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Clarkesworld 2020 Numbers

Strictly by the numbers, here’s a quick snapshot of Clarkesworld’s 2020 output.

  • 12 issues
  • 69 authors
    • 36 authors had never been published in Clarkesworld before
    • 8 (possibly 10) had never been published before, 2 others were first professional sales
  • 76 stories (classified by Hugo Award categories below)
    • 44 short stories
    • 30 novelettes
    • 2 novellas
  • 552,820 words total
  • 0 solicited works (all works were published from open submissions, not by invitation)
  • 24 interviews
  • 12 articles
  • 76 podcasts
  • 12 works of art for our cover

On seeing that we crossed the half-million words mark in 2020, I thought I should see how many words were submitted. Turns out that the 2020 slush pile contained 63,752,717 words.

Slush Reader Application 2021

If you are interested in being a slush reader for Clarkesworld Magazine, I highly recommend that you fill out our application. When a vacancy opens, we consider/reconsider every application turned in during the last year before soliciting new applications on social media. Quite often these positions are filled from existing applications.

A few notes:

  1. This is an unpaid volunteer position.
  2. Slush readers & other staff are prohibited from submitting stories or articles to the magazine.
  3. You should have time to read an average of five stories a day. (You can stop reading a story when it’s clear it won’t work for us.)
  4. Priority is given to writers and those considering becoming editors.

A version of this post is reblogged every year or so with minor changes.

International Submissions – Long View, part two

In the middle of 2020, I posted some data about the history of international submissions at Clarkesworld. Now, with 2020 behind us, I decided I to fill in the rest of the year’s data and see if anything changed.

Before I go any further, I’m often asked why I care about this subject. Quite simply, I believe that to get the best stories, you have to cast a wide net. Since science fiction is global, I think the net should be too. No country, region, or language has a monopoly on great science fiction. Unfortunately, the history of the field works against my goal. For various reasons–which could be a post in itself–a large percentage of writers around the world don’t feel welcome. I’ve said it before, the number one question I’m asked by authors from other parts of the world is whether or not they are allowed to send me a story. Sure, I can reach the ones that ask, but the others take more work. These posts, and the data behind them, help me track the holes in the net and any monitor any progress (or lack of) made over the years.

These efforts do not determine or shape what we will accept. They influence what we can accept. They create opportunities for us to discover something we might have otherwise missed out on. On principle, we do not solicit stories. Every story in the slush pile is given the same opportunity. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you’ve accomplished previously, or where you are from.

Let’s start with the first graph:

Even with a half-year of extra data, we didn’t see much more than a 0.5 variation in the data from mid-year to full-year. The trends observed in the first half of the year held. This was a pleasant surprise. On a monthly level, 2020 didn’t follow any of the regular patterns. It was clear that the pandemic was having an impact, but in the aggregate, the ups and downs balanced out. As the year closed, we inched (by seven stories) past our previous annual record for total submissions. While it’s been fairly typical for our submissions volume to increase from year-to-year, we did experience a significant decrease when we stopped considering horror stories. That gap has now been filled and we are back to averaging 1100 submissions per month.

The orange line in the above graph represents submissions from the US. As we’ve managed to encourage submissions other countries that percentage has steadily dropped, often around a percent each year. In 2020, however, we saw a change that was nearly double that of the largest shift we’ve experienced in the past. Percentages don’t tell the whole story though. Submissions from the US grew by several hundred in 2020. Looking at these numbers, it helps to keep in mind that the US only represents around 4.25% of the global population.

It’s easier to read the graph when you pull the US out. Due to their weight, the UK, Canada, Australia, and India have been broken out and their own lines. It’s worth noting that India and Australia are now running within 15 stories of one another. Trends for both suggest that India will pass Australia soon.

“Other” is not my favorite way of representing things, but it helps demonstrate how significant the remaining countries are in aggregate. The top ten in “other” are Nigeria, Germany, Brazil, Netherlands, New Zealand, Ireland, Japan, South Africa, Philippines, and Italy. Of those, Nigeria has shown the most significant growth in recent years and has started moving away from the pack. At their current rate, they’ll be broken out from “other” next year.

Side note: There are some interesting country-level trends involving the genres we’re receiving. I’ve done some preliminary work on this and hope to find the time to complete it. As our publication stats would indicate, we do publish some genres more than others, so understanding these trends could be quite helpful.

This was the only chart with a significant change over mid-year. I would have been surprised if we didn’t see an increase, but to have surpass 2019’s high is a pleasant surprise and another positive metric for the year.

The work continues.

