Diabolical Plots is now a SFWA Qualifying Market

written by David Steffen

Just the briefest of notes:  fiction sales to Diabolical Plots now count as qualifications for writers toward joining the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America(SFWA).  Very excited by this news!

This applies to all the past fiction accepted here, as well as the fiction for the current submission eindow open through the end of the month.


Con Report: SFWA Nebula Conference

written by Shane Halbach

The Nebula awards are one of the two big awards you can win in speculative fiction (the other being the Hugo awards). The Nebulas are put on by the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), and include not only the big, fancy, academy award-style award ceremony, but also a conference for professional writers.


So, the panels weren’t focused so much on writing, per say, (although there were a few) but more on all of the aspects of business around writing. Things like running a Kickstarter, how to teach workshops, questions on intellectual property, and how to be interviewed.

I was a speaker on two panels: “Social Media Puzzle Pieces” and a panel just entitled “Humor” (no pressure there — hey, stare at these people, they are HILARIOUS! Okay go!). I think they actually went really well (though of course nobody would tell me if they were awful, now would they?) I was particularly anxious about Humor, because…what do you say about humor? Who’s to say anybody should listen to me on the matter? Did someone think it was funny to schedule my panel in the absolute last time slot on the absolute last day of the conference, and then expect me to have enough brainpower left to be interesting, much less make people laugh??? But the panel was actually well attended, and I thought we had a very deep, intellectual conversation about humor (if not actually that funny).

In addition to all of the panels, socializing, and networking, you also get a HUGE PILE OF FREE BOOKS, plus the opportunity to buy more. There was even an enormous autographing session (open to the public) featuring over 80 authors signing books.


(My haul)

The autographing session was certainly one of the highlights of the weekend for me, not only because I got to meet Naomi Novik and have her sign a copy of Uprooted (which would go on to win Best Novel), but also because I knew so many people that I hardly had time to say hello to everybody.

I think that’s ultimately what made this the best con experience I can imagine. Everybody was someone I wanted to meet or talk to. The Nebula Conference was actually very small (well, 300ish people small), and you couldn’t help but trip over everybody you wanted to see. It was the absolute crème de la crème of the writer’s world, and for the first time I actually felt like I was successful enough that these people were my peers.

I could start listing names, but seriously I would just end up listing every person who was at the conference. I met so many online friends that I had never met in person before. I met new awesome people that I didn’t even know existed before the weekend. People were actually excited to meet me, like I was somebody to meet. I chatted with Nebula nominees, SFWA Grandmasters, editors, and bestselling authors like it ain’t no thang. Lunches were had. Friends won awards. I spoke on panels like a boss.


People make the distinction between introverts and extroverts: introverts “recharge” by spending quiet time alone, and extroverts “recharge” by spending time around people. By that definition, I am a classic extrovert, unlike 99% of all other writers. (“So you’re the one stealing all of our energy!” said my friend Danielle.) After spending all day Friday at the conference, I was charged up enough to arc lightening into anybody who sat close enough on the train home.


(Apparently this drink was called a “Hugo” which seemed both ridiculously appropriate and inappropriate at the same time)

I didn’t actually attend the Nebula awards ceremony; since I was local and since I had already called in all my favors to help watch the kids all weekend, it seemed like a good place to go home and actually help out around the house. My plan was to watch the livestream of the awards but…I may have ended up falling asleep at 8:30.

I wanted to mention my three favorite panels:

  • “I Remember When” 
    This panel was basically just the “elder statesmen” (and states-women) of SFWA telling stories about the good old days. These stories were amazing, and talk about name-dropping! These people remember a time when Asimov and Heinlein were members. There was something so adorable about Damon Knight secretly throwing peanuts at Joe Haldeman’s head. I don’t know, if this panel was scheduled for every timeslot of every day, I would just keep going to it.
  • “What Teens are Looking for in YA Literature”
    Real, live teenagers talking about what they want and what they don’t want to see (love triangles) in their books. This panel was so great. These teenager were such teenagers, it was hilarious. They had strong opinions. I’m amazed that they could get up in front of a room of strangers and speak so confidently. Seriously, though, you can’t pay for that kind of insight.
  • “How to Give an Effective Reading”
    Any time I have ever heard someone ask about giving a reading, someone directs that person to Mary Robinette Kowal’s website. So I was very happy to attend this one in person. Mary didn’t just tell you silly tips or something, she actually explained WHY you should do certain things. Like, the science behind it. This was by far the most informative panel I attended over the weekend.

The whole experience was absolutely amazing, start to finish. It was so amazing, that it’s almost like it wasn’t real. I feel like I forged some lasting friendships, learned a lot about the business of writing (a peek behind the curtain, if you will), and most importantly I feel like I gained a ton of confidence.

I fit in. I belonged among the best writers in the field.

It’s a magical feeling. So magical, in fact, that I had trouble adjusting back into the real world on Monday. It was how it must feel to be kicked out of Narnia.

Maybe time to start planning for Pittsburgh next year?


Shane lives in a secret lair deep under Chicago with his wife and three kids, where he writes software by day and practices his maniacal laughter by night. His fiction has appeared in Analog, Escape Pod, The Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction, and elsewhere. He plots (diabolically) at shanehalbach.com or can be found on Twitter @shanehalbach.

Interview: Rob Dircks

interviewed by Carl Slaughter

rob-portraitHe talks with Diabolical Plots about self publishing, self recording, the sci fi humor market, buddy stories, the rambling/interjective narrative style of his main character, his recent how-to guest blog on Cat Rambo’s site (you guessed it, how to write humor) , the sci fi humor authors and stories that influenced him, his startup self publishing service, his recent membership in SFWA, and his fascination with Tesla conspiracy theories.

He also takes a crack at a 700 word flash piece, “The Moment I Laid Eggs in You,” by Josh Vogt, recently published in Mike Resnick’s Galaxy’s Edge. One of Resnick’s trademarks is humor.

(Mike Resnick, current holder of the most Hugo nominations (with second place far behind), has been interviewed here at Diabolical Plots, as has current SFWA president Cat Rambo.)


Why go straight to novel instead of building a short story resume?

That’s a good question. There wasn’t a plan to it at all. I started out writing screenplays (and not selling them), then an anti-self-help book titled Unleash the Sloth! 75 Ways to Reach Your Maximum Potential By Doing Less, then just naturally went for another book, this time long enough to be called a novel. I’ve got lots of short stories, snippets of stuff, in my horde, but haven’t the slightest clue how to go about selling them to publications. Maybe you could give me a few pointers.


Why self publish?

Rejection. Well, not entirely. I love building things myself, and as a graphic designer too, I love creating art, books, websites, whatever. So when the rejections started coming in for my manuscript, I knew I couldn’t be the author who waits for the two-hundredth rejection before hitting something. Instead, I said “You know what? The tools are out there now, the playing field is starting to level, so f**k it – I’ll just do it myself.” Of course, the BIG bummer of self-publishing is that you start with ZERO exposure – no agent, or publicist, or publisher out there helping you get noticed. So I’ve had to learn that myself, too. But I’m definitely learning, and enjoying it as I go. (Oh, and I get to keep 70% of my sales with Amazon, and 40% of my sales with Audible. That rocks.)


You also help other authors self publish. What can you teach them and what can you do for them?

Well, it’s in the infancy stage right now, but I’m enjoying the ride and getting moving on some projects. There are three ways I’m helping authors: 1. For maybe two or three books a year, I’m handling the whole process, from editing to cover design, to production, platform building and promotion; 2. For authors who just need a particular service, like cover design or interior layout, I offer a la carte paid services; 3. For DIY folks like myself, I post about things I’m learning as I go on my website for Goldfinch Publishing. It’s all free, and people are starting to reach out and let me know it’s helping, particularly with their self-published audio books.


Your book is also available on Audible. And you did your own recording. How easy/difficult is that and what’s involved?

I’ve got lots of background in audio recording and voiceover, so I found it easy. But I did write up a lengthy blog post to help others do it themselves as well — because without any experience, as long as you have a few bucks for equipment, a decent voice, and common sense, there’s no reason you can’t do it yourself too. The post is here. In short, you need an account with ACX/Audible (easy); recording software like Garageband (which comes free with all Macs); a decent mic (you can get for under a hundred bucks); headphones; a room that can get quiet, and some foam/blankets, etc., whatever you can use to deaden the sound in the room; and PATIENCE. It took a solid week to record my novel, and a solid week to edit it and upload it to Audible.


How much does an audio book sell for, versus an ebook, versus a tree book?

I don’t have any control over the pricing for the audio book, so Audible prices it at $19.95 (I think that’s kind of high, but like I said, I don’t get to determine price). The ebook is $3.99. And the print book is $10.79.


You recently wrote a guest blog for Cat Rambo about sci fi humor writing. How did you arrive at each of those 8 lessons?

