Interview: Stanley Schmidt - Analog Editor (Part 2)
by Ernest Lilley
Review by Ernest Lilley
Date: 26 July 2007
SFRevu: Analog's editorial lineage is about as impressive as it gets; Campbell, to Bear to Schmidt...and it's been your job for the last 29 years (right?). Are you still having fun?
Stan: It will be 29 years on September 1, and if I weren't still having fun, I wouldn't still be here. It's hard to imagine a job I'd rather be doing. This one gives me lots of chance to play with ideas and confer, converse, and otherwise hobnob with a wide range of fascinating people: writers, artists, readers, and the staff right here on the magazine.
SFRevu: Can you tell us a bit about the editorial process? How does a story go from arriving in the mail (snail or e) to published in the magazine? Do you pay a flat rate for words, and do you pay established authors more than non?
Stan: When stories come in (by mail), I read them-all of them, There are a lot of popular but counterproductive misconceptions about "pro piles" and "slush piles" and the importance of the author's name, but the simple fact is that I read everything and the author's name has no effect on the final decision. Necessarily I read some things much faster than others; I can often tell very quickly that a story simply doesn't interest me enough to be a real possibility, while a story that is almost what I want can take a great deal of time and work to get over the hump. The "pro pile" exists only in the sense that I sometimes put aside stories that I know I'm not going to be able to speed-read, e.g., because I haven't been able to speed-read anything from that author in the last fifteen years, or because somebody I've never heard of has hooked me with the first sentence. Finding new authors is the most exciting thing that happens to me in this job, and I'm always looking for them.
In rare cases, I'll simply buy a story after reading it and being satisfied with it. More often, I'll like it almost enough but not quite, and then I'll try to figure out why and write the author a letter, hoping that he or she will be ale to find ways around my objections and come up with a version we both like better. Most often, of course, is that the story simply goes home with a form letter. I wish it didn't have to, and it doesn't necessarily mean the story is "bad." We get about 100 submissions a week, so I can only buy 1 or 2% of them and comment on a handful of others.
Once I do buy a story, I turn it over to Trevor Quachri, who very ably handles the actual production details, from detailed copyediting and typesetting to proofreading and layout. For all this he starts by getting an electronic copy of the manuscript from the author whenever possible; for production we really need that, but we can't accept electronic submissions (e-mail or disk) for the initial reading. If the story's content warrants and the budget permits, I'll also request an illustration, and suggest an artist to the art director (based on the pictures that form in my mind as I read).
Our word rate varies somewhat depending on the length of the story (it's highest for short stories and lowest for serials, on which we buy fewer rights than for shorter lengths), but we have standard rates that anybody can read on the "Submissions" section of our website. Where a range is given, newcomers start at the low end, but if they sell us a few stories we start considering them "regulars" and bump it up a bit.
SFRevu: What sorts of stories are you interested in, and where (and how) should submission be sent?
Stan: The stories I like best are ones I didn't know I was looking for until I saw them, but in general I'd say my ideal is a thoroughly engaging story about interesting and sympathetic characters (human or otherwise) caught up in situations in which some original, speculative, but at least marginally plausible scientific speculation plays an integral role. That means you can't take it out without making the whole story collapse, and nobody should be able to prove it's nonsense. It does not mean that the story is primarily about the idea, or that the idea has to be rigorously extrapolated from known science.
Submissions should be sent-again, hardcopy only, with SASE for reply (and return of the manuscript if you want it, which hardly anybody does any more)-to me at Analog, 475 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10016. Full details and helpful tips are on the website I mentioned earlier, and I strongly urge writers to carefully read and follow the guidelines there.
SFRevu: I understand that the short story is dead everywhere but in SF and F. How did we happen to escape the plague?
Stan: I'm not sure how we escaped, but it may have something to do with the fact that a lot of SF writers are still interested in ideas, and a lot of ideas lend themselves to being tossed out and explored in short story form. Actually, with the current cultural epidemic of short attention spans, I wouldn't be too surprised to see the short story make a comeback in other areas, too-though it may be that many attention spans are already too short to sit down and actually open a book or magazine.
SFRevu: One of the things that always attracted me to SF was that it was a fun way to actually learn something about the universe, and occasionally, about people as well. I'm a bit sad that "exposition" in stories was a casualty of the "New Wave War" and that Fantasy has taken such a strong hold on young readers. I find Patrick and Theresa Nielsen Hayden's idea that part of SF's problem is that nobody writes at the 101 course level...whereas you can understand what's going on in a Fantasy novel just by having heard a few fairy tales. (I realize that's an implied question at best.)
Stan: Maybe it's time to shake off the stigma attached to exposition, and get people thinking about how to do it well. I suspect many of us, even those who sneer at "infodumps," would find that much of what they most remember from favorite stories was exposition, but incorporated into the story so skillfully that they didn't even notice. So how did, for example, Asimov, Heinlein, and Anderson do it? (I have plenty of answers to that one, but I'd like to see more readers and writers try to figure it out for themselves.)
SFRevu: Among the many things you're famous for is your (and Joyce's) love of travel. Have you always been a rambler? Did Joyce come along for the trip or was it the other way around?
Stan: I've always been at least a "would-be" traveler, and a real one for as long as I've been able. Joyce and I are a very good traveling team: sometimes she comes along on my trips (e.g., if I have to go to a convention in a place she'd like to go), and sometimes I go on hers. Usually it's at least largely a joint thing, and in fact we met on a trip: a biology department camping trip (er, field course) run by the college where I taught and she was a student.
SFRevu: What's your travel style? Do you land in one spot and strike out to see the surroundings, or is the trip the real journey? Do you stay with friends (we'll be happy to put you both up in DC), five star resorts, or hostels?
Stan: We have a wide range of travel styles, enjoying everything from wilderness backpacking to luxury hotels. We just got back from a week of hiking and kayaking in Glacier National Park; when I taught college and had summers off I sometimes went on multi-week, cross-country road trips punctuated by camping and staying with friends. In general, though, we tend to spend more time in the country than in cities; to do our own planning (we usually avoid organized tours and resorts); and to take full advantage of serendipity. And when we go to another country, we both always try to learn some of the language before we get there.
SFRevu: On my first trip out west (being from the east coast) I was stunned by how much of what I'd always taken as genuine alien-ness was really just the land and people of the southwest. As you've gone around the world, have you found settings that made you think of alien landscapes? If so, where's the most "unearthly" place on Earth?
Stan: I'm still looking for the most unearthly place on Earth, but two wildly different candidates spring to mind among places we've already been. One is the Badlands of South Dakota, where the hills have shapes that make them look much bigger than they really are; so as you walk among them, the scale feels all wrong. The other is more an experience than a place, but it happened in a Mayan village I once visited in Guatemala, where I felt much more alien than I expected. I'd previously been in another one, on the other side of the same volcano, where everybody spoke beautiful Spanish, so I expected that in this one, too. But here, as I gradually realized, the only language in use was Tzutuhil (of which I'd never even heard), and my attempts at verbal communication were all futile.
SFRevu: Any upcoming travel plans?
Stan: We're looking forward to going to the Worldcon in Japan next month, which will be our first trip to Asia. We haven't been able to spend as much time as we'd like studying Japanese (among other things, I'm finishing up a nonfiction book for Prometheus), but we have a secret weapon. Joyce's brother is the head librarian at Sophia University in Tokyo, knows both the language and the country very well, and has kindly offered to shepherd us around a bit after the con.
SFRevu: Stan, thanks for taking the time for us.