Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Market Report: Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show

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Genres: SF/F

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Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show is a SFWA-qualifying market publishing both science fiction and fantasy. There publish a good range of material (for example, they're far more open to humor than most other top SF/F venues) and commission an original illustration for each published story.

The following is an interview with editor-in-chief Edmund Schubert:

Beyond the obvious level of competence, what are you looking for in a story? Can you describe what makes something an optimal IGMS story as compared to stories that might appear in other SF/F venues?

For me the trifecta for a great story is character, voice, and plot. If you can nail at least two of those three things, and competently handle the third, you have an excellent chance of getting published. And while a great voice always catches my attention, I’d say that the thing that differentiates an optimal IGMS story is plot. I say that because I feel like so many of the other markets/venues emphasize voice over everything else, and plot has somehow become the poor redheaded stepchild in the short story family. Character endures; I don’t think anyone would argue against that. Voice can be very compelling and I could name numerous authors whose voices have absolutely made their career. But I’m old-fashioned. I like it when something happens, something that matters to the character and to the reader.

What is your slush process? Can you describe the journey a successful story takes from submission to acceptance?

IGMS has somewhat of a two-headed slush process, though all of it runs through our website. Our managing editor Kathleen Bellamy is the nexus, routing things into the right hands.

The main slush pile reading starts with assistant editor Sara Ellis, who had been with the magazine from the very beginning (even before OSC handed the reins of the magazine to me). If she doesn’t like a story, it gets rejected. (We get as many as 3,600 subs a year.) If she likes it, it goes back to Kathleen, who then sends batches of stories to assistant editors Eric James Stone and Scott Roberts.

Eric and Scott have both been through Orson Scott Card’s Writer’s Bootcamp, and both are also winners in the Writers of the Future contest and published authors, so I have all the confidence in the world in them. But they have slightly different tastes (as do all editors). If they both like a story, it goes (again, via Kathleen) to my inbox. If they both don’t like it, it gets rejected. In the event of a tie, it goes to Chris Bellamy, who casts the tie-breaking vote.

Slightly separately from that process, we allow writers who’ve either graduated from a major workshop (Clarion, Odyssey, WOTF, Bootcamp) or been published in IGMS before, to skip the first slush pile (read by Sara) and go straight to step #2 with Eric and Scott. That’s also done through the website, and from there the process is the same.

I only have to look at about 400-500 of the 3,600 total submissions, but all of the obviously bad ones have been weeded out, as have the marginal ones, so at this point I’m usually reading the whole story. I buy or reject from there (though I can think of a story or two that Sara, Eric, and Scott all LOVED that I published even though I wouldn’t have selected it on my own). I also try to give a bit of personal feedback to the author of each story I reject, because if they’ve gotten as far as my desk, they’re in (or close to) the top 10%.

You're looking for PG-13 material for IGMS, and I often talk to writers who second-guess whether certain stories of theirs that push the boundaries a little should be submitted. Do you tend to reject stories that venture into the rated R territory, or do you work with the authors to "tone down" a story if other aspects of it work for you and your associate editors?

I greatly prefer working with an author and ‘toning things down’ than rejecting a piece. It actually happens with some regularity already, so if an author is thinking about rejecting themselves from IGMS, I’d ask them to not do that. Occasionally I’ll see a piece where the R-rated elements are so intrinsic to the story or the character that there’s no way around it. But more often than not, all that’s required is a little creativity, and extra creativity always enhances the tale.

How closely is Mr. Card involved with IGMS? Does he help select stories for publication? Read the magazine? And can we expect to see another story from him in IGMS anytime soon?

