Vol2 Updates 18 May 2011 05:10 pm by Matt

Insights we’ve gleaned from the submissions so far

We’re a little more than two weeks into the submission period, which means we have a little less than eight weeks left to go. Without giving too much away, I figured this would be a good time to update everybody on how that process is going. Summed up in a single word, I would say: Awesome!

So far we have about 100 submissions, which is amazing in itself. I’m a fairly slow writer – it’s more likely that it’ll take me two years to finish a story than two weeks – so seeing what many of you can do in a short time period is incredible. We’ve also gotten lots of new creative ideas so far, which is exactly what we’re looking for. Already, we’ve seen stories set in different times and places, as well as different genres, different types of characters, and different ways of looking at the machine and its predictions. This is great!

A delicious curry
This is a delicious curry, not a delicious soup — but the analogy stands.

There are already 100 submissions – should I still send in a story?

Absolutely, yes! It’s a really funny thing putting together a book like this. It’s actually very rare that all three of us read the same story and immediately say, “Yes, we must definitely have this story in the next book!” That’s because the book doesn’t exist yet. We’re building it from scratch and literally ANYTHING could go in there.

In a lot of ways, putting together an anthology is similar to making soup, or picking a stock portfolio, or fielding a basketball team (pick your favorite simile). Among all the other things we have to consider, we also have to think about how well the stories work together. So our mission isn’t simply to find thirty excellent stories. It’s to find thirty excellent stories that can be combined in a way that each story benefits the others. We’re looking for the right mix of vegetables, starches, and meats (or whichever of the other similes you preferred) to make the whole soup taste amazing. And in order to do that, we need the biggest possible basket of excellent ingredients to pick from.

This does mean that sometimes really wonderful stories get left out. That’s always a tough call, and we hate it when that happens. But we’ve been talking about ways we can use those stories somehow in the future. For instance, we’ve been reviewing some of the submissions we passed over for the first volume again. It’s possible that some of those stories might make it into Volume 2. Or we might do something else instead. But now that we know people are willing to read these stories, we aren’t going to let any of the great ones get away! So if you write us an excellent story, we are going to do our darnedest to use it one way or another, even if it won’t fit in the book.

In total, I’m hoping to read at least 600 stories for this new book. That’s in the same ballpark as the number of submissions we got last time, and it should be achievable with the volume of submissions we’ve gotten so far. Don’t let us down!

M. Bennardo reads a book unpretentiously
M. Bennardo, editor, reads a book unpretentiously at home. Photo by K. Sekelsky.

Can you tell us a little how the reading process works?

We’ve had a couple questions about this, and the answer is that all the stories are read by the three of us (that’s Ryan, Matt and David !). We don’t have any readers or assistants or freelance editors helping out – it’s just us. We’re not sure yet how to train somebody else to pick the kind of stuff that we would like, so that’s why we want to do it ourselves. Besides that, it’s a lot of fun.

Right now, we’re getting between five and seven stories a day, so we’ve been able to keep up pretty well with the incoming volume. As we get closer to the deadline, I’m expecting that we’ll receive more stories each day and that they’ll be longer on average. Depending on how many stories come in later, we may start dividing the reading duties. (We had to do this last time during the heaviest weeks or we never would have finished the reading in a reasonable amount of time.) It’ll still be just Ryan, Matt, and David ! reading the stories and every single story will get read – but it might only be read by one or two of us instead of all three. So if you want to make sure that all of us get a chance to read and fall in love with your story, I recommend sending it in sooner rather than later!

There’s another reason to send your stories in sooner, too. As soon as we read a submission, we make some notes about our impressions – what we liked, what we weren’t sure about, how we think the story will contribute to the book overall. Sometimes these notes spark discussion and debate. Sometimes a conversation about one story continues when we read other similar stories later. But the earlier we read your story, the more time we have to talk and think about it, and the more time we have to fall in love with it. You should definitely only submit your story when you think it’s finished – don’t rush it! But if you have the chance to get it in earlier, it might be to your benefit!

Word count of submissions
Comparative word counts of submissions received so far versus great works of literature. Help us put Ayn Rand’s verbosity to shame!

Is there anything you want to see more of?

