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June 02, 2007

Science Fiction and Electronic Submissions

I'm occasionally asked why I've never had a short story in Analog, Asimov's or Fantasy & Science Fiction. I've discussed the reason for this before, but it's been a while and enough has changed that I'll go ahead and address it again.

The reason I've never been in Analog, Asimov's or Fantasy & Science Fiction is:

I don't own a printer.

Which I would need in order to submit to any of those magazines, because none of them accept (unsolicited) electronic submissions. So in order to submit work to any of them, I would have to go out and purchase a printer, as well as ink cartridges, paper, stamps and envelopes. Then I'd have to get my act together enough to actually format, print and mail the story (and cover letter) off to the magazines. It could happen, but speaking from previous experience, i.e., during the years where I did own a printer and occasionally thought about querying magazines, it doesn't seem likely. Pretty much the only way I'm going to send anything to any of these magazines is if they start accepting (unsolicited) electronic submissions. I don't expect that to happen soon; they have their reasons for having their submission standards be what they are, and I certainly don't expect them to bend their rules for me. So: No Analog, Asimov's or Fantasy & Science Fiction for me.

Yes, I'm aware how deeply idiotic this sounds. I know it because I'm not a fool, and I don't confuse my own slothful nature with a right state of affairs for everyone else. I also know it because at the last Worldcon, the editor of one of the previously-mentioned magazines said that he'd like to see some work from me, and I said "Yeah, but then I'd need to buy a printer, and stamps and envelopes, and I kinda don't wanna," and then he looked at me like I was bleeding ebola virus right from the head. Which, you know. Fair enough.

The thing is, the reason I don't own a printer is that I don't need one. I've done fine building a career in fiction, non-fiction and in business working with clients and markets that do work electronically. One of the reasons I didn't buy a new printer when my last one died in 2004 was that I used it so infrequently that I couldn't justify the cost; I mostly used it for printing up pictures of my kid and my cat. When that printer died I decided to wait and see if I had any real reason to get a new one. I'm still waiting.

Now, I exist in this sort of blessed state for two reasons. The first is that when people solicit work from me, I let them know that electronically is how I work. This generally doesn't present a problem; rare is the individual these days who can't accept an electronic document and work with it on their end, if they choose to. The second is that when I go looking for clients/markets or whatever, I look for the ones that will take work the way I work. There are a sufficient number of these that I don't typically have a problem finding opportunities. I don't do this just with writing markets; one of the reasons why Ethan Ellenberg is my fiction agent is that when I was looking for an agent, I went looking for one who would accept a query via e-mail. He would. Not the only reason I went with him, to be sure. But it actually was a requirement.

Likewise, with science fiction short stories, there are markets who work the way I work. Strange Horizons published my first short story and I've been a big fan ever since. These days most of my short fiction gets funneled through Subterranean Press, either on its online magazine or through chapbooks or limited editions. Indeed, daresay Subterranean Press is probably the place that best gets the power of working electronically. To explain why, let me recount the experience of selling this particular work: I wrote it and e-mailed it to Bill Schafer at Subterranean; he read at it, approved it and paid me for it through PayPal. Elapsed time from submission to payment: about fifteen minutes. All handled electronically. Welcome to the 21st century; we have many wonders here.

(But, you say, Subterranean Online doesn't have the same number of readers as any of the Big Three SF/F magazines. This is true enough; it's new and building an audience. However, I have the same number of readers; I averaged 26,000 visitors a day during the work week last week, which is pretty much on par with the monthly circulation of any of the Big Three. Not every one of them is going to click through to a story of mine when I link to it, but enough will that I can say not unreasonably that when one of my short stories gets posted, it won't lack for readers. What the Big Three still have that online and other SF/F markets don't is a majority of Hugo nominators among their readers; getting published in the Big Three is still the best way to get your work considered for that particular award. I don't know that that will always be the case, however.)

Would I like to be published in Analog, Asimov's or Fantasy & Science Fiction? Sure; I like to read all of them and I like the idea of being part of a publishing continuity that includes so many of the authors I admire (this is assuming, mind you, that something I'd submit to them would be accepted for publication in the first place). But I'm not going to buy a printer just to send work to them. I'm not suggesting these magazines need to change their submission requirements, since nearly all other writers at the moment are not as profoundly electronically oriented as I am, or if they are, are not as gripped with ennui as I am when confronted with the need to print and mail something. I mean, I don't know why I manage to get away with this sort of crap; I don't suggest others do what I do.

That said, the native writing medium of nearly every writer my age or younger is electronic; I suspect at some point there'll be a bend in the curve where most writers will prefer to do their submissions electronically. Which is to say I strongly suspect most writers would prefer to do it that way now, and as time goes on more writers -- and the best writers -- will choose to hit first the markets that they see working the way they do. That day won't be a very good day for the markets that aren't working that way.

Posted by john at June 2, 2007 07:32 PM

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Hank | June 2, 2007 07:51 PM

You'd think the purveyors of the future would embrace the future.

Subspace | June 2, 2007 07:52 PM

I'm compelled to ask -- the pages you read from at the Cincinnati reading: mythical? Hewn from the ether? Painstakingly hand-penciled to mimic the look and feel of the printed page?

Natalie | June 2, 2007 07:55 PM

But then who printed out the pages of the new book that you read in DC. Not that I minded you reading those pages, but inquiring minds and all that...

critter42 | June 2, 2007 08:03 PM

Hotels have printers nowadays y'know :)

Alex S. | June 2, 2007 08:24 PM

So does Kinko's. :)

Btw, I do hope you consider (if you haven't already - I must admit, shamefully, that I haven't been watching) sending something to Baen's Universe. Quite a few people have suggested to the proprietor that you should be stolen out from under Tor, and something like this might ease such sentiments. (Though it might pour fuel on it, too - one never knows)

Mind you, I'm in very little way associated with that endeavor - primarily that I share webmaster duties on another site with the webmaster of that one, though the site I webmaster happens to belong to one of the editors.

