July 5th, 2004

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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