Shuffling the Deck
by Don Webb
Regular readers of Bewildering Stories may wonder a little about issue 274. “What? Only three short stories? There are usually five. And short stories are your biggest category. “In Times to Come’ says you’ve got almost a six months supply. And what happened to mine, which was scheduled for this issue?”
I wouldn’t blame you for thinking the editor was a card sharp dealing seconds or the Greek bottom. “Hey, I’m the top card, and I’m gathering dust!”
One two-page short story, an essay, and a book review have been shuffled out to issue 275. We've also done a double split: two short stories have been moved to Serials in issues 274 and 275.
For the first time ever, we’re only one short of having as many titles in serials as in short fiction. And short fiction is ahead only because the shortest story scheduled for issue 275 has been shuffled into 274. Still with me?
The on-line schedule gives the reason for all this: issue length. And why is that important? For several reasons: I can edit and format only so much in one week. The Review Editors, who proofread everything, can do only so much. And we have no illusions that our readers sample everything in our weekly cornucopia.
Works are scheduled initially in the order in which they’re accepted. But sheer chance will cause what Star Trek likes to call “space-time anomalies.” Imagine you’re a railroad yard master. Five big freight trains arrive all at the same time. How do you keep traffic from backing up all the way down the line? You split the big trains and switch them onto sidings. That way, only one short story and the upcoming serials get delayed one issue.
Not all trains carry the same kind of freight. Neither Eric Kregel’s “Geordie Harris” nor Shannon Prince’s “Beautiful as a Fish” qualifies as a true serial: both are short of the 9,000-word limit for any title in one issue. “Geordie Harris” is action-packed and thought-provoking. “Fish” is fascinating prose poetry, and poetry requires that you throttle way down and enjoy the scenery. However, both are structured in ways that make serialization not only easy but desirable: they’ll keep readers coming back.
A lot of other considerations go into scheduling. For example, scheduling poetry resembles a game of blackjack. You don’t want to “bust” by scheduling the same author twice in one issue. And each new essay we receive causes a reshuffle: we try not to have the same author twice in consecutive issues, although that may happen.
Now, to quote Johnny Cash, “I hear that train a-comin”...” And we can hardly wait to see what it’s carrying!
Copyright © 2008 by Don Webb for Bewildering Stories