The Inside Scoop on Anthologies with Mike Resnick

interview by Carl Slaughter

In the 1990s, Mike Resnick launched more careers with his anthologies than Asimov’s, Analog, and F&SF combined. He’s at it again with Stellar Guild. He gives Diabolical Plots the inside story on the nature and process of anthologies.

CARL SLAUGHTER: Which is a better/faster way to build a resume as a speculative fiction writer, anthologies or magazines?

MIKE RESNICK: The digest magazines. Then the print anthologies. Then the e-zines. But mass market novels are the quickest way of all.


CS: Which pays better?

MR: Depends on the market. Jim Baen’s Universe was paying a quarter a word when I was co-editing it with Eric Flint. Most of the print zines pay 7 to 9 cents, most of the SFWA-accepted e-zines pay 5 or 6 cents, though a few pay double that. The average anthology, at least the ones I’m acquainted with over the past half-dozen years, pay from 7 to 10 cents a word. Even when I was editing them twenty+ years ago, we never paid less than 6 cents. Which is to say, in sum, that it’s a crap shoot.


CS: Which involves surrendering fewer rights?

MR: Any legit magazine will buy first serial rights, and keep the option of buying it again for an anthology of stories from the magazine. Usually they want a six-month worldwide exclusive. Most anthologies will buy first serial rights, plus a worldwide non-exclusive (which means they can sell the anthology to other countries, giving you a pro rata split; but you can market the solo story anywhere you want.) That’s standard, but of course not all contracts are standard.


CS: From conception to publication, what’s the timeframe for a typical anthology?

MR: From conception, I assume you mean from the day the editor signs a contract with the publisher. If it’s an original anthology, figure twelve to sixteen months; if it’s reprint, maybe seven to twelve months.


CS: What’s the average number of stories per anthology?

MR: Varies wildly. Twenty is a nice safe average number.


CS: What’s the average word count per story?

MR: 5000 to 6500 usually. Which isn’t to say that flash fiction and novellas are totally absent from all anthologies.


CS: How well do anthologies sell?

MR: Not very. Most sales are made in the contracts, not the execution. And if a publisher is shelling out well under $10,000 for an anthology — and 95% of the anthologies go for four figures — then the only way he can get hurt is to spend $50,000 promoting it, or printing 300,000 copies, or hiring the equivalent of Frank Frazetta for the cover art…so he handles it like a $7,000 book…and lo and behold, it sells like a $7,000 book.


CS: Does every major speculative fiction publisher have an anthology division or are most anthology editors freelancers?

MR: Almost all anthologies are freelance edited.


CS: Where does a freelance anthology editor get capital for their next project?

MR: You talk to “Names” that will make the book marketable, and when you get enough commitments, you take your anthology idea to the various publishing houses until someone likes it enough to sign a contract and pay you an advance. I should add that almost all advances are half on signing and half on delivery…and since you budget about 90% of the advance for stories, the editor is often a few thousand dollars out-of-pocket until he delivers. (And mass market publishing is historically a month or two late on the signature advance, and two to four months late on the delivery/acceptance payment.)


CS: Are most anthologies open to submission or by invitation only?

MR: Most are invitation only. For sound economic reasons. If I sell an anthology for $8,000, I’ll budget it at $7,000…and someone always has diarrhea of the keyboard, so it’ll cost me about $7,300…which means I’ll make about $700. Now, if I’m dealing with journeyman writers whose work I like well enough to invite them, I can usually do the editing in a few days…but if I open it to submissions, I’m going to get about 600 stories, maybe 500 all-but-unreadable, and it’ll take me a month to wade my way through them…and if I’m only earning $700 a month, I’m in the wrong business.


CS: For the ones that are invitation only, how does an aspiring writer get on the editor’s radar?

MR: He keeps his eyes and ears open, he networks, he talks to pros, to other beginners, he attends conventions. I know it seems like “invite only” means “no beginners wanted”…but I bought more first stories for my anthologies in the 1990s than Asimov’s, Analog and F&SF combined.


CS: For the ones that accept submissions, how do they spread the word? Post on Codex, WOTF, Hatrack, and Critters; advertise in the SFWA newsletter; if it’s a horror anthology, advertise in the Horror Writers Association newsletter; if the subgenre is vampire or zombie, do they notify the Vampire Writers Association or Zombie Writers Association (I’m joking, are there such associations?)?

MR: You can whisper, very softly, that you accept submissions, and you’ll be whelmed over with hundreds of them within a couple of weeks.