Daniel B. | June 2, 2007 08:29 PM

At sfsite (www.sfsite.com/fsf/eitems.htm) f&sf's (excellent) editor gives his reasons for only accepting print.

F&SF is about my favorite sf magazine, I am a subscriber, and they have a reputation of being about the best out there in terms of how they handle their slush pile...but jeez some of those reasons seem strained.

For instance: "On average, it would take us approximately two hours each day just to download submissions"

What do they have, a 9600 baud modem?

The one thing they say that you can't argue with is that they hate reading on screen. Fair enough.

Also I would imagine their submission load would a least triple in quantity while lowering substantially in average quality if the hurdle of formatting, printing and mailing was taken out of the picture. They'd have to slog through a lot more trunk stories if it cost the submitter essentially nothing in time or money to fling it at them on a whim.

But I agree, as time goes by, I think they are going to lose more and more quality stories to venues that make it more convenient to submit...somewhere along the line one of the big three will start taking 'em, and then I bet they all will follow suit.

Robert Rummel-Hudson | June 2, 2007 08:33 PM

This morning I spent $40 having my edited manuscript printed and another $24 having it mailed to my editor and my agent. I'm ready for the 21st century now, please.

Lugo | June 2, 2007 08:53 PM

I had always understood it that most book publishers did not accept manuscripts electronically - you had to print it yourself and mail it to them, because they didn't want to have to print it themselves. Is this no longer the case?

Even if this is still true for a 300-page book, it seems a little odd that a magazine that specializes in short stories won't accept them electronically.

David Chunn | June 2, 2007 08:59 PM

Geez, my printer was only $50. And it's a decent printer. A little paper, a little ink and I'm set to go.

Of course, I don't want to submit any fiction on paper. I have need of a printer for other reasons.

Unfortunately, I still do my final novel edits using a printout. I'd like to dump this step, but at this point my work would suffer if I did. I'm trying to figure out how to duplicate this electronically.

Jon R | June 2, 2007 09:02 PM

Dude, I have a spare old printer for you... but another idea is have your agent do the printing and mailing for you. Y'know, to gain a rep as one of "those" self-obsessed rock-star authors who require special treatment and cannot be bothered with the trivial details of life.

I'm not saying Paris and Robert Downey Jr have similar world views... but you may wanna steer clear of law enforcement or anything representing "establishment" going forward.

Eric | June 2, 2007 10:06 PM

As a computer geek, I've been surprised at how low-tech science fiction publishing can be.

In tech publishing, we have bleeding edge outfits like the Pragmatic Programmers, who publish very popular tech books. They keep their manuscripts in Subversion, generate rough PDFs nightly, and start selling books as DRM-free PDFs once half the chapters are written. (You get the finished PDF at the end, of course.) Oh, and authors get something like a 50% royalty, which adds up, especially for the PDF+paperback combo sales from the publisher's website.

I don't even want to talk about how much money I've dropped on those PDF+paperback combos. For reference works, it's insanely convenient to have both. The Pragmatic Programmers are sneaky like that.

John Scalzi | June 2, 2007 10:09 PM


I had that printed up for me at the hotel I stayed at in Seattle. I'm not saying I don't ever use a printer. Just so infrequently so as not to make buying one a priority.

Alex S.:

I have thought of Baen's Universe indeed, although at the moment I don't have anything short story-wise to sell to them. It does seem unlikely, for various reasons, that I will be walking away from Tor any time soon. They seem to like me there.


It's true almost all publishers do not accept unsolicited manuscripts electronically. In my particular case, I managed to get around that when I sold my first book to Tor, and since then I've generally submitted my novels electronically to my editor. Likewise, my non-fiction books were all submitted electronically.

Jon R:

In fact, my agent does do the occasional printing and mailing. That's part of his job description.

Joyce Reynolds-Ward | June 2, 2007 10:15 PM

I may be an old phart when it comes to age (turning 50 this year!) but I sure am coming to prefer the electronic means of submissions above and beyond paper.

Look, major corporate types in the Real World do it. Even public schools are going to shared databases by state so that it's easier to transfer student records between schools. As a special ed professional, I write my Individual Education Plans and most of my other Federally required paperwork on a web-based program. Not only is it easier to transfer records this way, but when the Feds mandate form changes, it's easier to do.

Yeah, I do print out hard copies. I also print out hard copies of the daily writing to edit because I find using paper and pencil often gets things flowing when the pixels stop pulsing in workable patterns. But the current printer is more of a photo-oriented printer as well as a copier than a story printer; we use it more because we're too lazy to run down to the UPS store and make copies.

Besides, geez, have you seen the friggin' *lines* at the USPS lately? To mail a MS, I've gotta get two envelopes together, and find the paper that works best with the printer, and do *postage*--it's a lot easier to format for whatever the editor wants and zip it out there.

CosmicDog | June 2, 2007 10:29 PM

Right, I was thinking of Kinko's and then the fact that you have an agent popped into my head. It's his job to do all the non-writing work involved in selling your work, while you sit around being brilliant and artistic. Kinda like what Stevie Nicks did for Lindsey Buckingham, before they got that sweet Fleetwood Mac gig. In fact, I was thinking that it would be fun for you to send your agent to Kinko's to print up your manuscript, and when he returns, scream "Wrong F-ing Font!" and toss the printouts into the swimming pool. "Do it again, and this time, don't embarrass yourself."

(If any agents are reading this, my name is Dan Brown.)

Derryl Murphy | June 2, 2007 11:00 PM

I keep hoping that by the time the kids are old enough to be doing papers the teachers will take e-subs. But I doubt it. And for Aidan's science fair project this year we did a combo of our own printing and running a CD into Staples for them to print the fancy stuff.


Steve Buchheit | June 2, 2007 11:02 PM

Some of them are moving. Weird Tales just started accepting electronic submissions (thank you Ann VanderMeer!). I can see the reasons for not wanting to accept submissions this way if they aren't set up to handle them. Some magazines get hundreds of submissions every week. Paper is easier to move and is more transportable. Plus, you don't have to have a SPAM filter for hard copy, and the filter won't knock out someone's manuscript. I know the Slush God did email submissions for his Shimmer Pirate Edition gig. Maybe that might help bring F&SF to accept email submissions.

