This morning in the dealer's room at WorldCon, I was introduced to an Australian author who was interested in submitting to us. She asked me, as many others have asked me in the past, what kinds of things we're looking for; and as I always do, I kind of fumfered and never managed to give a good or useful answer to the question.
Tonight, I dug up an uncompleted draft of an entry I started writing after attending the party at the end of the first week of this year's Clarion West. That entry still needs plenty of work, so I'm not gonna post it yet, but there was one piece of it that I can extract and post now. The context was that, at that party, Leslie H took us out on the back patio and gathered the students around, and we had a question-and-answer session.
I think it was Leslie who started off the questions by asking what we're looking for. I always answer that question badly. I end up saying things like "We're always hoping for more science fiction (as opposed to fantasy)" and "I have a hard time answering that, because there are three of us whose tastes you have to satisfy, and if I tell you to send more stories with spaceships, one of my co-editors might disagree."
But when I stopped to think about it after the party, I came up with a (definitely non-comprehensive) list of some things that I personally don't see enough of and would like to see more of. Of course, you can fill your story with all of these elements and still end up with a story I have no interest in publishing. But for what it's worth, here's a brief list for the moment:
- Non-Christian holiday stories. We almost never see stories featuring or appropriate to any of the major world holidays other than Christmas. Well, and Halloween, sorta kinda.
- Multiculti stories. We're getting better about this, but most of what we publish--and most of what we receive--is still set in English-speaking countries (or sometimes Western Europe), featuring an all-white cast. I'd like to see more stories featuring characters of color and/or non-Western settings and cultures. (And writing what you know is all very well, but I do want to see more white authors writing the other.) (I feel like I have to include my usual disclaimer: there's no quota. Chances are good that the majority of the stories we publish will continue to feature white Americans. If you're a white American who writes about white Americans, there's no need to feel excluded or discriminated against.)
- Stories we've never seen before. Invent wild new stuff! A whole lot of the stories we see are based on--or derived from, or retellings/reworkings of--other stories (especially fairy tales); there's of course nothing wrong with that, but stories with plots and characters and situations that I've never seen before always make me sit up and take notice.
- Stories with interestingly complex worldbuilding/backstory. It's a lot of work to put into a short story, but I sure do love it when authors put in that work.
- I'm always looking for good and unusual takes on gender stuff, of course.
- You know what I don't see nearly enough of? Smart funny feminist high-tech stories. Go forth and write me one!
There are lots of other things I like in fiction, of course; and plenty of the best stories I see are things I didn't know I wanted. And of course lots of disclaimers apply--for example:
My co-editors may not agree with the above list. And if you write us a story like one of the above and we don't buy it, you'll have to find some other editor who wants it. And if fifty people write us holiday stories and send them in the same month, the chances that we'll buy more than two or three are pretty slim.
But all that said, I figure the above list is at least better than my giving one more repetition of "Uh, how about maybe something with spaceships in it? I guess?"
I may as well throw this open: other editors (both of SH and of other venues), what are some kinds of things you're particularly looking for? Try to be a little more specific than "good stories" or "science fiction." (And feel free to provide a link to your publication's website if you like.)