CS: Novel editors put stories through extensive revision. What about anthology editors. Do they request multiple rewrites? Do they do the rewrites themselves?

MR: If it’s a theme anthology, and 90% of them are, that means it’s a story that wouldn’t have been written if I hadn’t commissioned it…and that means I have a moral obligation to the writer. I will return any story for revisions if it needs them…and on those occasions that the author simply can’t give me what I want — and it’s only happened three times in over fortyanthologies, I’ll pay him a kill fee, since as I say he’d never have taken the time to write a story on that particular theme if I hadn’t assigned it.


CS: What percentage of stories in a typical anthology are by new writers?

MR: I can’t speak for any other editors. I’d say about 20-25% in my anthologies are by new or newer writers, or to be more blunt, by names we can’t put on the cover because they have absolutely no following or value at present. This, I should add, is not a permanent condition. 10 of the writers I have bought from made the Campbell ballot after I bought their stories.


CS: How often do we see anthologies with all new writers? Is it too much of a risk for publishers? Aren’t readers keen to check out new writers?

MR: My guess is: Never. I did one for SFWA, published by DAW, called NEW VOICES IN SCIENCE FICTION, a few years back, and it contained only writers who’d broken into print in the past five years…but even so it contained some bestsellers, a bunch of Campbell winners and nominees, etc.


CS: Who are/were the heavy hitters in the anthology industry and what is their greatest contribution?

MR: Anytime between 1980 and 2005 I’d have said there was Marty Greenberg and then there was Everyone Else. With Marty gone, no one has begun to dominate the field the way he did. John Joseph Adams is putting out some nice anthologies; so is the team of George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. And there’s something new afoot — the Kickstarter project. The best so far have come from Bryan Schmidt, Marty Halpern, Alex Shvartsman, and a few others…but it’s very early days in that field.


Carl_eagleCarl Slaughter is a man of the world. For the last decade, he has traveled the globe as an ESL teacher in 17 countries on 3 continents, collecting souvenir paintings from China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and Egypt, as well as dresses from Egypt, and masks from Kenya, along the way. He spends a ridiculous amount of time and an alarming amount of money in bookstores. He has a large ESL book review website, an exhaustive FAQ about teaching English in China, and a collection of 75 English language newspapers from 15 countries.

His training is in journalism, and he has an essay on culture printed in the Korea Times and Beijing Review. He has two science fiction novels in the works and is deep into research for an environmental short story project.

Carl currently teaches in China where electricity is an inconsistent commodity.

Renaissance Woman: Nancy Fulda

nancyfulda_and_alexNancy Fulda is a mom, writer, assistant editor of Jim Baen’s Universe, and the creator of Anthology Builder. Anthology Builder is an innovative website that allows customers to choose a set of short stories that are then printed and bound into a printed anthology just for them.

Nancy, thanks for joining us!

David Steffen: You’ve got a lot on your plate with parenting, writing, and editing. How do you budget your time? Do you have to set aside a part of the day for writing time?

Nancy Fulda: Scheduling is probably the hardest thing about working with small children at home. The needs of the children change as they grow, so I’m constantly shifting the schedule to accomodate them.

For about two years I worked every morning from 10:00-12:00, like clockwork, while the older children were in kindergarten. Now that my youngest has started crawling (not to mention climbing the stairs and pulling things off of shelves) I’ve shifted to a “work while the baby naps” approach. It’s a bit helter-skelter, but after a while you learn to maintain your concentration despite frequent interruptions.

David: What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned working on the editorial staff of Jim Baen’s Universe?

Nancy: That there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all story. Before I started working for Baen’s, I had this vision in my head of the perfect story, the one that all readers would adore without reservation. I thought if I just learned the right techniques, I could write a story that would sell anywhere, to anyone.

After working with the reading team at Baen’s, it became clear that there is no such thing. Even in a group as carefully selective as ours — we were all looking for upbeat adventure stories– we still disagreed wildly on which story out of a given set was the best. My top pick was often someone else’s least favorite, and vice versa. We did occasionally find a story we all loved, but that tended to be the exception rather than the rule, and even those stories would probaby have been instantly rejected at publications with a different editorial vision than ours.

David: With Jim Baen’s Universe closing, do you have plans to join the staff of any other publications?

Nancy: No. Getting into editing was probably the best thing I’ve ever done for my writing, but if you’re not careful, editing will eat up your whole life. It’s time for me to narrow my focus and concentrate on my own writing again.

