Kirkus Withdraws a Review (and that’s a big deal!)

Recently, YA author Laura Moriarty wrote and sent out arcs of a book called American Heart. Its description:

Imagine a United States in which registries and detainment camps for Muslim-Americans are a reality.

Fifteen-year-old Sarah-Mary Williams of Hannibal, Missouri, lives in this world, and though she has strong opinions on almost everything, she isn’t concerned with the internments because she doesn’t know any Muslims. She assumes that everything she reads and sees in the news is true, and that these plans are better for everyone’s safety.

But when she happens upon Sadaf, a Muslim fugitive determined to reach freedom in Canada, Sarah-Mary at first believes she must turn her in. But Sadaf challenges Sarah-Mary’s perceptions of right and wrong, and instead Sarah-Mary decides, with growing conviction, to do all she can to help Sadaf escape.

The two set off on a desperate journey, hitchhiking through the heart of an America that is at times courageous and kind, but always full of tension and danger for anyone deemed suspicious.

Basically a story about how Muslims are people too and rounding people up in camps is a bad thing, probably handled with all of the nuance and subtlety of Margaret Haddix’s cheesy Among the Hidden series.  Not really my kind of thing, probably written as a genuine and heart-felt progressive kumbaya from a well-intentioned liberal YA writer.

Unfortunately, it was less-than-well received by certain individuals on Goodreads:

Jabba the hudge

It’s easy to laugh about this, because progressives have the tendency to eat their own–you can never be progressive enough to satisfy those more progressive than you. So, “ha-ha, look at the lady who tried to virtue signal and got dog-piled for ‘doing it wrong'”, right? Well, it gets more complicated than that.

Moriarty had submitted her book for a Kirkus review, a site that will write reviews for authors on a for-pay basis. Now, paid reviews are sketchy as it is, but this is gonna take the cake!

Originally, Kirkus gave a positive review for Moriarty’s book. It was apparently even reviewed by a Muslim woman who “is an expert in children’s &YA literature and well-versed in the dangers of white savior narratives”, and “she found that American Heart offers a useful warning about the direction we’re headed in as far as racial enmity is concerned.”

So, ironically, Kirkus has chosen to silence a Muslim woman because people disagreed with her review. They’ve backpedaled and thrown up this new review calling the book problematic.

Here’s the thing about reviews. Reviews are always going to be subjective. They are the opinion of the reviewer giving the review based on their experiences, prejudices and believes as they make contact with the content they’re reviewing. So, yeah, even ‘fuck muh whiteness!’ up there is perfectly entitled to her review and I don’t have any real problem with it. But if you’re a review site whose sole purpose is, well, reviewing stuff, then you need to stand by reviewers’ reviews. You may feel like you need to say, as an editor, “I don’t necessarily agree with what this reviewer said,” but to pull down a review and take it out to the woodshed because people have different opinions from the reviewer means that you should probably get out of the reviewing business because your credibility is shot.

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Brian Niemeier is Saving Superversive + a Warning to the Pulp Revolution

Every once in a while, someone likes to meme the faux rivalry between the Superversive and PulpRev crowd. The latest has been the images of some white knight guy representing the former with a dread knight guy representing the latter, with implications ranging from the nature of each’s approach to storytelling to just that one is more badass than the other.

Brian Niemeier has written a bit of an analysis and response to the rivalry which can be read here in full. But he outlines a few points that his readers have brought up and some “actionable advice” to the Superversives.

  • The Superversives have more high profile authors.
  • The #PulpRev has a far bigger cultural footprint–due to their greater willingness to interact with the public on social media.
  • The Superversives lag behind in terms of marketing their ideas.
  • On the whole, the #PulpRev has the upper hand–though the two movements aren’t exactly in direct competition. There’s a high degree of overlap.
  1. Your membership is too private and insular. Discuss what’s going on in the movement out in the open more often. Conversations about upcoming projects, new members, superversive philosophy, etc. should be had in public to raise awareness and build interest.
  2. The Superversive Roundtables are too long. Try keeping the ordinary shows to one hour, tops. Your audience will give you a little longer for special events.
  3. Sci-Phi JournalForbidden Thoughts, and Astounding Frontiers are good. But there’s always room for improvement. Superversive magazines and anthologies should have a stronger editorial voice, and the story selections should show greater intentionality.

