Friday, February 13, 2015



A friend asked a question of the general world over at one of the social media sites and since I had an an answer and since the answer required a lot of typing and since I know others will be interested in this particular story, I thought I'd answer it here.  I omit the question since its phrasing doesn't lead in to what I have to say here.  But you can figure out the gist of it.

What is the most important quality a writer can have?


Decades ago, when Gardner Dozois had only been editor of Asimov's for a couple of years, I dropped by his apartment one day and asked what was new.

He held up a manuscript and let it drop.  "There's a writer named Salmanezar [for obvious reasons, I'm using a pseudonym here] who keeps sending me crappy stories.  I reject one and send it back to him and by return mail, I got another one with a cheerful note saying he's amazed I didn't buy the last but here's another he's sure I'll take.  And it sucks too.  So I send it back and by return mail I get another story and another cheerful letter.  I can't get rid of the damned things!"

"That's interesting," I said.

Months went by, with the occasional reference to this energetic but unpublished writer.  I dropped in on Gardner and asked what was new.  "Remember that Salmanezar guy I keep telling you about?  Now, when he sends me a crappy story, he includes a little catalog for even more crappy stories, with an order form for me to check off which ones I'd like to look at.  Plus, the form stipulates that for every three stories I ask to look at, he'll throw in free a collaboration he's done with another guy who also can't write."

"Huh," I said.

Over time, "that Salmanezar guy" became "Salmanezar" and then "Sal."  Always, his letters were cheerful and upbeat.  Always, Gardner bounced the stories on first read.

Then one day I dropped by and asked what was new.

"I bought a story from Sal," Gardner said glumly.

"Really?!  Is it any good?"

Gardner shook his head like a great shaggy buffalo.  "I don't know," he said.  "I don't know if he's gotten better or if he just wore me down."

Well, I never read the rejected stories, so I don't know if Sal got better or not.  But I thought that story, and a lot of other stories that Gardner also bought from him were pretty good.  I'm glad that Sal didn't let rejection stop him.

So, yeah.  Persistence.

Oh, and . . .

But don't forget the part about cheerful and upbeat.  Nobody ever got in trouble for addressing an editor too positively.



Perscors said...

A friend of mine was able to enter the comic industry through the same tactic, although I would say he was at least a decent artist. Every week he would send off a panel or two to Marvel or Image. Eventually he got jobs at both.

Susan Bateson said...

Trying to track down your book title. (I have the uncovered remainer book from a charity book sale ) and would like to know the excact title so I can download and print a copy of the cover for it. (it offends my sensibilities to have a book with no cover). The title as I read it is Michael Swanwick's Periodic Table of Science Fiction...and further down it says Lawrencium. Neither of those titles comes up in search of Goodreads, so I am stumped- can you help? Thanks

Anthony Panegyres said...

Uplifting little post, Michael. I've shared it with some friends.

Michael Swanwick said...

It's The Periodic Table of Science Fiction, Susan.

JL Stillman said...

Good advice for breaking into any field.