Visions of Paradise

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

How I Almost Got Published in Analog

In the late 1970s, one of my correspondents was a guy named Ed Byers. Ed contacted me out of the blue and asked if I would like to exchange manuscripts for critiquing. Since I was spending most of my non-working time writing fiction then, the chance to have my mss. critiqued was too good an opportunity to pass by.

For the next half-dozen years, Ed and I exchanged mss. His were very professional, and my comments were usually few and mostly relegated to word choices and sentence structure. Every ms. of his that I critiqued invariably sold to Analog, sometimes with my suggested changes, sometimes without them. None of my stories which Ed critiqued sold, even though I always incorporated Ed’s suggestions into them. But it was not Ed’s fault, since I had never sold any story previously, so how could he be expected to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse?

In 1980 Ed suggested that we collaborate on a story. At first I was intimidated; after all, by then he had quite a few stories published in Analog, while I was still unpublished. Nor was there any doubt that he was a much superior writer to me. But perhaps the chance to collaborate with somebody on Ed’s level would help my writing, and what did I have to lose by trying? So I agreed.

Ed proposed a plot for the story, as well as an outline. The format of the collaboration would be simple: he would write the first scene, then I would edit it and write the second scene. We would continue this process until the story was finished, after which Ed would give it a final going over. I agreed, and Ed sent me the first scene. It was superb, and needed absolutely no revision by me. I struggled to write a second scene that would at least come close to his own standards. Eventually, not totally satisfied, I sent it back to him.

When Ed sent me the third scene, I noticed immediately that he had altered about 75% of what I had written for scene two. The germ of it was still there, but not a lot else. And, of course, he had improved it considerably. His third scene was also superb. So with considerable trepidation I wrote the fourth scene, and sent it back to Ed who to write the last scene.

When Ed sent back the completed story back, my fourth scene was almost unrecognizable, much better than it had been, and Ed’s concluding scene was also very good. I waited awhile before contacting Ed, then I sent him a letter telling him that my conscience would not allow me to accept 50% of the credit (as well as half any money, although that was a secondary consideration) for a story which was about 90% his work and only 10% mine.

Ed was somewhat dismayed by my letter, but when I basically insisted he went along with my request. He submitted the story to Analog and sold it under the title “Misfits.” It was published in 1981 and received fairly widespread acclaim, finishing 5th in the annual Analytical Laboratory Poll.

Of course, when I saw “Misfits” in Analog, I immediately regretted my pangs of conscience and wished my name had appeared on the story, but that’s life. At least Ed realized my small contribution to the story. After he died prematurely of cancer in 1989, nobody else knew of it until now.

2008 update:

This past summer I inventoried my science fiction collection. In addition to my books, I also had 1,400 prozines, mostly Galaxy (the complete collection of 247 issues), F&SF (407 issues), Asimov’s (207 issues), Worlds of IF (165 issues) and an assortment of others. I have read nearly all of them, the exception being the 1950s Galaxy which I bought a few years ago from Chester Cuthbert and have been going through very slowly.

I also had 155 Analog from the late 1960s through the early 1980s. Those are the magazines I am least likely to reread, so why shouldn’t I give them to somebody who might enjoy reading them himself? My friend George is a Physics teacher at my school, and a big sf fan with whom I discuss sf regularly. I asked him, and he told me he was interested in the Analog. I gave him about 100 issues, keeping those with stories I was likely to read again by the likes of Robert Silverberg, George R. R. Martin, Gordon R. Dickson, James H. Schmitz, Joan Vinge, and Ed Byers.

But I totally forgot about “Misfits,” and two days after I gave George the issues of Analog, I went running upstairs and quickly scanned through all the remaining issues. There were many fine stories by Edward A. Byers, but no “Misfits.” I had given away my only copy of my only (almost) professional publication! Arghh!!

Fortunately, George is a gentleman who found the 14 September 1981 issue and returned it to me. Immediately I reread it, and it was definitely too damned good for me to have written. I was correct to remove my name from the story.


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