Two weeks ago I found myself Stupefied by my mailbox.
Contained within its dark innards was a single letter from Bruce Bethke, editor of Stupefying Stories. I wasn’t expecting a hard-copy communications from him: payment for “Two Zombies Walk into a Bar” was to be arranged via PayPal, and a response to my latest submission was expected to be a rejection via e-mail (like all other communications with this publisher), though I hoped not.
Like most any story that an author tries to publish, “HoPE” had its share of rejections – in this case, five times. Considering the experimental nature of the story (who the heck writes a story in Pythonesque code format?), and the fact that it’s only 275 words long, I fully expected another rejection.
I opened the letter and unfolded it to find a contract. For “HoPE”. What? Just like that? No acceptance e-mail? Unusual, but I’ll take it!
So why had Stupefying Stories accepted “HoPE” where others hadn’t? Its a foolish game, trying to guess the motives of editors, but I never claimed to be wise. I can think of a couple possible reasons why Bruce & Co. accepted “HoPE”:
- Go ahead and click that link up there, the one that says “Bruce Bethke“. Okay, I’ll make it easy. You can just click the one on his name two sentences earlier. Read his profile. Now, I had it in the back of my head that if I found a publisher that had some computer programmers on its staff, the story would have a shot. I wasn’t consciously aware that Bruce was a programmer when I submitted this story to his publication. Perhaps subconsciously I was. On the other hand, I’d submitted the story to Unitied Shoelaces of the Mind specifically because I thought they’d be interested in something experimental AND because the editor’s bio mentioned computer programming. In baseball terms, 1 for 2 ain’t bad. Hooray for the subconscious!
- In an interview at IGMS (you’ll need an account to read the whole interview), Ben Bova said this of John Campbell:
John Campbell was very kind to new writers, very solicitous. And he was a fountain of ideas. He spent the better part of his life striving to get writers to produce the kinds of stories that he wanted for Astounding/Analog. He discovered new talent and worked ceaselessly to develop it.
Sounds a little different than your standard form rejection, doesn’t it? Now, an excerpt from an interview with Mr. Bethke:
I’d been running an online writing workshop for several years and was getting tired of hearing my workshop writers — some of whom were producing truly first-rate work — complain that they just couldn’t seem to get a break. So I started looking into it, and realized that yes, the kids were right; there really are very few editors out there now willing to do for today’s new writers what George and Charlie did for me.
And by extension, what John Campbell did for Ben Bova and others. Mind you, I’m not lamenting bygone era of supportive editors. Writers have other resources for development that Golden Age writers didn’t have (like the internet), and I can’t claim to know all the hats today’s editors wear. Still, it is refreshing to see an editor in 2012 who is willing to help nurture writers who show promise (I feel compelled to make a shout-out to another editor who works to develop writers, Stephen Ramey, who I had the pleasure of working with on Triangulation: Morning After).
The lesson just reinforces what I learned from “Voices From the Corral” and “Two Zombies Walk Into a Bar“: don’t just know the magazines you submit to – know their editors. Just don’t spam them. Definitely don’t stalk them. That’d just be rude.