Besides, John, I thought you liked the long form anyway. And there's not much money to be made in short fiction.

What I would really like is for the markets to move away from having to format for re-keying in text. I mean, underlining for italic? Didn't we move past that in the early 90s?

John Scalzi | June 2, 2007 11:06 PM

Steve Buchheit:

"Besides, John, I thought you liked the long form anyway. And there's not much money to be made in short fiction."

Well, that does depend. I've made a rather substantial amount of money from "The Sagan Diary," for example.

That said, it's generally true that short fiction isn't worth the effort if you're just doing it for the money (I can make a lot more for the same time investment writing business articles). I do them for the amusement value, to try some new things in a low pressure setting, and to get better at writing in the format.

Simon Haynes | June 2, 2007 11:28 PM

I helped to set up an SF magazine here in Australia back in 2000. We made a decision from day one: we ONLY accept submissions via email. That way they can be forwarded to slush readers all over the country, automatically, and it means we receive subs from all over the world instead of just our neck of the woods.

And let's face it: with most submissions you only have to scan the first page to know it's not suitable. Reading off the screen isn't a big deal.

We recently received our 8000th submission, and if you think about it that's quite some saving in postage, paper, fuel for deliveries and so on.

Audrey | June 2, 2007 11:37 PM

I don't know if this is useful data, since I'm only running a teeny tiny publication, but my zine takes both print and electronic submissions, and so far we've been getting a couple stories a day by email, and all of two paper submissions ever (unless another one came in since the last time I checked the PO box, but we really get almost no mail). Which leads me to believe that yes, writers prefer email these days.

It's way more convenient for me, too, but I'd be willing to go with whichever format results in the best stories to publish. So far that's been electronic.

Tim Akers | June 3, 2007 12:06 AM

Interzone takes submissions electronically, though only during certain times of the year, depending entirely on the schedule of the editor. But with the last story of mine, I submitted it electronically, went through the proofing stage online and got paid in Chicago from London via PayPal. Yeah. That's hot science.

Jerry Wright | June 3, 2007 12:29 AM

We at Bewildering Stories are web-based, and so, email is the only way to go for us.

What I don't understand is that when one sends in a paper submission, it then has to be MANUALLY TYPED IN! (Assuming it is accepted.)

That seems to me to be insanity. An email submission is already in electronic format and can then be easily adapted to whatever you want; e-book, pdf, dead-tree, as I said... Whatever.



Jeff Porten | June 3, 2007 12:43 AM

Speaking also from the "need a printer so rarely I assume the cartridges have dried out every time I use it" crowd, I recommend the all-in-ones: very nice having a printer/copier/scanner all in one bundle. Mine ran me about a hundred bucks, IIRC.

I think the crucial part of the Subterranean anecdote wasn't the electronic submission, but the instapayment. That's the kind of editorial action that should have writers beating a path to their door.

John Scalzi | June 3, 2007 12:48 AM

Jeff Porten:

Yes, the promptness of payment at Subterranean (it pays everyone asap, as far as has been my experience with the house) is a primary reason it gets first look at my short work.

Ben | June 3, 2007 01:34 AM

I like the idea that a publishing houses are making things easier for people to A) submit work and B) for the staff to adapt or alter for format purposes. I can also see why such 'older' style publication want to keep to the older ways, image and the like, but really, they are SciFi based... Does that not entail some grasp of the future and new technology.
Oh and thank John - I am really enjoying "Old Man's War" - you need to get an Australian supplier it took 4 weeks for me to order it in from the local bookstore! (yes I know had I bothered to drive 3 hours to Sydney I could have bought it at one of the Bigger chains - but I likes my local store and they found it, ordered it and got it in for me - eventually)

Nick Stump | June 3, 2007 01:42 AM

I don't have a printer hooked up right now, but there's three or four around the house. I sometimes send my stuff upstairs to my wife's home office and print it out there.

I tend to write in different ways. Staring at a screen for hours makes my eyes blur. I keep large blank books, legal pads and good fountain pens around. I like the speed of handwriting. I type really well, (thank you, USAF) I find my hands can go faster than my brain.

Recently I was stuck on a movie script I'd been contracted to write. I just couldn't lock into the structure. I use Final Draft, a terrific screen writing program that takes all the suffering out of the archaic screenplay format problems. But for some reason I couldn't get the damned thing right.

I sat down with some nice legal pads and rewrote the thing in three days and it worked. I'm picky about how the paper feels, so I'll pay a extra for the right feel, either the gray Levenger pads, or those orange covered ones my bookstore sells. These pads are all way too expensive, but I figure if a script sells and they do on occasion, I should be able to spring for good paper that takes ink well. Plus, I like the way the pads look and sometimes it's important for me to feel like a writer in order to get started writing. I try to keep office hours, though I usually start a little later but I'll do anything I can to make me feel a bit more professional.

I used to keep an office away from home just to have a place to go work, though recently I work at home. Before, I would even go as far as to put on a white shirt and tie--anything to get me into the mindset that I was not fooling around but going to work. Even today, when I could sit around in my pajamas if I wished, I still dress for work and go into my office here at home. There's just something businesslike about it and it works for me.

Now I'm writing political editorials and can submit my work online. I love it, as I hate going to the post office. I'm sure soon I'll be sitting in my PJ's and silk robe. From there I'll be pouring a bit of bourbon in my coffee, smoking pot to clear my head and quickly end up in a flophouse talking about my salad days.

I don't know anyone in Hollywood who wants electronic submissions. That may have changed in the last year or two but usually they want the script printed in 12 point Courier, correctly formatted, three hole punched and even the brads have to be of a particular type. With the Courier Font, it seems Hollywood is stuck in some 1940's time warp on such things, but they want it the way they want it.

I was surprised to see John didn't use a printer but he's fairly invested in and on the leading edge of the internet so I understand. It takes all kinds, and I bet if all the writers on this blog told about their process, there would be a wide range of methods.

