SFWA | Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America
Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc. was founded in 1965 by the American science fiction author Damon Knight. Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America informs, supports, promotes, defends and advocates for its member writers. SFWA is a professional organization for authors of science fiction, fantasy and related genres.
THE IP PATH
1) Right now, IP (intellectual property) is everything in Hollywood and by “everything” I mean its validation—both their and your proof of concept. If your novel draws attention or builds up a sizeable audience, executives/investors will feel more comfortable spending their money on adapting what you’ve created, and they’ll come to you. Without a large audience, you’re going to have a harder time getting anyone’s attention because the work hasn’t gotten attention. This means it will have to be marketed from scratch and in this new, Internet bifurcated world, Hollywood no longer wants to expend the dollars it takes to do that. That’s partly because they haven’t figured out how to do it effectively.
If you have a book or short story with a strong, commercial hook, but no readership to speak of, there’s hope. Assuming the story can be adapted cheaply enough, marketers may feel confident they can reach the specific, niche audience your story appeals to. In this instance, it’s the one-line concept that’s selling it, not book sales.
THE MAKE SOMETHING PATH
2) Making something is another way to provide proof of concept (and also creates IP). Whether it’s a web series, fiction podcast, short film, graphic novel or comic book, you’re creating something that lives in the world for people to consume. If none of this sounds appealing because, I dunno—you’re a novelist, not a filmmaker or someone who draws or wants to find (and pay) a crew or someone to do illustrations—don’t worry about it. Just keep writing books as this is also a version of “make something” because of #1 (the IP path).
THE FELLOWSHIP PATH
3) Today, nearly all the major networks have fellowships designed to help writers break into TV (a comprehensive list can be found HERE (https://www.tv-calling.com/tv-writing-fellowships-the-big-six/) and HERE (https://nofilmschool.com/tv-writing-fellowships-launch-your-television-career). To apply, you will need to provide writing samples that are specifically written in TV format. This means learning how to adapt your own work and/or know how to capture the “voice” of a show currently on air. It should also be noted that many of these fellowships are super competitive. It has been said NBC’s TV fellowship is harder to get into than Harvard. Since the network fellowships’ intention is to try and staff you on one of their shows when the fellowship completes, you’ll be expected to adapt to the voice of the show you’re being hired to work on. When I was 25, I would have killed for an opportunity like this but 20 years ago these fellowships didn’t exist. Now, I’m edging up on 50 and no longer have much interest in writing someone else’s voice because I’m enjoying writing my own.
Maybe your book makes a better feature than a TV series. Well, good news. There are also fellowships for feature writers. You’ll still have to learn how to adapt your work into proper screenplay format, but—and this is just my opinion—the more you can diversify your writing abilities by writing in these different formats, the more opportunities available to you. A comprehensive list of feature fellowships can be found here.
THE ASSISTANT PATH
4) Being an assistant isn’t for everyone. Generally, this is a position for those just starting out. And even then, it isn’t for everyone. Selling your feature as an assistant rarely happens. The odds are slightly better if you’re working on a TV show, but even then, several variables will need to align, and none of them are in your control (which is what makes it a young person’s game—this can take several years). For instance, the show you’re working on has to stay on air long enough for you to get promoted. To get promoted, you have to be working on a show with a showrunner who believes in/is willing to promote from within. And, third, you’ll need a writing sample that shows you’re a good fit for the show you’re on. These assistant gigs are extremely competitive. It takes living and working in LA for you to be in a position to land one. However, let’s say you have an in with someone or somehow find your way onto a show—yay! You got one of the coveted spots, but it’s on a procedural and you want to be a comedy writer. You probably take it anyway. This is the beginning of the road.
YOUR NOVEL SELLS, AND YOU’RE HIRED TO ADAPT IT PATH
5) Not everyone wants to adapt their own work, and that’s totally fine. However, if you’re still reading this it’s because you are interested in writing for film and/or television (whether it’s specifically to adapt your own work or to diversify your writing opportunities). Bottom line, keep writing novels, but start making time to learn how to write in these other formats so you’re ready when the chance presents itself.
None of the advice here is absolute—it’s merely an overview of possibilities from someone who worked in the entertainment industry in various capacities for 20+ years who realized she has a better chance breaking into writing for film/TV as a novelist and wants other novelists to know that if the interest and discipline is there, they can break in too.
