Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

Response Times: Why do we put up with them?

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So I go to check my email the other day and what do I find at the top of the list but an email from Baen Books. It took me a few seconds to figure out what it was all about. Then I remembered: about a year ago, I sent them a copy of the The Hall of the Wood for review; the email was a rejection of my novel. I think their guidelines mention "about a year" on their response times, so give them points for sticking to that. But it was still a bit of a shock to (finally) get a response back, especially since I'd forgotten I'd even sent my novel to them!

I wonder: why do we put up with such lengthy response times?

The easy answer is because we have to if we want to see our work in print. It's just one of the realities of the publishing industry.

The long answer is that we really don't have to put up with it at all. There are other mediums in which to publish our work: self-publish, POD, Amazon Kindle, our own web sites or blogs, our MySpace page, Facebook, lulu.com... the list goes on.

But this approach lacks something: validation. Anyone can write. Anyone can think their writing is good. But to have someone else read our "stuff" and approve... that's what we're striving towards. That's the golden apple. Not to mention we get something else that's critical to the success of our writing success: the marketing and resources of a "real" publisher. Now, maybe money isn't important to you, but for those of us who have hopes of someday doing the writing thing full-time, it's paramount.

So we put up with publishers' response times. Fortunately, most are much quicker than Baen's one year.

Borders explores sale, suspends dividend

This is bad news. Or is it?

Think of it this way: If Borders is absorbed into, say, Barnes & Noble, as shoppers we have one less outlet to choose from. As writers, our publishers have one less venue from which to sell our product. That means less sales. Less sales means publishers will be far more picky about where they invest their resources (i.e., time and money). Pickier publishers means we or our agents have a harder time selling our work. This is bad.

On the other hand, if, say, Borders is absorbed or simply disappears, doesn't that open up the playing field for the "little guy", the small and independent booksellers who oh so many times were squashed by the likes of a Borders or B&N moving into their neighborhood? Maybe, maybe not. There's still some big players besides B&N, including Amazon and Wal Mart, for example, who sell in large volumes at relatively low prices. In fact, analysts cite the presence of those retailers as one of the reasons Borders has failed.

As with most things, time will tell.

Borders explores sale, suspends dividend - Yahoo! News

Unpublished Writers: Web Sites and Blogs Recommended

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Agent Kristin of PubRants fame talked yesterday about web sites and blogs, and if unpublished writers should have either or both.

Something I've often wondered about is whether or not an agent or publisher bothers to look at a writer's site. I know I've read in the past about specific ones who do not; Agent Kristin lays this question to rest (inasmuch as she's concerned, anyway):

"When reviewing sample pages where we like the writing, we’ll often give the writer website a glance and see what’s there. I don’t bother if the sample pages haven’t caught my interest."

She goes on to offer a few tips:

"Don’t have a website/blog unless it can be a professional one. The homemade sites look it and just make me cringe. It won’t keep me from asking for your full (or if I like the novel, offering representation) but it’s not putting your best foot forward and that’s never a benefit."

This is a given. We're not aspiring to become professionals--we already are professionals; we want our web site or blog to reflect that. Choose colors that are easy on the eyes. Use a layout that makes sense. There are a ton of resources available on the web that discuss how to choose color schemes or even ones that generate one for you. If you're using WordPress or Blogger or, if you've chosen to be a little more adventurous like me and opted to use BlogEngine.NET, choose a theme that both complements your message while maintaining a professional look.

Content? Agent Kristin says:

"...the standard. About you, what you are working on, any cool interests you have that might inspire your writing, workshops you are doing, critique partners or anything about the writing process."

And the most important aspect of our blogs and web sites:

"...remember that the writing you have there needs to be representative of you and your good work. It doesn’t have to be perfect but you shouldn’t blog if the writing doesn’t represent your “usual” quality."

