Tuesday, December 26, 2006

So You Want to Publish Your SF / Fantasy Novel

I was recently asked, “How do I get my science fiction novel published?” An interesting question, especially since it came from a previously unpublished writer. My gut response was, “Uh…good luck?” But that’s not terribly helpful. So I thought it about it some more, and then I started researching, and this is where it ended up.

This is written with newbie authors in mind, though there may be useful information for the initiated or curious. All errors and oversights are my own; comments and addenda welcome.


Getting your Science Fiction or Fantasy Novel Published

Let's start with the basics. Here are three possible routes:

1) Publish short stories in a genre magazine, then get an agent to sell your novel to a publisher
2) Get an agent who will sell your novel to a publisher
3) Get a publisher to put out your novel

1) Historically, the standard route for a writer to break into sf/f is to publish short stories in the genre (i.e. science fiction and fantasy) magazines, then to write a novel, and then to get an agent who sells it to a publisher. You’d need to publish some short stories to get noticed by a publisher, especially without an agent (who would be very hard to get without publishing said stories).

Having said that, times change, and the debate rages on (most recently on Justine Larbalestier’s excellent blog). Do you really need to write short stories to get a novel published? There are two points of contention. The first issue is stylistic: does writing short stories makes you a better writer or novelist? I’m going to leave that alone, except to say that the short answer is yes—and no. The second issue is practical; can you get a novel published without having published short stories? Many authors seem to say you can, but they are published authors, so it’s hard to say how many folks have forgone the short story route and gotten their novel(s) published. I think just about everyone agrees that you can’t make a living writing short stories. Certainly the name recognition of being a published author of short stories can only help you.

A genre short story is generally considered anything up to 7500 words; it is possible to go longer, venturing into novelette or even novella territory. Study the markets to see what length they are looking for. Write lots of short stories to submit to sf/f magazines and submit the best ones. If you've written a novel, you can submit sections of it as stand-alone stories. Check out The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA)’s writing section to find out basic things like how to format your submission properly (and for God's sake, please have it proofread before you send it out). Expect lots of rejections, ignore them, and just keep sending things out.

Some short fiction outlets:

Print: Asimov’s, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Analog, Realms of Fantasy, Interzone, Fantasy Magazine, Subterranean Magazine, Black Gate

Online: Strange Horizons, Infinity Plus, Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, Helix, SF Crowsnest

Two of the top online sf/f story outlets went under recently, SciFiction (on SciFi.com) and The Infinite Matrix. Sad. But the online market is growing, and you should definitely be submitting to it.

For more short story outlets, go to SFWA and Locus Magazine's links page. Get some reference books, like Writer’s Market 2007. Don’t bother to get an out of date edition; even the most recent edition always needs updating (as with any reference).

A quick aside about Locus Magazine: Locus is the trade magazine for the science fiction and fantasy world, and the absolute best resource for current news about the genre. Read it. Actually, you should subscribe to it.

2) Agents. Get an agent. They know the business, have contacts in it, and know how to negotiate contracts. They generally take 15% of what you get. It’s totally worth it. Having published short fiction makes it easier to get an agent. A great online resource for finding an agent is the Association of Authors’ Representatives. You can search their database using terms like “science fiction.” A good print resource is the Guide to Literary Agents 2007. Again, expect rejections. Keep trying.

3) Publishers. Go to the source. Try pitching your novel directly to publishers. To submit a novel to sf/f publishers, and to avoid the slush pile make sure to follow submission guidelines—the publisher may want any combination of a cover letter (almost always), an outline, and/or chapter samples.

Some sf/f publishers:

Tor/Orb/Forge, Del Rey and Bantam Spectra (both divisions of Random House), Eos (HarperCollins’s SF imprint), Baen, Orbit(just launched a new American SF imprint), Thunder’s Mouth (imprint of Avalon), Night Shade, Pyr, Wildside/Prime

Tachyon currently doesn’t take submissions, but if (when?) we start, I'll blog about it immediately.

