Interview: Graduate & Guest Lecturer Scott H. Andrews

Photo credit: Al Bogdan

Odyssey graduate Scott H. Andrews will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Writing Workshop. Scott lives in Virginia with his wife, two cats, thirteen guitars, a dozen overflowing bookcases, and hundreds of beer bottles from all over the world. He writes, teaches college chemistry, and is Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of the seven-time Hugo Award finalist online fantasy magazine Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

Scott’s literary short fiction has won a $1,000 prize from the Briar Cliff Review, and his genre short fiction has appeared in Space & Time, Crossed Genres, and Ann VanderMeer’s Weird Tales.

He has lectured on short fiction, secondary-world fantasy, editing, magazine publishing, audio podcasting, beer, and heavy metal on dozens of convention panels at multiple Worldcons, World Fantasy Conventions, and regional conventions in the Northeast and Midwest, and he has taught fiction writing for Clarion West, The Cat Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers, Houston Writefest, and at Odyssey. He is a seven-time World Fantasy Award finalist and 2019 winner for his work at Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and he celebrates International Stout Day at least once a year.

You’re the editor-in-chief and publisher of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, a magazine for literary adventure fantasy. What do you look for in the stories you buy?

The major thing I love to see in all stories is “the human heart in conflict with itself,” which is a quote from Faulkner’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech. I want to see a character who is dealing with some sort of conflict, whether an external struggle like plot obstacles or an internal one like trying to overcome flaws or to grow in relationships, or ideally both external and internal. But the story also needs to make me FEEL something about that character who is in conflict. I get many stories, by writers who’ve been to workshops, that have a character in an interesting situation, but the writer isn’t executing the story such that the writing makes me feel what it means to be who that character is. For me it’s not enough just to see the character or focus on them; the story has to resonate off the page and make me feel for the character.

As a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Workshop, you’ll be lecturing, workshopping, and meeting individually with students. What advice would you offer to developing writers hoping to get their work published?

Short fiction and novel-length fiction often have very different routes to publication, but some general advice on getting your work published, regardless of its format, would be to research the area that you want to be published in as much as possible. Read in it as widely as possible. For example, if you want to publish epic fantasy novels, read as many epic fantasy novels as you can, that came out the previous year, from the publishing imprints that you admire. Read the ones that are similar to what you’re trying to publish and ones that are different. Read ones that are the current trends, and ones that aren’t. Read the ones that are by debut authors. If you want to publish short fiction, read all the major magazines in the field, especially the ones that are available online for free. Read the stories that made the finalist ballot for the most recent year’s Hugo Awards and World Fantasy Awards. Read the stories that were that author’s first pro-rate sale. Research the publishers who publish the type of stuff you want to publish.

I also think writers need to balance having a thick skin and heeding outside advice. It’s difficult in the moment to know which things to disregard and which to heed, but I often come across writers who aren’t seeing how the material they’ve put on the page is not achieving for the reader what they think it is, and writers who take outside suggestions or follow rules so utterly that their fiction loses a sense of individuality and uniqueness. Learning how to balance that can be the key to absorbing outside suggestions when they are wise, yet still having your work retain its individuality and what makes it uniquely of you.

In 2019, you won a World Fantasy Award for your work on Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Congratulations! Can you offer a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how the magazine runs?

BestofBCSYearNine_CoverThank you! I have three First Readers, or ‘slush readers’ as we call them in fantasy/science fiction—Kerstin Hall, Deirdre Quirk, and Rachel Morris—who read and reply to most of the submissions, but everything other than slush reading is done by me. This is unusual in F/SF short fiction publishing; Beneath Ceaseless Skies is a sole proprietor sort of organization, whereas most zines have a staff of 6-15 people that cover these responsibilities.

For handling of submissions: I read the opening of every sub that comes in, 250-300 a month, and assign it to one of the slush readers or pass it up to myself. I read all the pass-up stories and decide which ones to buy. I write personalized rejections, acceptances, or rewrite requests. (All the rejections from Beneath Ceaseless Skies are personalized; all the rejections our First Readers send are personalized too.) I edit the accepted stories and work on revisions for the rewrite stories.