 

To me, the biggest difference between the two movements is that the Superversive movement is defined by its pursuit of the ideal of “superversive” while the Pulp Rev movement is (or was) defined by a pursuit of a certain approach to storytelling. The former is ideological while the latter is structuralist (if you don’t believe me, just see how often folks bandy about “Lester Dent’s Master Formula”).

I do see the Pulp Rev slipping towards where the Superversives are now, and I’ll explain why after I touch on Brian’s 3 points.

  1. The Superversive website requires users to sign up to comment, and that’s a barrier. Folks see the Superversive movement as more of a clique revolving around that website than a movement. Because the site has the name, the site is the movement. It’s a perception thing.
  2. Yes; shorter shows done more often with fewer people is generally better. Too many folks talking over each other combined with awful mics, tons of background noise, and ominous heavy breathing make the Superversive streams near unlistenable despite otherwise decent content. Despite not having any heavies of literary import, the Whippersnappers Superversive casts are generally better (even if they’re totally wrong about something!) because there are only a few of them instead of nearly a dozen.
  3. I can’t really judge these anthologies as I haven’t read any of them yet, but there’s the sense that they’re all coming from the same small group. Part of this is because not only is Superversive a movement and a website it is also a publisher. On the other hand, take Bryce Beattie’s Storyhack; some folks consider Cirsova one of the first Pulp Revolution publications, but Bryce has launched an impressive pub on his own completely independent from us. There’s no tie between Bryce and I other than that we’re looking for similar types of fiction. (We did ad-swap, but there hasn’t been any sort of collaboration between us as a means to ‘advance the movement’ or whatever.) As another example, I’ve published a couple stories from Misha Burnett, but he’s doing his 21st Century Thrilling Anthology (apologies if that’s not the exact name) completely independent from us or anyone else (though I think they may be approaching Superversive for possibly publishing it). I don’t know how many folks independent of the Superversive website crew are working on their own and saying “this is my contribution to the Superversive movement.”

Now I need to turn things to the Pulp Rev… Some folks worried about the Pulp Rev ossifying because I was gonna maybe go invite only in a year and a half from now. But I see it ossifying now for other reasons, moving towards having the same issues that Superversive has now. Ask yourself this: what growth has there been in the Pulp Rev community in the last three months? It may not have stalled out, but it looks like it’s plateaued.

Okay, now here’s a bit of a disclaimer before I go on; I don’t try to wrangle our authors into being a part of the Pulp Revolution – if they want to join in, they’re welcome to, but being published in Cirsova isn’t being drafted into a movement. Also, being involved in the Pulp Revolution does not improve your chances of being accepted and published by Cirsova.

  1. Because people are naturally ideological in general, there’s going to be a push towards defining a movement in ideological terms. As the Pulp Rev becomes more political and ideological in how it defines itself, it will face many of the same hurdles that the Superversives do – namely that the stories will be approached from an ideological rather than a structural lens.
  2. Having a Pulp Rev website signals cliquishness akin to what the Superversives suffer from. Outsiders will see a website and assume that the Pulp Rev is the website and the website is the Pulp Rev, and people not writing for the website are not part of the movement. It’s a perception thing. Just as a singular Superversive site dominates the Superversive movement and potentially stifles its growth, a PulpRev website could do the same.
  3. Branding the movement is a surefire way to kill it. You can be a movement or you can be a branded commodity, but you can’t be both. What killed the Sad Puppies was that the Mad Genius Club clique wanted to make Sad Puppies be a brand associated with them, and to ensure that, they had to stamp out independent actors who had believed that it was a movement. I don’t see that happening with the Pulp Rev, but so long as people see the Pulp Rev treated as a commodity (specifically tagging books as being “PulpRev”, selling “PulpRev” merch), it will have potential to kill its growth. The new wave in science fiction is about independence; who wants to be part of something that already has a website and is selling T-shirts with the name of the movement? Better to start your own new thing!