David: Where did you come up with the idea for Anthology Builder?

Nancy: It was kind of an accident. I’d just made my first few pro sales and was hanging out with a lot of other writers in the same boat. I wanted to keep up with what my friends were publishing, but they were selling to such a wide variety of magazines that I would have gone bankrupt if I’d tried to subscribe to them all.

“What I want,” I told them, “Is a do-it-yourself anthology web site where you can pick whatever stories you want and have them delivered as a bound book.”

The response to that quip was overwhelmingly positive and the rest, as they say, is history.

David: How has your experience with Anthology Builder compared with your expectations in terms of difficulty, popularity, and financial?

Nancy: It’s exceeded them on all three levels.

If I had known how much work AnthologyBuilder was going to be, I probably would never have done it. It’s a bit like childbirth, I guess. Starting the ball rolling is easy. By the time you realize what you’ve gotten yourself into, it’s too late to back out. *laughs*

I’m having fun, though, and we’ve seen far more sales in the first few years than I’d expected. Last year AnthologyBuilder paid all its own bills and generated enough excess for two large promotional campaigns. There wasn’t much left after that, of course, but I have high hopes for the future.

David: If you could go back in time and do the startup of Anthology Builder again, what would you do differently?

Nancy: The software. I’m very pleased with the way the system runs, but if I had it to do over again, I’d make some changes in the implementation, particularly the administration tools.

David: What has been the single most memorable moment in your writing career to date?

Nancy: I think it was reading the biographies of the other authors in the back of the first professional anthology I sold to. I remember reading those bios and thinking: “If I can make it into a Table of Contents with these folks, then maybe I have a shot at becoming a real writer after all.”

David: If you could give only one piece of advice to aspiring writers, what would it be?

Nancy: Write what you love. Learn writing technique first, of course: Join an online writers’ group, give and receive critiques, hone your skills. But once you’ve done all that, clear your mind of the ‘Thou Shalt Not’s and just write a story you enjoy. If you love your story, chances are the audience will, too.

David: What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not reading or writing?

Nancy: That depends on the day and, occasionally, the time of the day. Among the things I enjoy are ballroom dance, chess, painting, software development, and singing.

David: What was the last book you read?

Nancy: Tintenherz by Cornelia Caroline Funke.

David: Your favorite book?

Nancy: Isn’t that a bit like asking someone to pick a favorite child?

Some of the books I’ve enjoyed most through the years are Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn, The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley, Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, and Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold.

David: Who is your favorite author?

Nancy: Lois McMaster Bujold. Not only because I love her books, but because when I read her keynote addresses she seems like a supremely sensible human being.

David: What was the last movie you saw?

Nancy: Star Wars Episode IV. Amazing movie, that. 30 years since its original release, and it was still able to captivate the attention of my six-year-old.

David: What is your favorite movie?

Nancy: Today, right now? Evita.

David: Do you have any upcoming publications we should watch out for?

Nancy: “Knowing Neither Friend Nor Foe” is coming up in Beneath Ceaseless Skies and “A Song of Blackness” is scheduled for the Fantastical Visions V anthology.

As it happens, both of these are stories with a history. “Knowing Neither Friend Nor Foe” (originally titled “Kitjaya”, but as Scott pointed out, that title does little to hilight the primary conflict) is my first story from a completely alien viewpoint. ÂI never realized before how challenging such a story is, particularly because the reader keeps looking for humans to pop up. ÂDuring the critique process I had to rework several scenes in order to clearly convey that, no, there were no homo sapiens hiding behind the little green curtain. ÂI’m pleased that the effort paid off.

I wrote “A Song of Blackness” right after reading “Bethan’s Garden” by Sandra Tayler. ÂSandra’s story held so much warmth and human connection that it made everything I’d ever written feel like insignificant drivel. ”A Song of Blackness” was my conscious effort to write a story that *meant* something.

David: Can you tell us about your works in progress?

Nancy: I’m finishing rewrites on “Backlash”, which is a novelette about a man who discovers that his daughter is part of a terrorist movement. ÂLots of Bondian action, time travel, and a little family drama all get rolled into the mix.

I’m also working on a novel set on a planet with an extremely slow rotational period. ÂNomadic tribes circle the equator to stay in the habitable bands between Day and Night. ÂIt’s a very fun milieu to work in, and involves riding lizards, space ships, an evil technocratic society, and a plot to preserve all life on the planet.

