Interview: Jay Lake

An October 2009 LiveJournal post about acceptances and rejections by Jay Lake led to an email exchange about his submission statistics. He graciously sent me a copy of his spreadsheet and I was going to compile some pretty, pretty graphs based on the data. I began a drastic life change (divorce) a week later and that project never came to fruition.

Skip forward a few years. I’d been following a discussions on story revision, submission management and tracking on Codex and elsewhere. I’d gone through several iterations of my own submission spreadsheet, trying to find a process that worked for me. Then I remembered that past conversation with Jay. I still had that snapshot into his early short fiction career, circa 2000-2009, so I reconnected with him to see if he would be interested in discussing his early career in more detail.

I think most people have some goal for publication — pay rate, prestige, SFWA qualification, etc. What was your strategy for choosing where to send a story and how has that changed over the years?

When I first started publishing I was keenly interested in SFWA qualification, yet at the same time (ca. 2001/2002) the independent press was exploding. Print on Demand books had become financially and logistically practical, while Web based markets were first being taken seriously. So, frankly, I went for exposure in casting my net widely. I was submitting to top pay and prestige markets from the very beginning, but I was also producing sufficient inventory to keep stories out at various independent and one-time markets.

In the years since, I’ve shifted my primary writing focus to novels. At the same time, my cancer experiences of the past four years have robbed me of a considerable amount of writing time. Taking these two trends combined has significantly reduced the attention I’ve been able to pay to short fiction. My strategy these days is to respond to requests from markets I’m interested in supporting, while still also aiming for those top pay and prestige markets. Reduced inventory had caused me to pull in net, so to speak, but I’m still an enthusiastic supporter of independent presses.

Fundamentally, I’d like to be read. Whatever path it might be that gets me there.

Your submission history speaks to persistence. In one case, a story had been rejected twenty-two times before selling to Weird Tales. At what point do you give up trying to sell a story?

Usually I trunk a story when it has hit all the markets I think it was likely to be of interest to. Obviously this is a very subjective judgment on part. And I do have a pretty big trunk, so to speak. Every once in a great while I’ll pull out a retired story, rework it, and put it back on the market. So even those trunk stories aren’t necessarily in permanent retirement.

It doesn’t look like you often edit to a story once it’s gone into submission. What will prompt you to make revisions before sending something to the next market?

I usually try to read through a story before it goes out, just for a typo patrol. Every now and then I’m moved to pull a finished story and edit more heavily. In general, though, I’d almost always rather write a new one. Since writing isn’t a difficult exercise for me (other than the time issues mentioned above), this seems to work out fairly well.

As your career and writing progressed — pro sales, invitations to closed markets, award nominations and wins, etc. — do you have any qualms about submitting older stories that are not representative of your current work?

Not really. If I pull an old story out of the trunk and rework it, well, then hopefully I’m functioning within my present knowledge and mastery of the craft. I’ve always had pretty good ideas and a neat turn of phrase. The problems in those older stories are more along the lines of characterization, ending and so forth. That’s stuff I can fix if I want to take the time to do so. My voice is always evolving — if it ever stops doing so, that will be because something has gone wrong — but I’m proud of my earlier work as well.

Jay Lake lives in Portland, Oregon, where he works on numerous writing and editing projects. His 2012 books are Kalimpura from Tor Books, and Love in the Time of Metal and Flesh from Prime Books. His short fiction appears regularly in literary and genre markets worldwide. Jay is a past winner of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and a multiple nominee for the Hugo and World Fantasy Awards. Jay can be reached through his blog at

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