I don’t want to give out any specific writing prompts because we’ve already supplied plenty of guidelines. And the stories we’ve read so far have been very creative and diverse, so I don’t even have any unfulfilled wishes in that department – except to continue to be surprised. But here’s what I can report so far.

Most stories are short. Since submissions have only been open for a little more than two weeks and since longer stories take more time to write, this is not really surprising or troubling. The average word count right now is a little over 3,100 words, which is just perfect for lots of stories. We would never encourage anybody to stuff padding into a tight story just to increase the word count. But I’m looking forward to the longer stories as well, since they bring a different flavor to the soup. So don’t be afraid to submit a 5,000 or 7,000 or even 10,000 word story if that’s how long it needs to be! (Anything over 10,000 words might be difficult to fit into the book, so you may want to consider that an upper limit.)

People live in different places. We’ve been tracking demographics as much as we can with this batch of submissions. We didn’t really pay attention to this dimension the first time around, so there have been some interesting discoveries. So far, we’ve gotten stories from people living in eight different countries on three continents. We’re still waiting for our first submissions from Asia, South America, and Africa. And if anybody in Antarctica has the time and an Internet connection – that would be incredible! (Dare I even suggest the possibility of submissions from the International Space Station?) It’s pretty neat to know that folks all over the world are interested in this book. We hope we only get more diversity!

Women are underrepresented. The other interesting piece of data that surfaced is that so far only 22% of the submissions are written by women. (As far as we can tell. We’re using first names and hints from the short bios to determine sex, so there’s another 5% – 10% that we can’t be sure of.) This was kind of an eye-opening moment for us, so we tried to do some more research into this. One source of data that we found is Strange Horizons, which has summarized its submission statistics for years now. In 2010, they reported that 30% of their submissions were from women and another 13% were unknown. Clearly, they’re doing better than we are when it comes to attracting women writers – but even their numbers are pretty troubling.

We’re new to this editing thing, and as independent editors we don’t even have access to the same industry resources and experience as other publishers might. So we don’t really know what this means or how to explain it. We could speculate, sure – but that’s just so much hot air without more data to back it up. We also don’t know if there are similar entrenched disparities that aren’t so easy to pick out using contact info – our submissions might also be disproportionately weighted to writers of a particular age, race, sexual orientation, religious belief, political affiliation, or educational background. We would have no idea.

So I’m going to end with a two-part call to action. First, we know that women are underrepresented in our submissions, so if you are friends with an amazing writer who is also a woman, please encourage her to submit a story to us! And second, if you are friends with any amazing writer of any sex, age, race, and all those other things, please encourage him or her to submit as well! There are no doubt many viewpoints and experiences that are underrepresented in fiction today, but the only way we’ll ever get a chance to bring them to the world is if they are submitted to us in the first place.

5 Responses to “Insights we’ve gleaned from the submissions so far”

  1. on 19 May 2011 at 12:08 pm 1.Jeremy said …

    I’ve just asked my talented female writer friend to submit something! Yay!

    MB: Excellent! Thanks for spreading the word!

  2. on 19 May 2011 at 2:41 pm 2.Dina said …

    I am friends with myself, so… time to get cracking!

    MB: We’re looking forward to reading your story!

  3. on 20 May 2011 at 1:02 pm 3.James said …

    If I do submit a story, will you guys send a heads-up stating that you finished it or that you liked it and you’ll consider it if you thought it was good, or say that it’s not what you guys are exactly looking for if you didn’t like it? I can handle rejection pretty well. 🙂

    MB: Hi James! Because we want to give every story a fair chance, we’ll be responding to everybody at the same time, once we’ve finished reading everything. This means you may not get a reply for a few months. However, we expect to have our final selections finished by Oct 31, so you should get a response no later than that. (Hopefully sooner, but that depends on how many submissions we get!)

  4. on 23 May 2011 at 3:53 pm 4.Xiao Mao said …

    Are you factoring in the illustrations submissions? If so, you got one from a woman in China.

    MB: I wasn’t counting portfolio submissions. But you’re right! With those included, there is even more diversity so far!

  5. on 26 May 2011 at 10:26 am 5.Lynx Cat said …

    Oops! I went on vacation and forgot all about MOD 2! Will get cracking on a story now. Expect a submission from South America (specifically Brazil) any time soon!