By Fiction Editor Douglas McKinney
Authors generally don’t need to be told how hard it is to get published. They have the rejection letters to prove it, after all. Even bestselling authors needed that first big break to get noticed.
The second issue of James Gunn’s Ad Astra showcases fiction from three women this time around, and that’s no fluke. When it came time to make our final decisions, we had several stories we liked from both sexes. If not for some relatively high-profile discussions in the genre of late about the continued difficulty women face in getting their work noticed, perhaps we would have published one or two stories by men to go along with a couple by women. Look at our first issue’s contents and you’ll see we had some strong stories on both sides of the chromosomal divide.
We’re not keeping a special eye out for work by women, though; we judge stories on merit. Hey, we’re not one of the “big three” print ’zines, or one of the highest-paying online markets. We have to build a name and following, just like authors do when they’re starting out. The best way to do that is to publish the best stories available and give younger, newer or overlooked authors a break that just might put their names and work in front of a wider audience. If we help someone like Nikki J. North get noticed, then we’ve done our job. If Sarah Worrel gets a second look from another editor because they saw her name on our site, we can pat ourselves on the back. The same goes for anyone else we publish, and it starts with a good story.
As I write this, I’ve just finished looking at a new submission that came in. I haven’t formed a full first opinion of it yet, but I have a feeling it’s going to be one of the stories I come back to when it’s time to make some hard choices for our third issue later this year. It just so happens the story is by a woman. Like most of the submissions we receive, the name on the byline isn’t familiar to me. I have nothing to go on but the words on the page, and that’s the way it ought to be. That’s the purest, least biased way to choose stories.
Some editors may tell you they feel pressure to give their readers more of what they like, in the form of authors they’ve published before. At Ad Astra, we don’t have those financial or readership pressures yet. If you’re a writer looking for a break, send us your story. Finding the editor who will (or can) take a chance on you, who believes in your story enough to pay for it, is the author’s first great challenge. A writer can always get better at their craft, but they only get so many chances to make a great first impression: it’s about once per reader, and until an editor publishes their work, the number of readers and chances is very low indeed.
“But,” you might ask, “doesn’t e-publishing make things easier? Aren’t there more opportunities for authors than ever before?” You may get different answers from different people, but these days I’d have to say that’s just not the case. Yes, there are probably more opportunities, markets, and outlets for short fiction, but there’s also an ever-growing number of competitors for those outlets. Even if you’re ready to try self-publishing, you’d better be darned good at self-promotion. Most authors aren’t great at selling themselves. If they were, they’d probably be making a good living in another line of work, and wouldn’t be so obsessed with beating their heads against the paper ceiling. There’s a lot of weight standing up there. Every established author of either sex who’s had success and is still publishing reduces a new author’s chances of ever seeing print.
Call it the publishing principle of inertia: authors who make sales tend to make more sales; those who go unpublished tend to remain unpublished. The only way to beat the odds is to keep trying, to keep improving and, sometimes, to get a break from that one pair of eyes that sees something worth taking a chance on.
Authors and editors can’t do this alone, though. It takes readers who are willing to look past an unfamiliar name, to spend the time on a thousand, five thousand, ten thousand words or more in hopes it will end up being well spent. If you’re reading this, I hope you’ll take the time to check out our stories and poems, past, present and future, and experience something new and wonderful. At James Gunn’s Ad Astra, if we can make that introduction between a writer and a reader, then we’ve done our job. The rest is up to you.