Tag Archives: interesting writings

Publishers, Magazines and Agents Are Not Trolling You

Author and editor Jason Sanford did a piece about the perplexing complaint from writers who had submitted stories to a prominent horror/dark fantasy magazine, The Dark, that they were getting a response too quickly and that rejections they received clearly indicated that the stories hadn’t been read at all.

This was a familiar issue to me because when I was a literary agent, our agency used to get the complaint all the time, and indeed, magazine editors, literary agents and book editors who deal with unagented submissions will tell you that they regularly receive it, and usually when they have managed to respond to submissions quickly. It was a somewhat more understandable situation when it comes to novel manuscripts. After all, authors do know that when they submit sample chapters to an agent or book publisher that the person may not read all the chapters, but may make a decision based on reading just the first chapter alone or even on a few first pages. The biggest commodity publishing folk have to deal in is time, and they will try to get through submissions quickly to find stuff they think they can use. Ninety-eight to ninety-five percent of what they receive they won’t be able to use — it doesn’t work for them, and they know it pretty quickly because they aren’t engaged by the material or it’s not their area of fiction. But they are willing to look at that large pile of submissions to find the small percentage of ones that could and do work for them, for whatever reason they have for that decision.

So it would not be entirely surprising for a writer to accuse an agent or editor of not giving their work enough of a read or proper careful consideration — though agents and editors owe submitting writers neither. But there is no real logic behind the accusation that editors and agents are purposely asking for submissions and then not reading them at all. To what point is there in these publishing people having submission piles in the first place with that assumption? For simply the thrill of rejecting people, usually with a form letter? Authors who make these accusations seem to be claiming that entire publishing operations are wasting their time in an elaborate trolling exercise of strangers with no discernible purpose.

The reality is that no fiction magazine, no fiction publisher and no literary agent intent on selling fiction to fiction publishers needs to be open to submissions from authors if they don’t want to do it, if they don’t think it will pay off with the occasional good find. They can instead keep a closed process where they contact and solicit chosen authors out there for material and only look at that material. Even operations that do take open submissions also do this as well and they can easily find more than enough material by soliciting known authors or authors they happen to spot in the market. Which is why the larger book publishers, finding that keeping increasingly large open submission piles didn’t provide enough returns for the time and expense of having their staff go through them, simply shut the piles down in the 1990’s, and limited their allowed submissions to solicited ones from agents and authors they chose.

Given how low and depressed the payments for short fiction have been over the last thirty years and how much the market for such fiction has shrunk even with the more recent self-publishing and anthology booms, SFFH magazines have no problem soliciting short works that well known book authors happen to have lying around, paying them a few hundred for the stories and reaping the benefits for their circulation numbers. Even the newer, smaller magazines don’t actually need to bother with newbies if they can swing a decent payment by market standards.

Yet the magazines do often have open submissions, or open submissions part of the year, because finding new talent also brings smaller, long term rewards, including pleasing their readers, and because it’s a tradition certainly of the SFFH field to find and bolster what they feel is new talent. But you can’t actually find “new talent” if you do not actually read what new authors submit to you. If you don’t read submissions, having them at all is a colossal waste of time.

In the “old” days a couple of decades ago, the open submission pile was a huge time investment as well as costing some money. Submissions arrived in packages and had to be unpacked, which was hours and hours of time. They had to be logged in to a record system of some sort, which was hours of time. They had to be read, which was hours and hours of time. They had to have rejection letters or requests for more material letters printed, even if they were form letters, which took hours of time. And they had to be repackaged as returns in the self-addressed stamped envelopes and gotten to the post, which took hours and hours and hours of time. The claim that editors and agents and their staff, if they had them, would spend all that time in the processing and mailing of submissions but skip the critical reading part made no logical sense. Yet it happened from submitting authors all the time. They seemed convinced that agents and editors were spending the better part of their days engaged in a non-profitable prank operation.