I’d say it’s a mish-mash of learning, mostly through reading, taking classes, and trial and error. For example, with “Exaggerated Contrast”, John Vorhaus’ book The Comic Toolbox does a great job of walking you through the idea of fish-out-of-water and how it works. But then you start to see it everywhere, in so many things you read and watch on TV, and you play with it in your writing, and eventually it becomes one of the tools in your own toolbox. For “It’s Not About the Jokes,” that probably started when I took a screenwriting class at NYU, and my professor lightly scolded me for just sprinkling in jokes in my work to make it funny. And from then on I made sure to be wary of “jokes.” Some of these that I’ve learned haven’t come from anywhere in particular, like “Playfulness” and “Heart” – I think those were learned a looooonnnng time ago when I was a kid. It’s just always been the way I look at the world, that no matter how bad things are, there’s always something funny in there somewhere, and I’ve always sort of known that the books that I don’t like just lay there flat, with no heart in their characters.


Perfect timing. There’s a sci fi comedy in the latest issue of Mike Resnick’s Galaxy’s Edge. “From the Moment I Laid Eggs in You,” a flash piece (700 words) by Josh Vogt. What lessons can we learn from that story?

This story’s great. It sets up the expectation right off (couple just had sex). Then right into the “discovery” (of her egg-laying) — which totally upends our expectations. Totally opposite to the norm. Then it becomes an argument (arguments can be the best comedy), and the classic twist at the end (another defeat of our expectations). It’s great.


What kind of market is there for sci fi comedy?

I actually think it’s an untapped market. You have just a couple of huge traditional names in sci-fi humor, Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett, and maybe Philip K. Dick, and now you have only a couple of modern names that immediately spring to mind: John Scalzi, David Wong maybe. But with successes like Big Bang Theory (a total sci-fi nerdfest comedy) on TV, I think that shows there’s a great potential market for more sci-fi humor — not only does that sit-com grab sci-fi fans, but it crosses over into the mainstream, people who want something funny and entertaining who aren’t necessarily sci-fi fans.


Why Tesla?

For a long time I’ve been fascinated with conspiracy theories. They’re very out-there, and usually hilarious. One in particular that I always thought was cool was the theory that Nikola Tesla, in his later years, kept a series of secret journals that contained plans for advanced technologies, some of which might be used as weapons, or as free energy for all. The story goes that the government (of course) took these journals upon his death, and they were never seen again. Also, the fact that New York was home to Tesla, one of history’s great inventors, responsible for alternating current, radio, x-rays, and more — and we never hear about him — made him even more intriguing to me.


Your main character is a vivid narrator – when he’s not interjecting or rambling. So why does he interject and ramble so much?

Chip is an exaggeration of myself, and in my writing I tend to interject a lot (in case you haven’t noticed). So it’s natural that he would ramble on even more. But I also think, in my everyday conversations with people, that there is a TON of rambling and interjecting going on. Just listen to two random people talking at a mall, or walking out after a movie, or standing in line at Starbucks. Sometimes these conversations are nothing BUT interjections! I wanted my book to feel very conversational, very much like your ADD friend is blabbing to you about his adventures, while you’re waiting on line at Starbucks.


Why a sci fi misadventure instead of a sci fi adventure?

Misadventures are funnier. Think about your favorite sit-coms: the funniest situations are the ones where the most things go wrong. Modern Family is a perfect example of this. Their writers are great at creating little farces, where multiple things keep going wrong, but in the end the resolution makes you feel wonderful. And I always loved Dortmunder, the cat burglar from the old Donald Westlake novels. Those novels were one misadventure after another, but made the ride a whole lot of fun, and actually made you root for Dortmunder even harder. (And laugh harder.)


Why a buddy story?

Who doesn’t like a buddy story? Laurel and Hardy. Abbott and Costello. Crosby and Hope. Chandler and Joey. Aziraphale and Crowley in Good Omens, and David and John in John Dies at the End. Seth Rogen and James Franco. The list goes on and on and on. There’s something about a best friend that we can all relate to. It makes the story and the humor more intimate, it makes it easier to root for the hero, it gives the hero a friend to confide in (to help tell the story), and a foil to bicker with (to increase the comedy).


Will there be further interdimensional misadventures with Chip and his buddy? Will the girlfriend return for the sequel? Will the government be involved again? Will it involve another one of Tesla’s secret inventions? Will it involve time travel?

I said when I finished this book that I didn’t think I was a sequel kind of guy. But the response has been great, and many people have asked about a sequel, and I’ve caught myself thinking things like “I wonder what really happened to Bobo?” If I do write a sequel, you can bet that it’ll have everything you just mentioned – and more. I’d make it as over-the-top as possible.


Which sci fi humor authors influenced you?

The ones I mentioned above: Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, John Scalzi, David Wong.


Which sci fi humor stories influenced you?

Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Pratchett’s Good Omens, anything by John Scalzi but maybe Agent to the Stars is my fav, and even though it’s not sci-fi, I absolutely loved John Dies at the End. There are also lots of Philip K. Dick stories that are total gems and hit your funny bone straight on.


Did your advertising background contribute to your fiction skills?

I guess, but only in the sense that all of our past experiences help us in whatever our next thing is. For example, writing copy for ads for twenty years certainly helped my grammar, my pacing, my ability to surprise and delight (hopefully), so maybe those things helped my fiction. But I’ll tell you what the advertising background really helps with: marketing books. As a self-published author, marketing is completely up to you. So I think my experience has given me a bit of a head start, and has helped tremendously.


Any stories in the hopper?

Yes! I’m working on my next sci-fi comedy novel, about an A.I. that finds itself in the middle of nowhere, with a very important package to deliver. And I’ve got a bunch of things behind that, clamoring for my attention. The hopper is full. That makes me happy.


What’s your take on the SFWA?

I’m new to the SFWA (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America), but so far I like being a member a lot. There are tons of resources for finding your way as a new author, like finding out avenues to sell your book, or targeting blogs for guest posts, comparing notes on promotions and book sales. They have very active member forums — every time I’ve asked a question, it gets answered right away. And I’ll admit I really like the credibility that it lends me as an author. You can’t just pay your dues and become a member: you have to have sold a certain number of books, and only if you pass that threshold are you allowed to become a member. In other words, you can define yourself as a professional. I like that.


Any advice to aspiring sci fi writers?

With just one sci-fi novel out, and an anti-self-help book, and a bunch of short stories and screenplays piled up in my drawer, I’m not sure I’m the one that should be giving advice to aspiring writers. But if I had to say one thing, I’d repeat what I’ve heard lots of other folks say: that this is a loooonng road, with no shortcuts, so keep doing your best work, over and over again, and enjoy yourself!


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.

Interview: Andrew Burt

interviewed by Carl Slaughter

Critters,Preditors & Editors, ReAnimus, Advent, Nyx, SFWA, snap books. Andrew Burt is a busy guy.


How is Critters different than/better than Scribophile, SF Novelist, Hatrack River Writer’s Workshop, and other critique workshops? Critters is the first workshop on the web. How did that come about?

Critters pre-dates the others you mention, but I don’t know if Critters is fundamentally better or different from any of the others. The more the better! The reason I started Critters was simply that there wasn’t any critique workshop on the web at the time. I was searching for one to join, actually, but, being the early days of the web, there just wasn’t one yet. Before I started Critters someone in a forum suggested we try emailing manuscripts back and forth, which I think half a dozen of us did… once. I submitted my critiques of the others’ manuscripts, but I think I was the only one. 🙂 So I figured, well, there’s this web thing, I’ll hang a shingle and see if anyone comes.

Over time other workshops popped in and out (often off-shoots of Critters, like Critique Circle), and some of them stuck, which is terrific. The more depth of critique an author can get the better for everyone. In terms of differences, Critters’ workload is modeled after a local, in-person workshop I belonged to, begun by the award-winning and awesome Ed Bryant (himself an alum of one of the early in-person workshops, Clarion). With a monthly meeting and a rough average of three manuscripts everyone critiqued, I implemented that as a “three critiques per four weeks” ratio in Critters. That’s seemed to work well. Doing critiques of others is probably half the benefit to one’s own writing, so it’s important to ensure people do critiques. (And in-depth ones; we have minimum critique length limits to encourage people to peer deeply into every story.)

One thing I do think that accounts for Critters success has been our “diplomacy policy,” whereby those reviewing a manuscript are urged to phrase their bad news in ways that have been shown to communicate, and avoid the phrasings that don’t communicate the message but do provoke negative reactions from the receiving author’s “lizard brain.” It’s usually as simple as saying, “The pace was too slow for my taste” instead of, “The pace is too slow”; this really seems to help.


Why is your workshop still free after so many years even though many workshops charge?

