Minishorts raised some important issues in her comments to my entry about Silverfish writers and I thought I'd like to answer them. She wrote:
i'm not sure how silverfish does the screening process, but somehow when i read the anthologies, i feel many others could have been given a chance.
as for every 20-story anthology, where are the other 100 stories that got rejected (and there would have been more than just a hundred submissions, i believe). there have been multiple opportunities not to waste these works (whether or not they're works of art). sometimes, all it takes is a small recognition from a significant publishing house to fuel a spirited writer/author.
as for writing a novel, let me put it this way... i've come this far (which is not very far at all) to notice that there's a great deal of 'knowing the right people' to get that dream off the ground. Seriously.
I'm just being honest about this.
I can tell you about the "screening process" because I was editor of one of the collections, Collateral Damage.
Now let me say at the outset that editing is a very personal thing. Every editor has his/her own set of prejudices about the kind of fiction they like and this will be reflected in the selection made. It's for this reason that any publisher of anthologies will make sure that each collection is edited by a different person - as Raman has done.
I received all manuscripts submitted - there was no prior screening, and did not know the identities of the writers involved. (I was able to guess one or two from the style and subject matter, but was careful not to let this influence me.) I read all of them. There were, if I remember correctly just 97 manuscripts, not at all a large number. (I think many got put off by the title of the collection, which had been chosen before I came on board, and which I decided to interpret as widely as possible to give everyone a fair chance.) A large number of the manuscripts came from non-Malaysians and Malaysians living overseas. How many local writers actually grasped this opportunity? And a large proportion came from writers who had already been published in the series. How many new writers made the effort?
Now quality is important: you can't put out an anthology and expect people to pay just for the kindness of it. Each story has to earn its place. I describe my criteria for selection in my forward to the book.
Some of the stories (fortunately, a minority) were so badly written that it was an effort to read beyond the first couple of paragraphs. Attrocious grammar and spelling, cliched language, the point of view jumping all over the place ... how much of a chance do such writers deserve?
Some stories were excellent (a larger minority) and earned their place in the book immediately.
The rest of the stories I reread, reread again. There were tough decisions to make. In the end I went with what I felt were the most interesting pieces to make up numbers. (I'm the first to admit that there is a certain patchiness to the collection. The reviewer in the NST compared the collection to Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans - an analogy I quite liked!)
Of the stories I selected, I felt that some of them needed to be edited or worked on further and contacted the writers with suggestions that I felt would improve their work. It was entirely my own decision to do this. I did not have the time or opportunity to actually sit down with any of the writers (and many were overseas anyway) so we corresponded by e-mail. Most of the changes I suggested were made. But where writers didn't want to make changes, I respected their decision. All this was very time consuming, but worthwhile. (And Robert Raymer who edited the next collection was perhaps even more supportive to his writers.) My point - isn't this giving writers a chance? Would editors in the UK or US, where the pool of good writing to choose from is much larger, have taken the trouble?
Now let's think about the stories that didn't make it into the collection.
Minishorts writes "there have been multiple opportunities not to waste these works" and I think she's got a point here.
Some promising stuff got rejected. I did indeed feel sad about it. (And have been on the receiving end of such rejection myself so know how it feels.) Editors aren't unkind vicious creatures who rub their hands together in glee when consigning other people's work to limbo!
Many of the stories frankly needed more work. There were good ideas, interesting characters perhaps but a great deal more effort in polishing and shaping was required in many cases. And of course writers need to learn more about the craft of writing.
The best way to learn is simply by reading enough quality writing. If you want to learn how to write short fiction, immerse yourself in the best short story writers and learn from the masters.
I also think that new writers need more support in terms of facilities to workshop their stories. Courses, workshops, resources, facilities, writing groups, readings. We do need to fuel our new writers, as you say Minishorts, but it does not have to be the responsibility of a publishing house.
I applaud those people who are doing something to help local writers. Names that spring to mind are Bernice, RuhayatX, Pang, Beth Yahp and MPH Writer's Circle. And Raman's Silverfish which has played an enormously important role in encouraging local writing in English. These are all small-scale initiatives sure, but don't you feel a groundswell of something happening here?
There are no magic wands to be waved but a great deal of collective responsibility on the part of those who care about the state of local writing.
So over to you now, Minishorts. What would you like to see happening? And more importantly - how do you think it could be got off the ground?