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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Speculative Fiction - To be or not to be?

   
Author Topic: Speculative Fiction - To be or not to be?
wise
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I am at least halfway through my novel, now at over 60,000 words and growing quickly. I'm thinking ahead to when I need to submit it for publishing, but I'm having trouble classifying it. I'm concerned because if it is SF or Fantasy, then I may not need an agent to approach publishers (I can do it directly, according to what I have read). However, if not, then I may need an agent to submit to main-stream publishers.

My story is what I think of as speculative fiction. However, spec. fiction encompasses a wide range of genres, of which SF and Fantasy are just a few. The novel begins in the 1990s, but does extrapolate into the near future, definitely into the 2020s. It takes place on Earth and doesn't include any fantasy elements. However, it includes some religious miracles and introduces technological inventions and scientific accomplishments that don't yet exist. It's not hard science fiction and definitely not fantasy. It's like an alternate timeline, although up to the present it follows historical events pretty closely. I have inserted a few alternate explanations for some recent historical events.

Would such a story appeal to SF publishers, or should I stick to main-stream publishers? I need some clarification.

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Grumpy old guy
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Well, wise, I'll take a stab at a couple of observations. I'll go with Ben Bova's definition of what Science Fiction is: it is any story where, if you remove the 'science' from it, the story cannot be told. His example is Frankenstein. Remove the science and what do you have? Nothing.

Religious miracles? Not wishing to denigrate your beliefs but, to some, one persons religious miracle is another's coincidence or fantastical occurrence (fantasy).

What you have told me about your story does not say enough to put it into any genre, historical, speculative, YA, horror, religious or commentary.

And there, you may have a problem. If you can't say what your story is about in a sentence, you might have difficulty getting an agent, let alone a publisher. What's it about? What is the struggle, the conflict, the main character? In a nutshell, what is the point of the story?

I know this doesn't help you at all, but I don't have enough information to go on.

Phil.

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wise
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Thanks for the effort, GOG. Perhaps I'm asking prematurely.

It would be straight fiction except for the extrapolation into the near future, and the religious element lends it a supernatural air. Can it be called speculative fiction without getting more specific than that?

I can tell my story in a sentence, but I'd rather not publicly because I am very protective of my idea. And it's controversial, so I'd rather keep it "fuzzy" for now.

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MattLeo
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I think you're asking prematurely. If I were you I'd be more worried about the word count. 120K words is almost certainly a show-stopper if you're hoping to be stocked in bricks-and-mortar stores. Bigger paper books are more costly to print and transport and take up more shelf space. That amounts to risk. Stephen King says 180K words is a good length for a novel you can sink your teeth into, but Stephen King's name has more marketing clout than yours.

For unpublished genre novels 80K - 90K is the can't go wrong length. Over 100K your chances of getting published drop precipitously.

Of course there are always exceptions. *Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell* is a first novel which weighs in far over 200K words, but there's two things to note about that. First, it's a work of genius. Your novel may be very good but it's unlikely to be as significant. Second, given that it was published in 2004, it must have been picked up in 2002 or even 2001. Ten years has made publishing a different,more risk averse world. In time the shift toward e-publishing should make the industry more open to longer word counts, but the first reaction to crisis and upheaval is (ironically) to be wary of new ways of thinking.

As far as genre is concerned, it's not a science. If it's in a roughly contemporary setting, involves magic and doesn't have recognizable fantasy tropes like vampires, some people would insist that it's "magical realist", although I have doubts about that because I think this kind of ontological thinking misses the point. You should think like a publisher, and what the publisher cares about is audience.

If the book appeals to the kind of person who reads science fiction, then market it as science fiction. If it appeals to the kind of person who reads fantasy or urban fantasy, market it accordingly.

Oh, and by the way I wouldn't be too worried about people stealing your idea. One thing I learned in business is that there are more than enough ideas in the world, what's missing is the discipline and skill to turn them into reality. There's almost no chance anyone would steal your idea, and it's virtually certain that it wouldn't matter if they did.

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extrinsic
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Magical realism.
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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
Magical realism.

If we're talking literary criticism, I agree completely. If we're talking marketing, it'd depend on the MS.
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wise
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Hmmm...good food for thought, everyone. This is such a great place to throw out an idea and bounce it against such helpful and intelligent brains! You all are invaluable to a newbie like myself!

I think my novel will be about 100K words, but of course it's still in the process. There's probably less to go than the amount I've already written. I'll keep that number in the back of my mind and see where it goes.

I haven't heard the term "magical realism" before and just now read a little about it. I'm assuming it's the religious miracles performed in my novel that cause you to label it that way. However, from the brief descriptions I just read, magical realism seems more literary than my novel will be.

If I was a publisher, I would probably place my book in the fiction section because it should appeal to a general adult audience.

