World sf writers? Get used to disappointment

I’m a little disheartened right now. Not angry, just sort of bemused.

If you’ve been following the World SF News Blog, you might have seen that Charles Tan and I have been compiling lists of stories published in 2009 by what you might called “world SF” writers – writers from outside of the traditional anglo-saxon world, as it were. It was Jeff Ford’s idea, and it seemed like a good one (though it took a chunk of time for each posting) – and the results were quite positive. Fantasy Magazine, Apex Magazine, Clarkesworld – the big online publications have proven that fiction by international writers can sell and be published. We also did Analog, but in all honesty I didn’t really expect much from Analog – and wasn’t disappointed. Analog published none.

We did Asimov’s and F&SF today (Charles in the Philippines, me in Laos, both of us on the Internet). The result surprised and disheartened me. I really wasn’t expecting it.


Let me repeat that. The Big Three American SF/F magazines have published, over 2009, exactly zero stories from world writers.

Apex Magazine published seven. Fantasy Magazine published eight. Even The New Yorker published one!

Let me repeat that: The New Yorker published more science fiction from international writers than all 3 big American SF/F magazines.

So I don’t know what to think, right now. Is it just about electronic submissions? As I note in the summary, both Asimov’s and F&SF did published some world sf writers in the past. But none at all for the whole of 2009? When everyone else paying professional rates published several?

So I’m bemused, and a little disheartened. I really did think the situation was different.

I guess I was wrong.

Lavie Tidhar is the author of linked-story collection HebrewPunk (2007), novellas An Occupation of Angels (2005), Cloud Permutations (2009) and Gorel & The Pot-Bellied God (2010) and, with Nir Yaniv, of The Tel Aviv Dossier (2009). He’s lived on three continents and one island-nation, and currently lives in South East Asia. His first novel, The Bookman, will be published by HarperCollins’ new Angry Robot imprint in 2010, and will be followed by two more.


  1. Angie says

    Being in Ireland, I don’t even count as ‘world’ but I don’t even submit to the big three because by the time you factor in postage, exchange rates and bank charges for dollar cheques, it’s barely worth it. Online subs and Paypal payments are the way of the future. They can keep saying that postal-only subs weed out the time wasters, but the reality is they also weed out writers who put a value on their work/payment ratio too.

  2. says

    The only reaction I have here to the comments is one of vague amusement at the thought that a SciFi Magazine, devoted to exploring the greatest dreams and limits of technology and humanity entwined, is allergic to the internet.

  3. jeff vandermeer says

    Magazines unwilling to take electronic submissions are making it extremely difficult for writers based outside of the UK and US/Canada. So, fewer submissions means statistical probability is fewer publishable subs to begin with.

    There is also the question of translation when stories are not in English. Alas, in the past I have received submissions I thought were probably good stories but in lousy translations, and no time or resources to correct them. It’s a terrible extra burden for a foreign language writer to carry and I wonder if your organization might be able eventually to provide translation services or create a list of good translators–it would have to be an airtight list.

    Re the Big Three: I wish people would stop calling them this.

  4. says

    Let me add a second voice to JV’s statement about lousy translations. Apex receives stories that appear to be good works but without the linguistic resources or time to work with the author, it’s not practical to buy the work. Providing a list of quality translation services for our genre would be a great thing for your blog and for the SF/F/H communities.

    Good idea, Jeff! :)

  5. says

    And you know, I think this is all the more embarrassing given that magazines like Science Fiction World publish US/UK writers all the time. (My understanding is that SFW accepts submissions but also makes significant efforts at international outreach.) Translation’s a difficult hurdle, but with manga etc so popular among teen and twentysomething geeks, it seems like a real missed opportunity for the Three Digests.

  6. says

    I would think that the lack of electronic submissions would be a big factor in the big three not publishing world SF. It’s not exactly cheap to send submissions internationally. But I gather it’s not the only issue. Folks might know those magazines exist, or, as some have said here, there might be issues with translations, etc.