Everybody in publishing was a little slow to adopt electronic submissions, not because of a distaste in technology but because they feared the submissions would swamp their networks and also leave them exposed to viruses in attachments. But eventually most places taking submissions were able to do so electronically and send the responses electronically as well. This not only saved an immense amount of trees and postage and print costs for authors, but cut down considerably on the amount of time needed to process submissions by editors and agents. The submissions have to still be logged in, which still takes hours, but now story files can be opened with a click. The stories still need to have return responses crafted and sent, but that takes much less time than doing it by mail with packaging. So now the main time requirement is reading the stories. This has meant that editors and agents can get through and respond to submissions in half the time or less than back in the only paper days. And authors in short fiction definitely can hit a lot more markets with their submissions in the time it used to take to get a response from just one submission, which greatly increases their odds of finding a publication that will want their work.

But this improved situation has instead been received by many authors as further proof that they are being tricked by editors and agents who lure them in with open submissions, ignore their work and reject it. Why would they do that? Because, that’s why, seems to be the main response. Submissions to agents and book publishers are free — they aren’t making money off submissions and yet are still spending hours processing those submissions if they take them. While many literary magazines seem to have taken up requiring submission fees, which is deeply ethically problematic and usually not worth an author’s time, submission to major magazines and SFFH magazines is also usually free, and those magazines are again still spending hours processing those submissions. So what exactly is the allure here for publishing people if they aren’t really going to read the submissions, searching for material?

One reason occasionally floated is that book publishers and magazines urge authors considering submissions to check out what they publish before doing so. This is mainly because editors hope to cut down their time spent reading material sent to them that plainly doesn’t fit their lists or publications. But some interpret it as the editors trying to get authors to buy books or subscriptions, or in the case of free online magazines, get their views for the advertisers. But there are many problems with this notion. First off, it doesn’t apply to literary agencies or most anthology editors, and yet those folks still get the same complaint that they aren’t reading submissions. Second, although they ask for it with hope in their hearts, editors know full well that nine out of ten authors won’t buy books from their list or buy/read issues of their magazines before submitting to them. As a way to profit and raise circulation numbers, it’s largely a bust. Third, there are dozens of other types of promotions they could try that would have a much greater return in customers and viewers and do not cost them the hours and hours of valuable time processing submissions, or lead them to have buyers/viewers who are then very unhappy with them and will do no further business due to submission rejection. You get the idea here. Unless some sort of reading fee scam is involved, it simply doesn’t make much sense, and well known agents, publishers and magazines are not running fee scams. What profit they manage comes from the other end, when they put out product into the market. Which is why they are willing to slog through a lot of stuff they don’t want in search of what might be the best thing for them that they’ve ever found.

So the claim seems to come from deep mistrust that some authors have of the very institutions with whom they are trying to work. Even though there is no viable reason for believing that a returned submission has not been read and considered, they tend to treat it as if a blind date has stood them up entirely. But when an author is rejected by an editor or agent, it’s important to remember that all it means is not this story at this time with this person/organization. It doesn’t mean all selling options are closed or that circumstances won’t change. And quite often it can turn out to be a good thing as a better opportunity may come up that would have been missed if the author hadn’t gotten a rejection. Writing fiction is creating, but selling rights to it or placing it is resilience. And understanding that even your best work, which someone will love, may still leave the brightest editors and agents cold because the field is subjective.

After they read it. Really, they read it.

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Spectral Cafe: Books! Science Fiction I Have Read

While my blogging has been sporadic, doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading stuff. Here are three different but related visions of the future:

 

PERSONA by Genevieve Valentine 

I became a big fan of Valentine because of her first published novel Mechanique, an absolutely beautifully written book that skillfully blended violent action, steampunk and suspense with meditations on art, love, loss and death. Persona has that Valentine touch but it’s a different type of story with a style that is more straightforward, less poetic, more brainy spy thriller. The novel is set in the near future when technology has advanced in various areas, notably surveillance, and global issues dominate. Countries, including some new ones on the scene, negotiate it out in a fishbowl of diplomats who are mostly just used as celebrities in the world reality show, called Faces. There are official journalists and black market journalists (snaps.) The novel centers on Suyana Sapaki, a third rate Face for the newer United Amazon Rainforest Confederation angling for a better deal for her struggling young country, and secondly on Daniel Park, a former journalist on the run, trying to become a snap, who happens to interrupt a mysterious assassination attempt on Sapaki. Everybody is hiding lots of secrets that are likely to get them killed by one group or another. The paranoia is ramped up to eleven, and it’s wonderful. It’s a crisp, punchy novel about a future that, while a few things might not fully hold up, has some scary parallels to what’s going on today and how they could be worse. I enjoyed it a lot and am looking forward to reading the sequel that came out this year, Icon.

