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Editor Interview: Asimov's Science Fiction

Q: Describe what you publish in 25 characters or less.

A: Chacter-driven SF

Q: What other current publications (or publishers) do you admire most?

A: Analog Science Fiction and Fact, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons

Q: If you publish writing, who are your favorite writers? If you publish art, who are your favorite artists?

A: This is a difficult question to answer because I publish so many terrific writers. While singling out some now, I'm sure to miss many of my favorites. Some of my most recognized authors include Connie Willis, Robert Silverberg, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Nancy Kress, Robert Reed, Carol Emshwiller, Neal Barrett, Jr., Tanith Lee, James Patrick Kelly, Rudy Rucker, Paul McAuley, Paul Cornell, Allen M. Steele, Stephen Baxter, and John Kessel. Other excellent authors are Chris Beckett, Christopher Barzak, Kij Johnson, Steve Rasnic Tem, Melanie Tem, Mary Robinette Kowal, Elizabeth Bear, and Theodora Goss. Some new writers include Felicity Shoulders, Ted Kosmatka, Will McIntosh, Sara Genge, Alice Sola Kim, Aliette de Bodard, Ken Liu, and William Preston. There are many names that I'm leaving out because I'm not thinking of them at the moment.

Q: What sets your publication apart from others that publish similar material?

A: While Asimov's primarily publishes well-written science fiction stories there is also room for the occasional fantasy, story about science, and story that's a borderline mainstream tale with fantastic elements that are hard to quantify. This philosophy results in an eclectic mix of tales, but, apart from the occasional ghost story, you will rarely find a supernatural tale in Asimov's and we publish almost no horror.

Q: What is the best advice you can give people who are considering submitting work to your publication?

A: I am avidly looking for science fiction stories and I never get enough of them. Stories that start off with people waking up, having breakfast, and/or dealing with boring jobs almost never appeal to me. Most stories are underpopulated. A lot of the tale can be told through the interaction of characters. Many of the stories I publish do have unhappy endings, but killing off your main character or deserting him or her to a woeful fate is often the lazy way to end a story because it doesn't require the writer to think about what will happen next. That doesn't mean I'm looking for happy endings, but I do like to see the character's personal growth (and, failing that, a clever reason as to why not).

Q: Describe the ideal submission.

A: Paul Cornell describes a perfect Asimov's story this way: "[The]... emphases on character, atmosphere and storytelling give the title the feel of a superior Twilight Zone, with the difference that magic is never invoked, these being SF, or sometimes what one might call literary short stories about scientific speculation. The lyricism of a lot of the telling makes that point easy to miss." A story from a new writer has to catch my attention in the first paragraph. I need to have the sense that the author is confidently in complete control of where the story is heading. That doesn't mean that I need to have any idea as to where the story is going, just that I should fasten my seat belt and trust that the author is going to keep me interested in the journey.

Q: What do submitters most often get wrong about your submissions process?

A: Authors will send along a rewrite of a story shortly after the initial submission (and before she or he has heard from me). Sometimes the rewrite is just a matter of fixing a couple of typos. I never read the rewrite because our system always presents me with the oldest story first. I end up deleting the rewrite and resenting that the author expected me to read the same story twice. If I want a rewrite, I'll ask for it. Also, no story is rejected simply because it contains a couple of typos.

Q: How much do you want to know about the person submitting to you?

A: Very little. I don't have much time available for reading cover letters. No information is fine. A few words about previous publications are okay, but won't sell the story. I run a bit of biographical information with each story, but I always ask for that information after I purchase the story. There's no need to worry about including it in the cover letter.

Q: If you publish writing, how much of a piece do you read before making the decision to reject it?

A: The first few paragraphs often tell me that a story isn't right for my publication. Sometimes I read further than that. Many times, I skip to the end or skim through other parts of the story as well. If a story by an unfamiliar author is holding my attention I may read the entire thing or flip to the end just to see if it lives up to my expectations.

Q: What additional evaluations, if any, does a piece go through before it is accepted?

A: I may sleep on my decision about a story or work with an author on rewrites, but other than that stories are simply accepted by me. They do not go through a series of evaluations.

Q: What is a day in the life of an editor like for you?

A: Reading stories (and I look at all submissions) is only one aspect of my job. Ideally, I spend a week or two each month reading and evaluating stories. The rest of my time is spent on some production work, laying out issues, working with authors on rewrites, writing editorials, blurbs, and the coming attractions page, choosing material for the website, choosing cover art and artists, and myriad other tasks involved in publishing a monthly magazine.

Q: How important do you feel it is for publishers to embrace modern technologies?

A: I think modern technology is a very useful tool, but the content of the magazine remains the message, not the medium by which it is delivered. Our electronic submissions system is convenient and Asimov's digital editions can be easily downloaded and read on the Kindle, Nook, iPad, and other electronic readers. B&N and Amazon also offer digital subscriptions to the magazine. The most important thing about Asimov's, however, is the stories. They remain our focus. The reader may prefer to read the paper edition of the magazine or to peruse the issue on the Kindle, but, ultimately, what we hope they will gain in either instance is an enjoyable reading experience.