So this all started in 1995, back when the web was young, and there probably weren’t even enough people around for anyone to make money from a web site yet. I had also been running Nyx as a free service. Nyx was (and still is) free to use, funded by voluntary donations from those who like it. That seemed like the right model, so I started Critters as a free workshop as well. It made sense since the biggest “cost” if you will, is the effort that all the critiquers put into critiquing their fellow authors. Doing critiques of others is also of huge help to improving one’s own writing craft, so we do nudge people to participate, both in quantity and quality of in-depth critiques. You can’t buy that quality; and making people pay for it may even dilute it.

For our modest monetary needs, folks who like it donate as they feel the urge (with some low-key fund drive reminders; I don’t care for the in-your-face, we’re-holding-your-program-hostage-until-twenty-people-donate kind of public TV/radio fund drives, though I understand their necessity). I also added some Google ads to the site to fill in the gaps, though I figure most people run ad blockers and never see them. Critters doesn’t need a huge budget,it isn’t my full-time job and we have a few volunteers to help with questions and such,so we do fine.


You mentioned Nyx, the world’s first Internet Service Provider, which you founded in 1987. How did that come about? What made you want to start the first ISP?

I’d been on the “ARPAnet,” the network that later became the “Internet,” for many years, and was active in “Usenet,” the gigantic (for its day) distributed forum system. ARPAnet was only accessible to a small number of people at academic/research/government organizations. It was so cool, though… So when our department (I was a computer science professor at the University of Denver) was donated a behemoth of an old computer,a PDP 11/70, which filled an entire room,and we had nothing really to use it for, it sort of fell to me, because I was the only professor who even knew how to run it. I put the open source operating system known as “BSD Unix” on it (a precursor to today’s Linux), connected it to the university’s network going out to the world at large, hung some modems on it, and opened it up for the general public so everybody could access what was just being renamed “the Internet.”

I’m a fan of capitalism, but it doesn’t always work as well as it should. Before the public had any way to get on the Internet, I could see the writing on the wall that they would be getting on eventually, and I was dismayed at the thought of people being gouged to access all the cool Internet stuff. The culture of the net was/is something special, with (at the time) a high degree of altruism,people helping others just because it was a good thing to do. There were many large, corporate, non-Internet dialup modem services, like “Compuserve”, which were generally extremely expensive; and I could foresee them soon connecting to the net and charging people far too much. I thought it would be a good thing if that altrustic culture could get a leg up. The university itself is a non-profit, and lots of the content on the net was freely available, so it all made sense to open the net up to the public for free to show that it could be done. I also wanted to do what I could to continue the spirit of freedom of speech that permeated the non-public Internet, and avoid the heavy-handed moderation many of the other pay dialup systems showed. (I am a bit disappointed that so many forum sites have again returned to fairly heavy moderation, but perhaps this too shall pass.) So I wasn’t really thinking, “Hey, this will be the first Internet Service Provider for the public”; more it was, “Hey, people ought to be able to get on the net because it’s cool, and they can’t, and I can do something about that.” It didn’t even occur to me until later that I’d started the first ISP, when someone mentioned it. At the time I just figured it sounded like a good idea to get people onto the net. I suppose the experiment was a success! Nyx is still going, now as its own 501(c)3 non-profit corporation, still providing free email, web hosting, etc. and I’m glad to see that the general public now has a lot more choices, with costs of access that are still reasonable (indeed, often still free).


How do you keep such a massive site as Critters going with no full-time staff?

Minions! 🙂 In this case, software minions. I enjoy automating things, and seem to be reasonably good at it. (My computer science background is in networking, operating systems design, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity.) So, I’ve created a ton of custom software that handles 99% of what goes on with the site. I have a small number of volunteers who help answer questions, and I fix things when the minions make a mess.


You recently opened the workshop to nonfiction, mystery, and a slew of other genres and categories. Give us a list and tell us how this experiment is going.

Originally Critters was just science fiction, fantasy, and horror. That made sense in the early days, given that the people on the net were still largely geek types, who tend to like those genres more than others. I always had requests to broaden the list to include everything, so recently I did. We now have 16 workshops, covering every genre and every form of creative endeavor I could fit in. The list is:

Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror Writing
Mainstream and Literary Fiction
Mystery, Thriller, and Adventure Writing
Non-Fiction Writing
Script, Screenplay, and Stageplay Writing
Kids Books
Comics, Graphic novels, Manga, etc.
Western Fiction Writing
Romance Writing
Adult Fiction
Video and Film
Music and Audio
Art, Painting, Drawing, etc.
Apps and Software
Website Design

The SF/F/H workshop is still by far the most active, since it’s best known for that. The others are growing, though I think I made a tactical mistake breaking them out into separate workshops at the outset. I should probably merge them back so there’s one large workshop everyone is in, and when I start getting calls to split off a genre then do that.

I had hopes that some of the non-writing workshop areas would catch hold, like video, music, art, web design, etc.; though that hasn’t largely been the case. There’s a long history of writers workshops, whereas there isn’t that depth of history in the others. But we keep trying things, alerting people they exist, so I’m ever the optimist.


Don’t you have to be an experienced author or editor to critique someone else’s story? If I can see how to improve your story, why can’t I see how to improve my own story, and vice versa?

Two parts to that…

1) They’re two different skills. I can tell that a computer won’t boot, and I may even be able to diagnose it as a particular blown chip, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I can pull out the board and solder in a new one. In some ways, critiquing a story is easier than writing: I can read it and keep tabs on whether I’m liking it or not. If not, I can, hopefully make some sort of guess what isn’t working for me. Too much boring text? Stilted dialog? Cardboard character? Critiquing is, at the heart of it, about explaining how you felt as you read that piece. All that requires is paying attention to your feelings as you read. But that doesn’t necessarily mean one knows how to fix it, and not break something else. (Add more detail about the character, but if not done well, may create stretches of boring text.) On the flip side, some authors may write well, but have little idea how they do it; or know how to fix what isn’t working. Hopefully as you critique a lot of other people’s work, you gain a sense of what works and what doesn’t, so you can avoid the pitfalls as you write your own stories. Both take practice, and I think both improve the other. Critiquing is often easier to get “right” to start with.

2) The Blind Spot. No matter how good you are at writing and/or critiquing, you can’t see your own work from an outsider’s point of view. You can’t have that “first time” experience, since that was when you put down the words in the first draft. You also know too much about the parts you didn’t write, which someone else won’t know. You know that the your human protagonist’s unnatural love of carrots is because he was raised by gladiatorial jester rabbits (which you never mention in the text); but the fresh eyes of a reader who only sees the text can ask the question, What the heck is it with the carrots?


Isn’t it dangerous to post a story for multitudes of strangers to see? What’s to stop someone from plagiarizing a story? And although manuscripts are copyrighted, ideas are not, so what’s to stop someone from stealing my premise?

Actual plagiarism is extremely rare (I can’t think of any actual cases in Critters in all the years and tens of thousands of manuscripts). I suppose it’s because (1) people know they shouldn’t do that; (2) the penalties are stiff if you do and you get caught; (3) the story in Critters is the unfinished product,why should someone want to steal a half-baked cake out of the oven?

As for ideas, right, they aren’t copyrighted. However, they’re not what make a story uniquely yours. Ideas are a dime a dozen. Most ideas have already been done over and over. (A spunky group of rebels fights against an entrenched empire… Is that Star Wars, the American Revolution, Asimov’s Foundation, Hunger Games, V for Vendetta, or… or… or…?) Even if someone has a truly unique idea, (1) without good writing it won’t matter, and (2) several authors could run with the same idea and make completely different stories.

So, nawww, nothing to worry about.


Is one week really enough time to read, evaluate, and comment on a story? What if I critique regularly for several members and 2 or 3 post a story at the same time?

Interesting question! Nobody has ever actually asked for more time to critique a short story. (Novels have their own slower-paced program.) I think it’s enough in that the story itself rarely takes more than a few minutes to read, and then it’s a matter of writing up what you thought about it. I’d say for a typical story that takes me maybe an hour tops, and I don’t think I’m particularly fast at it. I may let the story percolate in my brain a few days, but there seems to be time by the seventh day to get the thoughts written down. The emphasis is really on how you felt about the story; what parts worked and what didn’t; not so much about line by line edits. It’s then a matter of relating your feelings.

As for regular authors, I don’t know if I would encourage that. To my mind, it’s more helpful to both the author and critiquer’s own writing to critique a wide variety, not a “stable” of authors.


How many critiques might a story receive on Critters?

Historically the average has been 15. That varies quite a bit based on a bunch of factors (length of your story, for example; and middle chapters of novels have a hard time, which is why there’s a program to critique entire novels).


What kind of publication success rate do Critters members have?

It’s hard to measure precisely, but I once did a study and it came out that members of Critters were ten times more likely to make professional sales than non-Critters. Of course, it could simply be that the more motivated writers have joined! I can’t attribute cause and effect.


Have you had a lot of pro writers participate? Any Hugo, Nebula, or Campbell winners/nominees? Any Writers of the Future winners? Any members who participated in the Clarion or Odyssey workshops? A lot of SFWA members?

