Tuesday, 17 November 2009

First Impressions of First Edition

A few weeks ago I picked up a copy of 'First Edition' magazine: issue 08 October. I was so excited to see a magazine of short stories and poetry on sale in W H Smith that I instantly bought it without even looking through it. The cover looked professional enough - the only dubious aspect being the big orange 'sticker' on the front that said 'Get yourself published for FREE!' which I thought was a bit iffy to say the least.

Anyway, have you heard of the saying 'If you don't have anything nice to say, then don't say anything at all'? Well, if you agree with that phrase, you better not read on.

I'm afraid to say that I have only read half of the magazine. And that's because after reading the first half, I simply didn't want to read the rest.

The first thing that struck me about the magazine while flicking through it was the odd little bright blue 'Did You Know?' boxes. Did I know that the collective noun for ladybirds is a "loveliness"? No, I didn't. But I didn't see what that had to do with the coffee-shop story on the same page. Do the editors really not have enough confidence in the stories they have chosen that they have to fill the magazine with these bright, child-like boxes of unrelated trivia?

As for the stories, this magazine has obviously endeavoured to publish the previously unpublished, or little published, writer. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, that's good. There are plenty of talented writers out there that haven't had much published. It's just a shame that the magazine has found so few of these writers. It's an even bigger shame that the editors haven't made the effort to advise a few of the writers of minor changes or tweaks to their work which would make all the difference - or perhaps they didn't know how. Things like removing repeated phrases or words in close secession, or removing redundant phrases. Some of the stories by international authors could have done with a bit of light editing to smooth out some of their phrases.

I couldn't finish one story because not only did the speech have too many exclamation points in it for my liking, but the narrator of the piece used several exclamation points too. As well as this, there was the double exclamation point (!!) and even the question-mark-exclamation-point (!?) - I don't much like having stories shouted at me, but at least they could try to be grammatically correct. This is something the editors should have caught.

Another thing that greatly annoyed me was the un-uniformed way that paragraphs were presented. Some stories had line breaks, and some had indented paragraphs. There really should be a house style to the magazine. It would have made everything fit more visually together.

The presentation of the magazine didn't seem overly professional on closer inspection. The justified text was often stretched to fit the line, especially when each word was on a new line to wrap around an image. And the pixilated advert on the back cover didn't look so sharp either.

Overall, the writing wasn't that great. There were a lot of tell-tale signs that these were inexperienced writers. I'm not claiming to have the greatest experience as a writer, but I noticed quite a lot of the following:

+ Semi-colons where there should be colons.
+ Commas where there should be full stops.
+ Many stories were comprised of too much 'tell' and not nearly enough 'show'.
+ Too much back story - some stories didn't really get started until the middle of the text.
+ Unnecessary detail.
+ Cliched subject matter - yes, there was a story about writers block. There was also a story that seemed suspiciously based on the Watchman premise.

These were the main things I picked up on. I could write more specific things about each story, but I don't think it is needed.

The magazine is also dotted with poetry. I am a fan of poetry, but I'm afraid I didn't much like many of the poems that I read. The editors seem to have favoured rhyming couplets, even when the subject matter is serious. Using rhyming couplets for a somber poem is very hard to do well because of the contradictory 'sing-song' nature of the rhyming structure. Saying that, I did enjoy a poem called 'Thingymebob' by Vincent Pryer.

A few of the stories I really enjoyed. I thought 'Burnt' by Joel Williams was very well executed. I also enjoyed the observant yet engaging prose of Brian Lockett in 'Ken, Doreen and Bernard'. 'Beautiful Jeanette' by Vanessa Woolf-Hoyle was pleasantly wacky, and a few other stories I thought had merit too.

It is a shame that not all of the stories were quite of the same standard. Nearly all of the stories had potential. But potential isn't a finished story. And I want to read a magazine that is full of great, polished stories.

As the title of this post says - these are just my first impressions of the magazine. I have spent a good few hours reading it thus far. I'm in two minds as to whether or not I will finish it.

I find it a shame that with so many great short story magazines out there, this is one of the only ones I've seen on the shelves of a mainstream store.