Honestly, the Pulp Revolution is far too small at this point for anyone to actually make money off trying to exploit the name, but people participate in movements, not brands – and if they think it’s a brand, they’re not going to participate. How does this tie into the issues Brian brings up? Because Superversive is seen as a brand rather than a movement. Fair or not, it’s seen as the Jason Rennie + John C. Wright & Friends’ brand. While Brian is trying to move the Superversives away from that, the Pulp Rev has been moving towards it. You can nip this in the bud, but it may have to be soon.

This is not meant to impugn anyone’s motives. I don’t think anyone who was caught up in the excitement of the Pulp Rev thought about exploiting or seeking to steer the movement or was even aware of the possible repercussions of putting together unofficial official sites or selling unofficial official merchandise. But at best, I think they will only serve to limit the movement’s growth at a point just before it could reach a critical mass.

One of the nicest things about Castalia House’s blog offering a platform for the Pulp Revolution is that while Castalia House is a brand, it has not imposed itself on movement. In fact, the commercial publishing wing of Castalia is almost wholly independent from the Pulp Revolution. Vox Day has never said “You’re on my site, so you’re going to talk about and promote the kind of science fiction I like and publish.” And Jeffro, the blog’s editor, has not put the clamps down or laid down the law or acted like he was the pope of the Pulp Rev despite having a tremendous amount of clout within the movement.

Remember – for a movement to grow and succeed, it can’t just be a vertical. Just as Superversive needs to branch out to thrive, the Pulp Rev needs to remain diffuse if it’s going to survive.

Update on “The Future”TM

Couple things…

I’m almost done going through the submission pile. I’ve got about six stories left to read. If you haven’t heard from me yet, you will hear from me soon. If you’ve already heard from me and your story has been accepted, I’ll be in touch with a terms and an offer in the next couple of weeks. I think we have enough content to keep us tided over for a bit, maybe even into early 2019.

I’m also serious about wrapping up Cirsova’s “Volume 1”. We’ve published some great stories and will continue to publish great stories, as we continue to receive and read great stories. But the scope of the magazine has shifted away from what it was originally intended, and unless I forcibly refocus it, it will continue to do so and become a cyclical problem. Unfortunately, the inclusion of Heroic Fantasy in the title and publishing works of fantasy and sword & sorcery have nudged the window a good bit in that direction, which also means that the spread has gone that direction with it. Honestly, we get far too many mundane fantasy pieces, fairytalesque fantasies, and lone swordsman stories with very little to make them stand out. And if changing our subtitle will get me one less little girl in the woods story, so be it, it’ll be worth it.

On the plus side, I think that we may have enough solid contributors who can and do write what I’m looking for that we can and will go back to an invite-only status. That will allow me to conserve my time and resources to work with the writers I know can write what I’m looking for, or, for those who are close and just good writers, I can have them write to spec.

We’ve got things planned out for Cirsova Publishing for a couple years now, which is good. I don’t know if we’ll stay the “gold standard” of the “Pulp Revolution”, but I really can’t focus on that right now, because I’ll probably be busy trying to address the massive disconnect between modern, contemporary writing and the sort of pulp stuff I’m actually looking for. Even with our guidelines clearly spelled out, it’s obvious that a lot of folks don’t really get what we’re looking for when they submit – part of that is that folks don’t always look at the markets that they’re submitting to (a problem that will be addressed, to a degree, by going invite only for a bit), but also I feel like I’ve failed to make it understood just what I’m looking for because people are not nearly as aware of the examples I’ve held up as I think they should be. So, I’ll be redoubling my efforts towards raising awareness of the kinds of stories from the pulps I enjoy and specifically what it is I’m looking for and wanting to see more of. Cirsova Publishing may even branch into collections of public domain works by relatively unknown pulp authors who should be better known. Or at least I’m thinking about it. I don’t know yet. I still hate the mercenary nature of most pulp reprints.

