I recently got an email from a writer asking whether I was going to have Tangent review an audio ‘zine their work was published in. And thus, my dithering on the issue comes to a head.
Adding audio publications to Tangent’s review lineup is something I’ve been mulling over for a while now. As a writer, I’ve been ecstatic to see my work narrated by Escape Pod. As Tangent’s Managing Editor, I’ve observed the growing popularity of podcasts and the inevitable rise of audio publications accompanying it with interest.
But here’s the thing. While I’m a huge fan of audio storytelling–stories have their basic root in an oral tradition, and it stirs something both poignant and primal in me to hear a story well told–there are some very salient arguments against adding audio ‘zines to Tangent’s rotation.
1. Varying production values. Tangent’s mission is to review stories. While some commentary on layout, cover art and other ancillary items often sneaks into reviews, I discourage it. The words on the page (or on the screen) are what my reviewers are evaluating, not how beautiful the illustrations are or how easy the font is on the eye. My reviewers know to separate the production values from the stories in their reviews, or at least they’re supposed to. However, in the case of audio publications, it’s much harder to divorce the production values from the fiction. An excellent voice actor has the ability to turn a mediocre tale into a fantastic one, and likewise, a second-rate voice talent can make even the most brilliant story dreary. And that’s not even touching upon such things as sound quality, mixing, and background music/sound effects.
2. What makes for a good audio story isn’t necessary the same as what makes for a good written one. Guiding reviewers on how I’d like them to approach this sort of discrepancy is uncharted ground.
3. My reviewers are already bearing a pretty hefty load. Adding audio ‘zine(s) means pulling resources away from reviewing print/electronic publications–of which there are many queued up that I’d like to add to Tangent’s rotation but simply can’t.
4. There are logistics issues. A number of my reviewers are on computer systems that can barely handle PDF review copies. I find it likely that many will have a difficult time dealing with big honking audio files, and perhaps won’t be able to play them at all. Amazingly enough, not everyone has an MP3 player. This isn’t insurmountable–I can always download files, convert them to .avi, and burn them to CD and mail those out, or request CDs directly from editors–but it’s another complexity and potential drain on my time.
On the other hand:
1. I’m fully aware that by not reviewing audio publications, Tangent may end up overlooking some truly excellent stories–a disservice to both readers/listeners and the specfic community at large. It’s Tangent’s purpose to review short genre fiction, no matter how it’s presented. No doubt there was hemming and hawing about ezines when they started cropping up, and of course publications like SCI FICTION have proven that short stories don’t have to be on paper to be brilliant. Good fiction is good fiction. So how can I justify drawing a line at audio?
2. I may be severely and unjustly underestimating my reviewers. They may be able to separate the story from the production just as easily as they can with written presentations. Plus, I’m betting there are some who would absolutely love a chance to review audio fiction, and I very much like to have happy reviewers.
3. I really, really love the format, both as a fan, hearing fine tales presented as an oral narrative, and as a writer, having my own work read aloud. If I love it that much, then other folks will as well. Ergo, I can expect it to be a growing trend. I’m going to feel pretty stupid when a story in an audio ‘zine wins a Hugo and I didn’t deign to have Tangent review it because it wasn’t in print.
I’ve also considered having a single dedicated audio reviewer for Tangent, but that comes with its own problems and complexities.
And so the pondering continues.
“Honor is a Game Mortals Play” is up at Critters. Go critique, yo!
– An email from my Cricket editor letting me know that my check for “Li T’ien and the Demon Nian” was not lost down some bottomless chasm, but is in fact making its way to me via convoluted and circuitous Accounting Department channels. Huzzah!
– Editorial feedback and suggestions from Aberrant Dreams on “Nobodies and Somebodies.” They think the ending could be stronger, and I agree. Going to burn some brain cells and see what I can come up with.
– An email from one of my local(ish) writer’s group peeps sounding me out on doing a talk at her daughter’s middle school. She was chatting with her daughter’s Gifted English teacher and mentioned knowing a published, up-and-coming children’s lit/YA author (Aw, shucks. Am I really up-and-coming?) and would she be interested in having me speak/read to the class. The teacher said yes, and so I’m contemplating speaking to a classroom of gifted 13-14 year olds, which might also lead to an actual paying, much larger, assembly-type speaking gig at that school and perhaps the adjoining high school if I do good.
Obviously, this is a fantastic and potentially fun chance for me to promote myself and my writing directly to one of my major target audiences. And it might even lead to money. However, not only does public speaking petrify me–and I’m talking panic attack, “I’d-rather-be-dead-than-speak-before-a-group” petrify–but children that age intimidate me.
Granted, “Gifted English” helps a lot. I’m much more comfortable around bright kids. They tend not to remind me of the kids who made my burgeoning adolescencehood a thing of profoundly terrible misery.
I really need to get over my sundry neuroses. I write a lot of children’s lit. I would be very stupid to pass up this opportunity. 21 bright kids in an English class–I have even been assured that they are well-behaved and polite–is as safe as it’s going to get, (barring the whole shut-in option, which is still under serious considering).
My brain gets it. My stomach and blood pressure, not so much.