I have a boatload of arichokes. Who eats those?
August 12, 2008 12:14 PM   Subscribe

What sci-fi market might be a good match for my shorts? And, in what fashion should I attempt to sell them?

I have a 'verse. It's not especially full right now, but it's expanding rapidly. And, it turns out that, just like in film school, I can quickly churn out huge volumes of fictional prose of consistently decent quality. So, I may as well see if I can't sell it.

My style is influenced by Larry Niven and William Gibson. I have fairly fleshy characters, but the plot is really just an excuse to explore what I think is a pretty neat little universe. I drop jargon and technobabble without explaining what they are or mean--although you can generally work it out from context, I think. It's a little bit funny, in a dry Terry Pratchett's narration sort of way. The science is "hard", although it's mostly computer and cognitive science at the moment. I have one story written, notes on three more, and scribbles on napkins for dozens. I can see the cyberpunk and new weird in it, but I don't think that it's as dark as those labels might imply. You wouldn't really have the same story if you removed the sf elements.

The stories vary in dramatic tension and tone. There are several that have a more expository bent to them, a couple that are far weirder and darker, and a couple that are shaping up to be action-adventure stories.

Is there a market that would match all of these stories? Or, failing that, should I try to sell different stories to different magazines based on tone and content? I know most places don't like simultaneous submissions (or multiple submissions), so is it okay to send different manuscripts to different publishers at the same time, or is that a faux pas? Do I need an agent in these troubling and uncertain days, or can I do it through the slush pile like my heroes?

Should I try to sell them (and get them published) in the most logical order, or should I just hope that someday after I'm a known brand, I can get out the earlier stories that didn't sell?

Oh, I am as yet unpublished. And I'd like to get paid.
posted by Netzapper to Work & Money (23 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Heh heh. From the part above the fold, I thought you were marketing clothing.

As someone who isn't in the publishing industry at all, but who is a voracious consumer of sci-fi literature, I thought I'd mention that I find the Baen Free Library model interesting.
posted by XMLicious at 12:26 PM on August 12, 2008

Best answer: Statistically I think you are more likely to make money by giving it away on webpages with ads than you are to sell it, particularly if enjoyment of the material is somewhat/largely dependent on reading more than one story in the created universe.

If that doesn't appeal, I recall seeing answers of a sort to these questions over on Scalzi's Whatever and the NH's Making Light.
posted by phearlez at 12:29 PM on August 12, 2008

My latest obsession is Escape Pod. You might try them.
posted by Hugh2d2 at 12:31 PM on August 12, 2008

Jeez, how about egg in your beer while you're at it?

Do your homework. Try ralan.com for market listings, or google "preditors and editors." SFWA may have some market stuff online, I dunno -- I haven't been a member in six or seven years so I have not kept up.

I assume you're workshopped your writing (gee, you've got one whole story written -- congratulations) so that you won't get your ass handed to you by the slush readers (I've read slush and I would happily hand out asses all day). By this I mean that you don't end your stories with a deus ex machina type of thing, but that the ending is a logical outgrowth of the conditions you've set up in your opening paragraphs.

If you were reading the magazines, you'd know the marketplace. You'd also know that it is shrinking yearly. Your best bet might therefore be online magazines -- or perhaps book publishers. Be forewarned, however, that most publishers won't bother to read unagented submissions. So you might want to try to get an agent -- but damn few of them will be interested unless you have something of a publishing track record.

One story written, you say.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 12:31 PM on August 12, 2008

gee, you've got one whole story written -- congratulations [...] One story written, you say. [...] I've read slush

Not very well, I would imagine.

OP, every SF writer wants to get paid. Maybe one in a hundred succeed. My instinct is that you won't be one of them, and as a fresh young writer the odds of you selling a group of stories set in the same 'universe' is approximately zero.

This is a good list of speculative fiction markets. Yes, you can and should send different submissions to different markets. No, you don't need an agent for short fiction to be published in periodicals. Once you get several of those under your belt, you'll want an agent.

But, seriously, every fanboy and his sister has written a pile of stories and they think they're publishable. They're almost all wrong. I truly believe that it is not worth making the attempt, because even if you succeed you can fail; I know several SF writers who have sent out their hundreds of submissions and had their dozen stories published over a period of twenty years. And then been nominated for a major award, and then watched their first novel go immediately into remainder, and then gotten dropped by their agent or their publisher or both, and then gone literally crazy over the time wasted and never published again.

They'd have been more productive if they'd sat in a corner gibbering for two decades.