  7. says

    I can’t imagine anyone outside the the US wanting to submit to those “Big Three” magazines that don’t take electronic submissions. I am IN the US and I don’t even consider consider it. In my own zine this year, I haven’t published a lot of “world” writers (though I have had a couple from E Europe and S America), but I have published a ton of stuff from UK, Ireland and Aust/NZ. Those stories include some of the best ones I got overall, and I doubt I would have seen a single one of them if I was asking people to send me paper. It’s just silly anymore.

  8. says

    As a writer based in the UK, I agree with Angie’s comment. I do a lot of business with clients in the States and it’s no problem to exchange information online. However, as a SF writer, I find it tedious to make postal submissions to US markets. International postal submissions are a hassle, involving special trips to main post offices in order to weigh packets and buy international reply coupons. It seems so Victorian – and not in a good way.

  9. Edward Greaves says

    Electronic submissions can explain some portion of the responsibility. Taking only paper submissions makes it more prohibitive for people outside the US. I know that if I have to go through the rigamorale of tracking down international postage, etc, to submit a paper copy to a market outside the US, it’s very unlikely to happen. I imagine those outside the US feel the same towards dealing with the US paper only markets.

    Further, it seems to me logical that Online markets are more appealing to an international author. Being an online market means it’s available instantly internationally to all your friends, family and fans. There’s no burden of tracking down local distribution, it’s right there for anyone worldwide to see and enjoy. There are no delays getting copies overseas, since it’s available around the world all at the same instant.

  10. says

    I think it’s pretty clear at this point, and has been pretty clear for a while, that the “big three” are actually old, dried up and irrelevant. Publications like Strange Horizons and Electric Velocipede have been making them look like chumps for years now.

  11. says

    Wow. I was a bit staggered by this. At Fantasy Magazine we actively try to get international writers, and we’ve got some columns coming up that focus on fantasy outside the US. (And always looking for more, you international writers posting in this thread.)

  12. says

    Re: Eric

    Old, dried-up, irrelevant?

    No. They are none of those things.

    The Edinborough Review was founded in 1802. Though it suspended publication in 1920-something, it did start back up again in the sixties.

    Weird Tales is the oldest genre magazine I know of, in its way, and it is not one of the proverbial big 3, despite winning a Hugo. Analog is kind of old, if you think it came out of Amazing in 1920-something. This isn’t really old the same way the North American Review is old.

    Dried-up? Though they are not embracing new technologies as quickly as indie mags, they are still publishing great fiction from up and coming voices. Though those voices are – apparently – American does not qualify them as dried-up.

    Irrelevant? On the latest World Fantasy award ballot 4 of the nominees were published in either F&SF or Asimov’s. The Hugos are notorious for favoring these three magazines. These awards are not alone. I don’t think the highest awards in the land would so prominently feature irrelevant publications so prominently.

    What is clear, I think, is that the ability of foreign authors to submit to these markets is hampered by the technological battle of paper submissions versus electronic submissions. Clarkesworld and Fantasy Magazine, both well-paying, prestigious markets, are probably going to get to see the really good stories first. Ergo, they will be mor elikely to publish good international SF/F.

    Another factor of note is the availability of the markets in question. One should not submit to a magazine one hasn’t read recently, after all. It is far easier to access Fantasy Magazine, Clarkesworld, Apex, and etc. because of their web presence. How available are Asimov’s, F&SF, and Analog to the larger SF community of readers? I can’t answer that question, myself. I’d have to ask international readers.

  13. says

    J M McDermott wrote:
    “How available are Asimov’s, F&SF, and Analog to the larger SF community of readers? I can’t answer that question, myself. I’d have to ask international readers.”

    They’ve available online in digital format, which is how I buy them. It’s cheap to buy an issue.

