Friday, August 29, 2008

Interview with Jason Sanford on Community Fridays

Welcome to Community Fridays!

During Community Fridays, I interview authors, editors, publishers, and pretty much anyone else who I can get my hands on from the writing and publishing communities. Hope you enjoy, and feel free to suggest new interviewees for upcoming Community Fridays. Check out current and past interviews here. Only have a minute? Click here for interviews at a glance.

Today's guest is Jason Sanford, editor of storySouth and author.

What made you decide to start working towards getting your writing published?

I've always enjoyed reading stories and as a child I used to write my own stories and comic books. So as I grew older, it was a natural thing to both continue my writing and try to get my stories published.

What was the most major roadblock you encountered along the way, and how did you overcome it?

The biggest roadblock was one I created. I've always loved science fiction and fantasy. But when I was in college one of my English teachers told me that serious writers did not write SF/F. Like an idiot, I listened to her and stopped writing SF/F for a few years. That's my biggest writing regret.

You are an author and an editor. What do you like about each of these professions? Why did you decide to do both?

I began working as an editor because I wanted to learn more about that side of the publishing industry. I think my background as an editor has been very helpful to my work as a writer because I learned early on that all great stories go through revision after revision. As a result of my experiences as an editor, I can be quite ruthless while revising my own writings.

I see from your website that you've received many awards and honors. Did you submit your work for these, or did someone knock on your door and hand them to you?

Unless I'm mistaken, I submitted my work for most of the awards I've won. The Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship had a lengthy application process, while others like the Loft Mentor Series Award simply require you to submit a sample of your work and a short application. One of my stories was also recently selected as an honorable mention in The Year's Best Science Fiction Stories, 25th Annual Collection, edited by Gardner Dozois. I didn't submit my story for this honor--like most editors, Dozois makes his own choices--so this was a complete surprise.

I think many aspiring authors worry that their writing isn't ‘good enough' to be published. From an editor's point of view, what are a couple of things that make a good writer? Is it possible to become a better writer over time?

There's a famous anecdote about the famous science fiction editor John Campbell meeting a fan of his magazine. When the fan mentioned that he'd written some stories, Campbell remarked that he didn't recall seeing any submissions under this fan's name. "Oh, no," the fan remarked. "I haven't submitted them to you because they're nowhere near good enough for that." That's when Campbell exploded and said, "How dare you reject stories for my magazine! You submit the stories to me and I'll decide whether they're good or not."

Whether or not that story is true, it points to a simple truth: If a writer doesn't submit their work, they'll never be published. Now that doesn't mean a writer's early stories will get published. But by continually writing and revising and submitting then revising even more, you will improve your writing skills. I also strongly suggest writers connect with writers groups for feedback as they go through this process.

What are your thoughts on authors promoting themselves and their work?

Writers should always promote themselves. Don't wait for someone else to promote your stories because you may have a long wait. After all, if you thought a story was good enough to write and good enough to submit, why wouldn't you also promote that story?

What is your one super secret tip for aspiring authors hoping to get published?

Don't be a jerk. The stereotype of arrogant, nasty writers who succeed despite their personality flaws is a dangerous myth for new writers to believe in. Be nice to editors, readers, and fellow writers. That will go a long way in helping you succeed with your own writing.

Lastly, because this feature is about establishing bonds within the writing and publishing industries, can you name one author, editor or publisher who's doing great things right now, and why?

In the speculative fiction field, there are many editors who are doing amazing work, such as Sheila Williams (editor of Asimov's) and Gordon Van Gelder (editor of Fantasy and Science Fiction). However, two editors who are doing quiet but amazing work--meaning people may not have noticed all their achievements--are Andy Cox of TTA Press and Edmund R. Schubert of Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show. Andy and his fellow TTA Press editors have not only taken Interzone to a new period of glorious SF/F publishing, they've also created an amazing new horror magazine called Black Static and continue to publish one of the best mystery magazines around, Crimewave. Edmund has taken IGMS and turned it into one of the best online magazines around, attracting both top-notch stories and authors. I enjoy reading each issue of IGMS because the stories feel like the type of science fiction and fantasy which first attracted me to the genre as a child.

About the Author

Jason Sanford is the author of a number of short stories, essays, and articles. He also edits the literary journal storySouth, through which he runs the annual Million Writers Award for best online fiction, which has been highlighted by USA Today, the Utne Reader, and discussed in a feature interview in Novel and Short Story Writer's Market.

Jason has published his fiction in Analog: Science Fiction and Fact (forthcoming), Interzone, Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, Tales of the Unanticipated, the Beloit Fiction Journal, The Mississippi Review, Fiction Warehouse, Diagram, Pindeldyboz, and other places. He's also published critical essays, book reviews, and news articles in places like The New York Review of Science Fiction, The Pedestal Magazine, The Fix Short Fiction Review, and Monsters and Critics. Read more about Jason on his website.

© Emma Larkins and Jason Sanford
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