Ellis Cube is an award-winning screen and television writer, who worked in the entertainment industry since earning an MFA in Cinematic Arts from the University of Southern California in 1998. In 2012, Ellis left a post as the Senior Creative Executive in animation to write full-time. Ellis has since won the 2019 Writers for Writers Independent Author Fellowship with her middle-grade speculative fiction Shelby Sherman series. Ellis currently has a slipstream novella and several short stories on submission while developing her next book, a science-fiction invasion thriller.
Ellis’ scripts have also won and placed in several screenwriting and television competitions including making the top 15% of the prestigious Nicholl Fellowship in screenwriting, winning Script Pipeline’s First Look Project in the Fantasy category, and landing in the Top 25 of the Tracking Board’s Launch Pad feature competition. The ISA selected Ellis’ first original TV pilot for a reading at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, and a supernatural pilot made the second round of the Austin Film Festival writing competition in 2018.
Regardless of the format, Ellis’ fantasy and science-fiction stories explore the extraordinary in the ordinary and the ordinary in the extraordinary as her characters take on journeys of self-discovery where action, humor, and psychological twists abound. Find her at elliscube.com.
“Why do we always have to reinvent the wheel?” my editor once asked me.
When a new book is launched, it’s like introducing a stranger to a largely disinterested world. Potential readers know nothing about its characters or the kind of plot they might expect. Publishers are forced to spend a great deal of money on marketing to give the book a comforting, pseudo-familiar feel. The title and cover design will be reminiscent of other, similar books that readers might already have enjoyed.
It’s therefore not surprising that what mass-market publishers really love is a series: the same characters reappearing again and again across a sequence of adventures. This is especially the case in my area: children’s and YA fiction. Young people are big fans of series. They love to revisit familiar worlds in the company of characters they know and care for. There’s also the fact that many kids enjoy collecting things, be they toys, stickers, fridge magnets or book series. Publishers play up to this desire by creating spine designs that look great when lined up on a shelf.
Fundamentals and particulars
Creating a series won’t come naturally to every children’s or YA author. Many want to tell self-contained stories that are resolved within the scope of a single adventure: good triumphs over evil, the villains die, the protagonists fall in love or go their separate ways. To write a series requires a different kind of mindset. The first thing you need to do is separate out the fundamental or canonical aspects of a story from the particular ones. Fundamental aspects include character, relationships and often setting. Particular aspects are, broadly speaking, to do with plot.
While the plot can and should change from book to book, the fundamentals must remain unchanged, or barely changed, by the end of each adventure. So, for example, it would be very unusual for any of your major characters to die or get married or decide to move to Mars. If there are arcs to their stories, they need to be gradual ones that evolve over the course of the series. If your main characters face challenges, they can be as tough and existential as you like, but they can’t fundamentally change them.
A question of character
At the heart of every successful children’s series is a set of memorable characters. For characters to win and retain the love and loyalty of readers over a lengthy set of books, they need to be relatable, heroic and often a little quirky. They should have both strengths and flaws, goals that drive them, and losses and regrets that torment them. They may be larger than life, but also recognizably human. This depth of characterization can generate not just pathos, but also humor, for example from the repetition of mistakes or quirky sayings: series tend to be replete with in-jokes and running gags.
Incidentally, writing a series can take years, with big gaps between each installment. It’s therefore really important for authors to keep a ‘bible’ of their characters’ physical appearance, traits, and mannerisms, as a reminder. You do not want to receive a letter from an eagle-eyed reader to say that a minor character’s eyes were a different shade back in Volume 2.
Authors of children’s series need to focus not only on characterization but also relationships. Nothing makes a series really fizz like unresolved tensions between characters. This could be to do with unspoken romantic feelings, or a clash of styles or temperaments or morals or any combination of these. And of course, since not much changes from book to book, readers can look forward to more of the same crackling tension in the next installment.
One of the great joys of children’s series fiction, for both writers and readers, is testing your characters in each new adventure by throwing daunting challenges and threats their way. By the second or third title, readers will already be familiar enough with the characters’ strengths and weaknesses and will want to see these tested to, or almost to, destruction. These moments of high drama can even form the end of a title – the famous cliff-hanger ending, which is unique to series fiction.
In one bound, he was free…
This brings me to another issue: predictability. It’s a series, so of course your protagonist is going to survive, right? In that case, where’s the suspense? Well, it’s not quite as straightforward as that. To make a crisis moment as exciting as possible, you have to invite your readers to willingly suspend their belief that everything will turn out okay. If this kind of artifice wasn’t possible, then Dr. Who, Star Trek and a host of other series could never work. And sometimes, without going the full George R R Martin, it’s worth killing off a character or two, maybe a hero’s sidekick or loved one, just to reinforce the point that nothing can ever be entirely ruled out.
