Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Twinkle, twinkle...

I have a super-secret work IM account that I only use for conversing with colleagues and my husband. I try not to use it much for things other than planning and work-related stuff, but occasionally I just have to IM Josh and complain about something so I can blow off steam and get back to work.

You might be surprised at what I have to complain about.

[Me]: goddammit, i just got another starred review in
[Me]: people are going to think i'm a soft touch
[Josh]: Hmm. Not after they meet you

I actually cracked up laughing at my desk. It's certainly true that upon meeting me, people are far more likely to think I'm a harsh critic than to think that I have to restrain myself from scattering stars hither and yon with abandon.

Star recommendations always make me happy, though, even when we have "too many": it means that good books are being written and published, and that I'm picking the right books to review and the right reviewers for the books. Occasionally I have to override an overzealous star-giver, but for the most part I'm happy to take my reviewers' recommendations. Otherwise, why would I want them reviewing for me? And at a glance, this particular book seems to deserve it.

[Me]: actually, i think i might put it in this week's drop
[Me]: as i suspect the new [author name redacted] will also get a star
[Me]: and that's slated for next week
[Me]: and we already have a star for next week
[Josh]: Well, it is christmas
[Me]: that's not a good reason!
[Me]: are there no remainder bins? are there no street vendors?
[Josh]: Ahaha
[Josh]: You will be visited by three critics....

Monday, December 17, 2007

How I do PW stuff, part 1: "When will my book be reviewed?"

A brief preamble: please to note that these posts are about how I do PW stuff. Other editors may work very differently.

One of the most common questions we get from publishers is "When will my book be reviewed?". I hate this question. I get it all the time and even when I know the answer--which I don't, always, as things frequently get shuffled around--it's a pain to look it up for every query and then send a reply.

There are plenty of reasons a review might be pushed forward or back at the last minute. We might find out in proofs that we have too many reviews, or too few. We might have three starred reviews slated for this week and none for next week, or vice versa. I might realize that three of the six reviews slated for this week come from the same publisher, and choose either to include a seventh review from another publisher or move one of the three to a different drop. A usually punctual reviewer might be late just this once. I can tell you which reviews I expect to publish in all four January issues, but I can pretty much guarantee that at least one of those drops will be rearranged between now and then.

I do understand that some publishers may find this frustrating. Fortunately, with a bit of calculation, it's easy enough to figure out approximately when a review will appear (A), based on when the galleys were sent (S) and the book's publication date (D):

S + 60 days < A < D - 35 days

That is to say, the review is unlikely to appear fewer than 60 days after the galleys were sent, or fewer than 35 days before the publication date. There are always exceptions, of course, but that's a good rule of thumb. As an example, today (December 17th) we received galleys for a book that will be published on April 15th. Since we got the galley today, let's assume it was sent December 14th.

12/14/07 + 60 < A < 4/15/08 - 35
2/12/08 < A < 3/10/08

Of course, since it's an April book, A has to be less than 3/1/08, and A is always a Monday, which further narrows it down; but still, that gives us plenty of time to have the review published on 2/18 or 2/25, and if the reviewer is quick I could even get it into the 2/11 issue. That's a pretty comfortable window.

60 days may seem like a long time. I was a little startled the first time I worked out that number, but it's pretty accurate. Here's where it comes from: the life cycle of the average PW review.

Day 0: Two galleys of a title are shipped to PW.
Day 1: Galleys arrive at PW. Bookroom staff open the envelope and shelve the galleys in the appropriate section of the bookroom.
Day 4: I go to the bookroom and see the galleys on my shelf. I decide whether the title is worth reviewing. If it isn't, I put it on our reject shelf and pretty much forget about it. (I don't log or track my rejects or inform publishers that their books have been rejected; don't have the time for it. I keep them until the pub date is past and then they go on the Free to a Good Home cart outside the bookroom.) If it is, I choose a reviewer.

This is the first major possible delay point. If I think a particular reviewer is just right for a book, but they're already working on something else for me or they're on vacation or whatever, I will wait to send it to them until they're ready to get it. I try not to keep galleys around for more than a week, but it can go as long as two or three if we get the galleys far enough in advance of the title's publication date. More on that below. At any rate, let's say that this time we only waited two days for the right reviewer to become available.

Day 6: One galley is mailed to the reviewer. The other is put in a pile on my desk.
Day 8: The reviewer receives the galley.

Here's the second major delay point. Most of our reviewers can review a book in about two weeks, but some take as long as three or four. Let's assume this one takes two weeks.

Day 22: The reviewer sends me the review.

