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 An interesting question, especially since it came from a previously unpublished writer.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.

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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.

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

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

Jill

2 Comments:

Blogger Michael said...

Good collection of links and advice. I recommend anyone to get Orson Scott Card's book How to Write Fantasy & Science Fiction; it's fantastic.

12/30/2006 3:09 PM  
Blogger Hungarican Chick said...

It's not too hard to find resources at your local B&N... dish out the requisite $$dollarage$$ for the standard books of agents, publishers and general advice... that's the easy bit.

What *I* have come to believe is that priority number one is to put together a decent query package with a cover letter that'll blow the socks off the agent/publisher when they read it. I think that's the first roadblock.

Oh, and pre-edit your manny too. That never hurts.

11/03/2008 11:26 AM  

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