Anyway, the strategic direction of the flagship magazine is temporarily locked in for the foreseeable future; volume 2, if there will be one, won’t launch until 2019. The Pulp Revolution’s successes and failures in 2018 may shape how well we do as an influencer in that community, and with so many new publications springing up, it would be unsurprising if an agile newcomer became the new tastemaker for that scene. There are enough writers writing enough content that there’s not going to be any kind of real “drain” on the scene, which is great. Switching back to invite only will also allow us to be more agile; we took submissions this summer in part because so many people have wanted to write something for Cirsova, but anything we buy now won’t be published for at least 9 months, much of it longer, and that’s hardly agile! It’s nuts to think that nothing written in 2018 will be published by us in 2018. That’s an entire year of energy that 2017’s Pulp Rev boom will have fueled that we won’t be tapping into! Ultimately, that may be a huge mistake for us, but by 2019, I think we’ll be jumping right back in with the agile approach.

Lastly, reviews…

Cirsova Issue 5 has been out for 3 months, sold nearly 250 copies, and has only garnered one review on Amazon. I’ll reiterate that Amazon reviews help us A LOT, they’re quick to write and it doesn’t cost you a dime, but I don’t think that saying it again will make that much difference. At this point, I really don’t know what to do.

I will be hitting people hard for reviews on Issue 6; the earlier in an Amazon’s product life reviews are left, the better that product tends to do. Y’all can make it up to me by helping Issue 6 get those critical 25 reviews the first couple weeks it goes live!

Still Reading!

We’re making headway into our submission stack. I got over halfway through our submissions list. Then I checked my email today, and I am now significantly less than halfway through our submission list.

If you want to submit, submit soon. If we get to a point where it’s clear that the cup overfloweth, we may cut off submissions a bit early.

Lastly, now is a great time to support the magazine by buying back issues, merch or taking out an ad with us. Online sales revenue this month will be available next month to be put towards acquisitions. Ads will help right away and will go into our fall issue coming out in a couple months.

So, uh…

A Friendly Reminder On Manuscripts

With lots of markets opening up for submissions, not just Cirsova, and lots of new writers trying their hand and getting short fiction published, I think it’s worthwhile to do a short post on how a Manuscript should be formatted.

There are lots of sites out there that give guidelines on how to format your manuscript, but here are a few things that are biggies and why you should do them.

  • Include your name and contact info on the first page – This helps an editor put together an address book. If they need to send you anything or get in touch with you, they can just check the submission manuscript, and there it is!
  • Approximate Word Count – I’m not as much of a stickler on this, since Office does a word count for you, but it’s still not a bad idea to include this to the nearest 100.
  • Page number/author name/story title in the header – I don’t have a preference on any particular format on this, but numbering your pages and making it easy to get them back into order should they get out of order is super helpful.
  • Do use double spacing – This makes it easier to mark-up your manuscript.
  • Do not use paragraph breaks to manually create double spacing – I don’t know how this even happens or if it’s due to opening the wrong type of file format in word, but having to remove all of those paragraph breaks manually later on is a pain.
  • Don’t use Tab to create indentation – These have to be manually removed anyway, so instead set the paragraph indentation using the paragraph formatting.
  • Don’t use hyphenation for words at the edge of the page – It’s a rarely occurring problem, but sometimes if a word gets broken up by a hyphenation at the edge of the page, it can be hard to tell if the word is just broken because it’s at the edge of the page or if it’s meant to be hyphenated. So, play it safe and turn off auto-hyphenation.

Cirsova Publishing Doing Reprints?

I’ve had more than a couple of writers ask me if Cirsova would be interested in buying previously published stories to reprint in Cirsova. Up to this point, my answer has been “No” for several reasons.

  • First, one of the selling points of Cirsova is that we are offering new and exclusive content that can’t be found anywhere else.
  • Second, if a story has been published elsewhere, especially if it has been self-published, that puts a new issue of Cirsova in competition with that work in a way that may not be beneficial to either Cirsova or the author.
  • Third, it would not make sense for us to pay the same rates for a non-exclusive story as an exclusive story. I want to keep Cirsova paying semi-pro rates, but I can’t currently justify those rates for reprint stories while paying the same as I would for exclusivity.