Knowing when to say goodbye
Finally, with any children’s series, however successful, authors need to know when to bring things to a close. If they go on too long, they risk experiencing the anguish of sliding sales as readers desert their once popular creations. Often it’s the publishers who are guilty of trying to milk a successful series beyond its natural lifespan, while authors, on multiple-volume contracts, have no choice but to oblige. They end up writing sequels that are increasingly repetitive, dull or absurd – ‘jumping the shark’ in other words.
Ideally, authors will be able to resist such commercial pressures and allow a series to conclude naturally and satisfyingly. The best advice is to let their characters take the lead on this. They will be able to tell the author better than anyone when it’s time to call it a day.
Alex Woolf has written around 150 books, mostly for children and young adults, which have sold around the world and been translated into over a dozen different languages. He is the author of seven fiction series, including Chronosphere, a time-warping trilogy, Iron Sky, a steampunk saga, and Time Detectives, now on its sixth title. His horror novel Soul Shadows was shortlisted for the 2014 RED Book Award.
Alex is also the co-author of the comic novel, Kitten on a Fatberg (Unbound). As a reader of this blog, you can pre-order Kitten on a Fatberg for a 10% discount – just quote promo code KITTEN10
“You should go to this – it’ll be good for your career” is a phrase that you’ll hear more than once as you start getting published. The phrase gets applied to conventions, conferences, writing workshops, book festivals and classes, just to name a few things. The “good for your career part” can refer to networking opportunities, the chance to meet editors and agents, some opportunity to gain new readership like doing a reading or being on a panel, or honing your craft.
What it may mean to you as a writer will vary based on where you’re at with your career and what’s feasible for you. A beginning writer hoping to do some networking and maybe get a reading at a con is at a very different place than a mid-career writer looking for a new agent and their next contract or an indie author looking to break through to the next level of visibility. Networking ability, access, how the event is set up, your goals, all these and more shape what you can get from an event that may or may not really be career advancing.
In my own case, I run a small publishing company as well as working as a writer and editor for projects for other publishers in addition to my day job. My time, energy and money are all quite finite, but I manage 5-7 large events a year, including book festivals and conventions. I consider things that don’t cost money upfront but center my writing or publishing, like interviews, guest blog posts, local bookstore readings, etc. to be automatically “good for my career” so I’m going to focus on how I assess the opportunities that involve significant costs here.
The first thing I always consider before adding an event to my schedule: Can I afford it? Financial stress can make even the most fun event pretty unpleasant. Even if you have books to sell, those sales generally won’t cover the cost of travel, hotel, tables, and stock, let alone your time, so you have to consider what’s realistic for you and what else you can get from attending. Factor in sharing rooms, book tables and shared travel too, if those are options to make a trip more feasible.
And, of course, events and travel also have an energy cost. This increases if you have one or more disabilities, have to travel internationally or over other long distances and/or your schedule and plans at the event itself. Be sure and take these into consideration when evaluating “cost” and pad a bit for emergencies, especially with travel. Try to do some research when looking at new-to-you events. Nothing is one size fits all, but asking questions and reading people’s review posts can be very helpful for initial screening.
Once those are addressed, the following is how I evaluate whether or not an event is in fact, “good for my career,” either now or in the future. My friends and I call this “Catherine’s Magical Triangle of Event Evaluation,” but it can just as easily be thought of like a checklist:
1. Can I sell books there?
2. Can I do some networking?
3. Can I have fun?
Another way to look at #1: can I discover new readers or get my book into the hands of existing readers if I attend this event as a writer or publisher? Book sales might be direct from an autographing table or through a bookstore in a dealer’s room. Or I might be able to do a reading and hand out promotional materials to get attendees to buy my books elsewhere. If I’m attending as a publisher, then it’s about direct sales, mailing list signups and raising my press’s profile. If I’m attending as an author, then building my readership, accompanied by fewer sales, is often enough.
#2. For me, “networking” means that I can meet people: readers, writers, other publishers, book reviewers, book bloggers, and podcasters. I might get invited to future events or to submit work or otherwise collaborate. It might well mean something different for you. Ask yourself what you hope to get from this event. Define that up front and consider how outgoing you are, whether or not you’ve been accepted for programming and what groups and activities you’re involved in that will be taking place there. Are you going with friends or a writing group? Are you volunteering at a SFWA table or at the event itself? Are you meeting people you know from elsewhere? All of these things can make networking easier. Just remember that you’re there to meet new people too.
