Interview Transcripts

On The Othe Side of the Editor's Desk with Ann Vandermeer 12/29/05



Mary Rosenblum

Hello, all!

 

Welcome to our Professional Connection Live interview...the very last one of 2005!

 

Tonight our guest is Ann Kennedy.

 

Ann Kennedy has been a publisher and editor for over 15 years, running her award winning Buzzcity Press (www.buzzcitypress.com). Work from her magazine The Silver Web won the British Fantasy Award and the International Rhysling Award, and appeared in several year's best anthologies. The Silver Web developed a reputation for publishing exciting new writers, including early work from John W. Campbell Award winner Daniel Abraham, World Fantasy Award winner Jeff VanderMeer, and popular novelist Yvonne Navarro. Books published by Buzzcity Press include the Theodore Sturgeon Award finalist Dradin, In Love by Jeff VanderMeer and the International Horror Guild Award winning The Divinity Student by Michael Cisco. A Best of the Silver Web is in the planning stages. She lives in Tallahassee, Florida.

Ann VanderMeer

Hi, everyone. Thanks for having me.

Mary Rosenblum

Welcome, Ann.

 

We're so pleased to have you here!

Ann VanderMeer

Pleased to be here

Mary Rosenblum

I'm always thrilled when I can entice an editor to join us.

 

It's so easy to misunderstand what an editor does,

 

that this is not an ogre waving a 'rejected' stamp at a huge desk!

 

So let's begin at the beginning. :-) How did you get started as an editor?

Ann VanderMeer

I thought I could publish a magazine.

 

Little did I know how much work was involved.

 

It started out as a hobby but became a real love of mine.

Mary Rosenblum

This is The Silver Web, yes?

Ann VanderMeer

Yes. When I started out I did a lot of research.

 

I contacted a lot of other editors and asked a lot of questions.

 

Many editors helped me starting out. People in the field were really friendly.

Mary Rosenblum

Is this a print magazine or an Ezine, Ann?

Ann VanderMeer

Print, with a website for orders and PR:  http://www.buzzcitypress.com   It hasn't been updated in awhile.

Mary Rosenblum

I was impressed with the awards stories have won for the magazine...how long has it been in print?

Ann VanderMeer

I started in 1988.

Mary Rosenblum

Wow. I am REALLY impressed. Very few print magazines last long!

speckledorf

Were you a writer before becoming an editor?

Ann VanderMeer

Unfortunately, I couldn't keep to a regular schedule. Although it was usually biannual.

 

Unlike a lot of editors, I didn't start out as a writer.

 

I write some nonfiction but I am not a fiction writer.

 

I am a fiction reader. That's what I specialize in.

 

I think this gives me an advantage

 

in terms of being unbiased.

 

I don't have a stake in being published in other publications.

Mary Rosenblum

Well, to be honest, the best editors I've had have been editors only...not writers-cum-editors and I can't help but think

 

that writing and editing are different skills.

Ann VanderMeer

Yes, that's true.

drakeluvr

What genres do you publish? Anything for the gay community?

Mary Rosenblum

Yes, tell us a bit about Silver Web if you will.

Ann VanderMeer

The subtitle for my magazine was A Magazine of the Surreal.

 

This included dark fantasy, science fiction, horror.

 

I don't have something specifically stating I'm looking for gay fiction

 

as each story must stand on its own, regardless of genre

ashton

Welcome, Ann. What's the one problem you see most in your job as an editor?

Ann VanderMeer

If you mean in manuscripts, too many of the same old tired storylines.

 

If you mean just in general, never having quite enough money to do everything I want to do.

 

But that's a publisher's problem, really.

Mary Rosenblum

Don't we all have THAT problem!

 

And actually

 

that leads me to a question I've been wanting to ask. What do you see

 

as the fundamental difference between publisher and editor. You wear both hats. Do they conflict at times?

Ann VanderMeer

The publisher is a business person.

 

The editor's job is about the art.

 

The conflict is when you wear both hats,

 

when you want to publish something that's not commercially viable.

 

 

 

but is artistically important...