Still, I’ve had a lot of inquiries about reprints and have been brainstorming on the matter. I have a couple thoughts:

  • A reprinted story has less “value” to Cirsova than an exclusive story, so it would make sense to pay a lower rate.
  • A reprinted story would require a different agreement between Cirsova and the Authors of the story. (i.e., we would not be purchasing first rights, exclusivity, etc., just whatever necessary mechanical rights to include them in an anthology).
  • It would make the most sense for us to do separate issues/anthologies, keeping Cirsova Magazine a Semi-Pro market featuring original content while creating a new, offshoot title to showcase reprints, a sort of “best of indie” meets “in case you missed it”.

Given that we’re in the midst of an anti-gatekeeper movement, I find it ironic that I’m essentially in a position where I’m asking people “Is my gatekeeping enough of a selling point that I should consider this?”

At least from an author’s perspective, the answer may be yes – the belief that they can reach a wider readership with their work via Cirsova is a real thing (even if I can hardly believe it myself!), and bringing great stories to the masses is something I’m passionate about. And enough authors have approached me about reprints that I’ve begun to seriously consider.

I put our current regular readership at roughly 150. If we get 100 more yeses than nos, I’ll whip up a framework for a new Cirsova annual spin-off.

Note: This title would have no bearing on what would be acquired for Cirsova HF&SF; it would be a wholly new publication under the Cirsova “banner”. Think of it like a “Tops In Science Fiction” vs. Planet Stories proper, only we’d be reprinting other stories rather than those featured in Cirsova HF&SF.

You Can’t Judge a Pulp by its Pitch

With our own open submission period fast approach, and in light of Corey McCleery’s post on the short story he’s writing for a Superversive anthology, I feel that I need to issue some clarifications on just what it is we’re looking for as a magazine that has had the attention of the Pulp Revolution.

First, I feel it’s important to point out that Cirsova was doing what Cirsova was doing prior to folks talking about a Pulp Revolution, and we intent do continue doing what we’ve been doing regardless of what directions either the folks involved in the Pulp Revolution movement do or what the Superversive movement does in response.

A lot of folks have said “I’ve got this great idea for X where Y happens in Z; there will be plenty of Q and T!” and I’ve absolutely encouraged people to write them.

But the thing is, a Pulp is much more than its pitch. A lot of pulp stories, when you try to distill their plots down to a sentence or two, come across as the wildest, most off-the-wall gonzo nonsense you can dream up. Except when you actually read the stories, they’re not only internally consistent, they often take themselves and the wild situations therein fairly seriously. While there might be some humor, the elements in the stories are usually not played for laughs. And I think that’s part of where we differ from some of the “Retro-Pulp”/”New Pulp” stuff, in that we’re not using the aesthetic for kitsch or playing it for laughs. It’s a very difficult concept to get across. It’s also why I think it’s worthwhile to show by example, which is why I strongly recommend folks read the pulps (particularly those that I’ve reviewed, because they are literally the context I’ve been using and measuring other stories against) and read previous issues of Cirsova to get an idea of just what I’m looking for.

Now, why did I bring up McCleery’s post?

Well, in addition to trying to define Superversive in his post, and trying to show that they are not mutually exclusive, he gives a pitch for his story that he is advertising as being a Superversive Pulp story:

It’s about a man, a man confronted with the injustices of a tyrannical usurper trying to slay the woman he loves, and to defend her, he becomes something greater than he is, using self-discipline and training to go from a plain warrior to someone of unmatched prowess. He’s morally straight and kind, but has courage in the face of incredible adversity, won’t shirk from trouble because it’s, well, trouble, and also refuses to do the wrong thing when that would make life easier, but compromise his conscience. Right there, that checks off two boxes listed above (Aspiring/Inspiring and Heroic).

He travels the world I have made, sees wonders, sees beauties unearthly. He goes into the most dangerous of places, and grows stronger for it.

He is guided by virtue, and eventually meets up with some other characters, many of whom are morally questionable. Through their interaction with him, these characters become more selfless, virtuous, and heroic themselves, and go from morally grey to heroes (there’s the Aspiring/Inspiring). In this world, there’s a clear line denoting what is good and bad, and that the evil usurper is bad, a cutthroat despot who isn’t scared to shed innocent blood (and she does this out of envy and desire for power, not because she was abused as a child or was a psychopath). Good is good, bad is bad, and while the hero isn’t %100 good, he aspires to be good (thus, the Virtuous box is checked).

