I recently started buying individual copies of Analog and Asimov's to see what's selling. I have questioned how many of the stories therein would have faired in our forum.
Many do not appear to have a particular hook in the first 13 lines. Many seem to break a lot of "rules", such as said-bookisms. I didn't even like some of the stories, and I wondered why they were even published.
I started this as a response to another thread, but I think the question should deserve its proper due - What does it take to get an individual story published in a pro-rated publication? More specifically, a pro-rated sci-fi publication?
I know this is not a simple question or else everyone would be doing it. I've read articles by the editors to get incite. I have examined the stories for hints into what was publishable about them.
I question whether the criteria we are concerned with here is really important in getting us published. I see story after story being wrung through the crit areas, and yet I seldom hear what has become of them. I look in the Published Hatrackers area and see a few stories. I read the congrats in the WOTF contests. I would like to know what stories are getting recognized and what it is about them that deserved merit.
I would just like to see some dialogue regarding how to get a story published in the slicks and maybe hear from some people's personal experience with the process.
Gee, philcinemas, I've seen two of your posts so far and both are really insightful and go beyond the typical discussions. You better look out. :-)
I agree on the state of pulp mag SF stories. When I compare the stuff today to the glorious tales I read in my youth it's pretty depressing.
I don't know that the trouble is. I have some surmises. I think there may be an aging and ossifying on those staffs. I'm continually astounded that almost all publications now accept email queries and submissions...EXCEPT THE MAJOR SF PULPS! Pretty damned futuristic, huh?
I see stories there that seem to be written for retired science teachers or pipe-smoking manhattanites who have lost their since of the Big If and gone to mold.
Meanwhile, there's a generation of kids coming up playing video games instead of reading Analog.
There is like NO slick market anymore. Even Playboy seems to have dropped away from it. Boy's Life might still run some SF and they pay pretty well. (Much better than Asimovs and S&SF, that's for sure.
I have to split (surf's up) but will return to this question.
For now, how about this? I realize there's no money in it, but how much are nickle a word sales worth anyway? But there is a burgeoning online audience and a lot of interesting new ways to skin the cat. If I was doing SF shorts right now (which thank God I'm not) I'd be looking at mp3's, videos, pdf downloads, the younger and more aggressive sites.
I'll be interested in your reaction to this and will be back to you.
You are very right, by the way. The things people grind around on crit sites are not really all that helpful in getting sold.
And something that nobody wants to hear. The people who sell stories have something that the average aspirant is missing.
This isn't passing the law boards or honing a resume for the suits.
This is The Arts. You need talent. Not fair, maybe. But there it is.
One of the processes one goes through in the arts is figuring out what level you're at at making the most of it. Sports, too. Everybody wants to play in the big leagues. But you might have fun playing company softball if that's not in the cards.
Everybody wants recording, tours, and groupies. But if you're not up to it, what do you do. I enjoy playing music a lot. I'll never be a pro, never play with a real jazz band. But I have fun when I play. I even appeared (well, my sound appeared) on a YouTube video some tourist made. So I'm an international recording star!
But more directly to your real question (not the one I warped out of it) and having had a LOT of experience selling articles to magazines, and some bit of success with fiction, I'd say this:
Think seige. You're outside the walls. You're not going to starve them out because they don't need you or give a damn about you. So what you do is study the walls. And the little gullies and all the stuff you see cool heroes do in books. Where can you best and most easily break in.
It's kind of unfair because the articles editors tell you flat-out, right in the guidelines. "Easiest way to break in is a shortpiece in our 'Omnibus' section."
But all mags have a sweet spot. It might be supershort humor pieces. It might be a certain kind of story you see enough to realize it's an editor's pet. Far future stuff featuring pipe smoking or something. There might be an equivalent to Hollywood's weakness for films set in Beverly Hills.
And you're sizing it up. Twist endings favored? Femme fatales?
But at the end of the day, you either have the imagination to come up with an interesting story and the way with words to pull it off... or you don't. And if you don't there's nothing you can do to get it anymore than you can go out and determine to be six foot seven or capable of a four second forty.
It's not all about "Write what you know". Most people figure that out. It's about "Write what you can pull off".
Count how many stories are in those magazines each month. Then figure out how many wannabes there are on this website. Times the hundred or more websites. Do the math.
Gonna say one more thing here, just to prove I'm open to monologue.
Just as competitive marathon runners are not great sprinters, nor vice versa, there are people better suited to novels and others better suited to shorts. Or poetry, or flash or fortune cookie slips or whatever.
You keep hearing people say that writing shorts is good practice and discipline and all for novels. But ain't necessarily so.
