A Friggin’ Star|
|Sep 5||Margaret Karmazin||Diamonds in the Rough|
|Sep 6||Ellie Tupper||Mandala: A Dish of Lime-Vanilla Ice|
|Sep 7||KM Rockwood||Shredded|
|Sep 8||James Hartley||Breakfast|
|Sep 9||Gargi Mehra||The Beauty|
|Sep 10||Ben Loory||The Wall|
|Sep 11||Melody Beacham||Under My Skin|
|Sep 12||John Jasper Owens||Mute Point|
|Sep 13||Fred Warren||Weightless|
|Sep 14||Sheila R. Pierson||Steak and Potatoes|
|Sep 15||Krystyna Smallman||Consuming|
|Sep 16||Martin Turton||Minding Matthew|
|Sep 17||Lori Simeunovic||In the Cards|
|Sep 18||Anna Sykora||Your Guarantee of a Human Bean|
|Sep 19||Aaron Polson||How to Burn a House|
|Sep 20||A. S. Andrews||Alien Life|
|Sep 21||Garry Grierson||The Bull and Bucket UFO|
|Sep 22||Eric Del Carlo||Frankly|
|Sep 23||Lossie Reeves||Addie and Boog|
|Sep 24||Ann Wilkes||Grey Drive|
|Sep 25||Cathryn Grant||So Lucky|
|Sep 26||John Wiswell||Frankenstein’s Monsters|
|Sep 27||Cate Gardner||Strange Tooth|
|Sep 28||Debra Easterling||Annapolis Eyes|
|Sep 29||Lee Hughes||The Backtrack|
|Sep 30||Oonah V Joslin||The Devil’s Within|