#3 A fun event for me means that I have time to wander around, go to panels and the dealer’s room, check out art show and meet up with people I want to see. This is more important than it sounds. Events are work, even if you’re very gregarious and great at networking and sales. Getting in some fun time keeps you from burning out. It also helps you get some perspective on how things went and what did or didn’t work when you consider whether or not to come back. Balancing fun and work time makes you more effective in the long run.
Make a checklist of your own for your upcoming events. Keep your goals general, but doable, such as “I want to apply for a panel” or “I want to go to a pitch session.” Set yourself up for success as well as incremental growth. But go easy on yourself if you have to pass on an event that sounds great or if something doesn’t meet your expectations or goes wrong. Your career is a journey as much as it is a destination and remembering this is a big part of what’s “good for your career.”
Catherine Lundoff is an award-winning writer, editor, and publisher based in Minneapolis, where she does arcane things with computers and lives with her wife and cats. Her recent stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Fireside Fiction, A Few More Winter Tales, the LHMP Podcast, Tales of the Unanticipated, Curious Fictions, The Cainite Conspiracies: A Vampire the Masquerade V20 Anthology, The Mammoth Book of Jack the Ripper Tales and The Mammoth Book of the Adventures of Professor Moriarty. Her books include Silver Moon, Out of This World: Queer Speculative Fiction Stories and, as editor, Scourge of the Seas of Time (and Space). She is the publisher at Queen of Swords Press and she goes to a lot of writing and publishing-related events.
The SFWA Market Report is compiled by David Steffen, editor of Diabolical Plots and administrator and co-founder of the Submission Grinder, and editor of The Long List Anthology series. Diabolical Plots will open for its yearly fiction submission window for the month of July and will now be paying 10 cents/word. You can support Diabolical Plots and the Submission Grinder on PayPal or Patreon.
Everyone says that indie publishing is the wave of the future. Avoiding gatekeepers, who are often prejudiced against particular ideas or demographics, and putting your work out there to see if it will sink or swim on its own, puts the power (and the money) back in the hands of the writers. I had an unusual idea and format that I realized would have difficulty finding a home because of its experimental nature, so I though I would give it a try.
Here’s the problem: It’s not free.
Amazon and others try to make you believe it’s free, but only if you want to give away a significant royalty chunk, and only if you don’t hire an editor (bad,) don’t hire a cover designer (worse,) don’t hire a formatter (fine if you have lots of time on your hands and are handy with computer programs; awful if not,) and don’t do any marketing or ever buy a copy to sell to your friends or at cons. If you do decide to go for it without any resources, people will dismiss your cover as tacky, your prose as terrible, and no one is ever going to see it in the sea of newly available titles anyway.
Not to mention there’s still the whiff of vanity publishing about it, so no matter how good you are, or how well you do, some people will never take you seriously.
If you want to succeed at indie publishing, you have to be seen in the vast herd of new titles appearing every day. It takes money. That’s fine if you can afford it, but I found it daunting. So I asked myself, “How can I publish a book without defeating the purpose? How can I find capital that doesn’t eliminate my bottom line?”
I launched a Kickstarter to bring my Wyrd West stories to print. I budgeted for cover design, formatting, editing, marketing and stock purchase. And I asked my readers to contribute.
The response was better than I could have hoped. The Kickstarter was successful. The end result was a beautiful, professional book I had every right to be proud of, many of which were going directly to the readers that funded them.
But can this said to be truly self-published? I don’t think it can. This is a new way of doing things, in which readers choose to fund what they want to read. It puts the power directly in their hands. As it should be.
Even the backing of the Big 5 doesn’t guarantee a book’s success. It has to find an audience. It has to have resonance with the people who read it. Readers aren’t going to fund bad ideas, and if you’re a bad writer, they’re not going to support you more than once. So rather than being vetted by small groups of people on the top of a big pyramid of status and business acumen, Crowdpublished projects are vetted directly by the public.
As a writer, here’s a look at the differences I’ve found between being traditionally, independently, or Crowdpublished:
Getting the Book Published in the First Place
You may not be able to get a publisher interested. Chances are you will have a long wait. If you try something that’s too far outside of the mainstream in subject or presentation, don’t count on it. The publisher covers all publishing expenses and pays you a royalty.
