Interview: Richard Zwicker

interviewed by Carl Slaughter

Prolific Science Fiction-Detective-Humor writer Richard Zwicker has sold thirty stories to twenty-two markets in five and a half years. That’s a sale about every two months. How does he do it?

Zwicker has sold stories to Fantasy Scroll, Penumbra, Mad Scientist Journal, Perihelion Science Fiction, Kzine, Plasma Frequency Magazine, On the Premises, Eric’s Hysterics, Tales of Old, Stupefying Stories, LocoThology, Strange Mysteries, The Rejected Quarterly, Mindflights, Poe Little Thing, FlagShip, Labyrinth Inhabitant, Writing Shift, New Myths, Golden Visions, Speculative Mystery Iconoclast, and Ray Gun Revival.

Many writers with less than 5 years of experience would commit a felony to achieve such a record. Indeed, most writers are still unpublished after 5 years on the keyboard.

So how does he crank out the volume and juggle so much marketing at the same time? Besides submitting all his drafts to the Critters online workshop, well, let’s see, oh yes, he uses Diabolical Plots‘s Submissions Grinderâ€


CARL SLAUGHTER: You’ve sold to many different markets. How do you handle all the logistics involved in marketing a story? Finding and studying the markets, studying the submissions guidelines, customizing stories to particular markets.

RICHARD ZWICKER: I take advantage of just about everything The Submission Grinder provides. I often check their “recently added markets” and I also like their “My Market Response List,” which shows recent response activity from the ezines I have stories submitted to. Though I usually tinker with a story after it gets rejected, I try to have a ready list of potential markets to resubmit to. I don’t usually do a lot of customizing my stories to particular markets. Instead, I write the story, then look for a suitable market. I’ve sold stories to themed anthologies, but so far, those stories have all existed in some form before the call came out. It takes me a while to get a story into saleable shape, almost always longer than an anthology’s submission window.


CARL: You’ve been a prolific writer. How do you manage to do all that marketing and crank out the volume of stories at the same time?

RICHARD: Marketing doesn’t take that long, and it doesn’t take the kind of energy that writing demands. I’m an English teacher though, and that takes a lot of time and energy. So I have to prioritize. I think being middle-aged, I’m less susceptible to certain time-eating activities than younger people. To date, I don’t have a blog, a Twitter account, nor do I text. I don’t spend chunks of time chatting about trends in genre fiction. I’m sure these things help some writers, but for me it would cut directly into my short story writing time. During the school year I put in a few hours each weekend morning and try to steal the occasional hour during the week. I have much more time during the summer, and that’s when I write most of my new material. I also try not to submit to publications notorious for long response times, though there is not always a choice.


CARL: Once you’ve sold a story to an editor, is it easier to get to the top of that editor’s slushpile? Is it easier to sell to that editor again?

RICHARD: It might be easier to get a second reading, but I don’t think it makes that much of a difference in sales, unless you’re a household name, which I’m not. Not being an editor of a publication, I can only speculate about the process. I think a lot of it is the right story at the right time to the right publication. If those things aren’t aligned, with all the submissions editors get, I doubt my having previously sold them a story will put me over the edge.


CARL: One of your specialties is humor. What kind of market is there for humor science fiction?

RICHARD: A funny thing happens when you add “humorous” as a story style requirement to a science fiction market search on The Submission Grinder. Your list of potential markets drops to about a tenth of what it was. That said, there are soft SF, space opera-type publications that are open to light, humorous short stories. I do write some serious science fiction, and I believe it is easier to sell, but humor is my comfort zone. A big change in the genre from the 1950’s and 60’s is rigor in scientific details. It’s difficult to write something funny if you load up the story with hard science, however. I enjoy reading hard SF, but as I say in my Critters bio, “I like to write character-driven stories. If the science is driving, I usually hit a tree.” Ultimately, if I can, I’d prefer to add to the world’s supply of laughs rather than increase its angst.


CARL: What explanations do editors give you when they accept humor stories?

RICHARD: It varies. Some praise the humor, some don’t even mention it. It’s not uncommon for me to receive something as bland as, “Thank you for submitting such and such. We’d like to accept it.” Fortunately, my joy at being accepted overcomes blandness every time.


CARL: What explanations do editors give you when they reject humor stories?

RICHARD: I like to have fun with the classics. Being a teacher trying to get students to read anything written over twenty years ago, it’s essential to have fun. One editor who has bought two of my serious stories rejected out of hand a humorous take I wrote on a Greek myth. I understand it’s a balancing act. On the one hand you need a certain amount of period realism; on the other you have to accept that a certain amount of modern sensibility is going to creep in. One editor could say, “This is funny!” while another will think, “This is stupid!” As I’m often told in Critters critiques, humor is personal. So I try not to take my rejections personally.


CARL: Another of your specialties is detective. What kind of market is there for detective science fiction?

RICHARD: I believe cross-genre is in right now. I’ve never sold a story to a straight mystery magazine, but putting a murder mystery into a SF story makes them interested. Being an English teacher, I grew up reading a lot of The New Yorker-type literary fiction where a character remains lost until the end of the story, at which time he or she has some kind of understated realization. I still read that kind of stuff on occasion, but I now prefer a more active story. Mystery and science fiction stories provide more opportunities for that, and together, even more.


CARL: How much competition is there in the detective science fiction subgenre?

RICHARD: I don’t know. No detective science fiction writers have challenged me to a duel lately. My competition, and it’s stiff, is with the good science fiction and short story fantasy writers.


CARL: A lot of your detective stories are also humor stories. Surely someone who can blend 3 subgenres has few rivals.

RICHARD: Few readers either, but maybe this will help.


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.