Posts Tagged ‘writing’

2008 Submissions Stats

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

My fiction submission stats for 2008:

46 submissions (all short fiction; two more than 2007)
47 rejections (seven more more than 2007)
1 story under extended consideration
2 contracts offered
1 contract accepted
1 story published

It was another interesting yet trying year. I continued to get passed up to head editors at pro mags, about half the time, and I continued to get a lot of “almost” rejections from editors at semi-pro mags. Which is good, but I’d rather at least be getting those “almost” rejections from the head editors at the pro mags, if not of course actually selling some stories. I’m still not consistently able to lure editors into my dense stories of round characters and lush settings.

In my stats post last year, I mentioned two stories in unresolved submissions situations and my hope that at least one of those would result in a sale. Neither did, which was very disappointing. This year, a different near-miss situation resulted in another story remaining under extended consideration. I should hear back on that in a month or so, and I’m hopeful on that one too.

Like last year, I had a contract offered that was soon rescinded, but in this case I was the one who passed. It was from an award-nominated semi-pro venue, but the editor had just that week made offensive public comments, including some directly to or about two excellent young writers who I know and admire. I wanted to sell that story worse than I can put into words, but after what the editor had done to those two people I greatly respect, I just couldn’t accept the contract. The story is still on the submission carousel and I hope it will eventually sell.

I did make one sale this year, after a seventeen-month dry spell. That was a great relief, and I’m delighted to find a great home for a very good story that had been misunderstood by editors at several top markets. And an exciting, up-and-coming home it is–Space and Time magazine. I’m very much looking forward to seeing that one published.

My story in Weird Tales last January didn’t seem to catch much attention from bloggers or SF/F review sites, so unfortunately there hasn’t been any coattail effect from it. Perhaps I can improve on that when my story in Space and Time comes out.

Overall, this year was similar to last year, which suggests I didn’t make a significant leap in the quality of my fiction. Or that my particular brand of character-driven secondary-world short fantasy isn’t a priority right now for the major markets. Or most likely, a combination of both. In last year’s post I mentioned I was working on specific strategies to improve a major element in my fiction. That effort is ongoing, and I am making progress. The coming year will show whether it improves my submissions results.

Not What You Want to Write; What They Need

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

I read a fascinating comment by non-fiction author and publisher Bruce Gehweiler, co-author of Breaking Into Fiction Writing!, in a short article in Space and Time magazine. He said, “A universal truth that I have learned is that it is easier to get published by supplying a publisher with what they need, than by trying to find a home for your original work.”

I had never thought of it that way, but all my limited experience with the business of publishing suggests that he’s right. It’s not art; it’s commerce. Decisions are not made for artistic reasons; they’re made, especially in these inceasingly lean economic times, for business ones. Whatever the suits think will sell gets published, and whatever they don’t think will sell doesn’t. They are often wrong, of course, about things on both ends of that equation, but that’s the defining principle.

But it’s also the exact opposite of what the hodres of hopeful writers out there are doing. They have their own worlds and characters, in some cases captivatingly original and in many others numbingly trite. They do yearn to be published, but I think most of that drive is to see their original material in print, not merely to publish anything they might write.

Even though I recognize the business realities, my own first reaction as a writer, as a strong proponant of originality, was dismissive. My original worlds are a huge part of my fiction. Developing their cool visuals and their interesting societies is one of the main reasons that I enjoy writing (and reading). The themes in my fiction often emerge organically from those worlds and the characters. I rarely do well with writing exercises where I’m supposed to take a setting or a theme from someone else and incorporate into a world or a story. I just don’t think in that way.

So am I writing for myself and not to get published? I certainly want my own stuff published, and I’m quite pleased that some of it has been. I do take commercial and appeal considerations into account while writing. But I don’t know that my interest or my writing process would hold while doing work that wasn’t largely original.

We’ll see if I ever get the opportunity to find out. After all, Robert Jordan did get his start with Conan novels, and it would certainly be great fun to write a D&D novel–umber hulks and Drow and shambling mounds, oh my!

Space and Time for Me

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

I’ve been swamped lately with stuff for BCS and I lost nine days to a nasty cold, but I heard a few days ago that Space and Time magazine is buying my short story “Ebb.” Which is awesome.

This one has a long and tortured history, which may be why I feel relieved as much as jubilant. It’s a damn good story, if I do say so myself–not brilliant but definitely quite good. It’s one of my odd hybrids of fantasy and real science–a fantasy setting built around 100% accurate science, but with pre-tech characters who don’t understand that science and therefore don’t expound about it. It’s also one of my most literary pieces, with an unreliable narrator. Several pro editors loved it but had the ending go completely over their heads, and several amateur editors had the science in the setting go completely over theirs (cf. my rant on SF/F writers and editors not knowing basic science).

So I’m glad the story has found a home, and I’m delighted that it will be in Space and Time. They’re getting lots of buzz lately in the indie press world, including a story nominated for the WSFA Small Press Award this past fall. I met their publisher Hildy Silverman at Capclave and enjoyed talking to her. They’re specifically interested in subgenre hybrid stories and this one clearly fits the bill.

So maybe this was kharma? Maybe it was a good story finally winning out on its own merits? Maybe it was the right story at the right place at the right time? Who knows. Selling stories is such an inscrutable process, as I’m seeing again from the other side editing BCS. Ours is not to question why, as the poet laureate said. Meanwhile I think I will buy myself a subscription to Space and Time and see what else has caught their eye.

Teaching SF Writers Some Science

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

It may seem odd for someone who is a fantasy writer, but I’m also a scientist. I have a PhD in biophsyical chemistry, I did eight years of laboratory research as a grad student and post-doc, and I teach college chemistry.

People who hear that then usually ask “Why don’t you write (or read) much SF?” The reason is that I’m a very hard sell when it comes to fictional science. Most of the biology I see in SF is so impossibly speculative or fundamentally flawed that my suspension of disbelief is shot and I can’t enjoy the fiction.

As a science teacher, which I’ve been for over twenty years, I’m always interested in efforts to teach people science. Its basic principles govern the entire world around us, including such common things as cooking and the weather. Yet science education seems to be a low priority for many schools, teachers, and students.

Hugo-winning author David D. Levine (who has a fantasy story forthcoming in my magazine Beneath Ceaseless Skies) recently blogged on about a workshop called Launch Pad where a dozen SF writers attended lectures by astonomers. The overall effort was aimed at spreading science education through popular fiction, which I wholeheartedly support, but I also think it will result in more accurate science in SF. For a difficult-to-please reader like me, that can only boost the entertainment value as well.

I was also struck by something from David’s account of the lecture on public misperceptions of astronomy. The wrong explanation of why the moon has phases (“it’s the shadow of the Earth falling on the moon”) is a sore spot with me because I once got that incorrect argument from a SF/F editor in remarks about a story of mine. In their defense, they said they got it from a geologist, but that makes it even worse. :)

I hope this Launch Pad workshop continues. I often give advice on biological sciences to my writing friends, and I would happily lecture at any Launch Pad-analog focused on those areas. I’m also in favor of including SF/F editors in something like this. If they’re going to evaluate or criticize objective facts in manuscripts, they should at least have some idea what they’re talking about. Another way that science education would make the world a better place!