Lots and lots… though I really don’t keep a database of them. Pro authors tend to be busier, but many like to “pay it forward” by helping new authors. I’ve noted in many years that around a third of nominees for the Hugo or Nebula awards are Critterfolk. Probably our most decorated author is Ken Liu, who’s won a bunch of Hugos and Nebulas.


You’ve proposed that keeping an ebook online indefinitely can eventually bring in as much sales or more as putting a paper version in the bookstore because the paper version is pulled in a few months. But suppose ebook formatting evolves and the old formatting is no longer compatible with the new readers or new software?

There is already software that can convert between formats. Calibre is one example. Formats like EPUB are particularly easy to convert in the future, since they are basically a “.zip” file with HTML files inside, which is human readable text that software can easily operate on. Very easy to convert to some other format. Even if there were some difficult file format, since the text has to be visible to the human eye to read it, there will always be a way to convert it, even if it’s taking photos of the words and converting back to text (like ReAnimus Press does for out of print books). It’s highly unlikely anybody buying an ebook today will be unable to read it in the future.


Selling ebooks requires using PayPal or a credit card. Doesn’t the author have to pay a fee for these payment services? If a customer buys only one of your books, you still have to pay that fee. If 10 people, 100 people, 1000 people buy only one book each from you, you’ve paid that fee many times. How is that going to work out for you as a business model considering one of the chief advantages of ebooks is reduced price?

First off, the lions share of ebook sales today are through Amazon. They take their cut (about 30%), and that’s that. That includes the credit card fees. Many authors seem to be okay with that 30% figure. Amazon provides the infrastructure (including the payment processing as well as the web site to display and host the books), they provide a reasonably priced ereader device, they provide a sort of central market square where a lot of people congregate,which includes providing a sense of trust, which shouldn’t be overlooked for it’s value,and they provide marketing (“If you liked that perhaps you’ll like this”).

But even for direct sales the processing fees aren’t particularly painful. Paypal for example is around 3% plus 30 cents, or, with their “micropayments” account, 5% plus 5 cents. Not trivial, but for a $5.99 ebook, 35 cents to Paypal leaves $5.64 to the author. That’s a lot more per sale than you’d earn if you published through Random House.

I also imagine, as time goes on, we’ll have even better forms of payment. There are a number of concepts and startups out there to make payments even easier and cheaper. While I think bitcoins are too volatile as an investment vehicle and prone to security issues, they do have one potentially interesting use: An “instant” way to send money, even between different currencies. That is, if I wanted to send $10 to someone in Upper Nowheria, where they use Quatloos as currency, I could use a service where I send in $10, the service converts it to bitcoins at the current exchange rate of that moment, sends the bitcoins to the person in Upper Nowheria, converts to Quatloos, all within a microscopic fraction of a second, and with a very low exchange fee (a fraction of a percent, depending on bitcoin exchange fees). Currency exchanges often cost 5-10%, so this could cut that way down. Or some other virtual currency or system could serve the same function. Someone out of the US made a large donation to Nyx recently using Transferwise.com, which, including foreign currency exchange fees, was at 0.5% in total fees. The tendency is toward zero exchange and transmission cost.


Don’t ebooks make piracy easier?

Yes, but. First, you’d have to determine what percent of pirated copies would have actually resulted in a sale if piracy were impossible. I did a survey on that once, and it came out that most people simply wouldn’t have paid. There were very few truly lost sales. Most pirates just wouldn’t have paid, for a variety of reasons. (They may not have the money, they may not have lived in a country where they even could have easily paid if they wanted to, they may not have felt the book was really worth X dollars, etc.)

Second, you have to figure out if there’s any marketing value. I view them much like used books. Authors make no money from used book sales or books passed along to friends, etc., but readers who receive the free/low-cost used book may turn into fans who buy the author’s other books.

Third, copy protection (DRM , Digital Rights Management) software is almost always intrusive and annoying. In order to prevent a few pirated copies, it greatly limits and greatly annoys legal users. DRM can also get outdated, rendering the protected thing inaccessible. (Has happened to me.) As a legitimate user, I hate copy protection.
Many publishers have decided it’s best for their bottom lines to abandon copy protection.


You’ve been a strong advocate of ebooks. You’ve gone so far as to predict the extinction of publishers. Can ebook self-publishing replace the massive editorial and marketing apparatus at the disposal of publishers?

I think ebooks are wonderful. I’ve been an ebook reading person since the early 2000s, when I started reading on the old Blackberry phone I had. I would write to the authors of books I wanted to read to request copies of their manuscript (it helped that they were fellow SFWA members and often friends). I also think we’ve just scratched the surface of digital reading devices. (For example, if there were an inexpensive device that looked and felt just like a book, except every page was digital,digital ink on real paper, or digital paper,you would hold in your hand the same thing as a paper book, except it would be an e-reader. At that point, you have all the “features” of a print book, plus all the benefits of digital. We may phase out paper sooner than that, but it represents a sort of upper bound on when we’ll no longer read paper where the words on the page can’t change.)

So publishers have a problem. If they don’t remain relevant, and bring something unique to the table, they will fade away just like blacksmiths and buggy whip makers.

Anyone can now do (or hire someone to do) the traditional tasks that publishers have done to put together a book (editing, cover art, layout, etc.),and do them in such a way that the author earns a lot more of the proceeds from the sales.

I think one key role left for the large publishers is marketing. Unfortunately, publishers don’t do a lot of that for most books. To some extent, getting paper copies of a book placed on tens of thousands of bookstore shelves counts as marketing. (Readers can’t buy what they never see.) Having the economies of scale to print thousands of copies of a book inexpensively is still one of the competitive advantages that big publishers have. (Which dwindles the more people read digitally.) But if that’s substantially all the publisher does in marketing a particular book that an author can’t do themselves, then it becomes questionable if that’s worth the huge cut of the profits that they take. It’s not unreasonable to say a self-published author could sell 5% as many copies of a book and make the same money.

The question is whether the self-published author can sell that number of copies. The average self-published book sells around 100 copies over all. That’s not much. However, the flip side is that same book may simply never sell to any publisher at all, so that’s 100 compared to 0.

If an author is incredibly good at marketing, and is able to do or pay for the production work, they can probably make more money self-publishing. If not, using a publisher may make more sense.

Another factor in the publishers favor is that they put up the money for the production/distribution costs, taking on the financial risk they might lose money; and they pay the author an advance up front. Those may be more important to a given author than overall earnings.

However, the other big hiccup is in the duration: Large publishers may take the rights for the duration of copyright,that’s the life of the author plus 70 years(!). During which a publisher may not do much marketing after the initial push. Not to mention, a lot can change in that length of time. Even a slow trickle of sales could add up. (Let me emphasize that: If an author is, say, 30, and lives to be 90, the publisher will collect the lion’s share of the royalties for 130 years.)

Full disclosure: In addition to my Critters hat, I’m a publisher; I run ReAnimus Press. We specialize in digitizing out of print books for authors, though we also publish some new releases. We do our best in marketing, and we typically work with authors who for whatever reason don’t want to do the production work themselves. (That said, we pay the highest royalty rates of any publisher I’m aware of. We try to do right by authors.)

Bottom line, an author has to carefully evaluate what a publisher brings to the table, today and for possibly a hundred or more years into the future. It’s a hard decision to make.


As a former vice president and one time presidential candidate, do you agree with Mike Resnick’s assessment of SFWA?

“The broader the membership, the less clout is has. When I joined SFWA more than 40 years ago, we were a lean fighting machine, boycotting publishers and making it stick, publicizing bad contracts and bad agents, auditing publishers and actually winning hundreds of thousands of dollars in unreported royalties for our members. But we were all full-time writers. Then we stopped insisting on requalification every 3 years, and our membership went from maybe 150 real writers to 1,500, of which more than 1,300 are not full-time writers and do not have the same professional interests as the full-timers. As a result, we are now pretty much powerless to act as an organization whose first duty is to protect its membership, because our membership no longer consists of people who write for a living. We have not conducted an audit in 30 years; we have not publicly evaluated a contract in 25 years; we have not publicly evaluated agents in 25 years; we do not report the average wait time , above and beyond what is contracted for , for a publisher to pay the signature advance, the delivery payment, or to issue the royalty statement; and we have totally disbanded our piracy committee. All this is a direct result of becoming a less professional organization with every passing year and more of a social club, so you’ll forgive me if I think that lowering the standard even more will be anything but deleterious.”