David: Thanks a lot for taking the time for the interview, Nancy. For all of you out there, I encourage you to check out her writing, and to look into the service she provides at Anthology Builder.

Nancy: Thank you, David. ÂIt’s been a fun interview.

Technology and Writing

Technology is constantly changing the way we do so many things, and writing is no exception. How exactly? I’ve broken down the answer to that question into a set of categories. Keep in mind that all of this is through my own perspective on writing, which has been primarily speculative fiction short stories.

Is there anything I’ve left out, related to any sort of writing? Leave a comment!

1. Revising/writing

a. Spell Check-Many would be lost without spell check. Many programs, including Microsoft Word, even do a spell check as you type, and immediately mark an incorrectly spelled word the moment you type it. The spell check program can suggest alternative spellings, provide dictionary look-up. Still, spell checks could be improved–if the program could recognize a name through context this would prevent a lot of false alarms. Word also comes with a grammar check, but that is less useful because its grasp of grammar rules is shaky at best.

b. Revise and print-You decided you want to add a new paragraph on page one of a five hundred page manuscript? Or you discovered that all of your pages need a 1.5 inch margin instead of 1 inch? No problem! All you need to do is open up the document in your word processor, make your changes, and it’s ready to print. If you wanted to do this with a typewritten manuscript, it would not be fun at all.

2. Backing up your work

Imagine that, after putting weeks, months, or years of work into creating a masterpiece of prose, you suddenly lose your only copy of your manuscript. You remember the major plot points, but you’ve lost all the little details, and all the beautiful sentence-level work. It’s a terrible thought! Well, these days, there’s no reason to lose all your work if you just take a little time to prepare. Email is a convenient way to back your documents up. Many email services provide large storage banks for each account. I have a Gmail account that I started for free that makes a great aid to backing up documents. While I’m working on a new document, I email myself every couple of days. If I ever lost my other copies, all I would need to do is dig up the saved email. In addition to that, if someone plagiarized your work in the future, the timestamp on the email could help prove that you had a work in progress of the story long before it was in print. In addition to email, it’s always a good idea to back up a file in several places, each at different physical locations (so that a disaster like a fire doesn’t destroy years and years of hard work).

There are even programs designed specifically to help you keep your stuff backed up. Anthony recommend Carbonite.

3. Learning the craft

a. Interaction with pro authors-When I was younger, professional writers seemed to be a race of distant and otherworldly beings that I could never hope to interact with, lest my head explode (like when humans hear the voice of God in some belief sets). But now that illusion has been mostly dispelled. Don’t get me wrong, I still admire my favorite writers greatly for the amazing worlds they’re able to pull seemingly out of nowhere, but it turns out that quite a lot of them are quite nice people, and I’m even pretty sure that some of them are at least mostly human. Lots of them have blogs where they freely give writing advice to anyone who’s interested in listening. David Farland, for instance, has an email blog called Kick in the Pants–you can sign up for it at his website. Dean Wesley Smith is another favorite, providing great advice on his blog, including ideas for self-motivation like The Race. I’ve even added quite a few of my favorite authors as friends on Facebook–I enjoy hearing their writing updates and hear when they’re coming through my area for book signings.

No single writing method works for everyone, so if David Farland’s advice doesn’t work for you, don’t be discouraged. Just keep trying different methods until you find something that really clicks. Check out the sites of a few different authors. At the very least, their perspectives are entertaining. And if you have any questions, drop a comment to one of them. Keep in mind that they’re busy, but it’s not at all rare for them to take some time to reply to questions or comments.

b. Peer critique forums-Once I decided to start writing I spent more than a year writing a novel, mostly in isolation. I had just a few people who were willing to give me feedback on my stories, but these people tended to be inclined to tell me that they really liked the story, but not tell me much else. This was good for my ego, but not so useful to improve my writing skills. After that year, I decided to start writing short stories, and while doing market research I came across Baen’s Bar, a peer critique forum that doubled as a submission vehicle for Jim Baen’s Universe. You can post a story to their forum, and it is available immediately for feedback from others registered on the forum. Staff members of JBU often gave their comments, as well as other aspiring writers. Not only can you get feedback on your own work, many of whom are very experienced and have a good eye for picking out what’s missing in a story, but you can critique the writing of others. Of all the ways to improve your own writing, critiquing others is the best way, in my opinion. It allows you examine the stories of other aspiring writers and examine them with a cold eye without any emotional attachment to the story. You can decide what you like and what you don’t, and the real trick is to learn how to apply this to your own writing.