Here's the third major delay point. I often get reviews weeks in advance of when they'll be published. Today I received the review for a title that's not slated to appear in the magazine until our third January issue. I schedule things this way so that if someone fails to make a deadline, I have plenty of backup material. Let's say this review is slated for the drop that's due two weeks after I receive it; that's about average.

Day 33: I edit the review, using the duplicate galley for fact-checking.
Day 34: I realize that it's a starred review and I already have two starred reviews for this drop. I don't like including more than two stars per week--it makes us look like we give them out too freely--and all three titles really deserve their stars, so I bump this title to next week's drop.
Day 43: I turn in the drop that the title appears in.
Day 46: I answer copyediting queries for that drop.
Day 50: I go over the page proofs and make final corrections.
Day 60: The issue appears.

I didn't fudge those numbers even a tiny bit, by the way. They came out to 60 all by themselves!

Not every title takes two months from receipt to review--it's conceivable that I could get something in today, give it to one of our super-fast last-minute reviewers, get the review Wednesday, and put it in Friday's drop--but I'd say that's about average. Now factor in that we review books at least two calendar months ahead of publication (which in practice means at least five weeks, as e.g. an early March book could be reviewed in the last January issue), and you can see why we request that publishers send us books at least three and preferably four months in advance of the pub date. To go back to that formula (S + 60 < A < D - 35), it's in the publisher's best interests to make sure that the set of possible dates for A is as large as possible. If S + 60 = D - 35, I'll have to rush to fit a review in; you don't want a rushed review, or a rushed editing job on that review. If S + 60 > D - 35, we may not be able to review the book in the magazine at all.

Stay tuned for our next installment: starred reviews. I may also expand on earlier discussions of galleys and editing to PW's very tight wordcounts. Suggestions for other posts in this vein are very welcome.

Pardon, come again?

From an author profile in this week's PW:
A Village Voice writer once called Russell Banks "the most important living white male American on the official literary map." Flattering, but as Banks sees it, a bit off the mark.

"As a writer I don't have a nationality," he says. "As a writer I don't have a race. As a writer I don't have a gender."

...When I visit the 67-year-old writer on a recent fall afternoon in his home in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York, he is wearing jeans, a flannel shirt and a fleece vest. With his close-cropped gray hair and a neatly trimmed beard, he looks every bit the white American male. But he resists thinking of himself that way, he says, because "then I would only be able to write about living, white American men and I would rather not limit myself that way."

This week's PW also includes a Q&A with Ben Peek. My goal is to do at least one SF/F/H-related Q&A, profile, or signature review per month, so keep an eye out! And we have reviews of the following: Tangled Webs: A Black Jewels Novel by Anne Bishop (starred), In the Courts of the Crimson Kings by S.M. Stirling, Waking Brigid by Francis Clark, Victory Conditions by Elizabeth Moon, and Got to Kill them All by Dennis Etchison.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The genre ghetto

I just finished my preliminary look through the Lambda Award SF/F/H nominees*. Lots of vampire stuff, unsurprisingly. Less kink than I remember from last year. Very heavy on the fantasy. Very, very heavy.

* See nomination guidelines here.

Total books received: 22.

Books from imprints that I recognize as being primarily F&SF-oriented: three (two from Haworth Positronic, one from Tor).

My reaction to this is complex. There's the good old-fashioned kick in the gut that comes from remembering that despite all the personal acceptance I get from others in the F&SF field, when it comes to the actual text of genre books, I'm a member of a thoroughly marginalized minority. There's the irritation over the award being basically ignored in genre circles, which means we get hardly any books from genre publishers, which means the award usually goes to queer books with genre content instead of genre books with queer content, which means it's basically ignored in genre circles. (I was looking up editions of China Mountain Zhang today and was startled to see its Lambda win mentioned in the same sentence as its Hugo and Nebula nods.) There's the frustrated certainty that several really good books that should have been in the box were not, including another title from Tor that arguably has more queer content than the one we got.

I really don't get the sense that authors of queer fiction need to be encouraged to write more spec fic. Authors of queer fiction seem very happy to include speculative elements, as evinced by this Lambda category even existing. I do get the sense that many authors of genre fiction could use some encouragement in the direction of including queer characters and queer themes. In my ideal world, the Lambda SF/F/H award would serve this purpose. To do that, it would need to go to books that are both excellent examples of queer fiction and excellent examples of speculative fiction, and that means getting nominees from the spec fic side of the fence as well as the queer side. According to the judging guidelines, queer themes and skillful handling of genre elements are of equal importance. I want to see that reflected in the books we get.

