Slithytove at Clarion (st_at_clarion) wrote,
Slithytove at Clarion

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Clarion, Day 30: Publishing stuff with Gordon and the gang

Only two, rather short, stories to crit this morning, so the gang spent a couple of hours talking about publishing. It was a free-for-all between Gordon Van Gelder, Kelly Link, Gavin Grant, and Jeffrey Ford, who arrived in the middle of the story crits.

I took the following notes during the session, and haven't made any attempt to turn them into a coherent narrative. I didn't bother to include a lot of stuff that should be familiar to everyone reading this already: if you get an email rejection, DON'T try to get into an email discussion with the editor; the shorter the cover letter the better; include an SASE; use Courier; use pound signs to separate ms. sections, not little unicorns; etc.

Gordon Van Gelder: F&FS publishes 1.2% of received submissions.
Perseverance is critical.
Breaking in: every one does it differently. "There are nine and sixty ways..."
You may find an editor you connect with, and not others: not all editors like all authors.
Do your homework: use Standard Manuscript Format, do not staple mss., follow guidelines, etc.
Know your market: do not submit stories to inappropriate markets. Read the mags you are submitting to. Address your envelope to the current editor, not one who retired in 1963 (this really happened recently).
Kelly Link and Jeffrey Ford: submit not just to top markets, but to a market which is in sympathy with what you are doing. Look at where writers you admire have published their work. "I want my work to be part of this conversation that is going on now."
Gordon appreciates letters which acknowledge that the author had read a book Gordon edited, and thought his story was similar in some way to the stories Gordon liked.
KL: include in your cover letter that you have included an SASE (so if it goes missing, the editor knows you at least tried), that you have attended Clarion (may be of *slight* help), and recent sales to equal or one-tier-below markets. Do NOT include that you are a member of SFWA.
KL: keep in mind that the slush reader is usually pissed off, and looking for excuse to put down the manuscript. But she is also, thinking on some level, "Please, please give me something good."
GVG: you generally need an agent to sell a book.
Jeffrey Ford: advises writing short stories first, before you start your novel.
GVG: agree and disagree with that. Kate Wilhelm: the novel is more forgiving form. Additionally, different writers are stronger at different lengths. Gardner Dozois formula: sell a dozen mind-blowing stories to top markets, *then* write your novel. [Me: damn, why didn't I think of that? *slaps forehead*] GVG believes that the unforgiving nature of short stories is the best way to learn the craft of writing. GVG says he is occasionally contacted by an agent who has read a short story, been very impressed by it, and wants to know if Gordon knows if the writer is working on a novel: another reason to try to place short stories first.
GVG: find a writer who you admire, see if they acknowledge their agent in their foreword, then contact that agent.
GVG: Do NOT approach an editor with a marketing hook of your own invention. Your job is to write the book, not market it.
JF & KL: Do not expect to make a living as a writer.
KL: A bad agent is worse than no agent. Check the resources on the SFWA site.
GVG: It's helpful for a new writer to use a more experienced writer's career as a model. It's reassuring to find out that Ursula LeGuin didn't sell her first story until she was 29, and that Raymond Chandler didn't even start writing until he was in his late 30's. Tiptree didn't start writing fiction until she was in her 50's (Me: thankyouthankyouthankyou...).
GVG: Chief occupational hazard of a writer is jealousy.
JF: Ignore all this information about publishing, what you want to concentrate on is writing a good story.
Everyone: For god's sake, don't do simultaneous submissions unless the editor says it's okay in their guidelines. You will be found out, every editor will hate you, and in worst case, will never accept anything from you again.
KL: Simultaneous submissions to non-paying academic literary magazines that hold mss. for the better part of a year may be more acceptable.
KL: consider Penthouse Tin House [corrected 8/7/04], McSweeney's, 3rd Bed, Conjunctions, Zoetrope (especially on-line version), which publish spec-fic but don't like to call it that.
GVG: Don't forget anthologies. Ralan and Speculations keep up with which ones are accepting.
KL: Young Adult is one of the few hot areas right now, and is very accepting of themes that have not been accepted before: sex, violence, suicide.
KL: Most series tie-in fiction, Star Wars, Star Trek books, are almost entirely invitational. Unless you are already known to publishers, you will have a hard time breaking in.
GVG: Longer stories are harder to sell. Over 15K is especially difficult. The longer the story is, the more GVG has to like it to buy it.
GVG: If you are writing in the field, you must keep current. You can't base your writing on what was written thirty years ago, no matter how much you liked it. Or even what was written ten years ago. "Stories about child abuse feel so 1991."
JF: "Never run with the pack or you'll be left behind." Says he doesn't read much in the genre. Reads what he wants to read, writes what he wants to write.
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(Me: thankyouthankyouthankyou...).

hee! you're cute!

I'm not really sure why, but that above dialogue makes me somewhat depressed... Although it's nice to see others starting "later" in life.

GVG: If you are writing in the field, you must keep current. You can't base your writing on what was written thirty years ago, no matter how much you liked it. Or even what was written ten years ago. "Stories about child abuse feel so 1991."

Oh? That makes me giggle, because of that Rocket Boy story in the August F&SF issue, that's why.
Gordon has said that there are few things he absolutely rejects. Perhaps nothing he absolutely rejects out of hand.

From the Nightshade boards:

The minute I say, for instance, "I never want to see another story about intelligent coati mundis on the Moon," people are going to take it as a challenge to write an intelligent coati mundi story. Such is human nature.

(If Trent Walters checks this message board, he can verify that when I taught Clarion West in '99, I said that the same way some people are lactose intolerant, I'm elf intolerant. So of course students tried writing elf stories for me. And in fact I've bought several elf stories, including Charlie Finlay's "Wild Thing.")

With that preface, I'll say that the one theme I've seen too much of in the past two years is stories in which one of the characters is dead or is a zombie. I'd say we get 4-5 such stories a week on average.

We also get droves of contemporary stories and too few stories that are set in a convincing future or past.

He said the same here regarding stories about dead people. Everyone is writing them for some reason.
I've read zombie stories in F&SF, but not recently. A couple of years ago, I would have said that not only does GVG like rock and roll stories but zombie stories as well.

And, I'm a month behind in my reading, so it was the July issue and not the August issue. *abashed*
I LIKE old sf stories. Heck, I am old, they were new stories when I read them - besides, I sometimes suspect I am channelling dead sf&f authors - yeah, that's it, that's why my stories sound oldish ::he he::

The keeping current thing is DARN hard. Like I don't have a ton of stuff to read already. Besides, I don't think I base my writing on what's current - it's more about what pops into my brain.

I liked JF's comment on it.
KL: Young Adult is one of the few hot areas right now, and is very accepting of themes that have not been accepted before: sex, violence, suicide.

YA has been accepting these themes and situations since the 60's or 70's at least. (Go Ask Alice, I Am the Cheese, The Chocolate War, The Pigman. Recently: The Contender, Buried Onions, Cut, Parrot in the Oven, Speak, Silent to the Bone, The Rag and Bone Shop.) Not even a representational list of what the kids are reading on their own -- those are just what we can sometimes argue into a teaching curriculum. ("Cut" remains untouchable and unteachable.) What's more accepted now is more graphic literary representation, and the welcoming into the YA fold of the spec-fic representation of said topics. Which is an admirable conquest, but really, it was the kids that did it by demanding it.