So: Yes, I agree with what Mike says about SFWA having become less effective. I mostly disagree that the cause of this drop in effectiveness has anything to do with who the members are. I think the lack of effectiveness stems mostly from a lack of focus on the part of the leadership. Or a focus on things that don’t necessarily accomplish anything: Such as focusing ad nauseum on rewriting the bylaws and shuffling the furniture around. (The presidents have generally been authors who make a living from their writing, and they’re the ones who guide the ship, so I don’t really think the fault is lack of full-time writers making the decisions.) I think SFWA could easily do all those things it did in the past to help writers,and with 1500 members get more respect from, say, Congress, than if it had 150 members. Not to mention the much larger budget and surpluses in the bank. I’m constantly optimistic that at any moment SFWA could re-awaken as a real force for writers. There are tons of things it could do to help writers, if the leadership wanted to steer that direction.


How did you become the editor of Preditors and Editors and what can we expect with you at the helm?

Preditors and Editors fell into my lap mainly because I had worked with P&E’s founder, Dave Kuzminski, since the late 90’s running P&E’s annual Readers Poll. So as time rolled around to start the poll, I emailed Dave to discuss various things. And heard nothing. I kept trying, eventually getting in contact with his wife and learning that Dave had died very suddenly. They couldn’t even access the site, nor had any idea how to do his P&E magic (not being authors), they turned it over to me. My hope is to keep running P&E the way Dave did, helping authors avoid scams, though he left mighty big shoes to fill. We have added a general guide to avoiding scams that encapsulates advice about a lot of what we see.


You started ReAnimus Press. Why? What do you publish, and how’s it going?

ReAnimus is going great. We have about 200 titles released or in the pipeline, almost all from well known and award-winning authors. We have a couple dozen from Ben Bova (including his rare first novel, paper copies of which were going for $500 apiece), over 20 from Norman Spinrad, everything by SFWA founder and Grand Master Damon Knight, and a lot more. We just got the rights to do the ebook of edition of DEAR AMERICA: LETTERS HOME FROM VIETNAM, which is a bestselling book and basis for the Emmy award-winning documentary (letters read by Robert DeNiro, Robert Downey Jr., Robin Williams…). So it’s been an amazing ride so far.

I started ReAnimus because I had these huge shelves full of books, most now out of print, and I wished they were all still available for readers, either as ebooks or in print. I had the technical background to do something about it and some author friends asked me for help getting their backlist back out there… so it all just came together. We now have a pretty sophisticated artificial intelligence system to fix the huge number of errors that result from scanning.

While we mostly only publish established authors (where, to be honest, the risk of losing money is a lot less), we also offer the digitizing and layout services for folks who want to do their own thing.

It’s a real blast, and I’m honored that we’ve been able to bring some great books back into readers’ hands.


How did you acquire the celebrated Advent Publishers and what can we expect with you at the helm?

Advent Publishers is another story of reanimating books that might otherwise be lost. Because ReAnimus Press specializes in bringing out of print books back to life, one of our authors put me in touch with the publisher of Advent. They had a bunch of books still in print, but no digital files to make ebook editions. We got to talking, and it became evident that the best solution was just for ReAnimus to acquire Advent.

We’re thrilled, since Advent is a Hugo Award winning publisher that’s been around since the 1950s, having published the biggest names in SF (Heinlein, Blish, E.E. “Doc” Smith, et al.). Our plans are to create new ebook and print editions of their catalog, help sell the existing warehouse full of print titles, and, to be sure, acquire new titles that fit in with Advent’s illustrious family.


How’s your own writing going? Anything new?

Yes, I recently finished a novel that I’m shopping around, Termination of Species. The biggest problem I have,assuming some major publisher actually wanted it,is the same dilemma as I outlined above: Which way would I be happier with, locking up my rights for a loooong time with a major publisher who doesn’t pay a very high royalty rate, or the potential but much higher risk of self-publishing it? I’m really gridlocked on that! I’m working on my third novel, and making good progress.


What other projects are you involved in to facilitate activity within the science fiction community, what is their purpose, how do they function, and where do we access them.

Well, I do try to sleep sometimes. But I toss out various tools for writers, blog about stuff of interest to readers and writers, and fill in cracks of time with other sorts of things that are listed at www.aburt.com.

Within ReAnimus Press, we’re developing and patenting a way to easily sell ebooks through bookstores, called “snap books”,the name coming from the incarnation where there’s a physical, book-like-object sitting on a bookstore shelf, with the book’s cover art and description on it, and the reader snaps a picture of the QR code to buy, download the book, and put the display box back on the shelf for the next person. Has a huge number of applications.

It came into being because I’ve long wanted to find a way for physical bookstores to sell ebooks. I love the experience of browsing in a bookstore. But they’re out of a lot of titles, they don’t have ebooks on the shelf, etc. So the idea hit me how to solve that, and we’re rolling it out. So far people love the idea. (Gratuitous plug: If anyone reading this works in a bookstore, or knows people who do, or, for that matter, any place that could sell physical things, like a coffee shop, convention dealers room, etc.,drop me a line!)

All in all, I’m having a blast! Thanks for choosing me for an interview!


Carl_eagle Carl 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.

Diabolical Plots To Become Professional Fiction Market

written by David Steffen
Diabolical Plots has been continuously providing nonfiction content related to speculative fiction since I launched it in 2008. Reviews, interviews, “Best of” lists, relating to magazines, books, TV shows, games. It was founded by me in 2008 on a very simple Blogspot page. Anthony and I joined forces in 2009 and, among other things, moved to the much nicer site that is still used today, commissioning the iconic mad scientist artwork by the wildly talented Joey Jordan.
In January 2013, Diabolical Plots launched the fiction writers’ submission-tracking and market-finding tool, The Submission Grinder.
This post is to announce the news that Diabolical Plots will trying something entirely new, expanding to become a professional-paying publisher of original speculative fiction! We’re not open for submissions quite yet, but we wanted to share the exciting news and let you prepare your very best short stories that are 2000 words or less for submission. For full guidelines see <LINK TO GUIDELINES>.
And Diabolical Plots the fiction market now has a market listing on the Grinder <LINK TO GRINDER LISTING>. We’ve put in requests to Ralan for the same.
This is all a grand experiment to see what kind of interest we get from writers and from readers. At this point we’re aiming for a single original story of 2000 words or less once a month for a year. What happens after that depends largely on how much interest. We have set up a Patreon page <LINK TO PATREON PAGE> with some goals for breaking even and goals for expanding our offering to more stories. If we get enough support through Patreon or through PayPal (and support of the Grinder all goes into the same place so Grinder donors, thank you as well) and iwe enjoy doing this fiction thing, then we’ll keep on going after the year is up. If not, we will surely have learned from the experience , and we will have helped the twelve authors find a venue for their work.
So, thanks for all the support over the years, everyone. We hope you’re as excited about this grand experiment as we are.

Interview: Bud Webster

JoB cover 1When an author stops breathing, the stories stop coming, but the presses keep rolling. Ah, but do the checks keeping coming? Enter: Bud Webster of the SFWA’s Estate Project.


CARL SLAUGHTER: Why does the SFWA operate an estate project? How does liaisoning for deceased authors help SFWA members?

BUD WEBSTER: Well, with the advent of e-publishing both online and through Kindle/Nook readers, more and more of the classic sf/fantasy stories and novels are in demand. The Estates Project was created primarily to enable both paper and electronic publishers to approach heirs and/or agents in order to seek permission, sign contracts and make royalty payments. How does that help current members? Well, the glib answer is that eventually they’ll ALL be estates, but aside from that it adds to the list of services SFWA as an organization offers. The more we do to protect authors’ rights, whether those authors are above or below the ground, the better off our members are. Of course, the Project extends to non-members as well, as it should; SFWA advocates for ALL sf/fantasy writers, not just the ones who pay dues every year.


CARL: How does the estate project help publishers, editors, agents, and anthologists?

BUD: Publishers come to us looking for contacts with an estate. In many cases, the estate is handled not by an agent but by a family member or other heir. Using the database (over 500 names at this point), we hook the two sides up so they can do business. Some are looking to reprint stories, others want to publish novels. In a few cases, a publisher would like to make a writer’s entire body of work available, and this makes it possible for them to do so legitimately and legally, with benefit to them, the heirs and the readers. Agents are more willing to represent estates if they know that there is a resource for editors and anthologists to use to find them.


CARL: What constitutes due diligence when determining whether a story is public domain?

BUD: A good question, but one that doesn’t have a simple answer. You can’t just Google a name, not find anything on the first screen, and assume that the estate is dead. Nor can you find one source offering the work for free and claiming it’s PD and not look further. That ain’t no way diligence, due or otherwise. For me, due diligence is looking for as long as it takes to find an answer one way or another. If that means asking a few people, fine. If it means checking the Copyright Office website for specific renewal notices, searching for the possibility that the magazine that originally published a story may not have registered copyright then looking further to see if the author did at a later time, then that’s equally fine. I will point out here, though, that to my direct knowledge the information at the CO website is not always accurate; in one specific case, an e-publisher checked the status of a novel there, found no notice of renewal, and issued the book. When the author – still alive and writing, I’ll point out – found out about it, he was able to show the publisher his paperwork proving that the rights HAD been renewed. To the publisher’s credit, they immediately issued a check in the amount the writer asked for. So, due diligence? It’s whatever it takes. Now I know that’s not terribly responsive, and it’s certainly NOT a legal definition by any means, but it’s what I do.