You can get the book published whenever you want. You are entirely responsible for expenses & getting people to read it. On the other hand, you get to keep a larger share of the royalty.
If your audience will sustain your idea, you can publish the book whenever you want, and you know they, at least, will read it. Chances are they’ll get their friends to read it too, because they wouldn’t have invested if they didn’t think it was a good idea. If you’ve budgeted correctly, the expenses of printing some of your books, at any rate, will be covered. You receive indie royalties.
A professional editor who works for the publishing house will be provided to edit for you. Sometimes this leads to personality conflicts, but ultimately, it is the editor’s job to make your book into a marketable product, and that’s what they’re going to try to do.
There are good editors and bad editors out there in the indie world, and you have to pay one. Some charge very good rates, others higher ones. Unless you’re dealing with a professional service with multiple editors, rate doesn’t necessarily indicate quality. However, most writers have no idea what makes a good editor, and it’s not just whether they can copyedit your spelling mistakes. A good editor will also be trying to make your book into a marketable product. That means they have to know what that looks like, and in my experience, the vast majority of indie editors haven’t a clue.
You have all the innate disadvantages of indie editing, except that you can budget for that in your crowdfunder, so you can spring for the professional firm or someone you trust right away.
Your publisher decides on the cover, but will pay artists & designers to make it for you.
You have the final say over the cover, but either you have to figure out Cover Design 101 or pay someone to do it well.
You have the final say over the cover, but your readers cover the expense of creating it.
Your publisher has the final word on what will & will not go in the book.
You have complete creative control.
You have creative control – provided your readers will support your idea.
Marketing & Promotion
Your publisher expects you to do more of this than they used to, but they will still do a lot of it for you. They’ll market to bookstores and contact radio shows and podcasts. You will still be expected to use your own platform (especially online) to market, and you’ll probably still have to pay for your own book tour. They will decide much of how you and your book should be presented to the public.
You are entirely responsible for the way you market yourself and your book. You’re also entirely responsible for the expenses. You probably don’t know as much about doing it as a professional publicist does, so there will be a lot of trial and error. Often, some of the places you’d like to promote to won’t talk to you because you don’t have a publisher’s clout.
You still have many of the inherent problems of indie marketing. The exceptions are a) you are NOT entirely responsible for expenses (you can budget for that,) and b) a crowdfunding outlet is already a marketing platform. If you succeed at your goal, some shows who wouldn’t have talked to you as an indie will, because it’s a heartwarming success story and it’s apparent you do have an audience.
I realize that Crowdpublishing is a bit like being PBS instead of MSNBC. You know that you have an audience. Although it might not be as easy for you to reach them as it is for corporations, that audience is dedicated enough to supporting your work that they are willing to ante up, sight-unseen. It’s “Funded in part by readers like you.”
It’s a godsend for SFF story markets. Many respected pro- and semi-pro markets use the Crowdpublishing model, including Clarkesworld, Uncanny, Strange Horizons, the entire EscapePod family, Third Flatiron, and more. And most SFF writers I know use the Crowdpublishing model, at least as far as setting up a Patreon, whether they’re just starting out or just shy of the New York Times bestseller list. I think this should be a point of pride.
I don’t believe that indie-publishing deserves its “lesser” reputation, because garbage gets published in all fields, and a big imprint is by no means a guarantee of quality. But I think when we’re asked if our project was self-published, we should smile and say, “No, it was Crowdpublished.” I think it’s a selling point.
I believe that any path a writer takes to success is a good one. Some people are really successful in the traditional or indie-publishing models, and regardless of which path they’ve taken, it’s hard. These are accomplishments worth taking pride in. But I think we should start thinking of Crowdpublishing as a third path within the literary market. There’s traditional publishing, and indie-publishing, and Crowdpublishing.
If you’re a writer who produces your own books, or a magazine editor, and you have a Kickstarter, GoFundMe or Patreon for the purpose, your work isn’t indie-published; it’s Crowdpublished. It’s not self-funded, or funded by shareholders; it’s funded by the public. And I think we should start talking about it that way.
Diane Morrison in an emerging neo-pro writer who successfully ran a Kickstarter to publish her book, Once Upon a Time in the Wyrd West. Under her pen name Sable Aradia, she is a traditionally-published non-fiction author and blogger. She lives in Vernon, BC, Canada and she manages the SFWA YouTube channel. You can catch her on Twitter as @SableAradia, which means she’s not writing when she should be.
