Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Interview with editor John Joseph Adams of Lightspeed & Nightmare

W1S1: Lightspeed covers the full range of SF and fantasy and you like people who "push the envelope." Do you have have any favourite themes? Any pet hates?

I do, but I always hesitate to name either favorites or pet peeves, for fear of influencing the submissions pool too much. For instance, I don't want to say I hate some particular kind of story because even if I hate that kind of story IN GENERAL, if I come across the best example of it ever, there's a good chance I'm going to like it. And I wouldn't want to dissuade a writer from sending me that story because they'd read in an interview somewhere that I said I hate that kind of story.

On a related note, I don't want to get overrun with themes that I DO particularly like, and then get so sick of them that I don't like them anymore. But even without me saying so, I think it's fairly easy to look at my body of work at this point to figure out what kind of stories I like and don't like, and with regard to themes ... well, I've done several theme anthologies, so those are some pretty big hints as to what's up my alley.

W1S1: What are the most common mistakes writers make when submitting to Lightspeed?

It's hard to generalize, but I guess the most common "mistake"--if you want to call it that--is just that the prose is not up to snuff. A fairly large percentage of the stories submitted to Lightspeed, or any magazine, just aren't well-written enough to be publishable. Otherwise, I guess the most common thing is that the writer does too much "throat clearing" at the start of the story--i.e., takes his or her time getting to the main thrust of the story, and so the editor loses interest before getting to the good parts.

W1S1: Do you see trends in the stories writers submit to you? If so, does being part of a trend help a submission or work against it?

Oh, sure. That's part of what helps me decide what anthologies to do. That was a huge factor in me pursuing Wastelands, for instance. Post-apocalyptic fiction had long been a love of mine, but what really made me think that it was the right time to pursue an anthology was the vast number of writers who were writing stories on the subject that were being submitted to F&SF (where I was working at the time). I figured that if that many writers were moved to write about that subject, there was a good chance that there would be a good amount of readers who would be interested in reading about it.

As to whether being part of a trend helps or all depends on the trend, and how played out it is. I guess I should specify: I can't imagine it HELPING in any way, since stories have to stand or fall on their own merits, but I could see it hurting your chances just because editors might be overloaded with that kind of thing, if enough people are writing it that it's a trend.

W1S1: If you could change anything about the publishing industry today, what would it be?

I would erase the words "Anthologies don't sell" from the memories of everyone working in publishing. It's been common knowledge in publishing for so long, it seems like half the editors that get approached with anthology proposals won't even consider them. There have been plenty of anthologies over the past several years--including some of mine--that disprove that maxim, but it's still something anthologists bump their heads against over and over.

And hey, if I'm erasing the memories of people, I might as well take it a step further and do some inception on the reading public, and implant the idea that short fiction is just as good as--and often better than--novels. The sad truth is, no matter how many fans an author has, only a relatively small percentage of them will ever seek out his or her short fiction, and the percentage of readers who seek out anthologies or short fiction collections on their own is vanishingly small compared the number of readers who regularly consume novels.


  1. It's nice to get an editor's perspective on things. Thanks for taking the time to share your insights!

  2. Great interview! Thanks!

  3. Great to read thoughts of an editor of two great magazines. Thanks John!