CARL: How does the current copyright law place authors and estates at a disadvantage?

BUD: Hard for me to say, as I’m not a lawyer. I consider myself a copyright conservative – I think publishers should always err on the side of the estate – but I do consider the current term of copyright (life of the author plus 70 years) to be unreasonable. It is the law, however, and that’s what we have to deal with, not what we think it should be. I don’t think it places either authors or estates at a disadvantage, though. Again, I’m not a lawyer. The most important thing that the law does, in my distinctly un-humble opinion, is to give the authors or their estates control over what is done with their work. This is more vital than you may think, as there are cases in which copyright has been blatantly violated. A couple of years ago, for example, a photo of two gay men kissing was used, without their or the photographer’s knowledge or permission, in a campaign against a Colorado politician who had advocated gay marriage. The Southern Poverty Law Center brought suit, but it was a split decision. To me, it was clear-cut – no permission, no rights. Until and unless I declare work of mine to be PD, I am the ONLY one who gets to say where, when or if that work is reprinted either in paper or phosphors. Or even mind-control rays from Venus.


CARL: Do you provide legal consultation on the copyright status, get involved in dispute resolution between estates and publishers, get involved in the prosecution of copyright violation, or post notice of violations?

BUD: Indirectly, yes, but as I said above, no lawyer be I. I can alert an estate to possible piracy (and do), suggest that they talk to a lawyer and perhaps aim them at one of the legal eagles in SFWA, and I do post URLs of pirate sites for other writers to use to look for possible pirate editions of their own work, but I cannot and do not act as a legal advisor. SFWA itself, in the forms of the Grievance Committee and Writers, Beware does act for the membership and has been very successful in doing so.

CARL: What about relatives who don’t want their names listed on the SFWA website?

BUD: We don’t list the names of ANY private individuals on the website unless they specifically ask to be listed. That way lies potential madness. Estates handled by family or other heirs are listed on the Estates Project page with a link to my official e-mail address. When I get a query, I either forward it to the family or blind-copy them when I reply to the inquirer. That way they can respond directly in their own time.


CARL: The publisher’s office, the agent’s office, the copyright office, the Internet, how hard can it be to get information about an estate?

BUD: Ah, there’s the rub. The problem isn’t finding information, it’s finding valid, accurate and current information. That’s tougher than you might think. You have to look deep, find more than one source, and verify verify verify. Anything less isn’t due diligence.


CARL: The estate liaison office lists contact information for more than 500 authors and is seeking contact information for an addition 65 authors. Finding and updating information for so many authors must require a huge staff.

BUD: Don’t I wish? Nope, it’s just me right now, and my faithful team of mutants, avengers and super friends. Seriously, I can put out a question to several hundred other people on the listserves I’m on, add to that the occasional notice in LOCUS and other info and news-oriented periodicals in the field and eventually find an answer – most of the time. Those estates I haven’t been able to find in the seven years or so I’ve been doing this are, very likely, orphaned; until I know for certain, though, they remain unknowns.


CARL: These names must be very familiar to you because you’ve written extensively on the history of science fiction. Tell us a little about that. Or better still, tell us a lot about that.

BUD: Funny you should ask….One of the reasons I was tapped for this task is my deep interest in and knowledge of classic sf and fantasy writers. It’s my geek, if you will. I started out writing in my own fanzine, Log of the Starship Aniara (later just Aniara), then gradually began writing for other markets beginning with a sercon (read: serious content) ‘zine called bare*bones in 2001, then moving on to paying markets like David Hartwell’s New York Review of Science Fiction and Science Fiction Chronicle a few years later. Those were all articles on sf and fantasy anthologies, an itinerant column I called “Anthopology 101.” In 2008, William Sanders and a few others of us started an onliner called Helix SF, and that’s where I began the “Past Masters” series. We did Helix for ten issues, then stopped; the column continued in Jim Baen’s Universe and when that died, went to Eric Flint’s Grantville Gazette. Both columns have been collected and are available in print from Merry Blacksmith Press. In addition, the Anthopology 101 collection is available in e-book format from ReAnimus Press.

There ain’t a lot of money in this (although I certainly won’t object if anyone reading this, like, buys a copy or two), but there has been an enormous amount of satisfaction and gratification over the past 13 or so years, not to mention the extreme pleasure of interviewing people like Jack Williamson, Phil Klass (william Tenn), Robert Silverberg, Harlan Ellison and Barry Malzberg. The passion I feel when I delve into our shared history, the sheer wonder I experience in digging into Yesterday’s stories of Tomorrow is overwhelming; like a solar flare straight from the heart of the Sun, it brightens my life and fires my intellect. I like to think that I have been able to impart some of that to my readers; and in my work with the SFWA Estates Project, I hope to repay those old masters for the Wonder they have given me over the decades.


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.

Interview: Ann Leckie

LeckiePhoto-160x240Ann Leckie‘s Ancillary Justice swept the awards. (See the list below.) The sequel, Ancillary Sword, is due in October 2014. The third novel in the trilogy will be titled Ancillary Mercy. Lecke is a Clarion West graduate, former VP of SFWA, founder of GigaNotoSaurus, and former slush editor for Podcastle. Her short fiction has appeared in Realms of Fantasy, Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Subterranean Magazine.


ANN LECKIE: I learned a *lot* at Clarion West. It would have been difficult not to. But I think there were two things that made the biggest difference.

One was something that, when I say it, maybe sounds kind of trivial. But it was so important. Which was, that before I went, I knew that I wanted to write, and I had been writing–of course, you have to send a sample of your fiction with your application. And I had written two novels (now trunked, fortunately) and several short stories, and had been submitting those short stories. But I was hesitant to say, “I’m a writer.” I would, when asked, kind of hedge. “I’m trying to write.”

After six weeks of being with people who took my work seriously, who all assumed that of *course* I was a writer, I went home feeling like I could take my own work seriously now. Not that I was holding back, or not taking it seriously before. But the “gosh should I really be doing this, am I wasting my time, what if I’m not really a writer?” part of my internal critic was gone, which psychologically freed me up to push harder and be more confident in my work. This might not be a big deal for some folks, but it was really important to me.

The second thing is maybe also a bit odd. So, our week six instructor was Michael Swanwick. Who is awesome. I mean, he read every single story each of us had applied with and also every single story we’d turned in during the entire workshop, and gave us critiques on every one of them. This is an amazing commitment, an incredible gift to us. And he’s Michael freaking Swanwick, right? So when he critiqued the story I’d turned in for week six, he gave me all kinds of fabulous advice, much of it very specific, and I noted it all down and was all set to revise the story according to his advice. Because, seriously, it was, no question, excellent advice. How could it not be?

But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed to me that it was excellent advice for an entirely different story. Not the story I’d written, but the story he’d perceived in the shambles that was my first draft. And I said to myself, “Self, you can’t actually take any of that advice. Instead, you need to rewrite the story in such a way that Michael Swanwick would not have misread it.”

That story turned out to be my first genre sale, my first pro sale, and my first appearance in a Years Best anthology. And the vitally important lesson Michael Swanwick taught me was that sometimes you ought to ignore even the very best advice. Even if it comes from Michael Swanwick. Maybe that sounds trivial, too. But anyone who’s been faced with several, possibly contradictory critiques of a story will probably know how incredibly useful that knowledge is.



ANN LECKIE: Oh, merciful Unconquered Sun, yes. Pretty much the entire time I was working on it, plus the entire time I was querying agents. I’ve come to think of that as the normal emotional background of writing, actually.



ANN LECKIE: With some difficulty. At first, I would write in the few hours a day that my toddler napped, while my older child was at school. When he stopped napping, I signed him up for morning nursery school and wrote then. Once both kids were in school full time it got easier, though I’d made my life a bit more complicated by taking a job as a lunch lady. I wasn’t able to finish Ancillary Justice, though, until I quit that job and had school hours to myself. It would have been a zillion times harder if I’d had a full-time day job to handle. I’ve been really, really lucky.



ANN LECKIE: I honestly don’t. Well, I did sit down to write a kind of story that I thought I’d enjoy reading. I threw in things that appealed to me–heck, I crowbarred them in. I was working the whole time with the assumption that it would never sell so I might as well please myself. I guess there are other people out there who like the same kinds of things I do!



ANN LECKIE: Pretty much, yes! Though I’d like to do more short fiction some time.



ANN LECKIE: I started GigaNotoSaurus because I’d inherited a bit of money, and I felt that there weren’t enough places publishing longer fiction. I’ve been really pleased with how it’s turned out: in its first year, two stories I published were nominated for Nebulas, and another one the next year. And I published some amazing work by amazing writers, like Zen Cho’s “House of Aunts” or Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s “Woman of the Sun, Woman of the Moon.” Or Yoon Ha Lee’s “The Winged City.” Or…I could go on.