Your stiff-upper-lipped hero, Professor Jenkins, frustrated with the chicanery of Air Captain Hamm, pounds the table and shouts, “Good heavens, man! The scoundrel has hatched yet another outrageous boondoggle!”
Boondoggle. This is where your narrative gets stuck in the etymological weeds.
“Boondoggle” originated with Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, when Puck, angry with Oberon, cries, “Oh, my willful king, I pray do not draw me into thine own wicked boondoggle!” It fits right there in John Milton and Jane Austen, and in the high-toned vocabulary of the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Romanticists, and the Victorians, and will make a perfect word choice for your story. Except that everything I just reported is bullshit, and no such line appears anywhere in Shakespeare. Nor in Milton, Austen, the Enlightenment, the Romanticists, and the Victorians.
As Shakespearean as it sounds, “boondoggle” did not even appear until the early 1930s, when political opponents of FDR’s New Deal public works projects invented it to cast aspersion and insult. Anything they didn’t like became a boondoggle, and the word has stuck ever since. It’s a hell of a word.
This illustrates a common trap for writers whenever they step outside their own time and into the past, and certainly writers of science fiction or fantasy dip into times past. Etymology, the study of word origins and evolution, must be embraced in order to sidestep the traps.
Even if a word in use today enjoyed common usage in the 17th century, it may have evolved in meaning since then. In 1864 during the Battle of Mobile Bay, Admiral David Farragut famously said, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” Actually, his real statement came out somewhat less dramatically, but that’s beside the point. As we all know, a torpedo is a self-propelled water missile. But in 1864 it wasn’t. This was before the invention of the modern torpedo, and “torpedo” referred to an underwater explosive weapon tethered to the bottom and suspended at a depth at which a vessel could strike it. A mine, in other words. Same word, significantly different meaning. If you dig even deeper, you find that “torpedo” was the ancient Latin word for a species of electric ray fish, which could deal you quite a nasty jolt. So the evolution of the word makes sense, having always been associated with an underwater agent of harm.
If you’re writing in a future setting none of this applies. Like Anthony Burgess did in A Clockwork Orange(1962) by giving words new double meanings and peppering English with Russian, you can twist words of our current day into whole new meanings and slang for future usage. That’s consistent with the evolution of language.
The upshot is that even when writing of fantastical worlds, the usage and meanings of words needs thought, research, and careful selection. The reader of science fiction grants greater leeway in this than does the reader of historical drama, but that threshold of believability still demands respect.
Good etymology sites can be found on the Internet. Use them; you want to keep readers on the hook and there are savvy readers out there eager to pounce on any mistake. Thwart them; don’t torpedo your work by accident.
Ken Pelham’s debut novel, Brigands Key, won the 2009 Royal Palm Literary Award and was published in hardcover in 2012. The prequel, Place of Fear, also a first-place winner of the Royal Palm, was released in 2013. Ken co-founded the Alvarium Experiment, a groundbreaking writers’ consortium specializing in speculative fiction anthologies. His nonfiction book, Out of Sight, Out of Mind: A Writer’s Guide to Mastering Viewpoint, was named the Florida Writers Association 2015 Published Book of the Year. He’s currently working on a nonfiction book about the evolution of all fiction genres; check out that book’s illustrated timeline companion.
Ken is a member of International Thriller Writers, Florida Writers Association, and Maitland Writers Group. He lives with his wife, Laura, in Maitland, Florida. Visit him at www.kenpelham.com
SFWA thanks Eleanor Wood and Spectrum Literary Agency for more than twenty years of service to the organization. Eleanor signed on as SFWA’s agent in 1997 after SFWA’s previous agent didn’t want the job anymore and was an immediate success, nearly doubling the advance for the next Nebula Award anthology. At the time, she was one of the last great agents to take a 10% commission, so SFWA (and the editor and contributors) received even more. From the 1998 Nebulas in Santa Fe on, Eleanor delivered highly informative “State of the Publishing Industry” speeches, and was a fabulous source of publishing information that allowed SFWA members to better navigate the rapidly changing book world.
I still vividly remember how much Eleanor helped when SFWA’s auditor found a serious discrepancy in how Pocket Books was paying royalties for Star Trek books exported to the UK and Australia – they weren’t paying anything, contrary to the language in their boilerplate contract. SFWA complained to Pocket but was met with repeated demurrals; it was only when Eleanor took over that they capitulated, not only paying a fair compensation to all the authors affected, but getting the contract changed to more fairly pay authors in the future.