 

In my case, the editor always wins.

Mary Rosenblum

Good for you! :-)

Ann VanderMeer

(In the "real world" that might not be so.)

Mary Rosenblum

I know we have a ton of questions on technical issues

 

but first I wanted to touch on the role of editor. What do you feel that an editor's job is?

Ann VanderMeer

My job as an editor is to select the best stories that support my vision for the magazine

 

and this vision is

 

to bring new and unusual stories and authors to my audience, within a surreal aesthetic.

 

I look for fiction that falls between the boundaries of the normal genre descriptions.

 

I often reject a lot of good fiction

 

that just doesn't fit this vision.

 

It might win awards elsewhere or be published elsewhere

 

but if not be right for me

 

and I usually receive thanks from writers when that happens--because I suggest other, more appropriate markets

Mary Rosenblum

So your role is to expose your vision of powerful fiction to the public?

Ann VanderMeer

Yes, because I am all powerful. :)

Mary Rosenblum

Of course. You're an editor! :-) But I think that role is important to keep in mind...the visionary.

Ann VanderMeer

Actually, a lot of the work that I publish

 

wouldn't necessarily be seen elsewhere because it is so different.

 

Now, cross-genre fiction is very popular. When I started, it wasn't.

 

I was practically the only publication

 

for that kind of work--or devoted solely to that kind of work.

drakeluvr

Can you give an example of this conflict between publisher and editor?

Ann VanderMeer

Good question...give me a second.

 

Publisher: 'This is an unknown writer. Why do you want to take a chance on him, when you could buy

 

this story or novel from XXX, who is very well-known..?'

 

Having XXX's name on the cover would help us sell copies. Etc. Etc.

 

As editor, I would argue

 

that the unknown story is a much stronger story than the one by the known writer and deserves a wider audience.

 

There's always that allure of trying to get higher sales with a known quantity.

 

But devaluing your publication with trunk stories by known writers is a good way to devalue your reputation.

 

Does that answer the question?

Mary Rosenblum

Ah, lovely example. I'm sure that conversation goes on over every publisher's desk from time to time.

janp

Are you funded by anyone other than subscribers?

Ann VanderMeer

Advertisers. I also publish books, which are much more profitable.

megger

Can you give us some examples of popular cross-genre fiction?

Ann VanderMeer

Life of Pi

 

The Time Traveler's Wife

 

House of Leaves

 

My husband's work is pretty popular despite being very strange. LOL.

Mary Rosenblum

Are these stories that straddle, say, horror and mainstream. :-)

Ann VanderMeer

Reviewers review a lot more cross genre work now than before, too.

 

And fantasy and mainstream, too...

 

House of Leaves is a mix of just about everything.

redwagonmaster

Do you only publish within your genre vision?

Ann VanderMeer

Yes. I think it's very important to do that...

 

There are lots of publications that do more general SF/F/Horror.

 

I was trying to find a niche

 

to do something different.

 

I read all kinds of things for pleasure

 

but that's different that reading as an editor

 

for a specific publication.

 

Some people thought I didn't like regular genre fiction just because I didn't publish it...

 

But that's not true.

 

I like almost any type of fiction if it's done well.

cosmos

As an editor who finds a talented writer but a less than perfect manuscript, how do you encourage without lowering your standards? Do you make the time to encourage? I just read THE WRITING LIFE by Ellen Gilchrist who says that critique is poison to the writer. Should an editor worry about the feelings of a writer?

Ann VanderMeer

I always worry about the feelings of the writer because I live with one of those sensitive beasts.

 

If I think that I can help a writer with their manuscript, I will

 

but I always let the writer know that in the end it is their work and they must make the final decision.

 

If they make changes just to please me that are not true to their idea of their work, then it will not actually improve the work.

 

Re critique as poison to the writer

 

all writers must take editorial opinions with a grain of salt.

 

If what an editor makes sense, use it.

 

If not, then discard it.

 

Just like with any kind of criticism

 

it is important to build a strong sense of your own voice.

jyinxy

What do you look for in new writers? What grabs your hold and attention?