And ultimately, the hero fights to restore the throne to the rightful ruler, and does so. He is not a pawn of chance, incapable of making his own decisions. He decides, and those choices have consequences. His actions have an effect, and he doesn’t react to the world, but proactively acts (thus fulfilling the Decisive category). And lastly, I’m not deconstructing ideals of heroism or other healthy cultural paradigms (thus fulfilling the Non-Subversive category).

So, I’m writing a Superversive story, one that will be published in a magazine.

Here’s the catch. It’s being published in Astounding Frontiers, Superversive SF’s pulp revival magazine. The description above is accurate, but focuses on the Superversive themes, not the pulp.

My story is about a soldier, charged with guarding the elegant and demure Space Princess, scion of a star (She kind of glows). He teams up with a stoic yet wise Void-wielding pseudo-Buddhist attack monk lizard alien man, a rough-and-tumble yet oddly maternal cyborg techno-necromancer (who’s art is drawn from Daoist philosophy), a giant crustaceanoid barbarian who’s bulletproof and very violent, and the crustaceanoid barbarian’s love, a sorceress insectoid-alien who is refined and demure (as refined and demure as an insectoid lady of high breeding level can be).

He flies in a ship that sails through the ether, and goes from a soldier to a sorcerer-knight who wields the ether and the Void, among other powers. He breaks into the vault of the imperial sorcerers to plunder its knowledge, and fights the horrendous beast that lurks in the heart of a sun. There’s travelling through the myriad avenues of death, Way Cool armor forged from the substanceless Void, action and heroism aplenty.

My story has battles on space ships, duels to the death, a classic romance, and a Space Princess, ethereal and beautiful. It has sorcery used alongside laser cannons and futuristic technology, where a battle can take place with scrambler beams or ether blades. Settings include the deadly library of sorcery, an ancient temple, and ruins of an M.C. Escher palace that is suspended in the heart of a hollow sun. It looks at genre distinctions and laughs in their face.

Now, a couple of things about this. This is a pitch. It gives you an idea of what the story will be about, but there’s no way to know whether this story is going to be any good or not. Also, that’s a LOT to try to cram into a short story*. Awhile back, I made a one sentence pitch for Schuyler Hernstrom’s The First American as an example of how it could be done (“Lizardmen stole a barb caveman’s dame, so he goes to a wizard who is an astronaut who gene-splices him and gives him a shotgun so he can rescue his dame from the lizardmen”), and that was a novella length work into which all of they X, Y, and Z were crammed. Another thing, I don’t know what deal McCleery has with the Superversives for their publication, so this is in regards to our publication, not theirs or anyone else’s, but as a general rule, unless you’ve finished writing your story, submitted it to me, and I’ve paid you for it, don’t say “here is the story I’m writing that will be published in Cirsova”, regardless of whether I’ve told you that your elevator pitch sounds awesome. That hasn’t happened yet, but it’s something I felt worth pointing out.

But back to pitches. What sounds great in a pitch needs to work out on the page. We’re not specifically looking for gonzo or how crazy and wild you can write a story. There may be a mistaken notion about the Pulp Revolution that to them Pulp is like some kind of Mountain Dew commercial, skiing down a mountain, chased by laser wolves, and screaming “PULP!” A lot of us make joke about that sort of thing, but that’s more about the bants than it is the serious business of writing and critiquing stoires. As for Cirsova, we are not the silly magazine that publishes silly and extreme stories for the sake of silliness and extremity. We’re looking for GOOD stories that are well written and have the potential to be entertaining to readers who enjoy action and romance. Ultimately, that is a far stronger consideration for whether we will acquire a story than whether it falls into a Superversive rubric or a Pulp rubric or a Pulp Revolution rubric, straw or otherwise.

*:Note – Corey’s pointed out that his pitch is for a serial; this is stuff that you CAN work into something longer, like a serial format. For our own submission purposes, since we only take serial works on special basis and by request only (please do not ask), we recommend only cramming in as much as you can reasonably work into 5000-7500 words without spreading your story too thin.