Jim Baen’s Universe will be closed as of mid-2010. There are no official plans to close Baen’s Bar critique forum, and the newsgroup it exists on will probably still need to be maintained for Baen’s Books and the Grantville Gazette magazine, so i hope the venue is around for a good long time.

c. Easy sharing-If you want to share a copy of a story with a friend, all you have to do is drop them an email. It’s free, and it’s quick, and a great way to share your work for feedback or just for fun.

d. Autocrit-Autocrit is a subscription-based service which provides automated tools to help watch for trouble spots in your manuscripts. It can look for potential flaws such as overused words and phrases, cliches, and overused dialogue tags. No tool is the end-all be-all of revising your manuscript, but this tool in combination with other techniques and tools can make a big difference.

4. Research

The effect of the Internet on research is obvious. Anyone with Internet access has nearly endless banks of information at their disposal, but one must always keep the source in mind. Wikipedia, for instance, is good for finding quick, interesting information, but because it is created by users, information provided there may not be correct. If a writer decides to write a story about doppelgangers, a quick Google search can provide a plethora of information in a fraction of a second.

5. Market info

1. Sites like Ralan provide submission information for a wide variety of publications.Â

2. Most markets have submisions page which describes exactly what they’re looking for, including any special formatting they require, required length, and preferred themes. Be sure to check out this page each time you send out a story to that market. You never know when some of their requirements will change. Many markets close to submissions from time to time, also, and it’s best to check here to be sure the market is still open as well.

6. Electronic submission/staff interaction

a. Save money-It costs nothing to send an email. That’s a major perk! Mailed submissions usually cost something like 2 dollars domestic within the US, including the SASE, and that’s not including the envelopes or the printing costs. Email submissions cost nothing. When you’re just getting started, those postage costs add up fast!

b. Quick interaction-An electronic submission arrives nearly instantly, ready for perusal by the magazine’s staff. My record fastest response was only 47 minutes (from Fantasy Magazine). That one was an outlier, but a few magazines consistently respond within 24 hours such as Fantasy, Clarkesworld, and Podcastle.

c. Geographically separated staff-A magazine’s staff members no longer have to be located anywhere near each other. In many cases, staff members may have never met in person, but members can interact easily with technology like email and online forums. This makes it much easier to find staff members, if you have the entire net-connected world to filter for candidates.

d. Competition fiercer every day! A downside to the recent ease of submission is that when submissions are both free and easy, more and more people will try it, which means more competition!

7. New publishing mediums

Printed words (either in magazine or book form) are no longer the only way to publish fiction. In fact, print may be the hardest one to maintain profitability with, and is probably the hardest method to start a new magazine with. Even a few years ago, print publications were generally considered to be more prestigious, but minds are opening a little bit more every year. SFWA recognizes professional markets based on pay and the circulation level, regardless of the medium.

Both of my sales to date have been to non-traditional publishing formats.

a. HTML-text format on a website. This can be provided for free (like Fantasy Magazine or Strange Horizons) or on a fee-based system (like Intergalactic Medicine Show or Jim Baen’s Universe).

b. Podcast-I’ve recently discovered audio fiction and I honestly don’t know how I’ve done without it. I can load up many stories on my iPod and I listen to them every day on my commute. Now I look forward to driving to see what the next story is! My first fiction sale was to Pseudopod, so I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for podcasts. And, even better, audio rights and text rights often do not overlap, so there is a large potential for resales for audio markets, as they are providing a substantially different product.

c. Print on Demand-Even just a few years ago, POD wasn’t really a viable option. Nowadays, if you have a good idea for a book or an anthology, you can publish it through POD and if you can find the audience for it, you can really do well. POD is not as risky as doing a huge preprinted print run (the traditional method), because you only print copies of the book that you have already sold. This means that once you’ve covered your artist/design and other upfront costs, each sale holds a share of profit. This is particularly appealing if the level of interest is uncertain or expected to be low.

Northern Frights Press was the publisher for my second sale. This was NFP’s very first anthology, provided via POD. Despite it being POD the printing is of a high quality that you could find in any bookstore, and it’s available to order from Amazon just like any other book. I’ve been very impressed with POD so far.

d. E-books-E-readers like Kindle are just starting to gain more widespread popularity. For a small fee, you can download books right onto the e-reader. With this technology you can grab new books instantly for less than what you would pay at the store, and you can carry your whole library with you wherever you go. I’m not sure that they will ever replace real books entirely–there’s just something I love about holding a physical book in my hand, the smell of the pages, the feel of the binding–but there are a lot of advantages to e-readers.