Ann VanderMeer

Strong writing. Something new and different--in the sense that after I read it, it stays with me.

 

With me it's an emotional thing, a feeling, an attachment to the writing

 

that goes deeper than just the mechanics of the prose.

 

Right now I am reading a book that is so fascinating to me that I felt as if I were watching a movie...

 

the place and characters came to life for me--Bangkok 8 by a writer named Burnett, I think.

 

That's the kind of thing I look for, but also a sense of the strange and beautiful.

redwagonmaster

What is the worst thing a writer can do in your estimation and what is the best thing a writer can do in your estimation?

Ann VanderMeer

That's a tough question because it's so general...hmmm.

 

The best thing  writers can do is be true to themselves. There are consequences for doing that.

 

Other people might not 'get' your work right away. You might face a lot more rejection before your work is accepted.

 

But it's more satisfying in the end...better for the work.

 

On the flip side, the worst thing a writer can do is not be true to themselves and try to follow trends, fads, what they think editors will want to see.

Mary Rosenblum

Amen to that!

redwagonmaster

Have you ever been rejected by family/friends because of your writing?

Ann VanderMeer

Do you mean because of what I publish? I'm not a writer.

 

My grandmother used to say 'I read all the stories but I don't understand them.'

 

She was very supportive of me anyway, and I used that quote in ads for awhile.

Mary Rosenblum

You had a good grandmother. :-)

Ann VanderMeer

My mom brags about my publications all the time, but she never reads any of them

 

and maybe that's for the best.

Mary Rosenblum

I'm chuckling. I think that's what red meant.

Ann VanderMeer

I have rejected my husband several times --

 

his work, that is.

 

This was before we started dating

 

He claims that all the crappy stories he sent me back then were a test...

 

to see if I was a good editor.

Mary Rosenblum

hohoho

 

Does that ever become an issue? His submissions?

Ann VanderMeer

His submission?

 

They do not ever become an issue.

 

He no longer submits stories because other editors tend to snap them up first, and because of the conflict of interest.

speckledorf

As writers we always hear you have to "hook" the editor/reader right at the start. How much time to you give the writer to get you hooked in a story?

Ann VanderMeer

I need an explosion every second paragraph.

 

Just kidding...

Mary Rosenblum

Be careful what you ask for! LOL

Ann VanderMeer

I'll basically just read until I'm kicked out of the story

 

and I could be kicked out by any number of things

 

like poor style, spelling and grammar, clichéd characters or situations, but not so much from lack of hook.

cajunguy

Do you find online publishing credits as "strong" as print?

Mary Rosenblum

Do you pay attention to previous publication credits at all?

Ann VanderMeer

Not really. The work must stand on its own. Previous publications don't make a difference to me, and neither does the person's 'name' or contacts.

 

They could say God sent me and it wouldn't make a difference.

drakeluvr

Is it worth it to run or be a member of a writing group?

Mary Rosenblum

What do you think, Ann?

 

You're not a writer, so this may be out of your ballpark.

Ann VanderMeer

Depends on the writing group and the writer.

 

It's useful for some and not for others.

 

There are good writing groups and bad ones.

 

As long as you continue to grow as a writer, it's good. If you're in it for the social aspects only, that's fine too, as long as you understand why you're doing it.

Mary Rosenblum

And I think what you had to say earlier comes to bear here

 

when you talked about 'being true to yourself as a writer. If the group

 

works against that and you write for the group, that may not help you.

Ann VanderMeer

Yes, and that kind of group can be a severe detriment to you.

 

(Especially if you're a new writer.)

cosmos

What are the characteristics of a bad writing group? Should the writing group critique based on your vision of the story or their vision of the story?

Ann VanderMeer

Peer review is tough because the quality of critiquing can vary severely

 

depending on the level of the writing group.

 

But basically everyone in the group has to critique the material by what the writer was trying to accomplish.

 

Did they succeed in what they were trying to do? Was what they were trying to do worth doing, in general terms?

 

Not 'I don't like SF stories. This is a SF story. It should have been a fantasy story.' This is a very crude example.

