Sunday, November 19, 2006

Paper vs. Electronic (and a diatribe about style)

I was trading e-mails the other day with Doug Cohen, assistant editor over at Realms of Fantasy, about preferences for reading submissions on a computer screen vs. printing them out. It’s a very different kind of reading experience, paper vs. electronic, and even though the stories I’m reading (the ones I buy anyway) are going to be published on-line, I still have a major preference for judging them the old fashioned way. I believe I get a better feel for the flow of the story when reading it on paper, and flow is a big thing with me. I want everything about a story – from plot, character, and word choice, to seemingly little things like punctuation – to flow in a way that keeps me lost in the story. Anything that pulls me up and reminds me that I am reading a story is bad. Frankly, that’s why I hate pretentious, writerly writing. It tells me the author thinks he or she is more important than the story they are telling. A lot of people misinterpret me when I say this, thinking I don’t appreciate a fine writing style. Nothing could be further form the truth: I love a great writing style. I also see a tremendous difference between writing that has style, and writing that is about style. It’s the second I have no patience for.

(Now look what you’ve done; you’ve got me up on my soap box, preaching again.) (Get back to the point, Edmund…) (What was the point?) (Right, paper vs. electronic submissions...)

But anyway…

I have to admit that I had not anticipated the time, ink, and paper that would be required for this job. I'm beginning to understand why so many publishers won't accept e-subs: it shifts the burden from the writer to the editor. When you ask 500 writers to each print their own story out, it's not that big a deal. One editor printing out 500 stories is a very different cup of tea. But IGMS’s policy is and will remain: electronic subs. It does have some advantages, such as transferring them and editing them. C'est la vie. You can’t have it all. You really can’t even have most if it; where would you keep it?

Have a good Thanksgiving.


Rick Novy said...

That's sort of a corrolary to entropy--You can't win, you can't even break even.

Edmund R. Schubert said...

Corrolentropy? Cool...

Anonymous said...

Hi Edmund--

I read all the Interzone e-subs on a small PDA. I didn't (don't) want to deal with hundreds of paper MSs, and I'm an easy reader: I found that I read just as easy from a PDA as from paper.

I only print stories out if I'm going to do a rewrite on that story with the author, which is (relatively) rare.

I can also be a very forgiving reader: when a story really engrosses me, I don't care on which medium it's written, the font, typos, whatever. I don't care *where* I read it (often it's on my commute to/from the day job in a bus full of noisy people). A real good story can make me forget where I am. I missed a train once because of that, and on another occasion the bus driver had to tell me to get out when we arrived at the final destination. On those rare occasions, the story has been published later on...;-)

Personally, while flow is important, I get hooked on two things:

1) Voice;

2) Sense of wonder;

Re. 1: sometimes (and this does not quite happen often enough) I get this story where there is something in the 'voice' that makes me take notice. The command of language, the way the story starts with a hook and follows through, the sense that everything in this story is in complete control, and will deliver. Style and substance merge, and are told in a unique way: 'voice'.
You just know the story's gonna be awesome around paragraph two or three. Or, to paraphrase my colleague Andy (Cox): sometimes I know I'm gonna buy the story around para 2, and am already thinking about who's gonna illustrate it around page 2.

Some, very special, stories just do that to you.

Re. 2: I like ambition in a story, and especially an ambitious attempt at trying something new (or putting a fresh twist on an old trope that almost makes it new again). Even if it fails, I highly appreciate the effort. And if it succeeds, and evokes my sense of wonder, I'm blown away.


Anonymous said...

Hello, Jetse. Glad to hear a different point of view. I guess that's why there are different editor and different magazines: to represent different tastes and priorities.

Re.1: I agree, but they are special and rare stories that do that. I see so many near-misses...

Re.2: I like ambition, too, but I find there are a lot of authors with ambition. What matters to me is the execution of the idea. I'm like you in that I want to get lost in the story. I think that's the single most important thing of all, but a poorly executed good idea will not excite me. It might entice me to ask for a rewrite, but the problems with rewrites is that the more work an author does on a story, the more mechanical it begins to feel and then the magic is gone.


Anonymous said...

It would be very boring if we all had the same taste and sensibility. Diversity is one of the things that keeps the short fiction scene alive.

For one, I noticed on Ralan that you were asking for more fantasy. That surprised me: not that your sensibility might be more towards fantasy (I'm more of an SF aficionado myself), but that you do not get enough fantasy in the slushpile.

In the Interzone email slushpile I see predominantly fantasy stories. I'd estimate that we publish about 75% SF, 20% fantasy and 5% hard-to-catagorise, while in the email slush I see about 75% fantasy, 20% SF, and 5% hard-to-catagorise. Gordon Van Gelder has been saying, for about as long as he's editing F&SF, that he never sees enough SF stories in his slushpile. Similarly, Nick Mamatas said in his interview by Doug Cohen (following similar interviews with, well, you and me...;-) that he receives about 75% fantasy, 20% horror, 3% SF, and 2% non-genre stuff.

So if you receive more SF than fantasy, while you like to see more fantasy, then more of my submitters should send stories to you, and vice versa.

Before I get side-tracked too much: on a general note, with fantasy it's more important to tell a good story rather than be as original as possible, hence that flow is important; while with SF one can be more forgiving of interruption of the flow (POV changes, flashbacks/previews, continuity breaks, etc) *if* those forward the central idea.

Of course, I hope for the best of both worlds (a compelling story with an uninterrupted flow, strong voice that forwards a very original concept), but that is but al too rare. And it is a grand generalisation, with pklnety of exceptions on either side. But it does explain the difference in sensibility that we have a bit.