Honors Student Amanda Whitehouse ’11 is completing an internship position as First Reader with Strange Horizons, a small online sci-fi magazine. The only thing "genuinely scary," she says, is the content she helps select for the magazine.
“A first reader is to a magazine editor what a clerk is to a judge," she says, reflecting on the nature of her position and on the selection process of small, independent publications. "Odds are if you send a submission to a magazine, it doesn’t go to an editor. It goes to someone like me. That was news to me, as until recently I still imagined editors as important looking men seated behind large wooden desks wielding rubber stamps. As a first reader I read everything. I’m told that will amount to between five and 10 stories a week. I write a brief evaluation and an even briefer summary of each, weed out the stories that are noticeably sub-par, then send everything on to an actual editor who makes the final call.
“This has managed to feel simultaneously like grunt work and too much responsibility. On one hand, I’m not responsible for the overall quality of the publication. On the other hand, I am the final authority on some people’s work.
“Having read the magazine for a few years, I’m more comfortable with that than I might otherwise have been. If nothing else, I feel I have a firm understanding of the kinds of pieces that are likely to appear in Strange Horizons. Anything that seems like it could have been written by Neil Gaiman or Terry Pratchett is automatically in, as is anything genuinely scary," Whitehouse says.
“Thinking back, I realize now that I was never given any clear instructions as to what is and is not appropriate for the magazine. I suspect that was done intentionally. Strange Horizons is a 15-man, almost-not-for-profit enterprise. As far as I know, the magazine was created for the reading pleasure of its staff—and anyone else who might be interested. To that end, there doesn’t seem to be any artistic agenda behind the magazine, nor does there seem to be a push to create one.”
Read more about Whitehouse’s internship experience.