Editorial: Your Submission Guidelines Matter
By Charles Tan
One thing I take for granted is how it’s currently possible to talk about “World SF” and to actually read fiction from authors all around the world. Partially, this is due to the Internet, and how the world is closer and more aware of each other. The other reason is how publications now accept submissions via email as opposed to post.
The “Big Three” SF&F magazines were never the big three for me. I live in the Philippines and I’ve never seen any of those magazines locally (although some friends mention spotting them occasionally while sifting through secondhand bookstores). Nor is it convenient for me to submit to them. Take note that I mention convenience, not impossibility (some foreign writers have submitted by post and published in the said magazines). It’s certainly possible for foreign writers to submit to such publications and actually get published. There’s just a huge time delay and it’s more expensive on the part of the international reader. For example, when it comes to the latter, not only are postal feels more expensive compared to, say, a writer living in the US, but there’s also a huge discrepancy in the standard of living depending on where you are. For example, in a third-world country like the Philippines, minimum wage is roughly $7.00 a day, when a U.S. citizen will be earning the same amount in an hour. So when your publication doesn’t accept email submissions, it’s a big deterrent to those submitting from abroad.
It shouldn’t be a big surprise that many of the international authors you know got their first break from online publications. World SF News Blog (WSNB) head honcho Lavie Tidhar sold his first international story at the now-defunct Sci Fiction (thanks Ellen!). A big proponent of Philippine speculative fiction is Dean Francis Alfar who got his first big break from Strange Horizons. And it’s also no surprise why other publications like Fantasy Magazine and Clarkesworld (or even print-only publications like Weird Tales) are publishing a lot of international authors: because their guidelines encourage such practices.
And in the case of web publications, readers from an international author’s respective country actually gets to read their work. I mean I love a lot of the print genre magazines, but honestly, I don’t see them here in the Philippines. I’m fortunate in the sense that I get sent review copies but because a good chunk of them are electronic review copies, I can’t exactly share them to a friend (that would be piracy). The only time a non-reviewer gets to read stories from those publications is when they get included in an anthology or a collection (and even then, most readers have to special order them from the bookstore).
Culturally speaking, this is an interesting dilemma because it points to two things: English IS the most common language (as much as it’d be interesting to live in a world where Mandarin is the dominant language ala Firefly, Chinese honestly doesn’t come close) and the West (whether it’s the US or Europe) is the center of traditional publishing. For example, if I publish a book here in the Philippines, the rest of the world will ignore it and won’t get distribution. With regards to the geographic location, because of the Internet, that norm is slowly eroding, but honestly, when was the last time you read an online genre publication that’s not based in either America or Europe?
So, if you want to encourage writers from around the world, you need to look at your submission guidelines because they matter.