MattLeo, it's not so much thinking someone will steal my idea, it's because the topic is controversial and I most likely will publish under a pseudonym, so I don't want to talk too much about it publicly. I know the idea is "out there" because George Noory speculated about it on "Coast to Coast" about a month or so ago. I just hope I do it justice. Time will tell.

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LDWriter2
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An interesting discussion. Some good things said.

Personal I would send it everywhere that even might take it. Of course you will need some type of genre to put in the cover letter etc. But mainstream might be better because of a wider audience and maybe more money. They do SF and Fantasy at times. Or magic realism which might be another name of Urban Fantasy. Or UF is a form of Magic Realism.

You said religious miracles with no fantasy elements that might be under MR. I don't know enough to say either way or MR might be a good catch all. You might look at some mainstream novels that have something along the same lines, see what they are called. Speculative-Futuristic-Religious Adventure.

Or call it something different depending on who you send it to. That may have been suggested already.

But as I said, send it to anyone and everyone who even might like it. All they can say is No, or as is the case more and more say nothing. It's possible that one editor will walk it over to the right editor, if he-she likes the writing.

When sending it to publishers you will be sending it out more than one manuscript or publishing package at a time. Five at once seems to be a good number. So the more places to send it is good.

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extrinsic
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Magical realism blurs metaphysical and mundane realms' boundaries, mundane meaning earthly. Metaphysical features are typically spiritual rather than paranormal, though they overlap. Witchcraft, for example, crosses into both.

A higher order magical realism feature portrays spiritual events as everyday and mundane events as extraordinarily miraculous. A flight of white gnats dancing and sparkling in golden light, symbolizing, say, an intangible, immaterial, or abstract spiritual or natural force is a magical realism motif. The occasion of everyday miracles is also a magical realism motif.

Magical realism has by and large been a domain of literary fiction, certainly as a genre within that category; however, magical realism motifs are present in other genres, more often situational rather than extended.

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History
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Good Shabbos,
I agree with Matt Leo.
This discussion is premature.
Finish writing the story/novel before considering where to submit it. The finished product may not be what you imagine now.

Respectfully,
Dr.Bob

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Robert Nowall
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Based on your description, I'd be inclined to submit to the SF publishers---the worst they can do is reject it.

I send my stuff out (when I have stuff to send out) to [print] markets that don't quite match what I'm writing---simply because there is nothing else even close to what I'm writing.

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extrinsic
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Perhaps defining genre is premature for an intuitive writer mid draft writing, though once a draft is complete, the time has arrived for reworking and assessing intent and meaning. For a planning writer, defining genre beforehand is part of planning writing. For an audience appeal writer, defining genre is also a beginning to writing. Blended planning-intuitive writers, too, start with an idea of a genre, and reassess regularly while drafting. The writing principle on point is writing for publication is for public consumption; audience appeal is a foreground factor.
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wise
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Alas, I was a Girl Scout for 11 years, so "Be Prepared" is my motto. I guess I will just leave it up to the publishers to categorize my novel and bow low before their experienced marketing gurus. It looks like I will need an agent if I send it to non-SF/Fantasy publishers, which is what spurred my curiosity to begin with. So maybe the title of this thread should be: "To Agent or Not To Agent? That is the Question!" As a new author, using an agent is probably the best route, anyway.
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extrinsic
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A query letter's third part should concisely detail the genre that the query introduces. First part is the pitch. Second part is a brief synopsis of the novel. Third part is a description of the novel's market potential as the writer sees it. Fourth part is a writer's writing curriculum vitae. All in 250 words or less; 125 is ideal.

A query letter is essential for pitching an agent as well as a publisher.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Your description makes me think of CLOUD ATLAS (the book--haven't seen the movie), and it was definitely a mainstream publication.

You'll get a much wider readership if you can sell to mainstream publishers, by the way.

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LDWriter2
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quote:
Originally posted by wise:
Alas, I was a Girl Scout for 11 years, so "Be Prepared" is my motto. I guess I will just leave it up to the publishers to categorize my novel and bow low before their experienced marketing gurus. It looks like I will need an agent if I send it to non-SF/Fantasy publishers, which is what spurred my curiosity to begin with. So maybe the title of this thread should be: "To Agent or Not To Agent? That is the Question!" As a new author, using an agent is probably the best route, anyway.

That seems to be debate these days, you can get things published without an agent no matter what the publishers say they want. And with some of the newer type of agents it might be better not to have one. They changed the way they do business. There are old types still around who really work for the writers who hire them but many do not anymore. And with the deadly clauses publishers put in their contracts these days a good lawyer, used to working with publishers, seems to be a better way. Cheaper in the long run too.
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extrinsic
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Let's see what costs a winning writer's business entourage might entail.

Literary agent: 10 to 30 percent of revenue, after publisher pays agent, after revenues are received by publisher, three months to a year after receipt with a 25 to 35 percent reserve against remaindered returns. Agents are contingency-based services. If a writer doesn't earn revenue, an agent isn't paid. Reputable agencies cost more because they include some editorial services and maybe additional services like publicity, and because their industry and culture contacts are broad, deep, and current.