Podcastle–when Rachel Swirsky became editor of Podcastle (that was before PC had even started running) she asked me if I’d like to read slush for her. And I said yes, because it seemed like it would be fun. And it was! I also did some episode intros, and narrated some stories, which was also great fun. When Rachel was ready to step down, she asked me if I was interested in editing, but I was already setting up GNS, and felt two editing gigs would be too much. So I stayed on slushing for Anna and Dave when they took over.

I enjoyed it very much, but I’ve stepped down as slusher there, and turned over my GNS editing duties to Rashida J Smith, because noveling right now is taking up a lot of brain space.



ANN LECKIE: There’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes at a volunteer organization. Orgs like SFWA continue to exist and function because of the hard work of folks who actually have lots of other things to attend to, and they spend their free time doing that hard work. And it’s easy for members to think of the Board (or whatever the org equivalent is) as “them” to our “us” but really “they” are us to begin with. I’ve come to be a bit more patient with how slow some organizational decisions are, and how easy it is to think a particular issue or procedure is just a matter of immediately doing one particular thing, when really it’s more difficult and complicated than that, for reasons that aren’t necessarily visible to me.



ANN LECKIE: Yes! Don’t give up. Be willing to take criticism, be willing to reconsider what you’re doing, but once you’ve decided on what you’re doing, do that. Don’t worry about what someone told you editors want or don’t want, don’t worry about whether your work is marketable, don’t worry about lists of “rules” that tell you not to use second person or never to use adverbs or whatever. Just do it, and do it as awesomely as you can at that particular time in your life, and trust the universe for the rest. And when it’s done, send it out and try to forget about it, and start working on the next thing. And speaking as a former slusher–when you submit, always read and follow the guidelines!


Ancillary Justice won the following awards:

2014 Hugo Award for Best Novel
Golden Tentacle for best debut novel of 2013.
Arthur C. Clarke Award for best science fiction novel of the year.
British Science Fiction Association BSFA Award for Best Novel of 2013.
Nebula Award for Best Novel.
Locus Award for Best First Novel.

The novel was also nominated for the following awards:

Shortlisted for the Philip K. Dick Award.
Tiptree Award Honor List for 2013.
Finalist for the 2013 Compton Crook Award.




Carl 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.

On Unqualifying for SFWA

written by David Steffen

Note: It has been pointed out to me that because I have qualified and joined SFWA previously, I don’t need to qualify again regardless of rule changes. As a result, I could technically join again any time I wish. For me personally it’s more the principle of the thing–becoming eligible for SFWA was a long-term milestone as I started writing, and so being able to join by being grandfathered in doesn’t feel like actually meeting that milestone anymore. Also, regardless of whether I can technically join or not and regardless of whether one agrees with my qualms about being grandfathered in, the 10,000 word minimum affects anyone who hadn’t met the previous guidelines for full membership before the deadline and is still a change that I consider very problematic in both its strategic implications of keeping out writers who excel at the shortest form and practical effects of reducing potential membership for no clear reason.

For a lot of science fiction and fantasy writers trying to lay their claim to fame, becoming eligible to be a member of SFWA is a major milestone to mark their progress, and I was no exception. At the time, to get the full Active membership you had to make 3 story sales paid at least five cents per word and which totalled more than a certain dollar amount (I forget what the exact total was, a few hundred dollars I think) and where each individual sale was worth at least $50. I reached that goal and became eligible with the acceptance of “Marley and Cratchit” to Escape Pod, adding to my prior sales of “Turning Back the Clock” to Bull Spec and “The Infinite Onion” to AE. So, I reached that goal and there was much rejoicing (by me at least). I was able to join, and could go to the SFWA suite at Worldcon 2012 which was a great place to be.

This year SFWA changed their criteria, to up the professional rate to six cents per word, and also to add a minimum word count of your qualifying stories to 10,000 words.

I generally approve of the upping of the professional rate–it needs to go up periodically to have some relation to inflation, and I think that’s really overdue. Yes, it makes it more difficult for magazines to meet the criteria, but this list of markets is a large part of why SF/F has generally higher standards than some other kinds of short story markets.

I don’t approve, though, of the 10,000 word limit. Presumably there was a specific reason–but what is that reason? It seems to me that this is a strategy specifically designed to keep flash fiction from counting toward membership. I don’t know if this is another one of those conversations where some older members of the organization think that SFWA membership should be kept only to those who have writing as their only job. Could you do that? Sure. But the organization would be small and much more irrelevant, and would explicitly exclude a whole ton of award winning authors like Ken Liu who have day jobs. Who does that benefit exactly?

So, who does this benefit,changing the rules so that flash fiction is less important? I’m not the only writer whose most sales are flash fiction. Is it because the people prompting the rule change don’t understand the form? I’ll grant you, you can’t have a full complicated plot in a flash story like you can in a longer story, but flash fiction has its own appeal that other kinds of fiction can’t do well. Anecdotally, I’ve heard speculation that this is to keep some well-paying drabble (100 word story) sales from getting you to membership, but if you can sell a drabble for $50 you are my hero and I want to pick your brain. I haven’t seen any public statements about why SFWA’s organizers thought this was a worthwhile change.

As a result of this change, I no longer qualify for SFWA membership. I have 4 individual sales, but they only add up to 9180 words. So I’d need to make at least one sale of 920 words which makes at least $50. This frustrates me, for me and other flash writers like me to be excluded for no explained reason when we meet the other criteria.

I will note as well that the rules on the SFWA website say “Three paid sales of different works of fiction (such as three separate short stories) totaling a minimum of 10,000 words to Qualifying Professional Markets”. Note that it says “three” not “three or more. Which, if that’s what was actually meant, would limit flash sales even more, because getting 10 professional 1000-word story sales wouldn’t count to get the 10,000 if you can only pick 3 of them to count. I’ve been told by members of SFWA that the actual bylaws say “three or more”, which is a relief because then I’d have even further to go–then I would only be able to count 3 of those sales to count 8200 words and I’ve just have to sell longer stories. One story of 2800 words or 2 stories that total 4100 words between them. The trouble with the website being wrong is that it’s the source that newbie writers are going to use to determine whether they should apply or not–so even though the bylaws are the source, this is the public side of it. Hopefully they’ll get the website updated soon.

And I hope that they repeal the 10,000 word minimum. At the very least, I’d like to hear why they think flash fiction isn’t valuable to the SF community, or what other strategy they might have behind this change–I don’t think such a thing would make me happy, exactly, but then we could have a discussion about the topic at the core of this rather than just complaining about the symptom.

In the meantime, I guess there’s nothing to do for it but to consider “Requalifying for SFWA” as a new milestone to reach. Onward and upward!

SFWA: To Join Or Not To Join

written by David Steffen

NOTE: Coincidentally, there is a row going on right now about SFWA and things that Mike Resnick and Barry Maltzberg have said in their editorials in the SFWA Bulletin publication. I’m not here to comment on that argument one way or the other, and I haven’t taken great pains to follow it, but I have seen uncivil responses on both sides. I wrote this article several months ago and have only altered it to add this note at the beginning. I scheduled it to coincide with my SFWA membership renewal month, but that just happened to be about the time of this argument. If you want to know more about that argument, Google for it and I’m sure you’ll find plenty to chew on. But that’s not what I’m commenting on here.

Since I started writing SF, one of the long-term milestones I’d set for myself was to become eligible to join SFWA. SFWA keeps a list of markets that meet their criteria for professional markets, including pay rate, circulation level, regularity of publication, longevity, and variety of authors published. To become a SFWA member with short stories you have to sell three stories to qualifying markets.

In mid-2012, five years after I wrote my first word of fiction, I finally reached that goal, securing a sale to Escape Pod to add to my prior sales to Bull Spec and AE. I decided to go ahead and pay the $80 membership dues and find out what membership was all about.

Now my membership renewal is due this month, and the rates have gone up to $90. I am a pragmatic person and I don’t intend to pay that kind of money without considering the cost-benefit tradeoff. So, I’m trying to decide if it’s worth the money to renew my membership or whether I should just let it lapse. So I’m going to list out what I’ve seen as the benefits, to decide whether or not those are worth $90 to sign up again.

Note: This list is based only on my own experience of what I found to be potential benefits to being a member of the organization. Michael A Burstein mentions in the comments, for example, a print directory and the SFWA Handbook, neither of which I recall having seen.


1. Support of SFWA
Before I get any further, let me make it clear that I’m not questioning that SFWA does work that is of value. They do a lot of great things, acting as a writers’ advocate to point out when a publisher is offering questionable contracts, keeps a list of professional markets that have to meet certain criteria, provide lists of information for beginning writers to get their start and many other things. They run the Nebulas, which are one of the two big awards of the SF community.