And these are the good writers. The ones who got their writing degrees, and went to Clarion, and never watched Firefly or played an RPG. The ones who use the gun over the fireplace, y'know? The ones who can write outside the genre.

I feel like I'm warning a kid not to start shooting heroin.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 12:58 PM on August 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

In all seriousness, the first thing to do is actually write some short stories. You're putting the cart so far before the horse that it is now a horseless cart.

Write a million words of fiction. Go over and decide how much of it is crap. Most of it, if not all, will be crap. Throw away the crap and start over.

Once you've done that, the way to decide where to submit your stories is to read the places you are considering submitting to. Are your stories comparable? If so, that would be a good place to submit. If you don't read the places you are thinking about submitting, it might be a good time to start.

Do I need an agent in these troubling and uncertain days, or can I do it through the slush pile like my heroes?

Jesus, you haven't even written anything. Dude, WRITE SOMETHING DECENT first. That's the hard part. Ideas are trivial. Honestly. Everybody thinks they have this great idea and now the easy part is getting it down on paper. That isn't even remotely true. You've got to actually write something before any of these other concerns matter.

What you're doing is the equivalent of asking us how to spend your Nobel Prize money when you've just been accepted into an undergraduate program in physics. You're not there yet. Start writing first.
posted by Justinian at 1:12 PM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It is okay to send different manuscripts to different markets.

You do not need an agent to sell short stories. I think it's very unusual to have an agent unless you're looking to publish an entire book.

I would approach each story as a separate entity. A publisher of science fiction short stories won't care if you have a whole series or a fully fleshed out universe. The only thing they'll care about is whether the particular story they have in their hands works for them.

Absolutely do not try and get them published "in the most logical order." Again, each story must stand on its own. You should try to sell the strongest story you have, and it should stand alone.

Once you find the market to which you want to submit, read the submission guidelines and follow them very carefully. Do not assume that your stories are different because they're part of a larger timeline and ignore the guidelines.
posted by lore at 1:17 PM on August 12, 2008

Just out of curiosity, since people in the know must be reading this thread - it seems to me that it might make sense, if one is genuinely a good writer, to release a bunch of stories in the same universe, or concerning the same characters, for free, and then charge for subsequent stories. To whet the appetite of the market, as it were; the way a season of a television series often ends with a "to be continued..." episode. Has anyone ever done this?

Sorry to threadjack a bit, but it seems tangentially connected.

Also -

And these are the good writers. The ones who got their writing degrees,

Are there really that many great writers that got a degree in it? (I don't know, I'm genuinely curious.)
posted by XMLicious at 1:17 PM on August 12, 2008

You certainly don't need to write a million words of fiction before you start submitting. I've never heard of any writer finishing ten novels worth of fiction before they submitted a short story, and I certainly wouldn't recommend it as a plan.

I think a better course of action would be the exact opposite:

1. Write a short story.
2. Go back and make it the best short story you can.
3. Submit it.
4. Forget about it as best you can and put your energy into the next one.
posted by lore at 1:24 PM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Oh sweet jesus...I don't think I've ever been accused of being a fanboy before. But, it's good to know that the industry as literally hopeless (and jaded) as I'd surmised when I dropped out a year before getting my writing degree. I have watched Firefly and played an RPG or two... but, then, I've also spent a lot of time integrating equations, programming computers, and using the actual gun over my wood burning stove.

Is there any short-format genre that still sells? I'd kinda figured that sf, being an established and discernible genre, was going to be an easier sell than the broad and amorphous "literature". I don't really want to waste the time writing a novel on spec, so that isn't the way to start. Actually, I guess a better question would be, do people (other than writers and those in the industry) read anything anymore?

And, I think I've probably written close to a million words of fiction (certainly, I have several megabytes of it), the vast majority of which is crap (but full of neat ideas), and all of which is not science fiction (or fantasy, or genre work at all). And then I spent five years writing a million lines of code, the vast majority of which were fairly brilliant.

Is it too much to hope that we could at least pretend that I'm not writing drooling strings of trope and cliche? Let some editor destroy my spirit; you guys don't need to help him.
posted by Netzapper at 1:25 PM on August 12, 2008

Are there really that many great writers that got a degree in it?

Was trying to make a point: as opposed to the shitty writers who studied Health Information Science and have never had a story workshopped and for whom Farscape and GURPS are more influential than Barthelme and Calvino. While only a few great writers might have a degree, there are exactly zero great short story writers whose biggest influence is Joss Whedon.