An interesting point about first novels. Tobias Buckell did a survey about the number of novels a published writer had written before selling one. 35% of the 150 authors that responded had had their first novel published, which leaves 65% who wrote subsequent novels before getting published. Half of the respondents had written three or more novels before being published. So just because you’ve finished your first novel doesn’t mean it’s ready for prime time. See if you can get some readers; workshops, which I'll discuss later, can be tremendously helpful.

Note that self-publishing, though increasingly easy to do, is generally not a great way to go, especially for fiction (a nonfiction book might have a built-in market, especially if its written for a niche audience). Don't expect to sell many copies, unless you can do a ton of PR for it, and/or you personally know a whole lot of people who will buy it. OK, Eragon was published by the family of its fifteen-year-old author, and went on to sell a gazillion copies. But believe me, that’s really rare.

Again, check Locus and market reference books like Writer’s Market to find more publishers. And if you can, keep sending those short story and agent queries out.


I'll post a bit about more about the industry next time.

Happy holidays (and good hunting to all of you prospective authors).


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Ellen Klages interviewed in Publishers Weekly

The headline of Publishers Weekly's latest Flying Starts interviews: "Three authors and one illustrator who made notable children's book debuts this fall." And one of these notable authors and her notable book is Ellen Klages, and her novel, The Green Glass Sea. You can read the interview online. It's great to see Ellen get even more recognition for GGS (Penguin's sales reps picked The Green Glass Sea as their favorite title of the fall list, Book Sense made it a No. 1 pick ). The cool thing for us is that Ellen (and PW) mentioned her upcoming Tachyon collection, Portable Childhoods.

Ellen's one of those authors who is really hard to pigeonhole. In the introduction to Portable Childhoods, Neil Gaiman describes the fluidity of her stories, "They exist in a place on the borderland between genre and mimetic fiction, sometimes walking the line one way, sometimes the other, often leaving the reader unsure until the final paragraph what kind of story this has been..." In the afterword, Ellen says, "My stories have been described as fantasy, dark fantasy, science fiction, not science fiction, children’s, mainstream, and/or horror. (Often in different reviews of the same story.) I am a round peg in genre’s square hole; I write about childhood, and it’s an odd landscape, with contradictions around every corner."

Accordingly, though The Green Glass Sea came out from Viking Juvenile as a children's book, it has since been cross-shelved in bookstores in most of the aforementioned sections (I wonder if anyone's shelved it in horror?). GGS has also been very popular with librarians, to whom Ellen has permanently endeared herself with "In the House of the Seven Librarians," which she wrote for the terrific YA anthology Firebirds Rising. "In the House" will be in Portable Childhoods, and so will "The Green Glass Sea," the story that inspired the novel. PC also has three previously unpublished Klages stories, including the title story.

Portable Childhoods comes out in April 2007. Ask your local (indie!) bookseller where the heck they shelved it...

Thursday, December 07, 2006

"The Screwfly Solution" on Showtime

When Alice Sheldon wasn't writing under her James Tiptree, Jr. pseudonym, she also wrote as Raccoona Sheldon. One of the scariest R. Sheldon stories, which was later collected in Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, is the extremely scary (but excellent) "The Screwfly Solution." On Friday, December 8th, Showtime's Masters of Horror series is debuting The Screwfly Solution, an original TV episode based on the Sheldon story.

I have high hopes for this. The episode is a collaboration between director Joe (The Howling, Gremlins) and writer Sam Hamm, (Batman, Batman Returns). There's a very thoughtful interview with Hamm on The Sideshow. The episode stars - get this - Elliot Gould and Jason Priestly.

If you've never read "The Screwfly Solution," the story is still up on SciFiction.

I'm not used to being an early adopter. I got my Arkham House edition of Her Smoke Rose Up Forever as a gift over ten years ago (thanks, Jacob). Tip/Sheldon has been one of my favorite writers ever since. And now she's veritably slammed into the zeitgeist. Weird. But I'm very willing to share.

Which reminds me that The James Tiptree Award Anthology 3 is out. Geoff Ryman, Ursula Le Guin, Ted Chiang, Dorothy Allison and more. Plus, more controversy. We love the controversy.