    My problem isn’t reading them. It’s the postage. It’s prohibitively expensive to send regular submissions to them (along with the issues of getting US postage to include). Though Europeans don’t seem to be included as ‘world writers’ in this context, the postage issues are still very relevant to Europe.

  14. Rachel Swirsky says

    “Irrelevant? On the latest World Fantasy award ballot 4 of the nominees were published in either F&SF or Asimov’s. The Hugos are notorious for favoring these three magazines. ”

    Which has nothing to do with how the awards nomination process is crafted, I suppose. It’s a good deal for the Hugos and the Triad. The Hugos get to say “hey! Asimovs, F&SF and Analog are important! We give them awards” and the Triad can say “The Hugos are clearly important! They acknowledge what’s published in the pages of us, the important big three!”


    Anyway, I think Sheila was on this blog talking about courting international writers for Asimovs. Aliette just made a sale there this week, I think?

    Therefore, I’m really surprised by this finding in relation to Asimovs. Is it possible they ended up with a larger than usual number of international stories last year and next year? Or maybe not. I’m just trying to reconcile the two sets of comments.

  15. Nick Mamatas says

    Though Europeans don’t seem to be included as ‘world writers’ in this context

    Actually, in the link above, not only are writers in Europe considered world writers, so are foreign-born US residents.

  16. says

    Actually, in the link above, not only are writers in Europe considered world writers, so are foreign-born US residents.

    I hadn’t read through the whole blog at the time of commenting, so I was basing it on the comments here. Now that I’ve read more of the blog, I can see there was some debate about the definitions.

    The definitions weren’t what I was trying to focus on though. My point was however you define the term, it doesn’t change the reality of postage costs. Anyone outside the US has to face that barrier, regardless of other barriers. I don’t see how you can tackle things like translation issues when the writer can’t really afford to submit anyway.

  17. says

    I keep wanting to submit to magazines that take only snail mail submissions, but I can never figure out the arcane methods of SASE and strange US stamps and whatnot (should I do a research project on these??), so I scribble away in obscurity. For now. But I actually remain more optimistic about the lot of us world/postcolonial fantasy/scifi writers now as opposed to how it was even five years ago. I think there’s been a change for the better, and even if it’s not such a BIG change, at least things ARE changing.

  18. says

    J McDermott:

    How available? I live in Australia. I subscribed to Asimov’s in June. I’ve yet to see my first issue. When I inquired about the non-appearance of what I’d paid for, I was informed that the magazine is sent by SURFACE MAIL (which takes months). Honestly, no one uses surface mail anymore. The thought ‘are these guys the top SCIENCE FICTION magazine’ certainly crossed my mind, and still does every day I’m faced with another empty mail box. That’s just aside from the whole submissions issue.

    I suscribed partly because I’d enjoyed the stories I’d read that were published in Asimov’s, and partly because I intend to submit.

    As others have already mentioned, submitting is hard. If they aim to reduce submissions that way, it seems they’re successful. If I were an editor, I’d wonder: at what cost? How long can a magazine rely on old stalwarts while missing out on a fair proportion of the new writers. I’d be worried that other magazines get to see the really good stories first.

    For myself, I run a mail-order business, and postage doesn’t bother me that much. It’s the SASE that kills me. Some magazines want IRCs, others explicitly don’t. If they don’t, what does one do? I’ve cut a swathe through my US friends bribing them with books in return for booklets of US stamps (usually, the US raises its postage rates soon after I’ve received a booklet). It’s a battle. Why wouldn’t I send my best stories to online magazines first. I’d be crazy not to.

  19. Cora says

    I live outside the US and submit to paper-subs-only markets only under rare circumstances for all the reasons already mentioned (general hassle, prohibitively high postage, occasional failure of US publishers to grasp the purpose of international reply coupons, etc…). I’m not at all surprised to see which markets publish a lot of international writers and which publish none, because it maps very closely to my own experience regarding markets I will be happy to submit to again and markets I tend to avoid.

