Submitting to fiction publications?

Timo added this to the end of a comment on a previous post:

“By the way, are planning to submit your novellas to any science fiction magazines? Analog/Asimov’s/F&SF?”

I’d never given the idea any thought, so I looked up the relevant websites and mulled over the concept for a day. Maybe this won’t be a very interesting blog post, but I thought I’d share my answer here. Someone I know writes reviews of shows on her blog by adding or subtracting one point per positive or negative aspect. The final score says if it was a good show or not. Minus scores are typical, but a really good show can get +10 if she’s in a good mood. I’ll take the same approach here.

To submit or not to submit.

I don’t read much short fiction. I like novels. Therefore I have never read a science fiction magazine in my life. In fitting with my “make/write/do stuff you like to see/read/watch” outlook on creativity: -1

Not only have I never read a science fiction magazine, I’ve never even seen one in real life, not in a shop nor on someone’s coffee table. How relevant are magazines these days in the age of the internet? Sure, that the authors are paid and editors are involved means the quality is kept high, but Year’s Best and other anthologies select even fewer (therefore better) fiction stories. Not sure if this is a plus or minus, just that I’ve no intention of aiming to be published in the second to last issue of a dying title in a dying format. Let’s just say -1

But it would mean I get a few thousand readers who wouldn’t otherwise even look twice. That would make me happy: +1.

I’ve no interest in writing short stories, nor epic length doorstops, so my fiction will probably continue to come in at 40 to 60 thousand words. The magazines are only interested in short fiction, or if they do take novels at all they need to be serialized. This means that instead of (off the top of my head) 20 short stories a year they want (maybe) two novels to serialize. My chances of publication drop: -1.

And I can’t see my fiction working very well as a serial, especially my first novel, as it is quite complex and develops in ways that only make sense if you read it in one go, not spread over months: -1.

But longer fiction means more pay. Fiction sales get about 6 cents per word. For a 40,000 word story that would mean I get paid $2,400. For a short story that pay goes WAY down. But any amount of money would be nice: +1

Now $2,400 sounds like a whole lot of money, but I have to consider what my time is worth. The submission guidelines say I’d need to print the document out and prepare cover letters and include international postage stamps and self addressed envelopes and postcards. What the hell? All three magazines state they don’t take email submissions, which is a sure sign they are going to slide into obscurity. So I get to do all the paperwork (three times) for the remote chance I might get some money: -1.

Meanwhile, I get paid considerably more than that per juggling gig I take, and that usually includes a week of seeing the world, sitting in jacuzzis, drinking in bars and doing more of what I actually love: reading, writing, juggling, and making people laugh while I show off on stage. At home, while not getting paid, I pretty much do what I want: write new material for my show, build big toys, hang out with my girlfriend, play my guitar, play table tennis (way too much of this recently), eat out with friends, juggle with other friends, etc, etc, etc. This is my life as I choose it. I could do much more work and get paid for it. However, Pola and I really like our lifestyle, so we do far less work than we are offered to accommodate non-work pursuits. Time away from my current lifestyle to stress out about submissions? -1

After submission I get to wait 8 weeks for a note saying I’m accepted or rejected. And I’m not allowed to submit the manuscript to two magazines at once, so we’re talking a minimum of 8 months to a year in total to receive the final rejection note from the third magazine. If I do get published, add a few months after acceptance until publication. If serialized add another 6 months for the last part to be read. Total time to feedback from readers: between one and two years. By contrast, I could post my novel online and get feedback within a week of two. So: -1

Maybe if the story is bought by the magazine it will increase my name recognition. Then an agent will like my work and offer me a book deal. This would be great! Of course, the more realistic scenario for some kind of book deal is for me to pimp my work directly to the agents, via post, in person or online. I’m not confident that any kind of book deal is going to magically land in anyone’s lap without this human to human contact. The only thing a magazine sale would do is for me to include it on the cover letter, eg: “I’ve had my work published in this magazine.” But it is a good thing to have: +1

Those are all the factors I’ve considered so far. A quick tally up of the score gets me: -4

Minus four means this really isn’t something I think is worth my time. It comes down knowing what I want, and what I don’t want, from my fiction writing.

What I don’t want:

  • stress.

    What I do want:

  • enjoying the writing process,
  • writing exactly what I want (not what a random editor is looking for),
  • letting other people read my work at a time I want,
  • letting people read in a way they want,
  • getting quick feedback from others (positive would be great, negative would help me improve).
  • What I’m neutral about:

  • getting small amounts of money (as offered by magazines),
  • lots of readers with whom I have nothing in common, nor with whom identify in any way,
  • padding for cover letters for hypothetical future agents.

    Unfortunately the only plus points from my analysis of submitting my work to fiction magazines are the three things that fall directly into the neutral category.

    I’ll pass for now.

    Feedback, comments, pointing out of mistakes and omissions all welcome in the comments or by email:

  • ebooks feedback.

    In the blog comments and by email I’ve received loads of suggestions for different ebook websites and publishers. A few minutes ago I got the most helpful suggestion:

    “There is actually a sub menu in Stanza where you can download a great many Creative Commons e-books of all kinds”

    The “Online Catalog” tab is right there on the main menu screen in Stanza and I completely missed it. Two people have suggested Ventus by Karl Schroeder now so I downloaded that.

