There's battle lines being drawn.
Nobody's right if everybody's wrong.
Young people speaking their minds
getting so much resistance from behind

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Jeff VanderMeer is at it again

Will someone please give Jeff VanderMeer more work? I swear he's in a race with Jay Lake to see who can post the most. Doesn't Jeff have an evil monkey he needs to tend to?

Anyway, Jeff has made a long post on The Triumph of Competence. I can see his points here, but I think the industry is suffering from self inflicted wounds.

Everywhere that I read editorial opinions I see that they want stories that will surprise them, take their breath away. Or, alternatively, I see admonishments about, "the good old days, why doesn't anybody write them like that anymore." Then you go to those magazines and read their submission guidelines where there is the inevitable line about, "reading the market to see what the editors like."

Well, this is the same thing as women's magazines having headlines about "Drop twenty Pounds in Twenty Days" right above, "Best New Delicious Cheesecake Recipes." Seriously. Very big contradictions are going on here.

When in doubt, the submission guidelines win out. We read what you've published, and we feed it back into the system. Your slush readers are tuned to your tastes so they feed up those stories that they know have worked before. Editors know their reading audience so they give them what worked before. Mediocrity reigns supreme.

This isn't the only industry suffering. My (former) day job suffered from "mining the past for ideas" and "everything looks like last year's award winners." Well, it's how we were trained, how the clients respond, how art directors direct, mediocrity is process and institutionalized.

Young writers are told to explore and do weird things. So we do, and we don’t get published. Eventually we learn by reading what has been published, by learning the ropes, by getting more competent, and those wild hair stories drop by the wayside as we move on to eventually get published. I wrote a post earlier in the year wondering if I would get published for my mil fiction if that would lock me out of other things. The same thing happens with this process. "Oh," says the just published writer, "you liked that story. I can do more."

It's a self-feeding cycle. If editors want to see new stories that take risks, they have to publish them. They have to see that some writers may need help with basic skills but have those wild hair stories, grab them at that point. Help them with edits. Publish the wild ones and more will come. Continue to wait until all the ducks are lined up and you don't have to develop the writer, and you'll get the preprocessed stuff that's out there now.

Not everything published falls into this trap. And those stories set me on fire. They're what I want to write. Are they what the editors want to publish though? Especially from a brand new writer? Or will you only try those stories with established writers, the ones where most of those wild ideas have been suppressed to get publishable stories.


Ken McConnell said...

Nice Post Steve. I think as newbie writers it's our job to get published and give the editors what they want. After we have developed a reputation or some kind of an audience, then we can try and get the wild stories published, because then we will have already established ourselves as markets.

I'm not saying this is good, only that it seems like what is going on.

The very first short story I wrote this summer, got published. I enjoyed writing it, but I thought it was kind of not very original. It even had a trite, humorous ending. In the time I waited for that one to make the rounds, I went on and wrote several more stories that pushed the boundaries a bit and stretched my writing wings.

None of those stories have yet been picked up. At this point, I am going back to the SOS and seeing if I can sell it again. Perhaps some day in the future, if I ever do sell a book or two or several more stories, I will be in a position to publish those more risky stories.

When that day comes, I see it as my duty to at least try and get those kinds of stories published.

Steve Buchheit said...

Ken, I'm with ya on that one. I tried some very ambitious things when I made the, "I'm going to write AND be published" decision. I look back on them and think, "I am so much the better writer now." I think some of my ideas are just as wild, but then there are the stories I've gotten the best feedback on. They aren't the wild ones.

When I wrote "Daddy's Little Girl" I did find myself pulling back, which lead one of my group to complain it was like on long, sick joke. It was because I pulled back, when for cute instead of heading in and tackling the subject (parent's loss of child). For the rewrite I took out most of the "cute" things and while it did turn from horror to Dark Fantasy because of a new ending, I think it's a much stronger story. Now it's just to see if WotF agrees with me (and then Weird Tales).

Ken McConnell said...

Excellent! I'm standing by with my megaphone to do some cheers. :)

Steve Buchheit said...

Thanks, Ken.

Camille Alexa said...

I'm glad you tackled this topic, Steve, though I'm not sure I've made up my mind about all the particulars yet.

I was pretty excited by The Best of Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet that just came out (I think?). An amazingly large proportion of stories struck me as singularly interesting and unusual. It was my GMR pick for best of 2007.

(I know you like Kelly Link, who co-edited The Best of LCRW with husband Gavin Grant.)

Steve Buchheit said...

Camille, there's a whole minor storm going on about this topic now. Lots of people are weighing in, and lots of misunderstandings going on. I'm not sure everybody really knows what they want.

LCRW is one of those markets I want to have a story published in. they are very cool.

Steve Buchheit said...

I should also say I was worried about making some of the comments I did on other boards because it might sound like sour-grapes on my part. That wasn't my intent.