To do this, they need money. I understand that. I think it’s worthwhile to give them some money for the things that they do. Some smaller donation per year? Definitely. $90? Well that seems pretty steep to me. Although I’ve made more than that in writing income each of the last few years, I’m not guaranteed to make that, and it would be very frustrating to me if I spent more on writing organizations than I made in writing.


2. Nebula Voting
The Nebula awards are one of the two big awards in the SF community (the other being the Hugos). The Nebulas are voted by active members of SFWA, which means you need to make qualifying sales and pay that membership fee.

There’s some satisfaction to knowing that you’ve contributed toward the award that fandom watches, but I personally have little enough influence over the result and am often surprised at the stories that actually get nominated (though not always) that it’s not something worth paying anything for.


3. Nebula Award Packet
Related to the last one is something new provided in recent years–the Nebula Packet. It’s still in kind of an experimental state, but every Active SFWA member can download all nominated works as part of the Nebula packet. They provide it so that voters can be more informed about the works that they’re voting for, but you could see the membership fee as paying for a collection of published works, including half a dozen novels and as many young adult novels.

This is certainly something of value, and it can help keep a pulse on the Nebula community, seeing what kind of stories they nominate. It’s certainly worth something, but not the full membership by itself by any means. Especially since the Hugo awards provide a similar packet for their nominees, that award is more interesting to me, there tends to be overlap between the awards, and the Hugo membership costs less money.


4. Forum
SFWA has a members only forum. Various levels of SFWA membership have access, including associate members who are not writers but who have other involvement in the community like editors. There are several benefits to the forums.

a. Interacting with industry professionals
There are plenty of recognizable names about the SFWA forums, such as Jerry Pournelle and editor Gordon Van Gelder. If you want a place to interact with them, this isn’t a bad place to do it.

But I’ve been spoiled by Codex forum, which costs nothing, has interesting and active conversations, and has both rising stars and some very recognizable names. A lot of the big names that would be on the SFWA forum are already reachable in some other online presence, Codex or Facebook or Livejournal or elsewhere. And, well, the SFWA forum is not particularly well moderated–an argument can escalate into something very unpleasant and not much is done about it. If you come across one of those conversations it makes for a very unpleasant experience. So while these conversations are of some value, there are perhaps better and free places to get similar things.

Note: Cat Rambo pointed out in the comments below that there is a new moderation team in place led by Cat

b. venue for sharing your published stories for award consideration
There is a section of the forum specifically for sharing your stories with other members for them to consider for Nebula nominations. In theory this is a handy way to spread the word about your stories.

I say “in theory”, but since others only read what they feel like, work by a relative no-name like me is probably not going to be read by most people. Again Codex has spoiled me, because they have something similar on that forum, and when I participated in that on Codex I got feedback from many people who actually did read the story as a result. I expect this has to do with establishing rapport with the Codex people because I’ve been in closer contact with them.

c. free fiction from industry professionals
In the same forum where you can share your award-eligible work, of course others are sharing theirs. The work posted there varies from various levels of experience, but there is plenty of good work to be read there and from more renowned sources. For instance, Gordon Van Gelder seems to post most F&SF stories there, so if you like that magazine enough you might consider the SFWA fee more reasonable as providing something like a F&SF subscription.

This would be a perk if I had more time than I knew what to do with. But I already have way more fiction to read than time to read it, so adding more fiction posted by its writers isn’t a huge perk.

d. Nebula suggested reading list
This is definitely a neat feature, a list of stories sorted by the number of recommendations given for it. Unlike the self-posting of stories, the result is more meaningful (authors are not allowed to recommend their own stories). This is very neat because you can get an early pulse of what people like before the award results are out. If you care about such things it can guide your reading or just give you a list of well-liked fiction.

This is a neat feature, but essentially only because it gives you a peek at what the Nebula results might be before the Nebula nominations are announced. That’s not something worth money to me.


5. GriefCom
This is the grievance committee available only to SFWA members. If you have a problem with a contract they will help you sort it out. SFWA is a large enough and visible enough organization in the fandom community that they do have some clout to clear up contract conflicts when they arise.

I can see how this would be hugely beneficial for higher stakes contracts, like with novels. However, at this point I write short stories pretty much exclusively. Short story contracts are generally very straightforward, and most of those that I have managed are low enough yield that paying a membership fee to get help with potential problems would be counterproductive. If I did sell a novel I might consider starting a membership in case I needed help.


6. Emergency Medical Fund
This fund provides interest-free loans to Active members in emergency medical situations

This seems to be mostly beneficial to someone who doesn’t have health insurance. I do, so that’s not a draw.


7. The SFWA Bulletin
The SFWA bulletin is a quarterly nonfiction magazine that provides writing advice articles, reviews, market rundowns, and other information about the SF publishing field. You can subscribe to the Bulletin if you’re not a member, but it costs as little as $32 for a year in the US, to $90 a year for outside of North America, or $10 per single issue.

If you find this content valuable, this would be a big draw of membership, justifying a great deal of the cost since you don’t have to pay for the subscription then. But none of the information in the magazine issues that I’ve seen so far has struck me as anything that I couldn’t find elsewhere, and generally I don’t find writing advice all that helpful because each writer really has to find their own way in any case.

In addition, by what I’ve heard the production of this magazine takes up a large portion of the SFWA budget. Why, I’d like to know, is it deemed worth that kind of expenditure? If this magazine weren’t taking up a bunch of the budget, the money could be spent elsewhere and perhaps rates could lower.


8. The SFWA Member Directory
Active members have access to a member directory in which each member can provide whatever contact information they want, addresses, phone numbers, emails or whatever.

While this is a convenience, I don’t see this as a big value. Most anyone who is a writer these days who would respond to contact from me is going to have an online presence anyway. It would make more sense, in general, for me to contact them via those publicly available routes than to cold-call them. Maybe there will come future work that I will be involved in for which this kind of contact information would be useful, at which point I may need to reconsider this opinion.


9. SFWA Convention Suites
SFWA hosts a convention suite at some convention. WorldCon for sure, I’m not sure what other ones. Members can come, as well as bringing a guest. There is food and drinks, sometimes meals or other times snacks. Other SFWA members come and go. Sometimes there might be specific events in the suite, like release parties or retirement parties.

So far I haven’t been very active on the SF convention circuit. I am very frugal by nature, and especially since I have a family to which I would need to justify the travel and the expense, I haven’t done it much. I did go to WorldCon 2012, however, which was a really great experience. Even once I decided to go I wanted to keep down my expenses as much as possible, sharing hotel room and other cost-saving measures. One of the things that I at first found was hard to be frugal on was food, since the hotel convenience store had the most expensive and most disgusting wrap that I’ve ever eaten, the cheapest thing they had available, and going out to restaurants always adds up quickly. Soon I realized, though, that I had access to (at least) three sources of free food: the convention suite (available to everyone but mostly only very simple cheap food like peanut butter, cereal, etc), the green room (available to program participants, somewhat nicer food), and the SFWA suit (pretty good spread, even with some meals). So the availability of very good spread at certain times was huge perk and a huge money-saving measure. Also, whenever I came to the suite I would scan the nametags for people I’d like to talk to or people I’d met online, and even if I didn’t recognize anyone I met some very cool people chatting with whoever was about.




10. The secret handshake that will make editors buy your stories. Joining SFWA will make editors buy your stories.

The last sentence was a lie, but it is the kind of thing that seems intuitive from many beginners’ point of view. You can put your membership in your cover letter if you want, but it’s not going to make a lick of difference. It might be a point of mild interest, but isn’t going to make a difference in your sales. Having a marketable name can influence a sale, but your SFWA membership has nothing to do with that. Some big names aren’t members, some no-names (like me) are. It doesn’t matter. If you don’t have a marketable name, your story just have to kick enough ass that the editor wants to buy it despite your lack of notoriety. In either case, your SFWA membership does not matter.




The Verdict

So, what does it all come down to? At this point, I am not going to renew my membership. I mightpay something like $40 a year for the Nebula packet alone. I would pay some larger amount (maybe a few hundred dollars) for a lifetime membership, but $90 a year (which will certainly go up periodically as it did this last year) is just too much for me at this point in my career.

I think that at this point I’ll renew my membership whenever I am planning to go to WorldCon that year, because it is such a good place to meet people and also to save money on food expenditures that it is well worth the membership fee to do it. In the years when I do that I’ll happily read the Nebula packet and actively participate. But otherwise I probably won’t unless something big changes to convince me of the worth of a membership. With a newborn at our house, I’ll be skipping WorldCon this year. Next year it’s in London, too far of a jaunt for me. So for at least the next couple years I am out.

For those who choose to maintain their SFWA membership, I am curious to hear other points of view on the subject. What is it worth to you? Why do you do it? Do you consider cost-benefit as I have? Is it more a point of pride than a monetary value? Please share!