Over the years, in addition to selling the Nebula anthologies (soon to be called Nebula Award Showcases) every year like clockwork, Eleanor also managed to sell a three-volume anthology of Grand Masters’ work, a daring anthology of foreign writers in translation, and more, including reprints of the great SF Hall of Fame series. Royalties from foreign editions, classy hardcover reprints, and more started rolling in.
Although selling books to publishers is the glamorous part of a literary agent’s job, the part few think about is the computation and paying out of royalties to the individual contributors to anthologies, which can be ever more burdensome as the total amounts received from the publisher get smaller and smaller. Until recently, SFWA was not in a position to be able to do this reliably, and this makes us more than grateful for Eleanor’s willing to do this. The Nebula anthologies couldn’t have existed otherwise.
In short, we want to thank Eleanor for two decades plus of work with SFWA, which, owing to its volunteer nature and regular turn-over of officers, can often be frustrating. Agenting for a writers’ organization includes an obligation to uphold its values and SFWA greatly appreciates all she hasdone to help the organization advocate for and promote science fiction and fantasy writing.
Novels are like long, committed relationships. They take months to years of your life, and they require complete and utter devotion to their singular purpose. Certainly, there is something to living inside of a novel, breathing inside of it, thinking about it every moment of your day. It’s an all-consuming thing, as exhausting as it is rewarding.
But once it’s gone, once it’s over? It’s like the ending of a relationship. I wrote about it here, and I called it my post novel blues. While short stories are quick trysts and poems are kisses in the dark and never spoken of again, novels are things that demand attention, commitment, and every last bit of yourself. So when they end, they can end like a bad marriage. And the longer it takes to write them, the harder it is to move on.
But, after any relationship, moving on is necessary. And for me, I have a lot of false starts. I try and do short stories, but they never truly satiate that novel itch. That need to sink down once again and live inside the text of a work. Something only a novel can do. Then come the rebound novels. Oh, those almost-loves! That’s what I want to discuss today. I’m not saying my experience is universal; of course it’s not. But I’m going to lay down what I go through in case it helps some wary writer out there going through the same thing, and wanting to know that they’re not alone. That they can survive this whole ordeal.
Rebound novels can be frustrating. For me, it takes a few ideas. A few almost runs. A few months to maybe a year to get into the next big thing. Sometimes I’ll just start writing something exactly like what I just finished. Of course, that never works out. Then I might try something completely different, rushing into it, blindly following the excitement of something new and shiny.
But it’s not time yet. It takes a while to mend your heart and move on. I think this is why so many writers go through a sophomore slump. What are they writing? They’re writing rebound novels, of course. Not the true thing, not the love thing, but a pale specter in the shape of a book, beckoning to you. Promising only frustration in their wake.
I think that’s a big problem, that if you rush out another pitch to fulfill a contract right away, you might sell your editor on a rebound novel. And the road ahead will be a painful one, just as Michael Chabon experienced writing Fountain City — a book sold on pitch. Five years and 1,500 pages writing later, he abandoned it.
Yes, even a rebound novel can be long, and frustrating, and still broken and not right. And like some rebound relationships you know it’s wrong, but you will keep working on it anyway. Because you want it to work, you need it to work. But alas, it’s only a rebound novel. Once he ditched that one and started working on The Wonder Boys everything became easier.
Sometimes I think the whole rebound novel experience is an iterative one. That you’re not creating failures, but you’re instead working towards whatever the next novel will eventually become. Each minor failure and broken heart gets cannibalized and pulled together, all the research and character designs, plot synopsis, all of that, will eventually lead you to the right one, the next one, the novel that will haunt you until completion.
And I think that’s the best way to look at rebound novels. Not as a string of failures, but rather as an evolution of the process. Would Chabon be able to work so quickly on Wonder Boys if he hadn’t worked on Fountain City for so long first? You can see the echoes of what he went through in penning his sophomore novel in Wonder Boys. With the one character working on a giant, magnum opus for years and years and never finishing.
Every time I finish a book I go through this pattern. It takes months and months and months before I find that next brilliant and beautiful thing to work on. The one that catches fire and takes off and becomes a true love kind of thing.
And when it does? Oh. The pain and suffering leading up to that point is always worth it. All those dead ends, false starts, and late night brainstorming sessions all pay off. Because in the end, it leads you here. To this next true novel, the one you’ve been waiting for. The one that will sing.