ZEROES by Chuck Wendig

I’ve also been a fan of Chuck Wendig’s Miriam Black series, which are contemporary fantasy thrillers. (He is better known now as the guy who is doing the funky new Star Wars tie-in bestsellers.) In Zeroes he turns to science fiction in the contemporary to near future time range. In the novel, the tech involved is of the cyber variety and also has a lot of stuff about surveillance. Wendig sets up the classic hackers story: five disparate types of criminal hackers are grabbed by the U.S. government and forced to work at a secret complex as cyber spies to avoid federal prison for the rest of their lives. And of course there are conspiracies within conspiracies that the thrown together group are forced to deal with in order to survive. But from there, things get weirder and weirder, because that’s how Wendig rolls. He also has a brilliant ability to take a stereotype frame and play with it, turning them into buyable and fleshed out characters, and has interesting side characters as well. While I didn’t enjoy the novel as much as the Miriam Black books, I did very much like the combo of extrapolating where cybernetics might go with Dirty Dozen face-offs and chases. There is a sequel/spin-off that involves ants just out called Invasive. I don’t even want to think what Wendig might do with ants.

TERMS OF ENLISTMENT by Marko Kloos

Everybody started talking about newcomer Marko Kloos and so I got around to reading his first novel, the start of the Frontline series. The novel is set in a farther away future that is bleakly dystopian. The Earth is overpopulated, trashed and food shorted, with tons of poor folk kept trapped in giant city camps — pretty much a standard scenario. Some try to escape it by joining the military, with the hopes that if you survive service, you’ll get a pension and maybe the ability to settle on more breathable colonies out on other planets. That’s what the novel’s protagonist, Andrew Grayson, decides to do. The tech here is military, also involves methods of surveillance, and some of it is interesting. The novel is really two stories together. The first involves Grayson’s training and service on Earth where they put down “threats” both foreign and domestic as hated enforcers. The second part has Grayson going up into space on a military patrol vessel that encounters a totally new threat to humans. Kloos makes a bit of a first-timers mistake in the first part, for me, of believing that detailed descriptions of military training and procedures are both fascinating and totally unfamiliar to his reading audience. So the first part doesn’t move along quite as well as the second part, though it gets more exciting as it goes. The second part of the novel offers us more of a new world, better pacing and Kloos’ aliens are neat. Overall, it’s a bit of an uneven book that is nonetheless free of bombast, has lots of action and knows its military hardware. And has a protagonist who isn’t a total saint but does have a strong emotional core. So I’m interested to read the next one in the series and see what Kloos does with his wider landscape.

 

 

 

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Various Geek Article Links

Some interesting bits and news from the Internet:

 

Mindy at Skepchick ponders the science of Star Wars: The Force Awakens‘ Starkiller base

And speaking of Star Wars: The Force Awakens‘ Starkiller base, blogger Matty Granger fisks and debunks a really obnoxious article in the Huffington Post about plot holes in the movie. Not that there weren’t any plot holes in the movie, but I agree with Granger that there’s a big difference between inattention and actual plot holes.  Plus, it’s just a fun piece if you’re a Star Wars fan.

An announcement that Vanessa Hudgens will headline a new DC Comics sitcom. Which sounds like an interesting experiment.

The New York Times digs out a business piece from 1985 expressing that laptops and mobile computers is going to be a limited market, just to show that tech prediction is frequently not very predictive about how we’ll use tech.

Author Kevin Hearne gets author Ursula Vernon to do her rant about the potato apocalypse on Twitter.

An interesting experiment based on the Harry Potter world, though she seems to have cheated a good bit.