For the publishing: I do all the line-edits and format the manuscripts for the website. I plan the schedule. I handle the contracts and payments. I do all the communication with authors, requesting author bios, etc. I source and buy and format all the artwork. I make the e-book files and distribute them to e-book vendors. I manage the website, all the posting and scheduling. I do the Facebook and Twitter posting and press releases, send out review copies, submit stories to juried awards.

For the BCS Audio Fiction Podcast: I do all the audio engineering, editing, and mastering. That’s unusual in F/SF publishing, but I’m an amateur musician, so I have a lot more audio experience than most magazine editors. I narrate some of the podcasts myself. It’s a lot of work, but I think it helps to keep the magazine very consistent, to keep providing the readers with that specific type of story that we publish: character-centered fantasy set in other worlds or historical worlds.

What made you want to start your own magazine? What are the biggest challenges?

Back in 2008, there was no magazine publishing character-centered fantasy set in other worlds. A few magazines would publish one or two stories a year that were exactly what I wanted to read, but there was no go-to home for it. So the guidelines I wrote for submissions to Beneath Ceaseless Skies were merely the type of fantasy short fiction that I wanted to read myself.

I was already a F/SF short fiction writer, and I had been a F/SF reader for decades. I had great exposure to literary fiction in high school and college, and I had been co-fiction editor of a semi-pro college literary magazine, but I wanted the mix of literary and imagination, profound and fun, that F/SF short fiction has. A lot of literary fiction is to me a bit idle, with the story seemingly luxuriating more in a moment or a static situation rather than moving forward with a sense of motivation. I prefer stories that move forward in some way, with a drive or through line, and genre stories are often much better at that, with a plot or a character who is changing, and that moves the story forward.

The biggest challenge for me is making sure that everything at Beneath Ceaseless Skies runs smoothly and on time. All of those responsibilities that I mentioned above—the editing, the sorting of submissions, the audio podcast, handling the artwork, running the website—that’s a lot to keep track of. Funding is also a big challenge. Our parent organization is a 501c3 non-profit, so we’re dependent on reader donations and support in order to pay our authors, and we have to run campaigns on Patreon and e-book subscription drives at Weightless Books in order to keep our revenues up enough that we can continue to pay the pro-qualifying pay rate.

This past fall, Beneath Ceaseless Skies celebrated its eleventh anniversary. Congratulations again! What advice would you offer to someone looking to work for a literary magazine or hoping to start their own?

The first important factor to realize is that literary magazines do not make money. 🙂 Short fiction publishing in genre, like F/SF or mysteries, used to make money decades ago in the pulp era, but that is long gone. Only the top magazines in F/SF pay their editors at all, and those salaries are the equivalent of a quarter-time real job. Working for a literary magazine is likely a hobby more than a job, especially in genre.

My advice for anyone looking to work for a literary magazine is to start doing it while still in college. I was on the staff of my college lit mag for four years, two as co-fiction editor, and that was a great immersion in how a magazine that gets hundreds of outside submissions a year actually works.

Once out of college and with a bit more free time, another great way to get exposure into how genre magazines work is to apply to become a slush reader for a magazine. Most magazines accept applications or audition prospective slush readers. If you impress them enough to join their staff as a slush reader, you will get to see the range of stories that come in as unsolicited submissions, and you will learn how to evaluate them and reply to them, and how to work with other readers and staff and editors.

My advice for anyone who wants to start their own magazine is to think very, very seriously about the time commitment. It takes tons of time to run a magazine. The last decade of F/SF short fiction is littered with zines that lasted only a couple issues because their editors didn’t realize how much time it takes; for example, they didn’t understand that they would be immediately deluged with hundreds of submissions a month.

If you think you want to start a magazine, make sure you’re ready for total commitment—20 hours a week or even more. If you flake out after only a few issues, you will disappoint your writers and your readers.

Looking back at your years of work on Beneath Ceaseless Skies, is there anything you wish you had done differently?

As a sole proprietor, I’ve made some simplifications and some sacrifices—some things that might have gone differently if I had had a large staff or more resources. But the fiction itself has always been top priority to me, working with the authors to make their stories great and sharing them with the world, so I have no regrets as far as any of that.


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