I note that this is my ideal world; my fellow judges and the folks at Lambda Literary may disagree. I will also note that the folks at Lambda Literary know I feel this way--I laid it out for them in no uncertain terms--and they know I come much more from a genre background than from a queer lit background and they still made me a judge for a second year running, so presumably they at least don't disagree too violently. Honestly, I don't think anyone benefits from the perception that the Lammies are just a bunch of queers congratulating each other on our queerness, nor do I think we need some sort of queer awards ghetto. I say, bring on the books from the big mainstream presses by the big mainstream authors! Send us more Spin Controls and Privilege of the Swords! This is not about drowning out queer authors. This is about recognizing people whose work excels in two genres simultaneously, no matter which one is their "native language", and about encouraging more people in both those worlds to aim as high as the best of either.

The deadline for this year is past, of course, but authors and publishers, if you think any of your 2008 titles might qualify, send 'em in during next year's nomination phase, which I believe is September 1 through December 1. It costs you four copies and twenty bucks; that's not a lot. (Readers, if you see something you like, encourage the author and publisher to nominate it, as they're the only ones who can.) At this point, I figure anyone who writes good queer genre fiction wants to see more of it, and wants to see what's already out there get some recognition. We can't recognize it if you don't send it to us! So please, send it in, and encourage others to do the same.

Maybe it's folly to think that broader recognition of the SF/F/H Lambda Award will encourage even one non-queer genre author to include queer characters and themes in their next book, but stranger things have happened. I think it's more realistic to hope that it will encourage queer authors to let their writing reflect that part of their lives. Either would be a really wonderful thing, a step away from the marginalization of this particular minority, and--I think--well worth rewarding.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

My theory, which is mine

I'm told Library Journal is looking for science fiction and fantasy reviewers. Pro: reviews are bylined. Con: you don't get paid. For those of you who are looking to pad (or start) your reviewing résumés before moving on to paying gigs*, this might be a good way to go. Send cover letters and clips/links (if you don't have clips or links, whip up a review in Library Journal style and send that) to and I'll forward them on to the appropriate person.

* My standard advice to people who want to break into editing, reviewing, or other journalistic pursuits: do it for non-paying publications for precisely as long as you need to build your résumé and get paying gigs, and then stop. I love me some non-paying venues, and you can find plenty of them on my client list; they absolutely helped me get started as a journalist, and it feels great to work on free and donation-only publications and know you're helping to support the writers whose stories they buy. If you're considering this as a career, however, you probably can't afford to give your time away once there are people who are willing to pay for it.

We finished up the last real December issue today. It was a big push to get it all done; the last issue of the month includes notes as well as full reviews, and I had to reorganize my drop at the last minute because I wanted to include a starred review (I try for one per week) and none of the books I had planned to include turned out to be star-worthy. Fortunately, I got in two starred reviews over the last few days, so I swapped one of them in. Unfortunately, I was swapping it with a review I'd already edited, which meant more work to get the drop ready. Fortunately, that means next week I'll start out with one review done. All in all, a good deal, and I managed to get it done by 5 today, which is what I needed to do.

I continue to fuss with organizing my workspace. Last week I went to my mother's place and noticed that she'd acquired an old-fashioned perpetual calendar, the sort with dials you turn to display the day, month, and weekday. Aha, I thought, and after some rummaging around, found a couple I liked on eBay and bid on them. They arrived on Wednesday and I brought them in to work yesterday. Now my drop stacks have little brass perpetual calendars on them, and the drop that's due on December 14th will always be the drop that's due December 14th, so as I move the stack of books along my desk (from the TWO WEEKS position to the NEXT WEEK position to the THIS WEEK position, because redundancy is your friend**), the label on it will stay the same and I'll be able to tell the due date at a glance. It also adds a little retro touch to the décor, which I quite like.

** In engineering, that is. Less so in writing.

Sadly, month paperweights don't seem to exist--which baffles me! Doesn't anyone else in the world have piles of papers or books organized by month that need to be clearly labeled?--so I continue to use colored stickers and folded paper "paperweights" for the stacks of books not yet assigned to drops. Anyone who can find me simple, inexpensive paperweights displaying the names of months in some reasonably legible font will be my friend forever. I'm really about ready to go dig up some rocks of about the right size and write month names on them with a Sharpie.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007


There are few things that will make my day like casually asking Bill Schafer of Subterranean Press whether he might someday do a snazzy boxed set of one of my favorite trilogies, and being told it's already in contract. I wrote back "You just made me squee like a Japanese fangirl!" and belatedly thought that perhaps that wouldn't do very much for my professional image... but here I am bouncing at my desk and very quietly going "eeee!" so as not to bother my cube-neighbors, so I might as well be honest about it.

(It hasn't been formally announced yet, so I can't divulge titles. But trust me, it's awesome.)