Most of the successful novelists I know sat down and wrote a novel, rather than trying to "work up". Because it's not really a "work up" situation. (Most of them sold the first novel they wrote, by the way)
So. Even if you just can't crack the shorts market doesn't mean that you might not be able to produce a novel you can flog.
And not being able to pull off either isn't the end of the world. Today more than ever there is spectrum of publication available to writers, more niches than ever for people to find.
Thanks for the response. I've learned a great deal from this forum, and my experience here has been very good. My question is not by any means meant to "knock" this forum. I believe it is important to never simply accept something at face value, but I question everything in the proper context. I value every critique whether I agree with it or not. My question about getting published is not out of a desire for monetary gain. I simply desire recognition. I would like a real career in writing sci-fi one day, and I feel that the pro-rate publications are the best means.
What I am looking for is an honest and open discussion about what is out there right now, and how to get out there ourselves. I don't necessarily believe that one thing does it or hinders it. There are obviously a combination of variables, and I think it would be healthy for us to explore them.
It sounds like you started off on the wrong foot with a couple of people around here. They are all pretty good guys and gals, and I think you should maybe feel the room out and get to know some of them first, before making a lasting judgement. Writers can be pretty sensitive and territorial as I'm sure you know. May I suggest giving Hatrack a fresh start, and I believe these people will give you a clean shake as well.
In my work as a staff reader, I must admit that I notice only really, really bad hooks and really good ones. There have been stories with really terrible beginnings that I have barely able to get myself to read all through. But then, I do only read flash pieces. So those comments are of course all made in this light.
There seems to be a lot of discussion lately as to whether we at this forum are pushing dated, or unnecesasry rules on writers. What I want to ask is, is it doing harm? Maybe for some people, the advice does do harm. Off the top of my head, perhaps some writers feel stifled by all the rules. The thing is, all of those are just opinions. If you like your adverbs and your said bookisms and your POV switches, leave them in, by all means. Maybe the editors won't notice. It's hard to say.
I personally try to crit based on my brief experience working for a magazine. What would bother me if I were considering this story for publication?
Another rubric I use is, does the word choice or stylistic choice distract me from the story? I personally like to worry about such things because I don't want publishers thinking, "well, this is a great story, but we question her writing quality."
Anyway, to get back to the main topic, in my experience I won't reject a story for breaking some rules. What matters most is plot, characters and overall writing quality. Alas, I cannot give you any advice on getting published in a pro market. Still working on that myself!
And in case you couldn't tell, I do like the rules that many people crit by here. But that's just my 'only published a few stories non-professionally' opinion.
My experience so far is having a piece "short-listed" but ultimately not published. The story was not rejected on mechanics; they didn't have a place for it as they planned the upcoming issues. the feedback from the editors were things that I couldn't or wouldn't be inclined to change. (if one reader doesn't like a story's world, he doesn't like the world. Other people do.) I did a lot of revisions of this piece with the help of hatracker crits and others to get the story to a place that made me happy. And a lot of those changes were small, picky things -- that made a world of difference. My understanding is that many, many factors play into which of the 100s of pieces that come in every month ultimate are published -- does it fit a magazine's "mission statement"? did they just publish something similar? Is it too long? to short? etc etc.
My business plan is to make the product as perfect as I can (I've been told by many people that the editor is looking for a reason to not read the story to the end -- any annoying bit before they love the characters and plot will sink you) and keep plugging away. If this was easy, everyone would do it.
HI..I have only submitted manuscripts 9 times so far ...3 rejections....one of which the editor went to great length to crit enough of my story to improve it immensely and encouraged me to keep submitting to him...beneath-ceaseless-skies.....that really impressed me...I think I will probably have something publishable this year, at this rate lol
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To give you an answer that is probably closer to the truth this is my opinion on what it takes to get published.
An extensive portfolio with a lot of publishing credits and a recognizable name for the readers to gravitate to. And of course an agent to push your work always helps. IF they don't have a well known author (after all, they are out to SELL their magazines and lets face it, many of the names in Asimov, Analog, and Fantasy and Science Fiction are ones you'll probably see on the shelves at the local Borders) they'll take the best darn thing that crosses their desk.
Of course, it will need to fit their taste (good luck figuring that one out)
The so-called rules of creative writing aren't rules at all. They're conventions, traditions, or landmarks that point to lazy writing and give writers talking points for discussion. There's not much absolute about story. Story absolutely must have plot, even the so-called plotless literary stories have plots, because those stories do the other absolute must of story. They stimulate emotion in readers, which is the main purpose of plot.
