Anyone can be a published writer if all you want to do is make ebook versions of your stories/novels and put them up on Kindle/Nook/iBook/Whatever. I’m not slagging on the idea. I’ll grant you, there’s a time I would have, but times change and it’s adapt or die. Now I do it myself when doing so makes sense to me. However, if you still want to sell stories to professional science fiction and fantasy (SF/F) markets in the traditional way, deciding between Garamond vs Bookman Old Style is no longer your concern. It’s also no longer about whether your stories please you. Before you see print/online publication, you’ve got to please someone else–the editor.
The traditional SF/F short fiction market is a buyer’s market. Always has been and probably always will be. Even with the explosion of online venues, there are more good stories than there are decent homes for them, for varying values of “decent” and, let’s be honest, varying values of “good.” Fortunately there are enough variances in editorial taste that eventually things usually work out. “Eventually” meaning just that–it can take years to place some stories. “Usually” meaning, sigh, not always. But I’m not here to lament this sad fact, merely to state it, to place what follows in context–The Sh*tlist
We’ve all heard stories of writers who behave so unprofessionally, or so barking mad that many editors simply refuse to deal with them. This is widely considered a bad move by the writer in question, especially in light of the above and the fact that editors, like writers and everyone else in this field, talk to each other and word gets around. But the reality is that there’s a flipside to this coin that isn’t considered nearly as often and it is that writers should create and maintain sh*tlists as well.
I know I do. There are short story markets that I consider worth neither the time nor the aggravation. Mind, we’re not even talking about poor pay rates or lack of visibility in the field–in many cases that’s the least of their problems. I don’t like keeping such lists. I’d rather not have to do it, especially considering the way of the publishing world as it currently stands. And even given all that, it takes surprisingly little to get on my bad side. It does, however, require that the market manifest certain specific key failings.
1) A lack of respect for their contributors. No, I don’t mean failure to kowtow or blow smoke. I mean a failure in basic courtesy. This is more common that one might think, especially considering that most people in sf/f publishing are in it because they want to be. I won’t stand for it and I don’t have to. Neither do you.
2) An exaggerated sense of their own importance. This usually manifests in the phenom known as “the snotty rejection.” Asimov’s SF was often accused of this, and in my opinion unfairly, because their rejections were considered by many as “too harsh.” They were forms, for gossakes. I’ve seen truly snotty rejections and they’re almost never forms. They are personal rejections in the worst sense. These responses are aggressively rude, condescending, usually demonstrably clueless, and make you wonder why you sent that market anything in the first place. Life is too short. Granted, you will most often see this sort of thing from new editorial assistants drunk with power. Most either grow up or get kicked out, but they do a lot of damage along the way.
3) Long response times. I don’t mean three months, four months. I mean seven+ months to years. Again, this applies mainly to short stories. Novel submissions always take longer; that’s a fact of life. But short stories? I mean, sure, life happens, and sometimes delays are unavoidable. But habitual delays? No. I’ve let that happen to me before, and there’s no excuse for it. Either the editor is lazy, can’t make up their mind, or are taking a free option on your story in the hope that something better comes along before they need it. None of those three are acceptable reasons.
4) Lying. ‘Nuff said.
Writers are at a disadvantage here, but we’re not slaves, and especially now that we have more options to reach the readers. We’re doing this for love of the form as often as not but even there “publish at any cost” serves no one. I’m not saying you should be as picky as I am, because there are consequences to that and you have to be prepared to accept them. I’m saying you should have some standards, a point where enough is enough. In writing and publishing, as well as in love, no one who is not acting like crap deserves to be treated like crap. Don’t put up with it.