Paul Jessup is a critically acclaimed/award-winning author of strange and slippery fiction. His novel Close Your Eyes is currently out from the Apex Book Company. You can visit him at pauljessup.com or on Twitter at @pauljessup.
MTSU Write is proud to announce Camp Writerhaven, a new writers’ retreat for wordsmiths in all genres at Rockvale Writers’ Colony June 20-23 and July 14-20. Camp Writerhaven provides writers time and space to grease their creative engines and produce the literary fruits of focused productivity during two sessions at the idyllic Rockvale Writers’ Colony in College Grove, TN, a serene historic campus tucked into the rolling hills of Tennessee. “We wanted to give writers a way to escape the distractions of life and help facilitate their writing process by providing the perfect environment, encouragement, and inspiration,” says MTSU Write director Jennifer Wachtel Kates. Both the shorter session one and week-long session two will provide a special time of community, focused energy, and quiet reflection.
Session 1 (June 20th-23rd)) will feature a Meet the Mentors Mixer where both Writerhaven campers and the general community can get to know the MTSU Write program mentors. Session 2 (July 14th-20th) will offer a full week of sanctuary for writers working on substantial projects. Both sessions will include craft colloquia taught by award-winning writers. These focused sessions will dive deep into specific elements of the craft of writing. “Writing can be very solitary,” says Kates. “A retreat like Camp Writerhaven carves out time to write while also bringing writers together to deepen their sense of community.” Participants will enjoy private rooms and bathrooms at Rockvale as well as the numerous comfortable and inspiring nooks, corners, and cozy spots throughout the property. Each day, participants will observe quiet hours for focused writing time, followed by writing oriented afternoon activities, communal dinners, and time to share work around the evening campfire. “It’s like summer camp for grownups with a creative writing focus,” Kates adds.
From the challenges of life on a floating Arctic city, to epidemics of forgetfulness and zombification, to an Earth occupied by amphibious aliens, the Neukom shortlist forces readers to grapple with uncomfortable twists to familiar storylines of climate change, social justice and technological innovation.
The second annual speculative fiction awards program will be judged by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer. Awards will be presented for a debut book and for a book in the open category.
“Artists and writers continue to take on the important role of challenging us with their visions of ‘what if,’ often picking up where scientists and technologists either neglect to or forget to go,” said Dan Rockmore, director of the Neukom Institute. “This year’s entries are testament to the extraordinary creativity and thoughtfulness that is finding its means of expression in speculative fiction.”
2019 Neukom Institute Literary Arts Awards Shortlist of Books:
“It’s been gratifying to play a part in reading and selecting such unique and strong fiction from so many different points of view. We’ve particularly enjoyed encountering writers we had not read before—and it’s especially gratifying to find so many new voices, who we believe readers will be encountering for decades to come. The Dartmouth prize is a much-needed addition to the current slate of science fiction awards,” said spec fic writer and co-judge Jeff VanderMeer.
The winning books will be selected from the shortlist in late May.
Each award winner will receive a $5,000 honorarium that will be presented during a Dartmouth-hosted panel to discuss the genre and their work.
“We’re looking forward to selecting the winners. This is such a strong list and a difficult choice for us but a very good problem to have! It’s wonderful to see so many writers taking chances and showing us other ways to view the world we live in today and what our tomorrows could be,” said spec fic editor and co-judge Ann VanderMeer.
The Neukom Institute for Computational Science is dedicated to supporting and inspiring computational work. The Literary Arts Awards is part of the Neukom Institute’s initiative to explore the ways in which computational ideas impact society.
About the Neukom Institute Literary Arts Awards
The Neukom Institute Literary Arts Awards is an annual awards program to honor and support creative works around speculative fiction. Established in 2017, the awards program is an open, international competition sponsored by the Neukom Institute for Computational Science at Dartmouth College. The awards aspire to raise general awareness of the speculative fiction genre, as well as the interconnectivity between the sciences and the arts. The awards serve as part of the Neukom Institute’s initiative to explore the ways in which computational ideas impact society.
Founded in 1769, Dartmouth is a member of the Ivy League and offers the world’s premier liberal arts education, combining its deep commitment to outstanding undergraduate and graduate teaching with distinguished research and scholarship in the arts and sciences and its leading professional schools: the Geisel School of Medicine, the Guarini School of Graduate and Advanced Studies, Thayer School of Engineering, and Tuck School of Business.