A rundown on everything you need to know about upcoming Disney movies. (The Mouse will not be stopped!)

 

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When Publishers Don’t Have Enough Chocolate

I am ill, so this mock Twitter battle cheered me up. It’s between publicists at small Brooklyn press Melville House and giant Penguin Random House. Pretty sure these two people probably know each other — book publishing is a small industry. Click and enjoy:

Clash of the Twitters

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Links to Articles About Writing and Publishing (I Told You I Had Links. So Many Links.)

Here are links to articles on writing and publishing that I found interesting. (Writing neepery, in other words. Much more pleasant than Hugo neepery, really.)

 

The Internet is full of words, you see. We raised the young people on them.

Kameron Hurley talks about her writing life in the past and the present. Lot of straight financial stuff there.

Chuck Wendig offers helpful suggestions about dealing with reviews to writers.

However, Foz Meadows, who just got a two book deal, does take Chuck to task on there being no rules for writing fiction. (This one’s for you, Andrew! She writes better than I do, but given it’s her blog it was on, she has more curse words.) This is a regular problem — Chuck is a terrific fiction writer, just did the new tie-in novel for Star Wars — but writers, when asked for advice or proferring it, often fall into the form of ordering it to give it a more authoritative bounce. It does more harm than they realize, so I appreciate Foz addressing this.

Chris Brecheen wrote to a woman writer who wanted, get this, J.K. Rowling to retire because she believed it would give other writers a better chance. Brecheen explained how fiction publishing actually works, and that it’s not a competition, which is actually helpful for a wider pool of authors than you might think.

Daniel Jose´ Older offers advice that is also very helpful to a lot of writers dealing with the endless time crunch of life.

 

Food for thought! Hope all your evenings are warm and safe and welcoming, folks.

 

 

 

 

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Puppying Down

During most of the Great Hugo Campaign That Wasn’t that spun out of the “hope we get the conservative media pundits interested” mess that were the Puppies, I was really busy, some good and some bad. I would talk about the situation in various spots when I had the chance, and it certainly made for a particular type of entertainment, but I wasn’t about to try to fully hop in. And now that the Hugos have been handed out for 2015 and the Puppies are trying to figure out how to keep things going while whining about the new Star Wars tie-in novel from Chuck Wendig having a gay protagonist, I’m not inclined to hash things out further. Not specifically about them any-hoo. The more general topic of discrimination, I have some things to say, when I can get to it.

But I do have some links I collected of other people writing about the whole Hugo thing that I thought were informative and cogent over the seven months of deep, deep puppy whining and spitting. So in case you missed them, you can peruse at your leisure:

First up are two pieces by author Kameron Hurley, one for The Atlantic on the situation, and one on her blog about Internet hyperbole re the situation.

Then, there is Amal El-Mohtars take on the Puppies.

Eric Flint, a liberal author who both publishes with and edits for Baen Books, broke apart the Puppies’ claims in this article and its sequel.

And Philip Sandifers angry cultural takedown of the Puppies, which got him his own nickname from them.

Sandy Ryalls on a blog at BlackGate.com commented on the heart of the conflict.

Author K. Tempest Bradford pointed out unintended consequences from the Puppies’ assault on the Hugos.

Author Jim C. Hines took a close look at what the Puppies were actually saying.

M.D. Laclan at FantasyFaction.com looks at the cultural timeline and how both past and future SF does not fit the Puppies’ narrative.

Author and screenwriter David Mack offers a detailed analysis of why Puppy nominee and participant Amanda Green’s essay on his Star Trek novel that she put in her Hugo Fan Writer nominee packet is full of hot air. (This fits with what Green is now trying to do with Chuck Wendig and what the Puppies tried to claim about Star Trek in general.)

Author Tobias Bucknell explains why the image of SFF fandom as a safe place free of attacks like the Puppies’ was always a myth.

Kevin Standlee explains how the Puppies’ mercantile demands show they don’t understand the nature of the Hugo Awards at all.

Carrie Cuinn and Aaron Pound both individually look at author and Puppy Hugo nominee Lou Antonelli’s illegal swatting attempt of WorldCon Guest of Honor David Gerrold and WorldCon itself.