Oh sweet jesus...I don't think I've ever been accused of being a fanboy before.

You still haven't.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 1:29 PM on August 12, 2008

Don't listen to the naysayers. Or do, and save yourself lots of time and hardship.

The person who becomes a successful author or musician is the one who can suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Success, however, is relative.

The person who doesn't become a successful author or musician is the one who tells people about their stories or music, rather than showing by example.

Your best bet (this paragraph used to have specific suggestions, but has now been edited to say the following) is to already have read enough science fiction to know all the Bova, Baen, Sturgeon, Heinlein, and Campbell quotes on how to get published. Ideas are worth less than a dime a dozen. It's all follow through.

"It's easy to sit there and say you'd like to have more money. And I guess that's what I like about it. It's easy."
-Jack Handey
posted by lothar at 1:30 PM on August 12, 2008

Short stories are a tough sell, and have been for a long time. The Internet has certainly not helped. Science fiction short stories in particular are in a decline. I don't have any figures, but I strongly suspect "literature" is an easier sell than science fiction, but I wouldn't count on any short story writing to pay my bills.

Having said that, I'm not sure why people are being so negative. I'm a professional writer, and I would have been a professional writer a lot sooner if I'd taken it seriously instead of saying "Well, I know I'll never be able to do this for a living, so I'll keep it as a hobby."

I wouldn't suggest taking out a third mortgage on your house to pay the bills while you write, but by all means, write and submit. I know a number of people who have had moderate success as writers. Some of them are still doing it, and some of them have gone onto other things, but none of them are gibbering emotional train wrecks.
posted by lore at 1:34 PM on August 12, 2008

Is it too much to hope that we could at least pretend that I'm not writing drooling strings of trope and cliche?

For what it's worth, I read your AskMe much the same way as others -- a clueless newbie writer who is enchanted with his own immature creations and riding for a sad fall. If you've written a million words, then I guess you might have an idea how hard it is to write successfully. If you have revised a million words several times over, then you are probably on your way.

The standard print markets right now are Asimov's, Analog, Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Interzone (UK). The web outlets tend to be in a state of flux but if you go through the links on the Locus website (print mags are toward bottom left, online top left of page), you can probably get an idea what's out there at a given time.
posted by aught at 1:40 PM on August 12, 2008

Is it too much to hope that we could at least pretend that I'm not writing drooling strings of trope and cliche? Let some editor destroy my spirit; you guys don't need to help him.

Netzapper, I'm not telling you not to write or that you're a crappy writer. I have no idea. I'm saying that asking how to get your stories published when you haven't actually written the stories is extraordinarily premature. You say right in your question that you have "one story written" and "notes on three more". Write thirty more stories and then worry about where to publish.

If you want to write, by all means go for it! But worry about things in the correct order. Right now your only concern should be actually being able to write the stories.

Yes, SF is a good place to sell short fiction as compared to literature in general. That doens't mean it's easy or all that profitable, but it's a damn sight better than most non-genre stuff. Yes, different magazines or venus have different types of stories they like to publish. What works at ANALOG isn't necessarily going to work at THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION. Yes, you should tailor your submissions.... in order of submission, I mean. If the best fit rejects your story there's no harm in submitting it elsewhere. Yes, you can have different stories out at different magazines at the same time.

And so on.

But all of that is moot until you actually write the stories. That's not me being discouraging, that's me telling you to get a driver's license before worrying about your qualifying time at Daytona.
posted by Justinian at 1:45 PM on August 12, 2008 [4 favorites]

Oh, I should mention another tip for submitting (it's something I do when sending poetry out but I think it would work for stories, too). Look through recent collections of short stories by authors you respect and whose work you think might be in the same ballpark as yours, in terms of subgenre and style. Look through the acknowlegements page (which might be on the back of the title page or at the end of the book) and see what magazines originally published their stories. Go through a few collections this way and take note if any patterns emerge -- and then focus submissions accordingly.
posted by aught at 1:49 PM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I suggest reading the SF short fiction markets and getting an idea of what's selling where.

With extremely rare exception for the biggest writers and markets, agents aren't involved in short fiction deals because there's no money in it. 15% of squat is doodly-squat.

There is no expectation that a short fiction series would appear in order in one publication -- it'd be darn unlikely, in fact. Having different stories at different markets at the same time is fine.

Other people have pointed you to market lists; all of these markets have their guidelines online. Read them closely, and abide by them.

Keep a database of when you send what where (and who the editor is), and when you received what response. Just send your story to where you'd most like to see it; if it's rejected, move on to the next.