Editor: editors bill per word, per page, per hour, or lump sum charges, $500 for a light copyedit of a 100,000 word novel in reasonable shape is a going rate. $5,000 for a medium to heavy copyedit with increasing degrees of developmental editing is a going rate.

Lawyer or law firm: $150 to $3,000 an hour with an up-front retainer based on an estimate of services to be performed. Intellectual property and contract lawyers are higher ended than most other legal specialties. $500 an hour is about average, plus costs for paralegals and legal secretaries and other associated legal costs and fees. Intellectual property lawyers don't work on contingency bases.

Accountant: $125 to $1000 an hour. $200 an hour for routine services average. Often, a retainer is required for services then services are billed based on work performed.

Publicist: $15,000 to $20,000 for a complete, full-court press.

Personal assistant: $15 to $50 an hour. $20 an hour and $400 a month is average.

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Grumpy old guy
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Well, bless my socks and trouser buttons -- where's the incentive to publish if I've got to fork out all that moolah? I certainly don't have it right now.

Where to start?

Phil.

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extrinsic
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I spent less money taking courses in intellectual property and contract law and accounting and studying the culture from a writer's and an editor's perspective. The culture is a Mobius labyrinth but navigable.

Grumpy old guy, you have a steeper path than U.S. or British writers. Australia's publishing culture is on the hidebound side. Australian publishers expect a high degree of cultural insight from its native or immigrant writers. Seventy percent of Australia's book titles are imported. The remaining thirty percent largely are of interest only to Australians. However, the Internet has opened up the globe to Australian writers. International literary agencies and publishers accept digital submissions now.

I'm not a lawyer but I'm savvy enough to know when I need one and when I don't. An agent? Not if I can help it. And I can. The single matter of consequence is generating sufficient word-of-mouth buzz about an artful creation consumers have to have.

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LDWriter2
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
Let's see what costs a winning writer's business entourage might entail.

Literary agent: 10 to 30 percent of revenue, after publisher pays agent, after revenues are received by publisher, three months to a year after receipt with a 25 to 35 percent reserve against remaindered returns. Agents are contingency-based services. If a writer doesn't earn revenue, an agent isn't paid. Reputable agencies cost more because they include some editorial services and maybe additional services like publicity, and because their industry and culture contacts are broad, deep, and current.

Editor: editors bill per word, per page, per hour, or lump sum charges, $500 for a light copyedit of a 100,000 word novel in reasonable shape is a going rate. $5,000 for a medium to heavy copyedit with increasing degrees of developmental editing is a going rate.

Lawyer or law firm: $150 to $3,000 an hour with an up-front retainer based on an estimate of services to be performed. Intellectual property and contract lawyers are higher ended than most other legal specialties. $500 an hour is about average, plus costs for paralegals and legal secretaries and other associated legal costs and fees. Intellectual property lawyers don't work on contingency bases.

Accountant: $125 to $1000 an hour. $200 an hour for routine services average. Often, a retainer is required for services then services are billed based on work performed.

Publicist: $15,000 to $20,000 for a complete, full-court press.

Personal assistant: $15 to $50 an hour. $20 an hour and $400 a month is average.

I don't think it's quite as bad as this implies. Especially right now for us starting out. But even established pros may come out a little bit better than this.

According to Dean Wesley Smith you can get away with paying a IP lawyer around $400 to look over a contract, I forget if that includes negotiating but that isn't a whole lot more. Of course if one is looking at three to six contracts per year, a couple being from other countries, for you the amounts would change.

I doubt that most average writers have a publicist, not a full time one anyway. Some of the top level ones might but they have a whole lot more money coming in. A copy editor ? That depends on who you get. I've checked out a couple that charge less than extrinsic stated. If you get a top one or one very busy it could be more. If you know someone it can be less.

An accountant sounds expensive but it's a whole lot better to have one when you work for yourself.

Fifteen percent seems to be the average for agents, some of the newer ones could be charging more. These days though you don't need one. That means more work for you but it saves money and, depending on the contract, it saves frustration and loss.

And remember anyone can become an agent. Some of the newer ones are ex-editors who have their own ideas of what they should be doing and not doing.

But you publish because you want people to read your stuff. When you work for yourself you will have to pay out for things you normally do not have to.

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Grumpy old guy
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I am an Accountant (sort of -- qualified but now too old apparently to get a real job) and have done the modules on contract law and commercial law. But, I'd still hire an IP Lawyer to give it the once over.

I hear what you're saying about the Australian market extrinsic. It's pretty parochial and insular. Most Australian main stream literature is usually about an Australian milieu. No idea why, but have a sneaking suspicion that it's the 'Old Boys' network at work.

Phil.

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Corky
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They're following the "write what you know" rule, perhaps?
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