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Saturday, July 04, 2009

John Scalzi Scolds The Big Three...

...(Asimov's, Analog & F&SF) for resisting email submission. Go thou here and read,

I believe Scalzi makes some excellent points. I submitted a story to F&SF a couple months ago and received the rejection in about 33 days. Now, that's amazing turnaround time for a print publication, but seeing as I've received a rejection last week from GUD in something under a week (in fact it was something like 2 or 3 days; I'm thinking the likeliest reason for the rejection was that it was submitted on the last day of their reading period and they did, in fact, not read the story, but rejected it as they already had too many other submissions they needed to go through, but that's merely a suspicion), one has to wonder why the Big Three haven't gotten into the act of accepting email submissions. Scalzi's points are all dead-on accurate in my opinion.

Now, I am regular over on the Analog forums and occasionally visit the F&SF and Asimov forums as well. We've had some discussions regarding this, particularly over on the F&SF forums. Scalzi's a participant, as I recall, over at F&SF too and most of his points can be lifted directly from F&SF's webpage regarding electronic submissions (, but they don't make much sense to me except for the one regarding not liking to read a document onscreen (more on that in a minute).

The webpage states that it would take them approximately 2 hours each day just to download the submissions. Considering that my home desktop connection is cooking along at 100 Mbps and a 400-page Word document is about 800 kb (1.68 MB in rtf format), that document should download in something considerably less than a few seconds by my calculations. In my opinion, this argument doesn't hold water unless the magazine is receiving thousands of submissions every single day.

The webpage states that the risk of computer viruses is higher if they accept electronic submissions. My answer to that is also simple - get some good virus protection software, multiply-redundant layers of protection, or as Scalzi suggests, simply require the submission to be pasted into the body of an email (there are potential problems with this using Word, however, but I get around that by cutting & pasting and then saving the document in Notepad) use a form submission system such as PseudoPod does or as a special submission message like Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show does. Running a computer of any type today without some kind of virus protection is simply inexcusable and begging for attack. Several of the major players in the email markets today also have auto-scanners built into their email software (I know Yahoo mail has this, for example).

F&SF states that the editor doesn't like reading on the computer screen. Well, what the heck does he think the people submitting to his magazine are doing every single day for hour upon hour? I'd bet he has a Kindle or a Palm or some other type of PDA. How's he like reading that? My Palm is very convenient to read with. I can even edit documents right on screen using it. The newer iPhones and Blackberries all have easy-to-read screens and built-in editing tools.

They say that's it's inconvenient to pass an electronic document around in their their office. Does the office need a computer or networking update? My Palm, my Blackberry, and any of my computers will send data to my computer, my Blackberry, or my Palm with at most a few keystrokes. My desktop and my 2 laptops and my mother's laptop can all share documents in the blink of an eye on my home network. Hire an intern to network your office machines and teach your office personnel how to use your devices more efficiently. That's my solution for your inconvenient problem.

The webpage states that printing out the submissions would use a ream or more of paper a day. Okay, that one I can buy, but it does draw into question the statement that downloading the documents would require 2 hours a day. A ream of paper is 500 sheets. A typical 5 thousand word story runs about 20 pages (double-spaced in 12-pt Courier New). So, a ream of paper should net you around 20-25 stories printed out. A good Brother laser printer ran me $200. A ream of paper (good stuff, 24-lb, 98 brightness) costs me $3 at WalMart. I can buy it cheaper in bulk with a case of 10 reams running $25-30. The Brother laser cartridge is rated at a duty cycle of around 1500 pages for $50. That's 3 reams or somewhere around 60-75 stories printed per cartridge - and that's if you bother to print out everything. That seems like a pretty trivial cost to me. By the way, that laser printer spits out 17 pages per minute so it won;t take much time to print an entire month's worth of submissions.

Finally, the F&SF webpage states that the editor has found it much easier to lose electronic documents than paper ones. I find this preposterous on the face and nearly a blatant admission that the editor is either extremely disorganized or extremely ignorant of the way email and electronic submissions work. I have documents online with AOL (my primary email client) that go back years. I keep my emails separated in specific folders and route them to those various folders with a click of my mouse. Simple, easy, cheap, and searchable if you need to go back and find something from several weeks to months to years ago. I have a 750 GB MyBook standalone hard draive which is used to store important documents. I have a CD and a DVD burner with which to store documents offsite. I have a 2GB and an 8 GB thumbdrive and several 1GB SDRAM chips to move documents around from my computers to my Palm and vice versa. Backup documents are cheap, easy, flexible, and extremely convenient to manage. I keep an Excel file that tracks my submissions and which could easily be jiggered to manage submissions received by F&SF. I'll send them a copy for free if they'd like to see it.

Here's the way I see it - the editors of the Big Three, while they champion science fiction and fantasy - have been left in the dust by modern technology. They don't understand how it can be used to make their lives easier and their submission/rejection processes far more convenient and flexible. As Scalzi states, they seem to be stuck in the 1970s with slow machines, slow connections, slow technology, slow mindsets, and they're resisting being brought into the 21st Century kicking and screaming.

Now, for what it's worth, F&SF turns around its slushpile amazingly fast and I'll submit to them again, but the statements being made on their webpage regarding why they do not accept electronic submissions are either blatantly false or show an amazing degree of unsophistication with modern technology.

I'd be happy to help them at least move into the 1990s if they'd like.

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