    There are other issues that go beyond postage and paper subs. Those of us international writers who write in English occasionally have to deal with assumptions that because we do not write in our first language our work will be inferior. Because obviously Vladimir Nabokov and Joseph Conrad were such hacks, not to mention Ekaterina Sedia, Alma Alexander and Ilona Andrews and those are just the ones I can remember offhand.

    And for those who write in their native language, the translation issue makes submissions to US/UK magazines nigh impossible. Because like writers, translators want to be paid and the payment rate for professional translators – even in the traditionally low-paying literary sector – is generally higher than for writers. I can make a lot more money per hour translating than I could ever make writing. So if an international writer wants to have a story translated into English for submission, the writer may well have to pay more money upfront than he’d receive for the story – with no guarantee that the story will sell. Plus, there is the added complication of finding a translator willing and able to take on the project. So most international writers who take the leap and have their story translated into English will either try to do it themselves or rely on the friend of a friend.

  20. Sean Wallace says

    What about “Icarus Saved from the Skies” by Georges-Oliver Châteaureynaud, translated by Edward Gauvin, in the July issue of F&SF?

  21. Ennis Drake says

    You know, ZERO INTERNATIONAL MARKETS published my work this year . . . maybe that means my work couldn’t be translated, maybe it means the work I submitted wasn’t of interest, maybe it means I should write more, write to a continuously-raised bar, and keep subbing. Maybe that applies across the board. Perhaps? Do you think? Could it possibly be?

    Oh, and for the love of whatever you fucking believe in, please quit bitching about postage. I mean, seriously? I’ve subbed to England (twice), the Czech Republic, Poland, even Japan this year. I didn’t spend more than fifty bucks.

  22. Rachel Swirsky says

    I’m glad you have 50 extra bucks, Ennis. I hope you made it back in sales.

    Your snark is entirely silly, however. To suggest that it’s parallel for zero international markets to buy your work, and for zero international authors to be bought by three large US markets, is silly. The parallel might work if you were to assert that zero large international markets bought from *US authors,* while zero large US magazines bought work from international authors.

    I’m not sure it would qualify as a big international market, but I resold my work for translation into Polish this year. And it cost me no postage at all. So the theory that US authors are not picked up by international markets seems to be on thin ground.

  23. Ennis Drake says

    I didn’t have fifty _extra_ bucks, Rachel. But I found it. I made damn sure I found it, rather than wasting time and effort bitching about not having it. Writing is a business, my work is my product, and I always find a way to invest in myself . . . and so should anyone who takes their work seriously. And, btw, I did make it back in sales.

    Furthermore, I don’t believe that those three markets bought nothing from international authors.

    Also, Mr Tidhar sold TWO stories to Black Static this year and I wonder why, exactly, he is so disappointed?

    But really, what are we talking about here? Should US markets guarantee to publish authors of non-US-origin? Even if the work is bad? What if all the work they received this year from international submissions was poor in quality? And who are you (or anyone else, for that matter) to say that that isn’t the case? Or, if the int. subs they received were — let’s suppose — of _excellent_ quality, the markets we’re talking about are businesses. They do not publish art for art’s sake. They publish the most economically-viable authors (read NAMES). So, any argument in the face of that fact, when you get right down to it, is what’s silly.

  24. Rachel Swirsky says

    “They publish the most economically-viable authors (read NAMES).”

    Really? I was under the impression that it was a process of balancing NAMES with QUALITY STORIES.

    The fact is that their refusal to adopt electronic submissions may winnow down the number of non-serious submissions they receive, but it also means they miss out on a lot of serious submissions that would come via online systems. This disproportionately affects writers without the ability to find $50 whether or not they bitch, and writers who are overseas.

    “Also, Mr Tidhar sold TWO stories to Black Static this year and I wonder why, exactly, he is so disappointed?”

    Possibly because he has a perspective that extends past his nose?