Publishers publish what sells. The days of houses shepherding emerging writers are over. That practice went by the wayside when the digital age arrived and allowed for anyone with a modicum of techological publishing ability to become a publisher. R.R. Bowker, US concessionaire for the ISBN process, lists some 86,000 registered publishers. ISBN stands for International Standard Business Number, international business, big business. Publishing is business. Publishers buy what will sell. Good stories sell; excellent stories sell out print runs. Great storytellers survive to tell another story, mediocre storytellers don't.
Six million Americans believe they're good storytellers and have never written a story, let alone marketed one. Six million manuscripts are making the publishing house rounds at any given moment and at some phase in the process from posted to acquisition or rejection. Only one in a thousand makes it into print. To become one of the Ones, tell a good story. A good story stimulates emotions in readers. Everything else is talking points for fellow emerging writers to expound and pontificate upon endlessly, rather than getting on with the writing development.
The three dimensions of story plot that stimulate emotion are causation, antagonism--the force of change wrought by causation--and tension. Nonlogical causation is commonplace in emerging writers' stories, and confusing. Antagonism is too easily confused with confrontation. Lack or limitations in developing antagonism is another common flaw in emerging writers' stories. Tension fails to build because of those flaws and another one: The outcome of a story must remain in doubt right up to the climax. Doubtful outcomes are what drives tension. Verging on failure, redoubling efforts to achieve a desirable resolution of a predicament, further increasing opposition, evermore likely failure, repeat at least once in a short story, more in longer fiction, that's the formula for building tension.
A good story involves readers in the opening by aligning them to the story's meaning space. Call it the hook, the teaser, the pitch, the dramatic premise, the first cause, the conflict, the rooting interest, the whatever, it's resonance with what means something to readers, to readers' meaning space. What floats their boat, what inspires their passions, what thrills their sensibilities, what horrifies them, what fits their comfort zone, what drives them to feel: what excites their emotions, that's what opens a good story. Then keep them involved by following a logical train of causation with increasing antagonism and tension and doubtful outcome and they won't be able to put down the story. Tell a good story and it will be published. The marketplace is full of mediocre stories. The only way to get in and stay in is to be a better storyteller than other nine hundred ninety-nine competitors vying for the same slot.
(Stats paraphrased from marketplace research and analysis.)
[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited December 06, 2008).]
The people who read your MS over are not "gravitating" to big names. Those go straight in to editors they know, not interns and what not on the slush pile.
Agents don't really push short fiction. MAYBE if you've been making sales for them they will do it, but there just isn't really the hookup between agents and magazines the way there is with publishers. Agents work on commision, fifteen percent of chicken feed is like, grasshopper feed.
If you can write a good story, and can do like I was saying: size up and stalk the markets, you can sell to these places. It's not really constructive to promote the attitude that only those who have already made it can break in. (I'm always amused by a sort of background attitude on writing forums that it sucks to say you aren't going to make it if you have no talent, but sophisticated to say you aren't going to make it if you don't have pull.)
I would say that about any contributor to the big 3 SF pulps would tell you exactly the same thing.
Short fiction has its place. It is a good training ground for technique, where trying something new and different that doesn't work only kills a week, not six months. It also is the form that gets peer recognition. A lot of genre short fiction markets are read only by other writers.
Linton, this thread has some of the most insightful comments I've ever seen from you.
In my observations of Hatrack, people here are a little less likely to brag about their accomplishments. I have a few theories:
1) those who are published are off writing new pieces they hope to publish and thus don't have time to brag 2) the published forum is down the scroll line on their browsers and they forget to post to it 3) negative peer pressure - not that many people post to that forum/it doesn't get a lot of frequent activity so people figure it's not worth it 4) they've done their bragging on other writer sites with extensive overlap from Hatrack (Liberty Hall is the one other writer site I frequent and has a lot of Hatrackers, and an embarrassingly long "publishing brags" forum and literally ..er, dozens or hundreds by now of stories posted in the "published works that originated at Liberty Hall" thread.)
I know of many published writers who frequent Hatrack and other places, but their posting volume is lower than most of us amateurs. I'm sure it's partly a time thing, most folks are doing this writing thing on the side in and among our other responsibilities. But it could also be a maturation-curve type of thing. Like how an apprentice would study under a master for a few years, but ultimately they have to go out on their own and prove themselves, can't just hang around the workshop chatting with the other apprentices all day.
This is just wild theory and speculation. There are plenty of successful writers who *do* post here on a regular or semi-regular basis, but you may not know them as such if they don't shout their accomplishments from the rooftops. Hopefully this post will encourage them to come share their experiences.