 

Preserving individuality in writing groups is very important.

 

It goes back to what I said about editors' opinions, too...But you have to strike a balance between being strong willed about your vision

 

and being willing to accept criticism.

 

Hope that answers the question.

Mary Rosenblum

I think it does rather nicely, thank you. :-)

 

Do you often suggest changes to your writers?

Ann VanderMeer

For work I'm going to reject, I don't often suggest anything. Writers need quick responses if you're not interested, and if you're not interested why should they care what you think of their story specifically?

 

For work I'm going to accept, I have suggested changes. Less so on short stories. More on books. Final line edit always goes to the writer.

 

If a story needs a lot of work, I probably won't take it.

redwagonmaster

Should submissions contain cover letters?

Mary Rosenblum

Yes, what do you want to see in a cover letter? And NOT see?

Ann VanderMeer

Generally, follow the requirements of the magazine you're submitting to. I don't need them because it doesn't matter to me--each submission gets judged the same way.

 

But as to what I'd rather not see

 

it's hard to say because, for example,

 

one guy wrote a cover letter that was actually a story about the two of us in another life. Unfortunately, the cover letter was better than the story he submitted.

 

Now, would I rather not see that kind of cover letter? Hard to say. It was very entertaining. LOL!

Mary Rosenblum

I'm chuckling!

Ann VanderMeer

But in general,

 

don't tell me the plot of your story in the cover letter--it just makes it easier to reject without reading.

 

Don't send me a resume of all of your publication credits...keep it brief and to the point.

redwagonmaster

Should I send one submission at a time to same magazine?

Ann VanderMeer

Again, each magazine has its own guidelines. Follow their guidelines. My husband sometimes plays fast and loose with guidelines, even though I tell him he'll get burned some day.

Mary Rosenblum

Ah, but if the editor has all three stories on the desk and likes one best, she'll buy that one.

 

If she likes story number one and likes two better when she gets it after

 

she buys one, she'll buy both.

Ann VanderMeer

Maybe, maybe not. :)

redwagonmaster

How many submissions do you get a month, from writers?

Ann VanderMeer

When open to submissions, I typically get 500 a month. During peak times, I might get as many as 800 to 1,000 a month.

 

But that's when I was advertising in mainstream literary magazines as well as genre publications. (And that includes poetry, though)

redwagonmaster

Which is easier in terms of breaking into print.........magazines or books?

Mary Rosenblum

Which do you think, Ann?

Ann VanderMeer

Re breaking into print

 

definitely magazines because it's a shorter reading cycle, and editors can take more chances

 

and there are more slots for short fiction.

 

And, unsolicited manuscripts are more accepted by magazines than book publishers.

andi

Do you ever ask a writer to write a assignment for your magazine?

Ann VanderMeer

Only nonfiction articles or reviews or interviews.

cosmos

Is this a bad time to think about starting a new magazine? What is involved with start up that you wish you had known as a publisher?

Ann VanderMeer

Magazines are tough right now because of the online competition and difficulty getting newsstand distribution.

 

Magazines have such a short shelf life and rarely get reviewed--which is a form of free advertising.

 

This is why I am moving more toward an anthology format and thinking about doing more books.

 

It's just easier to make a profit on books.

Mary Rosenblum

Yes, the loss of newsstand distribution has really hit the magazine market hard. Is Silver Web subscription only?

 

(You can purchase it on the website, folks.  www.buzzcitypress.com )

Ann VanderMeer

Yes. And at the moment, single copy orders, really. I am doing the best-of anthology and then will decide whether to continue SW in magazine or anthology form.

redwagonmaster

How many books do you publish in a year?

Ann VanderMeer

And more than one distributor went belly up on me, owing me hundreds of dollars a piece.

Mary Rosenblum

ouch

Ann VanderMeer

I don't have a set schedule for books, but when the right project comes along, I do it. The editor talks to the publisher and convinces her it's the right thing to do.

Mary Rosenblum

Entertaining internal conversation. :-)

redwagonmaster

How many books have you published in all??

