Thursday, 15 June 2017

Meditations on editorial correspondence (again)

Something unusual.  A posting with potential for a character arc and a moral.

You see, last time I posted a blog entry with this title, I said that what mattered to me was "independent verification by somebody who doesn't know me through anything other than my writing that [my story is] worth putting in print".

But an exchange back in the spring with an editor has made me question whether that's enough.

The editor in question is Ty Drago of Allegory.  Don't know the man at all, but from his reviews, he appears to produce a decent line in genre fiction himself.  It all started with this:

Robert -


Your story, [title deleted as it's still up for grabs] has been accepted for publication in Volume 31 of ALLEGORY, due to hit the web on May 8, 2017.

Here's how it works:  In the next week or so I will send you out a contract, which will outline all of the details of our publication agreement, including compensation.  Please read it carefully, sign it, and then send it back to me.  I will also need you to please email me a brief biography.  The content may be anything you like. Optionally, you may send an author's photo to include with your bio.

Again, congratulations - and thank you!  This is a great story and I am proud to publish it.

- Ty Drago

- Publisher

Which is nice.  I don't get enough of those sort of emails.  And it would make my third sale of the year.  Target met.

It was then that I thought I'd get a better handle on Allegory.  Now, at this point, you could legitimately argue that the time for due diligence is prior to submission.  And I did do what I consider reasonable from a writer's point of view: check their legitimacy on the watercooler, and so forth.  

But I guess what I didn't do (and don't do, and don't feel a great need to do, ever) was any due diligence from a reader's perspective.  And what I found was... well, read on:


Many thanks for this, and my apologies for not responding sooner.

I have no issue with the terms of the contract, but since receiving it I have been trying, without success, to get a handle on Allegory's online presence.  Google 'Allegory ezine' (or similar) and I find, your own website apart, a number of calls for submissions, but little else.  I see nothing from readers and no reviews, anywhere - which, given you're on volume 30 (or is it 57?), I find bizarre.  I see your website cites 19,000 hits a month, but how many copies of the ezine do you sell?  You have a personal presence on Goodreads (and your own books are well received), but Allegory can't be found there.  Odd.

In short, I'm not sure how anybody who doesn't already know about Allegory would even stumble across it accidentally.  Given that I've moved on from simply seeking publishing credits and the warm glow brought by knowing that the pint in my hand can be attributed to the publication of a particular story, and view short story publications as a means of ultimately getting readers to my longer works, I'm not convinced Allegory would achieve that for me.  Grateful if you would correct my assumptions about the breadth of Allegory's readership if I'm way off the mark.



Is it just me?   Or do you find it odd as well?  An editor who is himself on, but hasn't made sure his longstanding publication is there?  Am I being paranoid?  This was Ty's understandably knarled reaction:

Robert -

This is a first, but okay.

Allegory was founded in 1998 as free online venue for SF, Fantasy, & Horror.  Since then, we've published hundreds of stories from all around the world.  We are not a business and never have been.  We don't sell copies.  Access to the site is completely free and every member of our staff, including myself as publisher, works strictly as a volunteer.

According to our visitor stats, we received close to 400,000 hits last year.  That's pretty typical.  Obviously traffic spikes in May and November, when new issues appear.

At nearly twenty years old, we've outlasted most online e-zines and, while we're not a major market like Asimov, Analog, or Space and Time, we've earned our chops.

Now a question for you: Why are you asking all this now?  You submitted a short story, which then went through our rather rigorous review vetting process, and are now occupying one of only twelve slots in the coming issue, having beat out more than 500 other writers.  If you have no faith in Allegory, why did you even bother?


I'm trying to be diplomatic here, but I'm left wondering how many of those 400,000 hits were by prospective writers rather than readers, given the only starting points to get to Allegory seem to be the Grinder, Duotrope and the like.  I probably account for a dozen or more hits - more if you count individual page views - and if everybody who submits (by implication 1000 a year) goes on to the site does the same, and then you have all the writers who decide Allegory isn't the right market for them, or mentally bookmark it for later.

And, all the time, Ty just has to say 'here's a link to a review of the last issue '....



Similarly, it's the first time that I've found myself asking the question.  It's not an issue of 'no faith', more one of seeking reassurance that you have a readership.  It may be a product of having a name which doesn't lend itself to googling (other uses of  'allegory' flooding the results), but, as I said, the only hits I found for your Allegory, other than your own website, were aimed at writers rather than readers.  Which made me stop and think.  Perhaps if you could point me in the direction of a couple of online reviews  of the November 2016 issue?  I'd be happy to sign the contract with that assurance.  Indeed, it was because of your longevity that I was surprised not to find anything posted by readers; I'm sure that you as a volunteer editor, as much as me as a writer, want to know that Allegory is being read and enjoyed.