Anyway, who can dispute John's success. Whatever he's doing, he seem to be doing it well and that's all that counts.

Bill Schafer | June 3, 2007 02:56 AM

One of the nice things about reading and paying so quickly at SubPress is that I don't need to remember to do it later, hence folks who accept PayPal get paid -- in general -- a few weeks earlier than those who require a paper check.

Also, when working with someone we know, I'll generally send out an email outlining our publishing terms rather than a standard contract. Even some agents who handle short fiction have gone down this path agreeable -- though I should note those who do are agents/writers we've worked with before and recognize this is just a paper/time saving device for us all, rather than part of a scam.

And then there's the BIG name sf writer I've only done a contract with once, and handshake deals every time since. It's been one of the most rewarding relationships in my career thus far.


Bill Schafer | June 3, 2007 03:09 AM

One other thing while I'm thinking of it. Mike Resnick and I were just having this same discussion a week ago, and he was outlining how long it took him to get an acceptance/contract/check from one of the big three, and how long it took to do so from me (about one day.)

We also discussed the difference in selling a book to, say, us, and one of the bigger publishers. We recently did a two book contract and I actually paid him before we signed contracts. As you can expect, Mike LIKES the lack of hoops to jump through, and they were a reason he's going to be writing six Lucifer Jones short stories for us over the next year, and we're going to be doing two books together. I can't pay him what NY can, of course, but I'm willing to look at projects that are close to his heart, and with fewer flaming obstacles of approval/presentation to sales, etc., he's more than happy to work with our budgets.


Ian | June 3, 2007 05:38 AM

Do they accept handwritten manuscripts? Brush up on your calligraphy and the Hugo is yours.

Gadi | June 3, 2007 07:25 AM

In other words, you enjoy being able to rant about why not. :)

Patrick Nielsen Hayden | June 3, 2007 08:10 AM

Why would we at Tor mind if John sold something to Baen's Universe? We like Baen's Universe. I'm a subscriber. What am I missing?

Patrick Nielsen Hayden | June 3, 2007 08:33 AM

This discussion is a bit eyebrow-raising, because both John and his commenters seem to be indiscriminately mixing up two very different senses of the word "submission."

I understand that Asimov's, Analog, and F&SF don't accept unsolicited electronic submissions. Neither does Tor. What I know about Tor, and John knows it too, is that once we've actually bought your book, we're perfectly happy to accept delivery in electronic form; in fact, we generally prefer to.

What's not clear from this discussion is whether the three magazines in question feel that way, or whether they require hard copies even after they've bought the story.

This paragraph from John contributes to the confusion: "It's true almost all publishers do not accept unsolicited manuscripts electronically. In my particular case, I managed to get around that when I sold my first book to Tor, and since then I've generally submitted my novels electronically to my editor." Yes, John, the way you "got around" our disinclination to look at unsolicited work in e-text form was by never sending us any unsolicited work. Your first novel was bought because I read it off your web site. Everything else was bought on proposal and delivered as electronic text, pretty much as per normal procedure with all the authors I handle. You've never "submitted" anything to Tor in the sense that the word is used when discussing over-the-transom submissions. You're someone with whom we have an ongoing relationship; even when you send a piece of writing or a proposal that I wasn't expecting, I don't have to root it out of a mail queue of 5,271,009 pieces of crap.

Like I said, I don't know the magazines' policies in every detail, but I can't help but suspect they're not all that dissimilar from ours. We don't accept unsolicited material in electronic form because, frankly, we already get a metric ton of slush every day and we don't really want to trade that for thousands of emailed manuscripts. We have a strong suspicion that requiring over-the-transom submitters to send an actual manuscript cuts down on the less determined, to good effect. And the plain fact is that the "unsolicited" channel isn't where we get most of our books. I suspect the magazines' experience is not entirely dissimilar.

John Scalzi | June 3, 2007 08:55 AM


I've updated the text to make it clear that the submissions I am talking about are unsolicited submissions.

Re: Baen: I think the poster is suggesting that Baen wants me for novels, and that in the absence of that (since I'm not likely to jump from Tor) they might settle for a short story.

Re: Rationale for submission guidelines -- you'll note that I did not say the Big Three were incorrect for having their submission standards; I'm sure they have their reasons and that they are good ones. Indeed, when I was the editor of a humor area on AOL, of all places, I demanded mailed submissions because I believed that price of a stamp (which I think was 35 cents at the time) was a bozo filter. And I was right.

That said, when I edited the Subterranean Magazine, all those submissions (about 500 or so) were sent via e-mail, and I didn't find sorting through them all that onerous. I don't think that's doable for a book publisher, but I'd bet there's a workable system that could be made for short story markets, even the Big Three (in my case: ASCII only, e-mails with attachments deleted unread, one submission at a time, and an understanding that people unwilling to follow rules would get a meeting with my e-mail kill filter)

As I noted in the entry, I certainly don't expect the Big Three to change their submission standards for me, nor is this my way of trying to get them to give me a back door into their magazine; I don't expect special favors. I'm just noting that it's not possible for me to meet their submission guidelines, so until those guidelines change, I'm not likely to submit work to them. I don't expect them to change those guidelines soon, so folks ought not expect I'll be in those magazines soon.

"Yes, John, the way you 'got around' our disinclination to look at unsolicited work in e-text form was by never sending us any unsolicited work."

Heh. I assumed most of the readers here are by this time familiar with how I sold OMW to you (which might not be a correct assumption), so I equally assumed they would find a bit of situational humor in that comment.

Bookninja | June 3, 2007 08:56 AM

Although I agree that the native writing environment for most writers of our (late 30s and earlier) generation is electronic, the native *reading* environment is still paper. In "You Aren't Fooling Anyone..." John noted that editorial guidelines are for the editors convenience. (Collectors note: 2 copies of YNFAWYTYLTAC ended up in the Nashville Public Library system, thus reducing the number of collectible copies within the limited run.) The big three magazine editors find it pleasant to receive printed submissions and John has decided not to participate - no loss on either end.