Ann VanderMeer

The best of SW will be the third. The first two were both award winning or award finalist short novels and sold out in a short period of time. One went back to reprint.

 

Both have been picked up by larger publishers, too.

 

But in addition to that, I have been a reader and editor for all of the books published by my husband's publishing company, Ministry of Whimsy, and the ones he's edited.

Mary Rosenblum

Do you have any employees or do you do this all on your own?

Ann VanderMeer

I have oompah loompas.

Mary Rosenblum

(chuckling)

Ann VanderMeer

Actually, my two children helped out, and I had college students as interns, and my husband helped out, too.

 

Funny story, actually.

 

When my daughter Erin was 10, she was over at a friend's house

 

and she asked her friend's mother, 'What magazine do you publish?'

 

And her friend's mother said, 'I don't.'

 

And that was the first time she realized that

 

not all families have their own magazines.

Mary Rosenblum

I'm laughing.

Ann VanderMeer

How many kids do you know that grew up having the 'opportunity' to read a slush pile? LOL.

lapart

How did you market your magazine when you began?

Ann VanderMeer

Not very well.

 

I went to the first two World Horror Conventions in Nashville and used some interesting strategies to get attention.

 

Before the conventions, I sent letters to all of the major writer guests attending

 

and in each letter was a coupon for a free copy of my magazine if they would come by my dealer's room table

 

and a lot of them did!

 

So not only did people see them at my table, but they saw them carrying my magazine around...

 

Other than that, the usual things--advertisements, calls for submissions, sending out the magazine to reviewers, getting newsstand distribution.

 

I emphasized the artwork quite a bit.

 

A lot of beautiful full-page art by some of the top surrealist artists working in genre and outside of genre

 

and that helped.

Mary Rosenblum

It's certainly well respected now! And you judged the International Horror Guild contests, didn't you?

 

has that affected your outlook as an editor?

Ann VanderMeer

I started judging last year and will continue for the foreseeable future.

 

No, it really hasn't affected my outlook. It just takes up more of my time and fills my house with more books.

 

Of course, the judging is for a more general category than the magazine.

 

I don't look for just the kind of work I would publish in the magazine when choosing my picks for the award.

Mary Rosenblum

How do you judge a book for a contest?

Ann VanderMeer

For the IHG Awards, I'm looking for the best horror fiction --

 

not necessarily the standard, traditional horror novel

 

but definitely something dark and disturbing, with that kind of strange beauty as well.

speckledorf

Do your personal likes or dislikes factor in your choices either as contest judge or for your magazine?

Ann VanderMeer

Yes, of course they do.

 

I was selected as a judge precisely for my particular viewpoint

 

even if I'm still looking at things in a more general way.

 

For my magazine, as for anyone editing in a particular niche, yes--it's highly subjective. I can only publish what I like.

 

With the judging, the final ballot is done by committee. All the judges must agree on the final ballot. So compromises occur.

ashton

Ever read a story that left you wondering what on Earth you just read?

Ann VanderMeer

Yes.

 

Sometimes that's a good thing and sometimes not so much.

 

Sometimes I have no idea what the writer was trying to convey.

redwagonmaster

What got you interested in such surreal work?

Ann VanderMeer

The artist Alan M. Clark.

 

He was the one who inspired me to move the magazine from more general genre to more focused.

 

I met him at the first World Horror Convention...I knew about the surrealists before that, but

 

talking with him made me realize that this is where I wanted to go with the magazine.

Mary Rosenblum

Ah, he did a VERY cool illustration for one of my Asimov stories. Nice guy.

Ann VanderMeer

Yes, we are very good friends.

speckledorf

Have you ever considered writing fiction or is editor your main love?

Ann VanderMeer

He's been helpful to many, many people.

 

I have considered writing fiction, but I have no talent for it...

 

and I'd rather read it than write it.

redwagonmaster

So do you ever have free time?

Mary Rosenblum

I'm laughing.

Ann VanderMeer

Not really. I'm doing laundry as we speak. My husband is typing for me because I jammed my fingers throwing a medicine ball at him...so I'm multi-tasking even now.