Miles Schneiderman covered the whole debacle for YesMagazine.org.

Cartoonist and writer Barry Deutsch looks at the up-coming Sad Puppies IV for next year and explains why it’s still a voting slate attempt.

And writer and game designer Alexandra Erin wrote several very intelligent pieces about the Puppies and also provided some brilliant satire during the whole ordeal:

“Sad Puppies Book Review: The Monster at the End of this Book”

“The Barker and the Big Tent”

“This Just In”

“Interview with a Pratt”

“Hugo Awards: Upset Fans Say No to Sad Puppies”

If you do wade through all that, do not despair in the end. The Hugo Awards are fine. And fandom isn’t any more split than it was before. It’s just now those divisions are a bit more out in the open, with the aid of Internet screaming. That’s not, necessarily, a bad thing, although it makes it a little tricky for the publishers. But they could use some shaking up, frankly. They are the ones who have produced a SFF field that is 90% white people, mostly writing about white people.

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No, Fantasy Fiction is Not Being Destroyed by Mega Multi-Volume Series. Or Deadly Octopi.

Yes, I’m alive, shut up.

Recently, folks on SFFWorld.com brought to my attention a new column in The Guardian newspaper by Damien Walter on the current tyranny of the mega sized, multi-volume series in fantasy fiction. I.E. Game of Thrones is ruining everything! And sidelining anything that isn’t a mega-sized, multi-volume fantasy series in book publishing. Because fiction publishing is run by underwear gnomes apparently.

I like Walter, I do, but this article (and to a lesser degree, an official counter “response” composed by new author Natasha Pulley, which was equally tone deaf about the actual fantasy field,) is an excellent example of why more people don’t find and read good books — because writers like Walter tell them that the field is overrun with whatever has been designated the current trendy “problem” that is killing everything off, so why bother. If the media would stop sounding death dirges as the only thing that ever interests them about fictional works, we’d have twice as many fiction readers, rather than a population that is continually taught that they’ll hate most fiction out there.

Nothing ever kills anything off in fiction publishing. (Or for that matter, in most forms of art.) Popularity is not a death sentence for everything else and one thing being popular doesn’t mean that other, different things are not equally or more popular. Also, authors are not herded by publishers like camels. Anyone who has worked with authors know that they are worse than cats.

Anyway, I thought I would reprint my response below here. But despite my ire, do check out Walter’s short fiction work where you can find it and Pulley’s debut historical fantasy novel, The Watchmaker of Filligree, due out in July from Bloomsbury in the U.K. (See, now was that so hard, Guardian columnists?)

It’s not a very accurate reading of the fantasy market. Which given that it’s coming from Damien Walter, who should know better, is annoying.

Mega-sized, multi-volume series are almost entirely the domain of alternate world “epic” fantasy. Because they are epics, which is supposed to be a sweeping, big story by definition. Other alternate world novels are shorter, serial series or stand alones like Katherine Addison’s award-nominated Goblin Emperor, which barely qualifies as mega-long, if that.

Contemporary fantasy uses long running series that are on average not mega in size, like mystery series, as well as various stand alones. Only once in a while does it do mega sized series books. Historical fantasy also does stand alones, shorter serial series and occasionally mega-sized multi-volumes. Comic fantasy does either shorter serial series or stand alones. Dark fantasy and horror are usually stand alones, although if it’s a dark fantasy involving a multiverse or alternate world, it might be a mega series. Some horror novels that are standalones are very thick, but that’s just one book. Multiverse usually involves a series, but often not very large ones. Futuristic fantasy can be large, either as a series or standalones, but is not routinely so, being mostly serial series and trilogies.

YA fantasy contains all the various sub-settings of fantasy. They have few stand alones in fantasy — they tend to all be series. They range from fairly short, and usually contemporary set serial series to larger epic alternate world series. But because the contemporary fantasy setting is more popular in YA than the alternate world settings, YA tends to average on the shorter side. Some of its most popular series, Eragon, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, are thick epic series, but many others are not.