From my years in the science fiction section of a bookstore, no one came in and said, "I heard about this guy from his/her Hugo win in the novella/novelette/short story category." Some customers care about Hugo Best Novel winners, most don't know what the Hugo is. I may have said this before, but a shelf talker from the store recommending the book, or facing the cover towards the shopper at eye level, are the surest ways to sell a book in the store. A Hugo win in the "other categories" may give writers the warm fuzzies and have a trickle down from the staff who recommend/order books, but they didn't directly drive sales in my experience.

I thought of my reasons for printing things-
1) Editing of academic work (Scalzi is not is grad school, and based on YNFAWYTYLTAC doesn't need much editing anyway). I am a very visual thinker (organic chemistry, structural biology, etc...) and see text as little blocks which I shuffle around. Printing helps me think it through sometimes when I cannot see passages beyond the barriers of the screen.
2) Printing maps to get places. I get the sense JS doesn't have a lot of problems finding places where he lives.
3) Printing packing slips for book orders.
4) Printing "pay me back" forms for my dependent care personal spending account from work.

And so on, a bunch of task which JS doesn't execute. He'll probably have to get one for Athena's schoolwork at some point, but that's a few years away.

Beth Meacham | June 3, 2007 09:02 AM

Um, what Patrick said, since he got up earlier this morning than I did.

What I don't understand is that when one sends in a paper submission, it then has to be MANUALLY TYPED IN! (Assuming it is accepted.)

Once a manuscript has been accepted, the publisher wants an electronic copy. We try to avoid typesetting these days.

Another reason why high-profile publishers like Analog or Tor don't accept unsolicited electronic submissions is that there are crazy people out there. Crazy people who don't understand why we won't buy and publish their manifesto on the aliens who are controlling the weather. These crazy people get mad when you don't buy their manifesto, and are as likely to send nasty embedded viruses in electronic submissions as they are to send unparagraphed pages of threats in ALL CAPS.

I'm not kidding.

Also, for me anyway, I'm dealing in novel-length submissions. The way I work, I need to read hard copy -- I make notes on the page. I think it's your place to spend the money to print out a copy for me to read, not mine.

Solicited material, and books under contract are a whole different ball game.

Bill Schafer | June 3, 2007 09:10 AM


I have to admit I cringe at the thought of ever having to wade through 500 unsolicited submissions in a year, let alone a month, for SUBTERRANEAN. Then again, you didn't have the book line to run the month you were doing unsolicited subs.


John Scalzi | June 3, 2007 09:25 AM


It wasn't so bad. I cut and pasted the stories into a single document, which I then put into a shared folder across my network. So I could pick up the document to read whenever I had a free moment. I color-coded the texts (blue for accept, green for maybe, red for reject, black for unread) so I had a visual guide to where I was in the process.

Most of the stories I rejected I knew I was going to reject by the end of the first page, so I didn't have to take too much time with them. Again, it wasn't a bad way to sort and read.

Karen | June 3, 2007 09:31 AM

If I am making notes on a novel manuscript, I like it printed out too; it's easier for me to read and mark up on paper. But at Strange Horizons, we're dealing exclusively in short stories rather than novel-length material, and it's pretty easy to do the whole thing electronically. For the record: we've been accepting unsolicited submissions since 2000 and haven't had problems with embedded viruses. This is because we won't look at any submissions that require us to open files. We used to ask authors to submit plain text; now we have an automated system through which they can submit RTF files to us.

We do get the occasional peevish letter from a disgruntled author, but another beautiful feature of the electronic submission is that it's easy to hit "delete" :)

Daniel B. | June 3, 2007 09:51 AM

A few guidelines can easily take care of virus threats--as John said: text only, anything with attachments deleted without opening.

I think act of sending a manuscript being a bozo filter is a hard argument to find fault with, though.

Are there -any- publications out there accepting unsolicited submisisons that counts toward SFWA membership, by the way, other than Baen's Universe? (I don't think Subterranean accepts unsolicited subs).

John Scalzi | June 3, 2007 09:55 AM

Strange Horizons now counts as SFWA-qualifying, I believe, and they accept unsolicited stories.

Greg van Eekhout | June 3, 2007 10:02 AM

Although F&SF doesn't read electronic subs, their acceptance/contract/payment flow is rather streamlined. The acceptance letter comes with a check and contract. Banking the check indicates your agreement to terms. I think that's neat.

And, Karen, I used SH's RTF system last night for the first time, and I have to say, it's super-duper neat.

Erika | June 3, 2007 01:04 PM

I actually bought a printer BECAUSE I am lazy. I sell stuff on eBay, and buying/printing USPS postage through PayPal is WAY better than standing in line at the post office. Print, stick, drop in mail box, dust off hands with satisfied smirk.

It's also invaluable for printing out knitting patterns I find online. Probably not a priority for you, I should imagine. The day someone invents a PDA/ebook-style knitting pattern reader will be a happy day indeed.

Printers, of course, are cheap. That's because they're priced and positioned as a semi-disposable delivery system for fabulously expensive ink cartridges.

Neil Clarke | June 3, 2007 02:25 PM

I know that both my editors and I find working via email to be more convenient. At Clarkesworld, we only take email submissions and I'm probably going to stick with that for the longer projects I take on for Wyrm Publishing. Four years ago, I wouldn't have said that. I don't think I appreciated the flexibility of the format until I started designing online courses.

Kathryn from Sunnyvale | June 3, 2007 03:04 PM

I think I'm happy to hear that the big 3 do their initial reading on paper, not screen:

Reading on paper is 10 to 30 percent faster * than reading on screen. That's as of 2001, and while better screens** have likely reduced the difference, it isn't gone.

Is this difference important for the slushiest 98%, if that can be weeded out by the first page? Probably not. But I'd think it's important for what I as a subscriber care about: separating the great from the good, and the stunning from the great. The more that editors can sustainably read, the better.


