The SF Waiting Game

A long time ago (I won’t say how long) I sent off a short story that showed a lot of promise to a magazine. I waited patiently for a response, three months went by, then six, then twelve… a response, a rejection came back after three years. Yes, I did say THREE years. I won’t say which market it was, but it was in the USA and has since gone out of business.

By that time, and actually long before that, I had lost interest in that story. It had an important idea, attached with an important message. But after three years my writing style had moved on and the subjects I was interested in had moved away. Even now, I don’t feel like picking up that story to edit it at all. So, not being able to send that story out to another market while it was fresh meant the science fiction was and still is a poorer place.

But this waiting game seems to be the norm for many markets. Take the open call for Harper Voyager at the end of October 2012. A lot of people are still waiting for a response, 16 months on. On the normal course of events, the writers will have moved on in their writing style and interests. If any of them get accepted, will they want to or even have the heart to pick up a novel they sent out over a year ago? The waiting will have certainly dented their enthusiasm.

But is this waiting around for a response making science fiction look more jaded than it should be? Well, it will certainly come through in the writing styles and vocabulary if nothing else. It gives off the aura of being written quite some time ago, and people do notice!

I have recently noticed several magazines speed up their response times. Some have done it by implementing an on-line submission system. Others have just cleared a backlog and got months down to days. Hurrah!

That was the good news. I have also noticed that some anthologies have had to extend their deadlines. The fact that they have been kind enough to keep us informed and of why means I won’t point fingers at them. But there are still magazines that take an eternity to respond. There was one story of mine that has been with a magazine for well over a year now. I got the automatic receipt Nov 25th 2012. I sent a query recently. Got no response. So sent an e-mail formerly withdrawing my story. I won’t be sending to them again or any of their associated magazines for that matter.

This kind of behaviour brings the name of science fiction into disrepute. Yes I know sometimes there are extenuating circumstances, but this kind of thing is happening far too often.

The only thing writers can do is to stop sending stories to such misbehaving markets. Which is where the services of sites like Grinder and Ralan are useful. They eventually point the finger at the those publishers that are sluggards at responding. Well done them!

But what about the bad name this behaviour is giving science fiction? There’s not a lot I can suggest, except one thing. That is to encourage short story magazines and anthologies to guarantee to get back to the writer with a decision within four months and novel publishers within eight months. Eventually I would hope that this would become an industrial standard, so much so any waiting time over and above this without a satisfactory explanation would be taken not only as down right rude, but also as unacceptable.

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3 thoughts on “The SF Waiting Game

  1. I think you will find that a lot of the problem is that the slow responders have not moved with the times and their systems are still back in the dark ages.

    In fact there are many advantages for a publisher to convert everything they do over to all electronic production and farm out the printing to a specialist printing company where hard copy books are needed.

    As far as I am concerned science fiction publishers should be at the forefront of this all electronic production even going as far as not having an office as such because everyone works from where ever is convenient for them (the only physical space required would be for a mail address for the odd paper items and a conference room for the odd face to face meetings, both of which are available for rent). I very much doubt that this will happen because too many people are wedded to the idea of everyone going to work in an office, the usual response to home working is that people will miss out on the ‘office interaction’ which, if looked at dispassionately, is generally bunkum, especially in the publishing world.

  2. Hello Ivan,
    I agree with what you say.
    Unfortunately there are some publishers who even after they’ve installed all the modern apps to speed up turn-around times still take too many months to come back with a decision. Here it is a people problem – they basically think what was good enough for writers in the past is good enough for them in the future. They’re the ones that will eventually find they miss out on quality stories because writers will submit elsewhere, which is the start of a vicious spiral into decay (less good stories, less good sales, less funds to purchase good stories, less good stories… until finally the publisher has to close down).
    The sad thing is that in the early stages of such a vicious spiral they take some excellent stories down with them, like the one I mentioned having a three year wait before I got the rejection.
    Best wishes, Rosie

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