Welcome Edmund R. Schubert, editor of InterGalactic Medicine Show, an online, quarterly illustrated magazine that publishes a wide range of science fiction and fantasy.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your publication.
The first issue was published in October of 2005, and the first two issues were edited by Orson Scott Card, who founded the magazine and still oversees things as publisher. I started editing the magazine with issue three. Orson and I worked hard last summer to put everything in place to ensure that IGMS was an SFWA-qualified professional market. The SFWA now recognizes all sales to our magazine (retroactive to the first issue) as professional sales.
In addition to the online magazine, Tor also published a print anthology this past August collecting a sampling of stories from the first two years of the magazine, and Audible.com is in the process of recording all of the stories from the anthology for their website.
How did you get involved with editing fiction?
I had been editing a non-fiction magazine for a while, but IGMS is my first foray into fiction. I knew Orson from having attended his Literary Boot Camp in 2004, and then subsequently selling him a short story for the first issue of IGMS in 2005. In early 2006, he and I were discussing a contract I had just received on my novel, Dreaming Creek, and the conversation turned to other things. In the beginning it was a round-about kind of conversation - I think he was casually interviewing me without specifically saying so - but in the end he told me that he was having trouble keeping up the magazine's production schedule because of all of his other commitments, and asked me if I would take over the day-to-day operations for him.
What about a manuscript grabs your attention and makes you consider making an offer?
In the end I'm looking for two main things. The first is readability; there are a lot of people who have interesting ideas and interesting characters, but not all of them have the writing skills to make their prose so smooth that I forget I'm reading. I want to get lost in a story, and anything that jars me out of the world they've created is a problem. The other thing I'm looking for is the same thing you hear from editors all the time: that perfect combination of compelling characters doing compelling things in compelling situations and settings. Blah blah blah...
Frankly, the more work I do on the editing side of the equation, the more convinced I become that good stories are not about any one, big ‘ah-ha-this-is it' kind of moment; they're about a million little things all coming together just right. That's why it's so hard to quantify. The problem is that while the big picture is not that hard to see -great writing, great characters, and compelling situations -- the big picture is actually a jigsaw puzzle, made up of hundreds of unique but interlocking pieces that all have to fit together. That's hard to describe, and even harder to do well.
Do you ever work with an author on suggestions for re-writing a story?
All the time. I'm a hands-on editor, and I don't think an issue has been published yet that doesn't have at least one story that I worked with the author quite a bit on. Believe me, I'm thrilled to find a story that I think is perfect just the way that it is - that's a lot less work for me - but that does not happen too often. And I don't view my job as simply finding stories that are publishable; I think my job is to find stories that are publishable (or very nearly so) and then helping the authors make their work that much better, if I can. I say ‘if I can' because sometimes I see the problem right away, which makes it easy to fix. But sometimes, even though I know something is wrong, I have no idea what it is, and I have to let it go. But it's worth it, and I think the extra effort pays off. One out of every five stories we published in 2007 got Honorable Mentions in Gardner Dozois' current Year's Best anthology.
Short stories used to be considered the entry point for new authors in science fiction and fantasy. Do you think this is still the case, or is the emphasis more on novels?
Writing a short story is a very different kind of skill from writing a novel. Some people are naturals at one length and struggle with the other, and vice versa. Personally, I grew up reading and loving short stories, and I find those easier to write, so I struggled to get Dreaming Creek up near the ninety thousand word mark. On the other hand, I recently bought a short story from David B. Coe, who has about ten novels published (that are probably all at least 125K words long), and he told me that story was only the third one he ever sold.
The thing to remember is that short stories serve different purposes for different writers. For established writers they are a good way to keep their name in the public eye. Nobody has made a living writing short stories for several generations, but viewed through the prism of marketing, they can still be quite valuable. On the other end of the spectrum, yes, they are absolutely a great way for newer writers to learn the necessary skills, and I personally know one writer (albeit outside of the realm of sf/fantasy) who got an agent and then a novel contract based on the strength of her short fiction. But that's rare, and I don't think anyone should go into short fiction thinking that's going to happen. Use it as a way to develop your skills, but if you're going to have a career writing fiction, you have to write novels (and even then it's damn hard to do full-time).
You're also a fiction writer. How do you balance the writer with the editor? How do these jobs influence each other?
On the positive side, editing has exposed me to a lot of different writing, some of which was good, a little of which was great, and a lot of which was dreadful. You can't help but learn from wide exposure like that, and I honestly learn as much, if not more, from the bad stuff than from the good stuff. Seeing what doesn't work and understanding why helps me to (hopefully) avoid the same pitfalls.
On the other hand, it is so hard to turn off the internal editor and get a first draft down on paper. I write three words and immediately this little voice in my head starts screaming at me. That sucks! You can't write that! That's stupid! Good God, you'll embarrass us all, what are you doooiiiiiing...! Fortunately for me, I already had the first draft of my novel finished before I started editing IGMS. I know that I was able to apply some of what I learned from my work on IGMS to the editing process on Dreaming Creek, and the book is better for it. But boy, writing that next one has been tough...
Are your favorite pleasure reads markedly different from the fiction you edit?
I still read genre fiction because I want to at least try to keep up with what's going on in the industry (though I know I'm never going to fully succeed at that). I also try to make a point of reading novels written by friends and people in the business whom I know. I like being able to honestly tell them that I read their book, and to talk intelligently about what I did or didn't like about it.
To tell the truth, though, the reading that I enjoy most these days is non-fiction. As little as five years ago I didn't read a lot of non-fiction books, but they have some how morphed into my favorite reading material. I'll start reading something as ‘research' for some story I want to write, and before I know it I've read a half dozen books on the subject. But like I tell my kids, as long as you're reading something, it's okay.
Is there anything else you'd like to address?
Just to mention that although IGMS is set up such that you have to buy a password to access the stories in any given issue, we do have some freebies. If you'd like to sample some of our offerings, go to www.oscigms.com (or if you like typing, you can also do the longer www.intergalacticmedicineshow.com). Near the top of our homepage you'll find a link to a note about four of our stories that can be read for free. Also, all of our monthly columns - book reviews, movie reviews, etc. - are free all the time.
Thanks for having me. If anybody has any questions about editing or publishing, please feel free to email them to me. My email address is on the IGMS page of my website: www.edmundrschubert.com