* Zaphiris and Kurniawan, 2001 "Effects of information layout on reading speed: differences between paper and monitor presentation"

** because the magazines will always have the latest flat panel and e-ink display technologies.

John Scalzi | June 3, 2007 03:13 PM

Kathryn from Sunnyvale:

"Reading on paper is 10 to 30 percent faster * than reading on screen."

Bah. I've been reading from both for years. I read as quickly in either medium.

claire | June 3, 2007 03:49 PM

I completely understand your disinclination to buy another printer. Mine still scans, but (presumably) some clog developed from disuse has kept it from printing since January. I'd rather not buy another, but I can't deny that editing my writing on paper is very useful and vastly different than editing on screen for me.

How has working solely electronically affected your writing process, if at all? Do you use technology to simulate multiple paper page editing (e.g., multiple screens for multiple page views and space for note-taking)? Or have you just adopted an electronic-specific methodology?

Alex S. | June 3, 2007 03:53 PM

John, close, but no see-gar. I'm saying that Baen readers are lobbying them to get your novels under the Baen flag (I suppose primarily because they'd really like to see electronic versions of your books made available), but might accept shorts.

Had Baen themselves wanted you, I'm sure you would have already heard from a more reputable source than a random blog comment poster.

John Scalzi | June 3, 2007 03:56 PM

Who says I haven't?

A.R.Yngve | June 3, 2007 04:11 PM


1. Aren't electronic submissions more environmentally friendly? Fewer dead trees means more CO2 is bound up in biomass...

2. I'm optimistic: eventually, e-ink technology will become as ubiquitous and eye-friendly as paper.

3. But will reading off screens affect the prose itself? Do you think the style of writing in manuscripts has changed in recent years, to suit screen-reading?

Nick Stump | June 3, 2007 05:07 PM

For editing my work, I still like paper and a blue pen, but that says as much about my age and how I learned to edit than what really works best.

The digital age has changed everything. I don't have a website for my music as I haven't been on the road in several years. I'm planning to go out again as I'm recording a new CD this summer. For the first time, I will be booking jobs via the internet, sending all promo electronically, and for finally, I'll offering The entire Metropolitan Blues All-Stars catalog for download. I'll be going online with this in the fall. It's a big jump for a aging band that have some recordings only available on vinyl. Should have done this years ago, but I was involved in other projects. My daughter works for a well-know house music label. She tells me it's gonna be just grand.

I have John and many of you to thank for finally convincing me I can make music available for free and end up making money. John and others here on Whatever have made a convincing argument for electronic media--even free media. So, this fall, I will finally step into the late 20th Century. It's been fun living in 1955, but it's time to move on. I'm very excited to see what happens.

One thing about it--I could hardly make less money on the music. My last ASCAP check was for 32 bucks worth of airplay in Australia and New Zealand. Yee haa.

Anonymous | June 3, 2007 05:11 PM

God am I with you on this. I own a printer but it rarely gets used. I work on the computer in all drafts. I ask my students for electronic copy and I mark on computer.

But furthermore, I am in the UK. My US publisher asked me for a print out. "But" I said "My paper size will be all wrong". "That's ok" they said "we can photocopy it on to US paper.


Farah Mendlesohn | June 3, 2007 05:11 PM

God am I with you on this. I own a printer but it rarely gets used. I work on the computer in all drafts. I ask my students for electronic copy and I mark on computer.

But furthermore, I am in the UK. My US publisher asked me for a print out. "But" I said "My paper size will be all wrong". "That's ok" they said "we can photocopy it on to US paper".


Dr. Phil | June 3, 2007 05:13 PM

I'm impressed, John, that you can work without a printer. I much prefer reading off of a LaserJet print than an inkjet -- if you don't do much volume or you go through long bouts of printer inactivity, you really want laser anyway, because you don't have to worry about the jets getting gunked up or corroded. My first LaserJet 4ML cost me a thousand dollars when work on a second Ph.D. suddenly required 40+ page papers. A second unit bought used on eBay a few years later cost $250. Both have been in service for more than ten years -- no problems to report.

I don't mind snail mail submissions, but then I'm still a "young" writer as far as my career goes and it isn't my full-time job. And anyway, I insist on hardcopy paper submissions for my Physics students' science literacy book reports.

I am surprised that the Big Three editor you talked to, who wanted to see some work, didn't offer you an e-mail addy when you said you didn't have a printer. After all, there is a difference between unsolicited submissions and requesting to see something. Their loss.

As for me, I take advantage of both screen and printout to do my editing -- it is amazing what things you can suddenly see by changing format and font. I grew up typing on a manual Royal typewriter with a chemical keyboard. Courier doesn't bother me, though I normally compose in other fonts.

Dr. Phil

Dr. Phil | June 3, 2007 05:18 PM

Farah - Being a total geek, I'm here in the U.S. but I have a couple of reams of A4 laser paper and a spare paper tray set up for A4. So I can send European markets in their own paper if I feel like it. (grin)

Dr. Phil

John Scalzi | June 3, 2007 05:33 PM

Dr. Phil:

"I am surprised that the Big Three editor you talked to, who wanted to see some work, didn't offer you an e-mail addy when you said you didn't have a printer. After all, there is a difference between unsolicited submissions and requesting to see something. Their loss."

Well, in the conversation I didn't get the feeling he was suggesting that I had an solicited invite, just that he wouldn't mind seeing some work.

Tom Myers | June 3, 2007 06:43 PM

Since you specifically mention Asimov's, I wonder if you remember his Union Club Mysteries -- not SF, but I believe relevant. (Spoiler follows, if anybody was about to go read them.) "He Wasn't There" (pp 35-41) ends with

"It lacked the essential. You can write without a library and without reference books. You can write without a desk. You can write without a typewriter. You don't even have to have ordinary paper...But, gentlemen, any writer will tell you that there is one object that no writer can possibly do without, and that object was not in the apartment...... A wastepaper basket! How can a professional writer do without that?"
I think you've found a way.

(It's funny that I never made this connection, when my own (computer, non-fiction, co-authored with A.D.Nakhimovsky) books with Wrox and Apress have all been electronic submission, and I've never bothered to enable the printer stuff on the laptop I'm using right now. But I didn't, and I thank you for pressing the point.)