8. Social networking

In decades past, writing was generally considered to be a pretty lonely profession. Long hours alone with your typewriter were the norm, making a writer feel isolated from the very world she’s trying to write about. But if you’re writing on a net-connected laptop, you no longer need to be isolated. The importance of social connections in writing cannot be understated. There are many forums focused solely on writing, some geared towards particular genres, and they’re a great place to meet fellow aspiring writers. You’re not the only one struggling to be published. Together you can celebrate your successes, console each other for your failures, swap critiques, discuss writing techniques, and maybe just unwind a little bit.

#8 is closely related to #9 and #10. Read on!

9. Self-promotion

This overlaps somewhat with social networking in methods and tools, but the intent is different. Rather than meeting people for the sake of meeting people, this is working to spread your work to as many people as possible. Site like Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit work as very powerful promotional tools. With each of these you can share links with huge amounts of people with minimal effort, and they’re all free. Most of the hits for this article were probably generated by these tools. With a little careful promotional work, like book giveaways, traffic can be driven to your site to advertise your writing and help with name recognition.

10. Availability of distractions

The flip side of the coin of all these advantages is that with the whole web at your fingertips, distractions are easy to find. If you’re stuck on a story, staring at the word processing screen, it is far too easy to pop up Facebook to go read your friends’ statuses, to hop on an online forum to discuss True Blood vs. Twilight, or to go read (or write) a blog post about writing. Those things all have their time and place, but if you want to write, make sure you get your writing time in too!

Cower, minions! It’s K. D. Wentworth!

K.D. Wentworth
K.D. Wentworth

K. D. Wentworth has reached an almost divine state in the eyes of many aspirants; especially those who participate in the quarterly Writers and Illustrators of the Future contest. K. D. is editor of the anthology, and first-reader for the writing portion of the contest. She reads, or at least starts to read, every entry that comes through the doors of Author Services, Inc; a colossal task that she completes not once but four times per year.

Thankfully, unlike the varied recognized deities of Earth’s many cultures, K. D. is very approachable and friendly. While she is known to smite overwrought prose wherever she sees it, she would never pulverize a well meaning aspirant. Her kindness shows in the many ways she strives to help struggling writers achieve the elusive goal of publication.

Above all else K. D. is an author. She has several books and dozens of short stories in print. You can find her work in virtually every mentionable genre publication currently in print and many who aren’t. You can learn more about K. D. and her writing at her website,

K. D., thank you for the opportunity to give this interview.

Anthony Sullivan: Three-time Nebula finalist, winning the Writers of the Future contest, Teacher’s writers award, tons of novels in publication; is it true are you really HG Wells reincarnated?

K. D. Wentworth: Actually, I’m a four-time Nebula finalist, but after you’ve lost three times, people mercifully stop counting. As for me and H.G., have you ever seen us in the same room together? Just a little food for speculative thought.

Anthony: As we all know, the speculative fiction genre lost an icon in Algis Budrys last year. How close were you to Mr. Budrys and how has he affected your craft over the many years you worked together?

KD: I adored Algis Budrys. He bought my first story and gave me invaluable advice at the Writers of the Future Workshop. We kept in contact over the years and it was a delight to see him every time our paths crossed. I still use what he taught me about writing every single day when I sit down to write.

Anthony: What was the most helpful or perhaps most profound piece of advice Algis gave you?

KD: There was so much, but one of his sayings was that “Remember that the story is not the words.” It was his theory that the story exists inside the writer’s head where it is perfect. The words we use to try and tell it on paper (or the screen) are imperfect vehicles for what we want to say. They will never be as good as what’s inside our heads. Lots of different words can be used to tell the same story. Just look at how many different versions of “Cinderella” exist. We have to make the words as smooth and descriptive and professional as we can, but should not get hung up on the fact that they aren’t as good as what’s inside our heads or else we’ll never stop revising.

Anthony: What, if any, formal training have you had? (i.e. MFA, etc)

KD: I have a degree in English, Liberal Arts, from the University of Tulsa, in addition to certification as an elementary teacher, fifteen hours of Computer Programming, and fifteen hours of Education graduate school classes.

Anthony: This year is the 25th anniversary of the Writers of the Future contest and its popularity seems to be growing still. Is the quality of submissions trending upwards or down? Does this make your job easier or more difficult?

