EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Asimov’s Editor Sheila Williams Announces New Electronic Submissions

Sheila Williams is the Editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine which just announced that they are accepting electronic submissions (for new submissions — no need to re-submit stories if you already have).

SF Signal recently had the opportunity to talk to Sheila about electronic submissions, the short and long term goals of this decision, Asimov’s availability on eBook readers, demographics, and upcoming projects.


Charles Tan: Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. The elephant in the room is what made you decide to finally accept electronic submissions?

Sheila Williams: E-ink is the simple answer. I spend much of my working day writing, editing, and doing production work on a laptop. Large-scale reading on a backlit computer screen has never appealed to me. I’ve appreciated many aspects of an electronic submission system for sometime, though. I purchased a large-sized reader last summer with the hope that it would offer me some of the advantages of reading a book or a magazine without giving me the added eyestrain of a computer. My electronic reader has been a complete joy. I can carry around my newspaper, back issue of Asimov’s, the New Yorker, Shakespeare, Sherlock Holmes, Thucydidies, and The Windup Girl, and read any one of them whenever I feel like it. I’ve already experimented with a few manuscripts and have found that they are easy to read and to take notes on.

I’ve also been concerned about international submissions for a while. In addition to the high costs and the difficulties authors encounter when they try to find international reply coupons or U.S. postage, the mail service isn’t completely reliable — I never received Gord Sellar’s first submission and Somtow Sucharitkul has had to express-mail material to me from Thailand. I’ve even found that parts of Canada can be difficult to reach by mail. I’ve already been beta testing the new system with a number of authors living outside the US and I’ve been delighted with the ease with which the system works.


CT: When will the electronic submission system be implemented? What infrastructures do you have in place to prepare for this shift?

SW: We’re open to electronic submissions beginning today, April 30th. Our submission form is online at http://asimovs.magazinesubmissions.com/index.php. It was designed specifically for us by Neil Clarke, and I owe him a huge debt of gratitude. Authors should check out the guidelines on our website: www.asimovs.com for more information on how to submit stories and poems. Dell Magazine’s in-house IT team of David DeLeo, David Pfaltzgraff-Carlson, and Nick Ruggiero designed a system that automatically transfers material to the proper folders and translates it into reader-friendly formats for my electronic reader. I owe a great deal of thanks to all these guys.

CT: What are your short-term and long-term goals that you hope to achieve with this change?

SW: My short-term goal is to be more organized and to process work more quickly. I’m happy that authors will now get a response indicating that their story has been received. I’m very glad that I will now have an easily accessible record of when stories were submitted and when and what the response was. I don’t know if this organization will actually decrease our response time because I expect that the number of submissions will go up, but I expect it to simplify some aspects of my work.

Asimov’s will be beta testing this system for the other Dell fiction magazines. If the process works well for us, then one long-term goal is for some of the other magazines to follow suit.

I’m not sure I have other long-term goals specifically attached to this form of submissions, because we already request and set Asimov’s from electronic copies of stories. Since so many people send in disposable manuscripts, I am relieved to be seeing the end to a great deal of wasted paper.

CT: I’ve heard that you’re a Kindle reader, so reading electronic submissions shouldn’t be a problem on your part. How about the rest of your staff?

SW: I read most of the submissions to Asimov’s myself, but Dell Magazines does plan to purchase electronic readers for various staff members.

CT: Moving on to eBooks, how is Asimov’s doing on the Kindle? Can I ask about actual sales figures and comparing them to your print sales?

SW: Asimov’s is currently selling close to four thousand copies of the magazine each month on the Kindle. We’re continuing to see growth in this area. Print sales have been holding steady, both on the newsstand and with submissions. Print editions of Asimov’s still dominate because they account for about 85 percent of our sales and more of our revenue. It’s very exciting to see growth in a new area, however.

CT: Will the magazine be available in other formats, especially with new devices like the iPad?

SW: We’re supposed to be on the Nook soon, and may even be on it already. We’re working on a version for the iPad.

CT: What other changes are in store for Asimov’s?

SW: I’m very excited about our first-ever electronic only anthology. It’s called Enter The Future: Fantastic Tales From Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, and it will be available from Amazon and other venues. Authors in this anthology include Connie Willis, Robert Silverberg, Nancy Kress, Gord Sellar, Sara Genge, Allen M. Steele, and Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

CT: What are the plans for marketing the magazine?

SW: For the past couple of years, we’ve been spreading the word about the magazine at Comic Con and we hope to continue to do that. We’re also involved with a project called DailyLit with Cory Doctorow and other publishers. It delivers short stories, reviews, and other free content directly to a reader’s inbox.

CT: Could you tell us more about the magazine’s demographic and its pass-along readership in print? Where do you see that statistic skewing as Asimov move’s towards electronic submissions and publishing?

SW: We haven’t done a new study of our demographics for about fifteen years, so I can’t tell you exactly who is reading the magazine right now. Because magazines are kept on living-room coffee tables and in the bathroom, and because the magazines are donated to libraries and doctors’ offices, advertisers maintain that every issue of a magazine is seen by around 2.5 people. That means that including our electronic subscribers (who may not share their magazines) each story in Asimov’s has been seen by about 45,000 unique individuals.

CT: Over the years, there’s been some criticism levied against your magazine. Do you think some of these changes will address some of those concerns?

SW: Probably, but new criticisms will come up. That’s the nature of publishing. It will certainly make it a lot easier for some writers to submit stories to Asimov’s, which should alleviate those concerns.

CT: How do you see the magazine evolving in the next few years, whether in terms of editorial, marketing, or publishing in general?

SW: I definitely see growth in new electronic markets. We’ll continue to seek innovative ways to publicize the magazine. We’ll also continue to look for the best SF we can find and we’ll always be open to new writers from diverse backgrounds as well as popular professionals with established track records. Our print edition is still doing very well. We’ve never been particularly dependent on advertising for much of our revenue, so, despite the recent downturn in the economy, our sales have held steady and we’re still profitable to produce. I think the print and electronic editions of the magazine will continue to happily co-exist.

CT: In your opinion, where is genre publishing headed?

SW: It’s never easy to declare exactly where genre publishing is heading. As soon as you jump up and make a statement, it seems to veer off in a completely new direction. A lot of people read short stories online, but as more people become comfortable with electronic readers we will probably see an increase in electronic editions of magazines that are created for and distributed via these readers.

4 thoughts on “EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Asimov’s Editor Sheila Williams Announces New Electronic Submissions”

  1. This interview is just fantastic.  Charles asked every question I’d ever think of asking.

    It will be interesting to hear Scalzi’s reaction to this, he’s been on Asimov’s case on e-submissions for a while now.

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