Some Random Observations

In this blog posting, I just want to make a few observations on a couple of aspects of writing.  To wit:

First, I stopped at a  local Barnes and Noble bookstore this afternoon to get another science fiction book.  I wandered down the aisle where the sci-fi/fantasy books were shelved and, as usual, glanced briefly at the books that led to the sci-fi section.   Those books consisted largely of classics and other fiction, not sci-fi.  Then I hit the science fiction section, and the contrast was—as simply as I can put it—eye opening.  The classics, all those non-sci-fi books were brilliantly colored: reds, yellows, and oranges seemed to dominate, though other colors were evident too.  But the sci-fi books were almost uniformly black.  Coal black, black as midnight in a coal mine, black as the ace of spades, to use several well-worn clichés.  The actual dividing line was between the classics and the newest releases of sci-fi books, and certainly not all sci-fi books are released in blackened dust jackets.  But in this particular case, almost all the new releases seem to have been painted with a brush dipped in India ink.  Even a classic such as Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy is in a deep blue, and it stuck out only because I was familiar with the name.  I did see two or three books in much lighter colors, and I even bought one, an anthology of space opera and military sci-fi called Infinite Stars, edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt, published by Titan Books.  It has a kind of light tannish-red grizzled cover, and it stood out from all the blackness like a sun in the midst of infinite darkness.

I’m not sure I can tell why so many sci-fi books are published in dark covers.  Perhaps it’s a trend of the times.  There seems a tendency toward dark plots nowadays, of heroes who are not what they seem to be, or who have to overcome vastly destructive personal demons before they can fulfill their destiny and rescue the damsel in distress (or whatever it is they have to do).  There are, of course, many sci-fi books released in recent years that are not dark (Victor Milan’s Dinosaur series comes to mind), but there is a serious trend.  I, personally, am not in favor of it.  If I ever get any of my books published (the good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise), I will certainly insist that the covers be lighter, even much lighter.  Reds and yellows are common.  Even a light blue would be good.  What’s that you say?  The author doesn’t have any control over the cover?  We’ll find out.

Second, I want to comment briefly on one aspect of getting short stories published.  I’ve written several short stories, mostly literary in character, and I’ve been trying to get some of them published in literary journals around the country for quite a number of years.  Most of the journals state in their instructions to submitters something like: “read a back issue or two of our journal to get a feel of what kind of works we are looking for.”  Okay, well said.  Good idea.  And I have been reading some of the journals I submit to, when I can get to them.  But I’m becoming more and more convinced this advice is questionable at best.  Several times (more than I can count on all fingers and toes) I’ve read a journal and said, “Aha!  I have a short story that will fit well with this magazine.  I will give them a try.”  So I send in a story, wait a goodly number of weeks or months and, invariably, comes a rejection that says, “We did not feel this story was a good fit for our magazine.”  So I wonder, what value is it to read the magazine beforehand if they’re going to reject something the author thinks will fit their editorial style?  Granted, the whole process is subjective, and the editor’s decision is the last word, but if the author can’t make a good judgement on the “fit” of the story, that just makes it harder to get published in the first place.

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