KD: The quality of submissions is improving all the time. It makes it more difficult, but I love the increasing quality. There are so many talented writers out there who only need to be given a chance.

Anthony: As the contest continues to grow, many new writers are getting the courage to finally submit. What advice can you offer them as they pen their entries?

KD: Don’t reject your own story. A writer really never knows how good her story is until someone else reads it. Take a chance and send it in!

Then write something else!

Anthony: You’ve always kept the exact number of entries close to your vest but we know for sure that the number is large and that you read, at least the beginning of every story. Do you ever tire of the process? What keeps you going? Do you have any help?

KD: I only work about an hour at a time on the first-reading so that my eye stays fresh. I don’t have any help, but that’s the way I want it right now. It’s a lot of work, but I value being entrusted with this responsibility.

Anthony: What are a few things that are sure to send a story into the ‘Thanks for trying’ box?

KD: Passive characters. Weak endings that just fizzle out. Idiot plots (where someone has to do something stupid or there is no plot). Overused ideas without something new to entice the reader. Overdone language. Over the top metaphors and similes. On-stage sex. Pointless and gruesome violence. Anything that sounds like Star Wars, Buffy, Star Trek, Babylon 5, Twilight, etc.

Anthony: About what percentage of stories do you actually make it all the way through?

KD: I’m just guessing, but I would say fifteen to twenty percent.

Anthony: What is the most memorable story you have ever sent up to the judges?

KD: That’s like being asked to pick your favorite child!ÂÂ Here are a few favorites: “Blackberry Witch” by Scott M. Roberts, “Last Dance at the Sergeant Majors’Â Ball” by Cat Sparks, “Schroedinger’s Hummingbird” by Diana Rowland, “Numbers” by Joel Best, and “Sleep Sweetly, Junie Carter” by Joy Remy.

Anthony: Dave Farland once mentioned that he received a submission written in crayon. What is the most bizarre entry you’ve seen in your time with WotF?

KD: I keep getting poetry, scripts, hand-drawn illustrations, and high school and college theme papers about things like the evils of okra and how misunderstood pit bulls are.

Anthony: Do you feel like your affiliation with the Writers of the Future contest is a lifelong one?

KD: I certainly hope so. I love getting to pay back some of the help that was once given to me.

Anthony: In 1988 you won the Writers of the Future contest with your story Daddy’s Girls. How important was this in the success of your career?

KD: It was an amazing moment in my life. I’d never sold anything up until that point. Winning meant that I wasn’t wasting my time writing and that it was possible I could have a writing career.

Anthony: How hard was the wait until your second publication, Dust, two years later?

KD: It was a year after winning the Contest before I sold “Dust” and the waiting was very hard because my expectations had been raised. I just had to have faith in myself and keep writing.

Anthony: Most of your stories and books seem to be fantasy and urban fantasy. Do you have a penchant for those sub-genres?

KD: I like and write everything, from high fantasy and a bit of horror to hard sf. All but one of my books have actually been sf. I especially like to write about aliens, the way their minds work, and how they see the universe.

Anthony: Your novel with Eric Flint, Course of Empire, has received a good deal of praise. So few authors are able to collaborate well. How are you and Mr. Flint able to balance the responsibility of such a project?

KD: Eric writes the outline and an extensive background. I write the book. Then Eric adds material, in some places up to an entire chapter. He’s a very generous collaborator and I enjoy working with him. I think our strengths braid well together.

Anthony: What can you tell us about your upcoming novel project?

KD: The next book out is Crucible of Empire, a sequel to The Course of Empire. It deals with a trip to a distant nebula where a human/Jao crewed ship encounters not only the Ekhat again, but another species long thought by the Jao to be extinct. There’s lots of fighting and space battles and I got to bring back two of my favorite characters from the first book.

Anthony: Do you have any short fiction releasing anytime soon?

KD: I just had “Hex Education” published in Witch Way to the Mall. Upcoming I have “Special Needs” in Strip-Mauled, “Owl Court” in Sword and Sorceress XXIV, “Miss White-Hands’ Class Goes Shopping” in a yet untitled humorous suburban vampire anthology, and “The Embians” in Destination Future.

Anthony: Some say that short form fiction is being revitalized by the internet. What changes do you see on the horizon for short fiction and the publications, both print and electronic, that publish it?

KD: The SF/fantasy field is blessed with still having a vigorous market for short fiction. I just wish that everyone who is trying to sell short fiction would subscribe to at least two magazines and help support them. These are tough times and we just lost Baen’s Universe, a wonderful market, due to lack of revenue. Online venues are good showcases, but most of them do not pay very well.