Fantasy published in general fiction tends to be stand alones and may be long or short, depending on what it is. For instance, Touch by Claire North, put out by Redhook, a general fiction arm of Hatchette, is a medium sized standalone dark fantasy thriller.

So basically “fantasy” authors don’t have to move away from mega multi-volume series because not all of them are doing mega multi-volume series. In fact, it’s rare that an author manages to do one past three books. The ones who publish in alternate world fantasy have routinely experimented with different forms — one long series like Song of Ice and Fire, multiple shorter trilogy series in the same universe or a mix of stand alones and trilogies in the same universe like Joe Abercrombie does, shorter serial mystery-like series like Alex Bledsoe’s Eddie LaCrosse series, multiple trilogy series with different publishers, large duologies, stand alones, etc. David Gemmell, who wrote a lot of historical fantasy, as well as alternate world fantasy, did everything from stand alones to his 9 volume Drenai series.

But that’s inconvenient for the hook. The hook is that because Game of Thrones, five years in, is still a very popular t.v. show, and based on a nearly twenty-year-old series written by an author who was already a bestseller when he started it, (and from whom his publisher originally wanted only four books,) that clearly this is only now warping the entire field of fantasy fiction because some other lower rung bestseller guy got a book deal for a new trilogy. Because the fiction market is symbiotic and so publishers slap that it’s like George Martin on anything epic fantasy, they must be hounding authors for only that as the only thing in fantasy that is selling or getting made into a t.v. show. (Pay no attention to Vampire Diaries, or Bitten, The Leftovers, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Outlander, etc.) Because only one thing in any field can be popular at a time and it wipes out everything else, really it does. So anything else is “sidelined” right now because also a nearly thirty-year-old epic fantasy series that was supposed to be seven books in the nineties ended up being fifteen books that took more time and lost its author. And because a twenty-five-year-old epic fantasy series briefly had a t.v. series that flopped several years ago.

Because trilogies! That they’ve been doing since the seventies. And which consist of three books, technically multi-volume but please.

The reality is that the contemporary fantasy bestsellers, like Kelley Armstrong’s shared universe series, some of which were adapted for t.v. show Bitten, routinely outsell most alternate world fantasy fiction, as does for that matter bestselling fantasy romance, most of which is contemporary set. And that setting also means they have better odds for being turned into a t.v. series or a movie, especially if it’s YA. Ben Aaronovich’s Rivers of London series is coming to British t.v. and Daniel Jose Older’s new series Bone Street Rumba just got optioned. That’s hardly sidelined. Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant isn’t sidelined. Neil Gaiman’s latest bestselling short story collection is not sidelined. Jim Butcher and Patricia Briggs aren’t sidelined (and Butcher had a short-lived t.v. series that did establish a cult following before being axed.) Lauren Beukes’ bestselling stand alone The Shining Girls did just fine. And the late Sir Terry Pratchett is still kicking most authors’ asses in sales.

What Games of Thrones is actually doing is bringing in a flood of new readers, who are reading the books in Martin’s series and then many of them, especially with the series unfinished, going browsing and picking up not only alternate world fantasy but lots of other fantasy stories too. And science fiction, horror, suspense, romance, YA. None of which publishers expect to perform like Song of Ice and Fire. It would be nice, they want breakout hits, but they aren’t idiots. And the break out hits in fantasy aren’t necessarily coming from alternate world fantasy. (Though Kingkiller Chronicles is also coming to t.v.)

If he really wanted to help authors he thinks are getting sidelined by Game of Thrones, talk about some of those authors then. Media coverage of fiction books is so rare, any little bit helps. But nobody has actually been sidelined by Game of Thrones. Instead, Martin is helping to fund half the category field; certainly everybody else on the list in Penguin Random House (which is half the publishing industry at this point.)

*The response by author Natasha Pulley that asserts writing short fantasy fiction is hard is equally silly, given that fantasy authors have been doing it for over a hundred years. And that her up-coming debut historical fantasy novel, The Watchmaker of Filigree, is only 336 pages long. But we won’t hold it against her or Walter on the fiction side. If we had to reject authors for all the silly things they say about the market, we would have little to read.

 

 

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