I don't think that's too Et tu Brute, stabby-in-the-back, is it?  But it brings forth this fairly quick response:

I have to tell you, I've had enough of this.  After twenty years I don't have anything to prove.  I'm a published novelist myself, and so I understand your interest in managing your brand, but I find the idea of you challenging the legitimacy of my publication insulting.

Let's forget the whole thing.

Which I was happy to do, with correspondence ending there.

A confusing tale, but, having straddled the divide between the creative and non-creative industries, illustrative of an attitude that isn't that rare.  And I am only posting this to illustrate; Ty is free to run his publication as he sees fit.  And, if it ever makes it onto or similar, I hope it garners good reviews.

The moral?  Well, here's two.  On a personal basis, I've learnt that just getting a sale, just getting a credit, is no longer enough.  The publication has to be creditworthy in its own way.  And, secondly, and we all know this anyway, there's an awful lot out there on the web that's written but not necessarily read.

I should know; I see the stats for this blog.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Like a picnic in the park prepared by supermodels

I appreciate that this is some 45 years late, but I would like to review Andrei Tarkovsky's cinematic adaptation of Stanislaw Lem's Solaris.

Would like to, but I'm not sure I'm any the wiser.  It took me two evenings to get through it, and even then I fell asleep.  I jolted awake and found Kris Kelvin wandering around in his underwear.  I don't remember him undressing.  How much did I miss?  And did it explain the lingering close ups of a Bruegel landscape?  Or any of the other overlong and pointless scenes, almost too many to count?  Like the tedious elongated motorway scene, confusingly through a Japanese city?  I can only assume the editor was trussed up in the boot.

I suppose a starting point would be to regard this as Soyuz to, say, 2001: A Space Odyssey's Saturn 5.  America got a man to the moon and back.  Russia didn't.  America produced a film worth re-watching.  Russia didn't.  I don't want to make anything of the limited special effects, reflective of technology and budget then available.  But the vision, regardless of how it's realised?  Wood panelled libraries filled with books?  Big comfy swivel chairs?  Candelabra?  If there's one thing we all know about space it's that there ain't much space in space.  And, remember, this was made when the world was already familiar with what life in a spacecraft looked like.

My copy of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die doesn't seem to have a problem with such issues, and credits it as a "sci-if masterpiece".  IMDB gives it 8.1/10.  They make it sound like a picnic in the park with supermodels.  A picnic prepared by supermodels, maybe: not much, spread too thin.  But this is what they say:

"A brilliant experience of duration and big ideas combined with ascetic production values, Solaris is an argument against the ambivalence of lived reality in favour of fantasy's all-inclusive satisfaction.  Through Kris's journey from indifferent outsider to being literally the centre of a world created just for him, we see the unmaking of a rational mind by sheer desire.  As such, Tarkovsky's film uses the widescreen frame and lengthy takes to organise truly beautiful imagery.  In this fashion, Solaris externalises interior states to embody the mood of its protagonist."

Even with a first degree in philosophy and a masters in philosophy and psychology, I'm not sure what this all adds up to.  Other than Emperor's new clothes.

You see, film is good for seeing and hearing things, but not good for emotions - I recall Clive Hopkins, who taught a screenwriting workshop I attended almost a quarter of a century ago, hammer home the point that a screenplay should have what you see and what you hear and nothing else.  When you get into the world of sights and sounds that supposedly signify emotions I think you need emotional gullibility as much emotional intelligence to buy completely in.  A film can't take you inside the head like a book can, despite claims otherwise.  You're always outside looking in.  It's the difference between being on an acid trip and being in the same room as someone on an acid trip.

But whenever you hold your hand up and say that you just don't get such semiotics, or Rothko or Miro or fauvism, or practically any poetry that doesn't scan or rhyme, you inevitably run the risk of being branded a philistine.  Poor you, brain so limited that it thinks post-structuralism is what holds fences up.  It's the peer pressure that stops you pointing and shouting 'arse' when all around you are declaring it art.

But this is arse.  It's clearly arse.  The book may be brilliant - it's been filmed three times, and the Soderbergh version is a taut 98 minutes - but the film is arse.

Didn't Goebbles argue that if you make the lie big enough then it will be believed?  It's the same with art.  Art or arse?  In the medium distance we can all spot buttocks wobbling.  But Leviathan arse?  So big we can't avoid having our faces pressed up close?  That chocolate starfish begins to resemble some exotic plant, all leathery leaves, folds and ridges.  Anal hairs get mistaken for antannae, listening for signs of alien life against the cosmic background radiation.  Blemishes can be mistaken for beauty.

But it's still arse.