Oh - one other thing, from my experience as a staff reader for an online magazine, people have wildly different points of view/likes/dislikes on fiction. I am not surprised you found some stories in the magazines unappealing. I also suspect with some of the magazines they've seen so much that they're seeking things that are a little different. The editors may not care much about said bookisms if the story is a good story, hangs together well, has good flow, evokes an emotional response, has good characters, is told well, or is a different take on something - presents a unique idea (something I hear a lot from genre fiction publishers, for what it's worth.)
Getting read by editors is my immediate goal. It seems to me that they have quite a bit to do with whether I'm read by readers or writers.
BTW, I'm glad you returned to this thread, Linton. My comment about “knocking” this forum was not directed toward you. As I reread my initial post, I could see how some might misinterpret what I wrote as criticism toward them. It was not. However, emotions have been running high around here for the last couple of days, and I wanted to clarify my comment. I think you have made some valuable points, and I like to hear alternate opinions.
quote: There seems to be a lot of discussion lately as to whether we at this forum are pushing dated, or unnecesasry rules on writers. What I want to ask is, is it doing harm? Maybe for some people, the advice does do harm. Off the top of my head, perhaps some writers feel stifled by all the rules. The thing is, all of those are just opinions. If you like your adverbs and your said bookisms and your POV switches, leave them in, by all means. Maybe the editors won't notice. It's hard to say.
Good point, Bored Crow. Let’s start by suggesting to limit possible points of contention, in accordance with what the author feels comfortable. I recently wrote something that had – “…!” she shouted – or something like that. People suggested I use “said”, so I did. It was no big deal. I even removed part of a line that I liked very much, but EVERYONE seemed to think it was “overwritten”. There are other parts that I will not change, even though some have suggested I should. Therefore I keep my individuality, but make small compromises that I feel give me a better chance at publication.
quote: The story was not rejected on mechanics; they didn't have a place for it as they planned the upcoming issues.
Kathyton, this is like a silent killer. They like it, but can’t find a place for it. How frustrating! I wonder if there is any way around this one. I guess you could just keep submitting or try other publications. Let’s make step 2 anticipating what kind of stories the publications want. Do the magazines follow seasonal stories – Christmas, Valentines, etc? Anyone know or have any suggestions?
quote: one of which the editor went to great length to crit enough of my story to improve it immensely and encouraged me to keep submitting to him...beneath-ceaseless-skies.....that really impressed me...I think I will probably have something publishable this year, at this rate
That’s very encouraging, honu. I would definitely resubmit. Let’s make step 3 following an editor’s advice.
quote: An extensive portfolio with a lot of publishing credits and a recognizable name for the readers to gravitate to. And of course an agent to push your work always helps.
Snapper, that’s where I’m trying to get to. But let’s say that keeping your name in front of them with quality pieces is step 4.
quote: The only way to get in and stay in is to be a better storyteller than other nine hundred ninety-nine competitors vying for the same slot.
extrinsic, you had too many good points. I would like to be a better storyteller. I’ll make that step 5, even though it really should be step 1. You included what consists of a “great story”. Any suggestions on how to achieve this?
quote: Definitely has it's place, but like I say, is different from novels and any exercise there might or might not transfer, or time spent on one be of any use to the other.
Linton, I want to do short stories to tone my skills and to get name recognition. When I finish my novel one day, I’d actually like to get paid for it. I can do the short stories now while I’m working in my current career and not worry about the pay. I want to make the novel worthwhile.
Thanks for giving me that info, KayTi, it helps my POV - no pun intended.
Thanks for the input, everyone. I have found making quotes and the steps really annoying, even to myself, so I promise to stop. Heinlein did it better and was a lot more concise. I hope more of you will comment.
[This message has been edited by philocinemas (edited December 07, 2008).]
What consists of a great story, a predicament of sufficient scope and magnitude that it resonates with an audience's comfort zone is number one in my book. A rock weathering on a mountain theoretically could be a great story if the rock's predicament is a metaphor for the human condition, but it's a story about a rock eroding molecule by molecule.
A reality-based story about the next nuclear detonation, detonated in anger, say, and its fallout, figurative and literal, would be a whopping great story if told well and not in the ways of made-for-television movies. However, that magnitude of predicament likely demands an epic novel length story.
Tailoring the magnitude of a predicament to a story's length means winnowing down the dramatic premise to the most specific determinants in conflict. Live or die, pass or fail, love requited or love lost, riches or rags, success or failure, what's at stake and what all is motivating the conflict and what's in opposition or antagonism driving the change for the protagonist. Everything else is superfluous to a great story, just minutia, tedious details or clever darlings.