If you want to read some great short stories, I recommend you try this magazine:

Greatest Uncommon Denominator


At the moment they are promoting a great offer on all the PDF versions of the magazine where you can set your own price. Oh, and unlike First Edition magazine, GUD don't make you pay to submit your work to their electronic version - which I found out about over at Nik Perring's blog. Nik also posted First Edition's editor's response to this issue.

I hope I haven't offended any of the writers - that was never my intention. I simply feel that some of these stories may have been prematurely published.

In my opinion, First Edition could do with some redrafting. Perhaps a Second Edition is in order?

13 comments:

  1. I think the word you're looking for is 'pulp'.

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  2. Scrap my previous comment, the pulps had standards and paid authors.

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  3. I'm really disappointed to read this because I'd really, really hoped FE would have been as good as it sounded.

    I guess, in their defence, you or I aren't their target audience. Just seems such a shame to waste what sounds like a huge readership.
    Ho hum.

    Nik

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  4. Thanks for your comments, guys.

    Nik, I was a bit disappointed, too, espcially since they offer such great discounts for students and accademics (only £2 an issue). But even considering this price, I don't feel that I would want to subscribe.

    I would rather the magazine came out quarterly, and more time was spent selecting submissions.

    They have quite a small editorial team, I believe, so they must be under a lot of time pressure to get this magazine out monthly.

    As for author payment - I would rather the magazine be a bit more expensive (say, £4.99) and the authors see a bit more money. I would pay up to £6 (and I do) for a quarterly magazine that has had more time and effort put into it.

    In my opinion, of course.

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  5. I'd pay that too, Sophie.

    The trouble is (and I know I'm playing devil's advocate here, but I'm trying to be fair) if it's a magazine for new writers then a lot of what they publish might not be the best (as you've said), so charging the same as a 'quality' journal wouldn't work because you'd end up buying the one with the better writing in it.

    Maybe it's just one to avoid. And I say this after sending them something (in July, withdrew it last week after being told if I'd not heard anything in a couple of months it was a No) AND in the knowledge that some good writers have been published by them. I guess it's difficult for them to be consistent.

    The biggest disappointment, for me, is the wasted readership - a good, well priced and widely available short story magazine could do So Much Good for the form. This looks like it's in danger of doing it harm and, dare I say it, cheapening it.

    Credit to them for trying though. And I'll bet they think we sound like a right pair of literary snobs!

    Nik

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  6. Nik, I totally agree with you. Except that I don't think that new writer necessarily = not great quality. I'm sure there are loads of quality new writers out there.

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  7. I'm sure there are. Actually, that's wrong, because I KNOW there are.

    Be interesting to see if anything changes with them.

    Thanks for posting this btw and for an intelligent review.

    Nik

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  8. Hi Sophie
    It is a really great initiative, to give a platform to previously unpublished writers. But only if the work is good, and the writer worth reading. Otherwise what's the point! Your analysis above is tough but realistic and it is something that I hope the editors take on board. Otherwise, they are actively damaging the short story, as you say.

    On to other things, and I cant find your email otherwise Id be asking you that way... Please can I bring Short Circuit to your lovely blog for an airing in the blog tour?? I know you have the book, and can send some challenging questions my way??

    vx

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  9. Hi Vanessa, thanks for dropping by. Yes, I may sound a little harsh, but as I said, this is simply my honest opinion of the magazine. Others may feel differently, of course.

    As for the blog tour, thanks for asking me! I have dropped you an email about it.

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  10. I hope you do more of these critiques, it's a great learning experience. It was especially entertaining to read because of your incorporation of humor: "Did I know that the collective noun for ladybirds is a 'loveliness'? No, I didn't." Good laugh for the day!

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  11. Glad you enjoyed it, Angela :)

    I am planning on doing a couple of posts about other magazines, actually, so watch this space!

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  12. I'm more impressed by the fact that you read the whole magazine. Or at least, that was the impression I got. If I'd come across something fitting your above description, I would put it down just a few pages in. If I see something that has already been released for printing, my expectations are immediately high.

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  13. Thanks for your comments, Jm Diaz. But you're right - I didn't get to the end of it. I got about half way through.

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