Anthony: You have written some stories in the alternate history genre. Do you see this as viable market or a fad? Would a AH story stand a chance in the WOTF contest?

KD: Alternate History is always fun, both to write and read, and it seems to be here to stay. It will always have a chance in the Contest as long as 1) it’s well researched and 2) you make it clear where the point of departure from the real timeline is.

Anthony: K. D., thanks so much for your time. I hope our readers will take your advice and run out and subscribe to a genre pub to support short fiction.

Also, thanks to Frank Dutkiewicz, Dan Gaidin, David Steffen, Brad Torgersen, Laurie Unas and Jennifer Wendorf for their submitted questions.

Photo used by permission from Author Services, Inc.

Dan Gaidin

Jim Baen’s Universe Closing April in 2010

I received some sad news this week. Jim Baen’s Universe will be no more after the April 2010 issue. Jim Baen’s Universe has been distributing compelling fiction three years now and has quickly become a staple of the short fiction market.

The death of JBU is a tough blow to aspirant writers as no other professional market has made such an effort to nurture new writers. Sam Hidaka has said that the slush forum on the bar, which has served as a makeshift workshop for many writers, will remain open for now but its demise cannot be far off.

I give the good folks at the JBU slush bar, especially Gary Cuba, Edith Maor and Sam Hidaka, credit for much of my limited writing success. Both of my honorable mentions from the Writers of the Future contest were posted there and the unapologetic criticism I received there made those stories better by far. Their feedback has made me a better writer and a more effective self-editor.

JBU is only the latest in a stream of recent closing or near-death experiences for short fiction venues. Realms of Fantasy recently hung it up only to be snatched from the jaw of death by Tir Na Nog Press. Paradox: The Magazine of Historical and Speculative Fiction closed in May of this year. A small start up venue, Oddlands, closed in September of last year after only five issues. Even the beast, Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine has felt the pinch and gone to a bimonthly release schedule. There are many, many more publications, both online and print, who are suffering right now.

The question is why. We used to say that the internet was killing print media but JBU is an online publication. If this were true then JBU should be fine. Many other online publications have gone under as well so that logic simply doesn’t fly anymore.

Another consideration might be that short form fiction simply isn’t what readers are looking for. Recent success stories include epic series such as the Harry Potter series and Twilight. Both are multi novel sets with some books weighing in the five to six hundred page range. I would never speculate that short form fiction is ceasing to exist but it seems evident that demand is dwindling and publications are going to need to think of new ways to attract readers.

I believe that the time isn’t far off when publications are going to have to look at publishing in a whole new way. JBU tried something new with their Universe Club which provided them much needed capital early on but ultimately regular subscriptions never grew strong enough and they became too dependent on the Club income. I think there are two points of interest to make note of. First, The Universe Club was a success and readers enjoyed feeling like they were part of the magazine rather than just subscribers. This probably kept many of them subscribing longer than they would have otherwise. Secondly, the subscription model is still necessary and must be nurtured with as much care if not more than before.

I don’t pretend to know what they next big thing in periodical publishing is but one thing is certain. Editors all over the industry are watching as each of these guys fall. I hope that they are taking the time to analyze and learn what they can do to insure they don’t suffer the same fate.

Interesting advice…

<This has previously been printed on my personal blog:>

When I first started this writing thing I often read that it was a lonely craft. So many people wrote about how they felt like no one really wanted them to succeed and that if they did succeed, no one would notice. I thought this was interesting but dispatched it as not my problem. Well it has become my problem. Maybe it’s just me but I feel that more and more, no one around me really cares about my writing. It is frustrating.

Sam Hidaka over at JBU linked to an interesting, albeit old, blog post by Nancy Fulda.

Lately I’ve felt my writing is worse than it was when I started. I’ve noticed boring characters, plot holes and questionable prose more and more frequently, so much so that I’ve been somewhat lax in my eagerness to write. I’ve still knocked out a short story per week but my zeal has been somewhat tarnished. There is no worse feeling than busting your tail to get better at something and finding evidence that you are doing just the opposite.

Nancy seems to think that this is actually a good thing. Read her blog post to learn how she thinks that as we improve at something we may feel like we are getting worse because we are learning to better recognize the mistakes that we make. Nancy has an interesting blog with lots of helpful bits of information and inspiration.

Now I just have to work on recognizing how to fix those mistakes that I can see so readily now.