Another feature of great stories is how causation logically entrains. Digressions, happenstance or temporal correlations, jump tracks on the train of thought and lose a reader. Answering the five W's and how of expository writing for a reader in a logical and complete progression will hold a reader's interest longer than a train running out of a railyard and changing tracks at every switch.
Balanced and proportionate narrative modes are one more feature of great stories. The seven distinct narrative modes are Exposition, Summarization, Explanation, Description, Introspection, Emotion, and Sensation. Great stories meld the narrative modes in glorious syntheses such that it's difficult to separate out one from another. The primary narrative mode being in Sensation is most appealing and stimulating to readers, though Emotion and Introspection come in close seconds with Description not too terribly far behind. Exposition, Summarization, and Explanation, though contraindicated in contemporary fiction, are nonetheless stimulating narrative modes as auxilliaries when handled well and timely.
I think there's an inherent contradiction in what magazines want, one that makes getting published a tough challenge.
They're genre mags, so they want some sense of sameness each month--an SF mag will always publish SF, it will always be well written and observe most of the rules most of the time, and there will be a mix of stories to cater for those who like action, hard science, mystery, even romance and comedy.
On the other hand, they want something different. We've all seen the hero jump into his spaceship, roar across the galaxy, sort out the alients and save the pretty princess from their evil King. We want something different, and editors have to find something different every month.
Therefore, one element of getting published is to be different from what went before. Easy to say, not so easy to do ...
I've wondered about the markets and what's published in them for some time. I've wondered---if they can publish garbage like that story, why won't they publish my garbage? And some of the garbage is by Big Names, too...making me think it's not what you know, it's who you know...
Part of the problem is me. I'm older now, I'm, er, less easily dazzled than when I started reading and (later) writing the stuff. Probably I would have loved some of that stuff when I was a kid, but I'm a kid no more, I guess.
(Of course I'm also not submitting as much, either. Usually I have one story a year out; looks like 2008 is a washout and I won't have something ready to send out till early 2009...)
There's a lot of good practical stuff here and a great conversation going on here.... BRAVO!
Linton raises a good point -- your reality and diligent observations regarding what publishers want. I think that doing your homework in regards to where you submit is more important now than ever. I've read some stuff, as obviously you have, and found that often the pieces they are publishing aren't really congruous with what they say they're looking for. I can't believe that if a writer with solid technical skills and some talent (any talent) were to write something with these caveats in mind he/she wouldn't be published. Fact is, many writers don't really do this (write with specific pubs in mind) and this alone might be the most productive way for a new writer to break in if that's the ultimate goal.
Market research seems to be bigger and more important now than ever when considering submissions.
quote: I'm trying to figure out why being read only by other writers would be all that helpful and can't come up with much.
It isn't scoring big points, but it does help with getting invited to anthologies and with networking at cons if you have some small amount of name recognition. And if you write what other writers like, it can get you nominated for awards. If that's important to you. Otherwise, it's just training wheels.
Both of the magazines that you cited, Analog and Asimovs are Hard SF. If you write SF that is not based on scientific principles or modern theories (+ logical extensions of those theories) then even with a good 13 line hook, you will be fighting an uphill struggle.
I recommend science books by Michio Kaku, especially 'Hyperspace', as good jump off points for your imagination.
If you are writing Soft SF you need to look at other magazines, Interzone for example.
The "but this published story doesn't have a 13-line hook!" is a common complaint on here.
13-line hooks are NOT to catch the attention of a reader. They are to catch the attention of an EDITOR and make them keep reading a story by an otherwise unknown author in their big, big slush pile. If you have already sold half-a-dozen stories to Asimov's, you have a one-line hook - your name - before the story has even started.
In my experience, most of the best "hooks" in a story tend to show up in the third or fourth paragraph. We writers tend to start writing a story... before the story starts, if that makes sense.
In regards to publishing stuff... I'm *kind of* published, but not really. Right now I'm messing with some of my more complete work and looking for places to submit to, and I'm focusing more on nonfiction and so-called "literary fiction" (a term which now makes sense to me, now that I've also been introduced to the antithetical term: speculative fiction) because the few places that will accept those stories will do so via Email.
I love science fiction. I'd love to submit a sci-fi story to one of the big pulp magazines I read as a child. But snail mail? Come on. My generation has no idea where to buy stamps, let alone calculate postage, or all that other jazz. It's really sad (and, as stated before, ironic) that the venues where people are writing about the future are stuck in the past.
Fox, I think one of the reasons - possibly the main reason - that most of the big markets only accept MS and not electronic submissions is to keep the volume down to a manageable level. They figure that those who are good enough will be determined enough, and they are probably right.
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