 

Short Story Cover Letters

Let me preface this post by saying:

  • These are my preferences for cover letters when submitting a story to Clarkesworld Magazine or one of my anthologies. This is not a standard, though other editors may feel the same way.
  • Most cover letters are awful, so I read them last. I don’t want them influencing my opinion of a story before I’ve even read it. I’ve never rejected a story because of the cover letter.
  • This post will be updated as necessary. Please feel free to ask questions in the comments.

How to address a cover letter

You can skip Dear Neil, Dear Mr. Clarke, Dear Editor, Dear Editor and first readers, etc. It doesn’t have any impact. Simple mistakes here can sometimes work against you. For example, “Dear Sheila” tells me you either meant to send this to Asimov’s or they’ve already rejected it. Every editor I know has had this sort of thing happen to them. Some hate it. Some find it amusing. I couldn’t care less, so just skip the niceties and dive right into the substance.

What should be in a cover letter?

There’s a few things that might have me view your story in a different light.

  • if there’s a particular aspect to this story that pulls from your professional experience (for example, physicist, historian, astronaut, musician, etc.) or personal experience (cultural, regional, temporal, etc.)

You don’t have “write what you know” but if you happen to know, it’s good that I know you do.

  • if you are a non-native English speaker

I have immense difficulty learning other languages, so I’m not going to hold a non-native speaker to the same standards for spelling and grammar. Your approach to storytelling might even be a bit non-standard to an native English speaker. This is important to know for the evaluation and (if accepted) editing phases.

  • if you are under 18 years old

I’m impressed. I never would have done something like this at your age. Like the non-native speakers, I’m going to cut you a little more slack on the grammar and spelling. (Not that I’m particularly hung up on that being perfect to start with.) It does, however, have an impact should we choose to accept your work: your parents or legal guardian will be required to co-sign the contract.

Since I read the cover letter last, think of the above items as having the potential to make me go back and read a bit further. This even applies in instances where I haven’t been the first reader. (Editors and first readers often stop reading a story when they no longer think it will work for a publication.)

  • if you are previously unpublished

I’m not buying names. I’m buying stories. What you’ve sold previously (or not) doesn’t mean this story will be any better or worse. That said, every editor I know loves to be the first person to publish an author’s work. It’s something that should be celebrated and I often don’t find out until after the story has been published. Telling me up-front helps avoid that.

  • if you are submitting a translation

You should be tell me where the story was originally published (if it was), what the original language is, your relationship to the story (author or translator), and whether or not you have the approval of whoever holds the rights on the original (sometimes this isn’t the author or their estate).

  • if you are submitting a reprint

We don’t accept reprints at Clarkesworld, but this does apply to any of the reprint anthologies I edit. I need to know where and when the story was originally published and if there are any restrictions (usually time, region, or language-based) in place.

  • if you aren’t the author

Yes, there are legitimate reasons this could happen. The most common is that the person submitting the work is the author’s agent or otherwise represents their estate. It also common with translations. We will verify this before issuing a contract.

  • if you selected “other” for genre

Since it doesn’t fit in one of the categories we’ve listed, please let us know what genre you think it is.

If none of the above applies to you, then a simple “Thank you for considering my story” is more than enough.

What shouldn’t be in a cover letter?

  • Our submission system already asks for title, genre, word count, and email address. Repeating them here is pointless
  • Mailing address (should be on the first page of the story) or phone number
  • A laundry list of everyone that has ever published you. Never include more than three, but honestly, you should just skip this information entirely
  • Bank or PayPal information
  • A summary of your story

 

Ultimately, I prefer your cover letter to be very short. If your cover letter is long (for reasons other than those positives I’ve mentioned), you’ve likely done something wrong.

International Submissions: A longer view

 
Following on the earlier post about international submissions, our submission data goes back to 2008, so I took another look at the data by year:

A closer look at the change in non-USA submissions:

And to give you some sense of the variety of countries participating: (Keep in mind that 2008 and 2020 are both partial years in terms of available data.)

The lifetime top five countries (US, UK, Canada, Australia, India) were broken out separately because individually their data was the most influential. They were not chosen by language, but it shouldn’t be surprising that it fell that way. Creating “other” to represent the rest of the world allows me to show the progress being made internationally outside those countries. I’m not going to list all 120+ countries participating, but the top ten within other are: Germany, New Zealand, Ireland, Japan, South Africa, Netherlands, Italy, France, Philippines, and Spain.

A Windows into Clarkesworld Submissions by Genre

 

If you go back to 2015 or 2016, the distance between Science and Fantasy is smaller. SF represented around 39% back then and Fantasy was closer to 27%. Dropping Horror as an option contributed to some of this, but SF has slowly gained ground, even without that. I decided to see if the increasing international submissions might be impacting it, but it doesn’t appear to be the case.

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