We've all read about the job candidate whose prospective employer decided to take a look at their blog... keep the content professional and relevant but, more importantly, put your best quality out there. If you're still learning the craft (we all are), think of your blog as a way to hone your writing skills. Use the same attention to detail when writing blog entries as you do when writing your "stuff". Do a rough draft, revise, proofread. If you happen to be looking through an old post and notice a typo or some other oddity, fix it. Our blog entries remain forever, indexed by Google and other search engines, so who knows when someone is going to access that post you wrote 2 years ago. Make sure that first impression is as good a one as if that person landed on your current home page or latest blog entry.

Now I need to practice what I preach and do some proofreading of my own on this post.

Good luck with your writing.

What do F/SF writers read?

What do writers of f/sf read?

It's not surprising to me that they sometimes read out of their field:

  • Tim Powers (The Anubis Gates and The Skies Discrowned) recommends Robert Heinlein's 1941 short story, "By His Bootstraps": "I couldn't have written 'The Anubis Gates' if I hadn't read this. Anyone who has written a time travel story in the past 50 years could say the same."
  • Rebecca Moesta (Young Jedi Knights Series) chooses Isaac Asimov's 1951 short story, "The Fun They Had": "It was cautionary for me. I highly recommend it."
  • Anne McCaffrey (Pern Series) looks ahead to new author Andrea Kail's short story, 'The Sun God At Dawn, Rising from a Lotus Blossom" in the anthology L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future, Volume XIII: "The story is a fascinating glimpse of a reborn young King Tut and his emotional development as he comes to realize his plight as a political pawn."

I say "not surprising" because I read out of the fantasy field a bit myself: Patrick O'Brian, C.S. Forester, Bernard Cornwell, Raymond Chandler, Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft (the latter two sort of overlap into fantasy, but I'm considering them more of the horror vein for my purposes here).

Why is it a good thing to read outside your field as a writer?

Because you want to see how other writers use their tools. You want to study their style, see how they develop their characters, learn how they structure their story. If you read O'Brian, you're looking at the manner in which he represents setting--the authenticity of the time period is crucial to transporting the reader to the story's world. For Cornwell, more of the same, but also how he tempers suspense and action, how he raises the reader's interest and holds it through one harrowing experience after another. King--how he creates undeniably believable characters that suck you in from the first moment you encounter them.

I know you have your own favorite authors outside of the field in which you've chosen to write. Make sure you're studying their work as much as you're enjoying it.

Galaxy Press :: Top Speculative Fiction Writers Pick Favorite Stories

How Much Time Should Writers Spend Blogging?

IMG20002There was a pretty good take on the Vigorous Writing blog (which apparently, as of 11/28/08, has disappeared) concerning the question of how much time one should spend blogging.

Of note:

"Newer writers still trying to build their credibility and client list might protest that they have much more free time than Bly has and they need to find a way to market themselves so blogging is a great, forward-thinking way of doing it. There's something to that, but honestly, I think it's an easy way out, the path of least resistance--what new writers should probably be doing, instead of blogging and reading other blogs and commenting on other blogs and brain-storming ideas for their latest blog post, is what many writers hate doing--cold-calling for leads non-stop."

Of course, this applies to people like me--mostly unpublished, 'new', if you will, and looking for a way to promote my name and my work. First and foremost, this blog is a marketing tool. It's all about increasing exposure. But it's also about connecting with like-minded individuals and sharing information.

According to one referenced blogger, one shouldn't spend more than 10 minutes/day or an hour/week blogging. How in the world are you supposed to have any quality posts with such time constraints? Geez. The guy is really saying that blogging isn't really work, and that time spent blogging is time not spent working.

Another blogger says to blog in moderation--only post every 4-6 days. That way each post has time to stew, be read, and garner comments.

Robin Hobb weighed in on the issue in a decidedly negative (but productive) way. Her reasoning is that time spent blogging is time NOT spent writing. In a way, blogging is a distraction, and we all know that distraction is the enemy. Another way to look at is this: ask yourself if you are a creator or a consumer?

What it really boils down to is finding a happy medium between the two. For some that medium might be more of one and less of the other, or it might be both in equal portions. It's up to the individual and, ultimately, one's goals. If you are or want to become a writer, though, best to heed Hobb's words: "Don’t blog. Write."