Like everyone else is saying, worrying about the disposition of the whole series is premature when you've finished one story and haven't submitted any.

Good luck.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 2:08 PM on August 12, 2008

Best answer: The traditional market has been the SF magazines, however they aren't doing so well.
posted by Artw at 2:13 PM on August 12, 2008

Best answer: I don't really want to waste the time writing a novel on spec, so that isn't the way to start.

This bit here? Is a bit that worries me. Because if it's the story you really feel compelled to tell, the time spent on it is not wasted. It's time that you can use to build your skills, learn how to write a novel-length work, tell a complex story, and - if you do a really good job - be able to sell the results. The first three parts have to happen first, though.

And, through this, you should be mostly enjoying the process: you *have* to enjoy it enough to do it in comparison with any number of other things you could be doing with your time. That takes a certain level of passion.

(Hi, I'm a writer, but non-fiction: about to submit my first contracted essay this week, and have completed a book-length manuscript that needs some revamping.)

Writing short stories takes one set of skills. Writing a novel takes some related ones - but also some quite different skills. They require different kinds of pacing, character development, structure. And the sheer ability to grind through the bits that are annoying and tedious in any book-length work. Publishers, not unreasonably, want to be sure you're going to manage all of these before they spend money on you.

The successful authors I know write novels not just because they've got a cool universe, or because they like story telling: they write novels because they feel compelled to. And even then, it is not exactly a high-money-making surety. (As mentioned.) Short stories are even more complicated, because there's no guarantee that having sold one to a particular market, they're going to want three more from you in the next few years. They might. They might not. Depends on the stories and what else they have coming in.

I second and third the advice to go look at blogs that talk about this - highly agree with the suggestions to look at Whatever and Making Light. I'd add Elizabeth Bear's blog (both for discussion of writing process, and for SF community discussion: http://matociquala.livejournal.com/), and the Writer's Beware blog (http://accrispin.blogspot.com/)
posted by modernhypatia at 2:36 PM on August 12, 2008

My style is influenced by Larry Niven and William Gibson.

I hate to jump straight on the snark-wagon but have you read anyone more contemporary? These guys where writing their best stuff more than 20 years ago...

Stephen Baxter had a lot of short stories set in the same fictional universe published. But that was a while ago too.

>but the plot is really just an excuse to explore what I think is a pretty neat little universe.

Each story will have to stand up on its own... have a beginning, middle and end etc if someone is going to publish it in a magazine. It will also need some sort point to it - yeah a plot with a pay off. Just showing your cool universe aint gonna cut it, I'm afraid

You need to check out the current market, as indicated up thread. See what is being written.
The Hugos have just been announced, check out the winners... most of the short stuff is online. Check the last few years, see where they have been published... check out those places (again, a lot of the stuff in the magazines is being put on-line as well now). The science fiction market isn't that big any more (at least the pro end - there's plenty of web sites that are not so choosy but pay nothing/ next to nothing).

As others have said no agent is going to represent short fiction from an unknown writer
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:06 PM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Yes, SF is a good place to sell short fiction as compared to literature in general.

I am pretty sure this is exactly the opposite of correct. Magazines that run fiction far outnumber magazines that run SF/F. I also recall that the $0.xx per word is consistently worse for SF.

Foo, I swore I wouldn't spend time searching for stuff on Whatever for this but did it anyways. Here's his money advice and his mention of the fact that SF pays shitty per word compared to other mags.
posted by phearlez at 4:48 PM on August 12, 2008

It's been a couple of years since I was active in the SF short-story world, but back when I was sending out a lot of fiction, Ralan.com was my reference of first resort when it came to researching markets. It looks like it's still being kept current.

It might be a good idea for you to hook up with the neo-pro science fiction writing scene. It won't -exactly- help you make sales, but having like-minded folks to workshop, gossip, and conspire with is an extremely good thing. Going to Clarion or Clarion West is a fine way of doing this. (Plus, it's an unbelievable experience, in terms of training.)

If you can't do Clarion, there are other options. The online workshop Critters has a decent reputation, and it might be a good resource for you. Other resources linked by other posters, such as Making Light and Whatever, might also be quite useful.

Good luck! As other people have said, this stuff can be hard and heartbreaking-- but it can also be an absolute joy.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 7:45 PM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

phearlez: $$$ per word isn't the only factor, though. You have to take into account # of submissions per spot and so forth.
posted by Justinian at 10:49 AM on August 13, 2008

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