Fortunately for me, Card is so busy with all of his other projects that he doesn’t have enough time to be hands-on with IGMS. I say ‘fortunately’ because the level of business that pulls him in 48 other directions is the very reason he decided to hire me to edit the magazine in the first place. At this point his only involvement in selecting stories is 1)the stories he occasionally brings back from Bootcamp and wants to publish, and 2)the stories that I have written myself. I sold a story to him for the inaugural issue of IGMS when he was editing it (I became editor with issue 3), but we have published four other stories I’ve written in the eight years I’ve been editor. But they always go to him first; I would never feel right publishing my own material.

As for seeing more OSC-written stories in IGMS, let’s just say that it’s always possible. We’ve published a few pieces he wrote over the past few years, but we realized pretty quickly that his original plan (to have a new OSC-penned story, specifically, one set in the Ender universe) was not sustainable.

And I know he reads the magazine at least occasionally, because every now and then he’ll make a comment about it (usually something he particularly liked or appreciated about a piece we published).

IGMS is unique among SFWA-qualifying markets in that it's a web-based publication that is behind a pay wall. Do you think this is a successful model going forward? Are SF/F readers willing to pay for quality content?

Baen’s Universe was also behind a paywall, and I suspect that both of those early models—some of the very first online magazines with a paid staff and SFWA-pro status—were originally based on the old publishing model of print magazines like Analog and Asimov’s. Clearly people are willing to pay for quality content because we’ve had thousands of people subscribe, but at the same time, the model has evolved. The bottom line, however, is that in one way or another all magazines need a revenue stream of some kind or else they would fail (as many ‘zines have). Whether you pay a subscription fee or donate during fund drives or whatever else you do, ultimately there has to be money coming in.

Having said that, I recognize that a lot of what is published online today is free, and that people don’t necessarily want to spend money on something they haven’t been able to see/read/explore, so IGMS is launching a new plan to make some of our stories free on a rotating basis. Our book reviews, movie reviews, writing advice column, etc. have always been free, but starting in late May, we’re are also making full issues of stories available for free. You’ll still need a subscription in order to read the latest issue (and to have access to the entire catalog of stories), but right now the next-to-most recent issue (currently issue 38), is free. Then once issue 40 is published, issue 39 will be free. And so on. We’ll keep rotating issues so that people are able to see what we’re currently publishing. In addition to that, we are also going to publish (one issue at a time) our back issues for free. IGMS is a bimonthly magazine, so in those months between the release of the new issues, we’ll make one old one available as well (some time in mid to late-June), starting with issue #1.

The next two issues are going to be edited by long-time associate editors, Scott M. Roberts and Eric James Stone. If you could give them a single piece of advice, what would it be?

I would tell them to be free to do their own thing. When I first starting editing IGMS I did an interview (I think it was radio) along with OSC, and I made the comment that I was going to do my best to make sure the magazine reflected the tastes and sensibilities of the man whose name was on the cover. Card immediately interrupted and said, “No, I want you to put your stamp on the magazine. I trust you. Make it your own.” So my advice to Scott and Eric is exactly the same. You were hired in the first place because we trust you. Make each issue your own--and have as much fun as possible in the process.

Are there any other writing or editing projects you'll be concentrating on while Scott and Eric guest-edit IGMS? Any other forthcoming publications to plug?

In the forthcoming publications department, I have a story titled “Feels Like Justice to Me” appearing in an anthology called Big Bad 2 (set to be released around Labor Day). It’s an interesting anthology in that all of the stories are written from the POV of the ‘bad guy.’ I had a lot of fun writing it, and I just found out a few days ago that it’s going to be the lead story in the antho. I’ve been published in various anthos before, but it’s the first time a story of mine has been the lead and I’m tickled the editors chose my piece.

As for my hiatus from IGMS, I have a YA novel that I started a while ago (I got about 25,000 words in before getting sidetracked) and my main priority is to finish that. I also have four or five short stories in mind, and a non-fiction book I’ve been research for several years now that I’d like to get started on. Let’s just say I’m really excited about writing again and plan to make the most of it!

1 comment:

  1. Great interview. I always appreciate these kinds of insights. Thanks, Alex and Edmund!