    Luke as a guest on the SFFaudio podcast.

    Yesterday I was a guest on the SFFaudio Podcast. It’s the podcast from Jesse and Scott, the team behind a website that reviews sci-fi and fantasy audio books, radio plays and podcasts.

    We had a really good discussion about reviewing books, as that is what we all do on our respective podcasts. Topics include “how we approach a review”, “to spoil or not to spoil”, “to use ratings or not to use ratings”, “subjective or objective”, “reviews that are too negative” and of course we generally chatted about science fiction novels and authors we really enjoy. And a bit about my own fiction and if it will ever be podcasted.

    Here is a direct link to the audio file.

    Novel number two finished.

    Last night Pola asked “Do you want to watch a DVD with me?” I wasn’t feeling well, and suspected she wanted to watch the Sex and the City (while I’m more of a City and the Stars kind of guy).

    So I sat in bed with my laptop and plugged away at my novel. I didn’t realise when Pola put on another film, so I ended up writing far longer than I intended. After about 3000 words I not only reached the end of the story, but wrote the last two chapters which I’d intended to be some kind of epilogue.

    Ok, let me clarify; the story isn’t a finished novel, but I reached the end. There is going to be a LOT of editing on this one. The first novel I wrote was set on Earth, and even though it was set (mostly) in the future, I didn’t have to do a whole lot of what science fiction authors call “world building”. The current novel is set on an alien planet and has non-21st century levels of technology, and there are lots of small plot points that rely on other small things, with details spread throughout the narrative.

    As I was writing I’d notice something didn’t fit with something else I’d already written, or that I needed a new character, or could combine two other characters, or that this one piece of technology stood out too much and needed to be replace by another… but when I made the change, I didn’t go back and rewrite the previous material to fit with the new, I just continued to write as though the later facts were true and the earlier facts had already been changed.

    This means that if someone else was to read the story now it would make zero sense. For example, in the opening chapters I introduce two characters who, in the planning stages, were going to play a major role in the last thirty or forty pages. But as I was writing I completely forgot about them, and their roles were filled by other characters. So they need to be edited out. Also the shape of the main camp changes quite a bit from the original description compared to what I have in my mind now, at the end of the writing process.

    What I’m going to have to do is read the entire thing and make a whole new list of facts about the world that are in place at the end, and then go through again and make sure they are consistent from the beginning.

    A final note: this story, at only 35,000 words, feels much more like a novella than my first long work of fiction. The word length is going to grow a lot during the edits though, as I on the first draught I was concentrating mostly on plot and action, with very little description, and not much characterization either.

    I wanted to write about 45,000 words in 30 days. I took two weeks off from writing in the middle, and finally settled on between 1000 and 1500 words per day as the least stressful workload. I managed 36,776 words in 28 days, averaging 1,313 per day. Along the way I added 1782 words of non-story notes, for a final 34,994 words. My novel writing software says that’s about 145 pages in an average paperback format.

    The final breakdown is here:

    Day:	Date:	Target:	Behind:	Catch:	Sessions:		Today:	Running total:
    Fri	23	1500	-467	-533	1967			1967	1967
    Sat	24	3000	-343	60	1376			1376	3343
    Sun	25	4500	563	873	594			594	3937
    Mon	26	6000	1583	1023	480			480	4417
    Tue	27	7500	930	-675	1024	1129		2153	6570
    Wed	28	9000	332	-645	1349	749		2098	8668
    Thu	29	10500	-1991	-2468	1839	1984		3823	12491
    Fri	30	12000	-491	1413	0			0	12491
    Sat	31	13500	-263	148	580	692		1272	13763
    Sun	1	15000	1237	1487	0			0	13763
    Mon	2	16500	-90	-1407	2827			2827	16590
    Tue	3	18000	-130	-126	1540			1540	18130
    Wed	4	19500	-555	-539	1010	915		1925	20055
    Thu	5	21000	910	1430	35			35	20090
    Sat	21	22500	2248	1385	162			162	20252
    Sun	22	24000	2684	515	1064			1064	21316
    Mon	23	25500	4184	1692	0			0	21316
    Tue	24	27000	4392	430	1026	266		1292	22608
    Wed	25	28500	3452	-777	1135	1305		2440	25048
    Thu	26	30000	3880	644	1072			1072	26120
    Fri	27	31500	4005	376	1375			1375	27495
    Sat	28	33000	4544	877	961			961	28456
    Sun	1	34500	6044	2068	0			0	28456
    Mon	2	36000	6536	934	1008			1008	29464
    Tue	3	37500	6573	547	556	907		1463	30927
    Wed	4	39000	6540	557	1533			1533	32460
    Thu	5	40500	6925	1170	1115			1115	33575
    Fri	6	40500	3724	-1145	15	3186		3201	36776								
    	removing notes			-1782			-1782	34994

    I need to start coming up with working titles for my fiction. “Edward” and “Monster Story” are fine for file names, but don’t really portray what I want about the stories.