Karen | June 3, 2007 07:06 PM

John: Yep, SFWA has recognized Strange Horizons as a fully qualifying pro market since 2002 (retroactive to the launch of the magazine in 2000), and we most certainly do accept unsolicited submissions. We discover all kinds of great new writers that way.

Greg: glad you like the RTF system, and I'll look forward to reading your story!

Deb Geisler | June 3, 2007 07:44 PM

That SF magazines don't allow for electronic submissions seems profoundly dissonant to me, too. (Then again, perhaps they stopped tracking on technology developments about the time Heinlein's books had people doing math on paper on starship decks...with slide-rules.)

But I'm not going to buy a printer just to send work to them.

Can't blame you...but with the right printer, now, the uses are many. We have this little color printer at NESFA...capable of printing on 42" wide paper...or 36" wide silk. So (with the artist's permission) we made this nifty door curtain for the NESFA Clubhouse.

(And just think, if you had such a printer, you could print a whole novel on 42" wide paper and send it to your publisher on April 1.)(Or you could print it on polyester flag fabric [ain't HP grand?] and send it in, telling the publisher that you just wanted to "run it up the flagpole and see what happens." The pun possibilities are endless.)

Alex S. | June 3, 2007 07:53 PM

Who says I haven't?
That's not my point, John.. My point was what the commenter was trying to say. ;)

Jon Hansen | June 3, 2007 07:58 PM

Two thoughts occur to me:

a) you'll probably need a printer as soon as Athena has some school project that requires that sort of thing (Science Fair displays come to mind), and

b) if you're lucky, someone will send you a free printer and save you the effort. Hey, you got a phone, didn't'cha?

Vox | June 3, 2007 08:03 PM

I think you're correct, John. We're about the same age, I've sold six novels and two non-fiction books and I've never sent in a paper query or submission except for one short story submission to Asimov's back in college.

One of the reasons I've never published any short fiction is that I don't bother submitting it anywhere once I write it. It's too much trouble to deal with SASE and whatnot for a few cents per word. I rather doubt the mags are losing any sleep over this, but I'm sure we're not the only ones who find them largely irrelevant either.

I have no idea why people don't like to read onscreen. I prefer reading on my Treo to reading a real book, there's nothing like having a gig's worth of books in your pocket and being able to read in the pitch dark so you don't bother the person sleeping next to you.

Patrick | June 3, 2007 09:24 PM

Heh. I assumed most of the readers here are by this time familiar with how I sold OMW to you

Nope. No idea how it happened. Started to get curious for a second, then realized it's probably listed in the archive somewhere and that would be the polite way to discover it, but would take too much work on my part. Like maybe 5 minutes or something.

But I did realize it would be rude to ask at this point, being that it is probably considerd common knowledge. Oh well. I live in darkness.

John Scalzi | June 3, 2007 09:30 PM

Well, Patrick, the short answer is I put it up here, PNH wandered by and saw it, and then offered to publish it, to which I said okay. I didn't have to submit it or anything.

Kevin Grierson | June 3, 2007 09:35 PM


If you've got work you would publish but for the fact that you don't have a printer and thus can't submit it, I (and I'm sure many others on the list) would be happy to print it and mail it for you gratis. I work at a law firm, and despite my efforts to be as paperless as possible, you can hear the trees falling as soon as the office opens in the morning.

John Scalzi | June 3, 2007 09:41 PM

Thanks, Kevin. When I need to print something, I'm taken care of. I appreciate the offer, however.

Patrick | June 4, 2007 07:07 AM

Well, that's easy enough. So your advice to aspiring writers is simply to self publish on their own blog and hope an editor notices, right? ;)

John Scalzi | June 4, 2007 08:02 AM

Heh. No.

Jo Walton | June 4, 2007 08:06 AM

I don't have a printer either.

Sasha does, though, because his school don't accept electronic assignments, except sometimes. (When he "handed in" a project by posting it on YouTube, I realized that we were truly living in the future.) So I can print things out by emailing them to him and nagging him to print them for me. But I don't, because I am also lazy, and getting him to format them properly is a lot of hassle. So I also only submit electronically.

However, I sold a poem to Asimov's. It should be in the next issue or the one after. They have paid me. I sent it electronically to a secret email address given me by Jane Yolen.

Theresa | June 4, 2007 09:20 AM

I am a beginning writer, and I wonder if I would ever face a dilemma regarding this issue. I would literally jump through a hoop if the publisher says that's what it takes for them to publish my work. Please don't laugh: y'all had days as a beginnign writer.

John Scalzi | June 4, 2007 09:24 AM

Who's laughing? I have the luxury of not having to jump through some hoops. Others don't; I'm not suggesting people see my eccentricities as guidelines.

Steve Buchheit | June 4, 2007 09:37 AM

Theresa, welcome to the Hoop Jumping 'R Us Club. We have a big membership list.

Heck, we'll even do flaming-hoop jumping if need be.

Karina Fabian | June 4, 2007 09:38 AM

I also submit most of my stuff electronically--though not with the success of you--but I fnd I need the printer. I do much better proofreading my work if it's on a page rather than on the screen.

Guess I'm old fashioned that way.

Patrick | June 4, 2007 10:50 AM

Secret handshake maybe?

Dr. Phil | June 4, 2007 12:40 PM

The problem with the secret handshake is to not burn yourself, the new initiate and/or the chapter house while you are juggling the flaming jumping hoops at the same time.

No one said getting published was easy, but they never told me I had to be coordinated, too.

Dr. Phil

Corby K | June 4, 2007 01:45 PM

I wonder: I submitted to Strange Horizons and Chiaroscuro, and was rejected from both. It was nice submitting electronically, and nice to be rejected so quickly (so I can get it out to other markets; that was not sarcasm), but I do have one question. As there seem to be at least a few professional editors and writers here, I'd like to know, other than the amount of work involved to line by line critique a story, if it would be possible to give a word or two of encouragement and/or hint as to what would make that story a bit better.