Mary Rosenblum

Hi, Jeff! J

Ann VanderMeer

Jeff says hi.

redwagonmaster

To YOU, is surreal more bizarre, weird, or dreamlike? Pick ONE

Mary Rosenblum

This is a good question. That label gets tossed around a lot, but what is 'surreal'?

Ann VanderMeer

The actual definition of surrealism, or part of it, is "convulsive beauty in the service of liberty"--liberty of the imagination, etc.

 

It's not just "dreamlike".

 

The stories I pick all use very specific detail to accomplish their surrealism. It's not

 

necessarily experimental or dreamlike.

 

it's very precise, but just not necessarily realistic on the story level.

redwagonmaster

What is meant by "convulsive beauty"?

Ann VanderMeer

The unexpected, the revelatory or

 

cathartic moment that can be created in the reader by unexpected juxtapositions.

 

But I should say that I did use the term surreal to cover a rather broader spectrum than the surrealists.

 

I just use that as my baseline

 

because what I publish is really hard to categorize.

 

People love labels.

 

So this is the label that I used.

redwagonmaster

Do you accept stories about dysfunctional families that don’t fit typical genres?

Ann VanderMeer

Depends on the story.

 

Some stories I've published had dysfunctional families in them, but I wouldn't define those stories as 'dysfunctional family stories'

Mary Rosenblum

Ann I'm going to be awful and give you a question I HATE to get

 

so feel free to swat me.

redwagonmaster

What is your all time favorite book?

Ann VanderMeer

That's a great question!

 

One of my all-time favorite books is Peter Beagle's A Fine and Private Place, and also Brooke Hansen's The Chess Garden.

 

I had to kick my husband off because he wouldn't type this, but his book City of Saints and Madmen.

 

I have new favorites every year, though.

Mary Rosenblum

Cool book...glad you kicked him off.

Ann VanderMeer

And I also love his new upcoming one, Shriek, An Afterward. Confederacy of Dunces by Toole

megger

Good evening and Happy New Year Ann. If you could make one suggestion for us newer writers, what would it be?

Ann VanderMeer

One suggestion...

 

Keep writing.

 

And keep reading, but read all kinds of things, not just fiction

 

and not just fiction in your genre.

 

And, keep writing.

Mary Rosenblum

Ann, we're getting short of time, so how about if you do the blatant self promotion thing here and tell us what you have coming out, about the current. issue of SW, and Jeff, about your new book.

Ann VanderMeer

The Best of The Silver Web is being published by Prime and will come out late next year.

 

Jeff is writing the introduction..

 

The Best of Leviathan will also be published by Prime late next year.

 

And I will be writing the intro to that (Jeff is the editor).

 

I will continue as a judge for the IHG..

 

Jeff and I both will be very busy promoting his new books next year as we travel to Europe during the summer.

 

Shriek comes out from Pacn Macmillan in the UK next month

 

and from Tor in the US in August.

Mary Rosenblum

Oh, congrats on Shriek!

 

Ann, you have been a fine guest this evening!

 

Thank you so much for joining us.

Ann VanderMeer

It is my pleasure. I had a good time.

cosmos

Thanks, Ann, Jeff, and Mary!

ashton

Bye, Ann! Thanks for coming...and to you, Jeff....for being her hands.

redwagonmaster

Thank you Ann, Mary, and of course Jeff --for typing. Enjoy Europe!!

Ann VanderMeer

Looking forward to that!

 

Thanks and Happy New Year!!!!!

Mary Rosenblum

I hope you keep your Silver Web stories coming in whatever form works.

 

We need more editors with vision.

 

And a vision that transcends the commercial limits.

Ann VanderMeer

Thanks again. I will!

lapart

thank you happy new year

redwagonmaster

Now I have to go delve into surrealism!! I need to find out more...

Mary Rosenblum

Happy New Year to you both!

 

Thank you for coming!

Ann VanderMeer

Thanks for having me.

ashton

Night, Mary! Happy New Year to all of you.

Mary Rosenblum

It was a pleasure!

 

And Happy New Year to all of you!

 

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