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And we’re back...again

Editorial by Bruce Bethke

Failure is disruptive, that’s obvious. What we really didn’t realize until these past few weeks is that success, if you’re unprepared for it, is even more disruptive.

When we rolled into January, we thought we finally had things under control. The series of personal and personnel issues that made 2013 such a ghastly soap opera were finally resolved. Our submissions and slush pile processes were finally beaten into, well, submission. Things at last seemed to be flowing smoothly.

Then the 2014 Campbellian Anthology hit, like a half-megaton kaiju making landfall. Not only did that book come in at roughly twice the originally projected size; not only did last-minute work on it go right down to the wire; but when the book finally did make it out the door, it went viral. We moved more than 35,000 copies in the first 72 hours alone.

We have never had download bandwidths measured in hundreds of gigabytes before.

No, our web server didn’t actually crash, but we slammed head-on into the hard limit on the number of people who could be connected and downloading simultaneously, which for all practical purposes was the same thing. Nor was the impact limited to RampantLoonMedia.com; it spilled over onto SHOWCASE, which we’d set up to be a mirror site. Ultimately we were bailed out by the kind folks at Writertopia.com, StarShipSofa.com, and Tor.com, all of whom volunteered to host mirror sites. I can’t thank them enough—especially you, Tony C. Smith. Thanks!

And thanks most of all to M. David Blake, for bringing the 2014 Campbellian Anthology into the world, even at the cost of huge hits to the STRAEON and Stupefying Stories release schedules. Mr. Blake? From now on, your official title around here is Echidna.

But now that the skyscrapers have finally stopped falling...

Like an earthquake, this catastrophic success revealed some serious faults in our processes. We’ve already shored-up and stabilized the RampantLoonMedia.com web site. The long-delayed overhaul of the SHOWCASE web site is currently under way. What you see here today is not the final form, only a transitional stage, and in the weeks to come SHOWCASE will continue to change and evolve into a faster, leaner, and from our point of view, much easier to use pushbutton publishing system, which should do a lot to help us publish more stories, more quickly, and more often.

[Yes, we know the “Blog” button on the menu bar doesn’t work today. That’s intentional. We are moving to using a blog engine under SHOWCASE and to introducing more blog-like features here, mostly to replace our discontinued Feedback Loop forum, which turned out to be The Mother of All Spambot Magnets. But those features are still in the skunk-works at present, so stay tuned for more news as it develops.]

But we’ve also discovered other serious faults, so now comes the hard part.

Rampant Loon Media and Stupefying Stories are not at risk of failing, at least not in the conventional way. We remain committed to publishing every story we have accepted so far. More importantly, we have the funding already in place to publish every story we have accepted so far. Rampant Loon Media LLC remains solvent and quite adequately capitalized, thank you. We’re not going to run out of cash.

However, we still don’t seem to have enough cash to buy more time. That turns out to be a resource we can only reallocate.

When we launched Stupefying Stories, I was determined to find new ways to approach the author-editor-publisher relationship, in order to correct the things I saw as deficiencies when I was a new writer. We would make certain each submission got two full readings, and then serious consideration before we made a decision. We would never use form rejections, but instead every rejection we sent would be a personal letter with substantive comments. We would go out of our way to identify promising new talent in the rough and to coach writers through the rewrites it might take to lift their stories up from “interesting attempt” to “brilliant success.”

[As a purely personal aside, I can’t tell you how pleased I am to see some of the writers we’ve published—and in some cases, were the first to publish—on the Table of Contents for this year’s Campbellian Anthology. Yeah! Way to go! Q’pla!]

We would never have “reading periods” but instead be open continuously, because you never can tell when that one-in-a-million story might come along. Above all, we would never accept a story and then let it sit unpublished for years, as that was a deeply personal bugbear of mine. Early in my career I had some of my stories sit unpublished for four and five years after being accepted, and thirty-some years later, it still rankles.

Yet here we are, trying to figure out how to buy the time we need to publish the stories we’re committed to publishing. We’ve already pared away most of the noble but impractical ideas we originally had about dealing with slush pile submissions. Now, after examining the problem from every angle, and after considerable discussion, the solution to the “more time” challenge seems obvious. Consider this your two-week warning:

Effective March 1, 2014, Stupefying Stories will be closed to unsolicited submissions until June 1, 2014.

[Note: This does not affect STRAEON, which has a separate submissions queue.]

And then it’s all hands on deck, as we put everything we have into publishing new books.

If this works as expected, we’ll repeat it in October through December, and thereafter go to three-months-on/three-months-off reading periods. I hate to do this—I really hate it when “the way everyone else does it” turns out to be the only right way to do it—but until we develop more depth on our editorial bench, this is what we need to do.

Thanks for your patience,



Bruce Bethke is best known for either his genre-naming 1980 short story, “Cyberpunk,” his award-winning 1995 novel, Headcrash, or lately, as the editor and publisher of Stupefying Stories. What very few readers have known about him until recently is that he actually started out in the music industry, as a member of the design team that developed the MIDI standard and the Finale music notation engine (among other things), but now works in the supercomputer industry, doing stuff that is absolutely fascinating to do but almost impossible to explain to anyone not already well-grounded in massively parallel processor architectures, Fourier transformations, and computational fluid dynamics.

Bruce has a long-neglected personal web site at brucebethke.com, but if you’re looking for more information about him you’re better off reading the interviews at Wag the Fox, Six Questions For, or Strange Horizons. You can try to reach him through facebook.com/bruce.bethke, and that sometimes works, but you’ll have better luck going through facebook.com/StupefyingStories or the feedback email address elsewhere on this web page.