As John said, he could usually tell by the end of the first page that a story was going to be rejected. So, then, you can tell by the end of the first page what is wrong with the story, or at least one of the things wrong with it. When the rejection notice comes in, since it's an email, would it be possible to make a comment like "Your story does not match our current submission guidelines. Work on the plot line." or something to that effect? I mean, you have to email back anyway, and you've at least made some critical determination as to the reason the story sucks, even if it's just one quick thought. Would it hurt to let the writer know why?

Kathryn from Sunnyvale | June 4, 2007 02:25 PM

Corby: Would it hurt to let the writer know why?

It'd hurt me as a reader, I think.

An editor is paid for their ability to quickly find that a story is a "No," or a "Yes" or a "Wow." Once they've reached a "don't want," I don't want them spending even a few minutes trying to tease out the exact reasons why. If they're flowing with their skills, they wouldn't necessarily have the exact reason verbalized- they'd just know.

Perhaps back in the 20th century one could ask them for more. Not now- not with the internet- because for every professional editor there'll be thousands of potential readers who can help tell you what's weak with your story.

My understanding is that for "close, but no" stories, they often will add notes to the rejection. That's reasonable, because a "close" story will have already made them explicitly notice the story's problems, so that's no time lost. [Where's that list of the 14 (12?) stages of rejection, where the last one = story is accepted?]

John Scalzi | June 4, 2007 02:39 PM


You're thinking of Teresa Nielsen Hayden's "Slushkiller" essay:


Corby K | June 4, 2007 03:02 PM

"If they're flowing with their skills, they wouldn't necessarily have the exact reason verbalized- they'd just know."

This sounds a lot like the old adage about porn - "I know it when I see it."

Basically, if there is no definitive criteria of why it's being rejected, it just is, then there is no definitive way of getting better. You just are or you aren't.

Corby K | June 4, 2007 03:27 PM

Thank you, John. Having now read that site, and getting an idea of what the editor goes through, or rather, more of an idea, I can take a deep breath, remind myself it really is not personal, then dive back in.

Which I was doing anyway, but sometimes you just need to know what other people went through so you don't feel so alone.

Kathryn from Sunnyvale | June 4, 2007 03:57 PM

Corby K,

You should check out the Slushkiller essay URLed one comment upthread. While it is about novels*, the editor's knowledge applies to short stories as well.

From what I know, the only way to get better is to practice, including the practice of accumulating rejection slips. With a few exceptions, I'll bet that published writers all went through the uncommented rejection stage. They practiced their way through it.

You can can get detailed feedback from a multitude of places online. Given that this vast resource exists, I (as a reader) don't want editors to feel obligated to give feedback other than for the "not quite, but close" stories. I want them to give me great stories, and that means they spend their time efficiently.**

I once asked for magazine slushpile stats. I was told that (iirc) 1/3 were horribly dreadful, and 1/3 were merely bad. Of the remaining 1/3 that were at least mediocre, less than 1/3 were good, and of those, less than 1/3 were great, i.e. one in one hundred.

Given those stats, finding that one great story is already going to take an editor quite a bit of time. Do you as a reader want editors to spend time with the mediocre stories, especially given that many of those authors are prone to taking the details so personally (see slushkiller) that they won't use the advise?


*TNH edits books. Do you read Making Light? If not, the essays on writing and the SF story business are informative.

** Which includes reading on paper, if there's even a 5% differential in reading speeds. (Lucky you if you can read just as fast online. I once had to test it (had several thousand pages of SEC filings to read for work) and found a 20% difference.)

Martyn Taylor | June 4, 2007 05:25 PM

I (usually) write to screen but revise on paper - its just the way that works for me, the carthartic effect of red pen on white paper (it looks like a disease but it, in fact, the cure)

My current novel went to my agent electronically and is seeking out a publisher electronically (seek and destroy?)

I know electronic submission works but this old dog still has doubts. What can I say? Woof. I'd quote Dylan, but it would be way too obvious.

Martyn Taylor | June 4, 2007 05:25 PM

I (usually) write to screen but revise on paper - its just the way that works for me, the carthartic effect of red pen on white paper (it looks like a disease but is, in fact, the cure)

My current novel went to my agent electronically and is seeking out a publisher electronically (seek and destroy?) so I know electronic submission works but this old dog still has doubts. What can I say? Woof. I'd quote Dylan, but it would be way too obvious.

Mary Dell | June 5, 2007 02:22 PM

I own a laser printer (love it. LOVE IT) but I'm incredibly lazy about dragging my butt to the post office. In fact, I'm procrastinating about doing a final polish on a story I want to submit to F&SF, not because the polish is a pain, but because the subsequent manuscript prep/mailing/etc is such a pain...maybe I'll risk missing out on a Hugo and sub it to strange horizons instead.

For those who want to live printer-free without missing out on paper-only venues, you can upload, print and ship a document via fedex.com, without ever touching paper, stamps, or getting out of your chair. They can probably print & include a SASE too. Or you can just have them print it and pick it up at your local shop.

JC | June 5, 2007 02:43 PM

maybe I'll risk missing out on a Hugo and sub it to strange horizons instead.

This year, a story from Strange Horizons got nominated for a Nebula and another one got nominated for a Hugo. So, it's possible to sub it to SH *and* win the Hugo!

Dario | June 7, 2007 11:23 AM

The problems mentioned by the f&sf editor are mostly because of not having sufficiently mature tools to receive the subsmissions electronically without disrupting their current workflow.

Some items will become irrelevant: downloading times for submissions that are plain txt files are almost negligible by today's standards (a novel may be 1-4MB).

And being able to read it in a paper-like fashion is doable with the new e-ink based devices, as the Sony Reader. Also, there are readers than allows you to anontate the manuscripts (iRex Iliad). And those are 1st gen and 2nd gen devices.

So, it's matter of time (I hope).

Jazz | June 8, 2007 03:51 PM

By the way, does Subterranean Magazine normally accept unsolited stories? Do you know where I can find the guidelines? The website is parrying all my advances.

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