With a sudden net gain in free-time in July, I read a healthy amount. Most of it nonfiction, so most of these titles will be new to you and sadly the “thoughts” aren’t as effusive as they are when I read more fiction. I didn’t read as many short stories as I would have liked this month, but hey. I’m still good with how much time I spent reading this month.
Title:The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line (Veronica Mars #1) Author(s): Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham Format: Trade Paperback Goodreads Rating: 4/5 Stars Thoughts: A quick and satisfying plunge back into the witty and gritty noir world of Veronica Mars. This book reads exactly like an arc of episodes from the original show. There’s plenty to like here, especially if you’ve watched the movie recently. For a more detailed breakdown, check out my full review. Recommend: Absolutely! Especially if you’ve watched the movie but haven’t started the new season yet. There are some things you might want to know.
Title:The Weeding Handbook: a Shelf-by-Shelf Guide Author: Rebecca Vnuk Format: Trade Paperback Goodreads Rating: 4/5 Stars Thoughts: A really easy read, full of good tips and knowledge but shared in approachable language. I plan on buying a copy for my personal collection. I’m sure I’ll have occasion to use it in the coming years. Recommend: If you’re in the library field, absolutely. It breaks down weeding collections shelf-by-shelf, making a humongous task that much easier.
Title:Mr. Kiss and Tell (Veronica Mars #2) Author(s): Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham Format: Trade Paperback Goodreads Rating: 4/5 Stars Thoughts: Another solid contribution to the Veronica Mars canon. Characters, setting, and tone come together to make up for the inconsistent pacing and competing plot lines. Veronica is her usual self, and honestly, it’s starting to get old. Get my full thoughts in my review. Recommend: Sure. Again, if you’re a fan of the show you’re still going to enjoy this. If you have no idea what the hell Veronica Mars even is, you may want to pass.
Title:Library Management Tips That Work Author: Carol Smallwood Format: Trade Paperback Goodreads Rating: 3/5 Stars Thoughts: This book was a little disappointing. I don’t think it was the book’s fault, but it didn’t actually have much content I could put to use in my new job. It’s a very broad look at library management aimed more specifically at sizable Public Libraries. I’m working in a high school media center, so a lot of the content did not translate. I still read it, because it’s stuff I find interesting and I may have need of the knowledge someday. Also, the language of the book was… dry. Made it a bit difficult to get through. Recommend: Meh. If you’re really into best practices for library management and operations, go HAM.
Title:Leading from the Library: Help Your School Community Thrive in the Digital Age Author(s): Shannon McClintock Miller and William Bass Format: Trade Paperback Goodreads Rating: 3/5 Stars Thoughts: I found the writing really prohibitive in this book. It’s chock-a-block full of lingo and different educational standards and I was a bit adrift through the whole thing. I think there’s valuable information in here, but it may require a reread once I’m settled into my role. Recommend: Meh. Not so much. Again, only if you’re really interested in the details of how libraries work.
Title:Hacking School Libraries: 10 Ways to Incorporate Library Media Centers into Your Learning Community (Hack Learning Series, volume 20) Author(s): Kristina A. Holzweiss and Stony Evans Format: Trade Paperback Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars Thoughts: Oh man! This book! I LOVED it. Each chapter was really well laid out, with a ton of information, followed by action steps for the reader to take as soon as they’re ready. There were a ton of pictures and diagrams and a huge list of resources in the back. I’m going to buy a copy, for sure. Recommend: Yes. But again, only if you really want to know more about working in a school library.
Title: “Skerry-Bride” Author: Sonya Taaffe Format: Trade Paperback Collection:Transcendent 2: the Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction Editor(s): Bogi Takács Goodreads Rating: N/A Thoughts: I loved this story. It’s short but languid, twisting and turning through the language. Grim with longing, poignant and tragic but lined with hope. It reads like a fairy tale, but it’s in second person which is always fascinating to me. Recommend: Yes.
Title: “The L7 Gene” Author: Jeanne Thornton Format: Trade Paperback Collection:Transcendent 2: the Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction Editor(s): Bogi Takács Goodreads Rating: N/A Thoughts: Man. I’m still not sure about this story. I… liked it? It’s as far from “Skerry-Bride” as it could be. Straightforward prose, anger in every line, it works for the tale. But, reading it right after something so elegant and artful as “Skerry-Bride” probably did it a disservice. The plot is very intriguing, but the ending is open and a little unsatisfying. Recommend: Sure. Another short tale with punch, worth the half-hour or so to take it in.
I feel like I didn’t read much this month, but that’s mostly because the first two weeks of the month were spent non-stop writing. With that in mind, I suppose I didn’t do half bad. Actually, now that I have it all gathered in one place, turns out I read quite a bit!
Title:Every Heart a Doorway (Wayward Children #1) Author: Seanan McGuire Format: Hardback Goodreads Rating: 4/5 Stars Thoughts: I didn’t know anything about this series beyond the cover copy, so my expectations were basically non-existent. I really liked the characters, especially Jack and Christopher. I think it was a fun story that’s really inventive. Worth the afternoon to read it. Recommend: Sure. It’s a fun, quick story that leaves you wanting more.
Title:Down Among the Sticks and Bones (Wayward Children #2) Author: Seanan McGuire Format: Hardback Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars Thoughts: This is the story of Jack and Jill and their time in the Moors! Yes! I loved it. I ached for the twins when they were forced into roles and thoughts that were never their own. I really enjoy how McGuire can narrate such mundane moments with fairytale words. It weaves a spell over the whole story and I desperately want to emulate it. Recommend: If you liked the first one, absolutely! There’s even more to love in this one.
Title: Beneath the Sugar Sky (Wayward Children #3) Author: Seanan McGuire Format: Hardback Goodreads Rating: 4/5 Stars Thoughts: This was my least favorite of the three so far. I wasn’t very attached to Sumi and I didn’t much care for her daughter. I also didn’t feel much for Cora either, even though we share a lot of similarities. But, Kade and Christopher are back and I LOVE them, so it worked out. The Wayward Children venture into Confection to bring Sumi back to life so that her daughter can be born and the world saved from the false Queen. A really interesting plot, but I found Confection really frustrating. Nonesense worlds are not for me. Recommend: Yep. Still totally worth an afternoon to read, and makes you a little warm and fuzzy inside at parts.
Title:Deadpool: Secret Agent Deadpool Author(s): Chris Hastings and Salva Espin Format: Graphic Novel Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars Thoughts: This comic book is absolutely ridiculous, and I mean that as a compliment. It’s basically Archer, but with Deadpool playing the title role after he mistakenly kills a secret agent and takes his place in the agency. The Merc with a Mouth gets to put his very specific set of skills to good use for once in this wild ride of a comic series. Recommend: It’s Deadpool. If you like vulgarity, blood and gore, and absolutely insane plots, then you’re gonna love this volume.
Title:All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries #1) Author: Martha Wells Format: Hardback Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars Thoughts: This is another novella series that I knew nothing about before I dove into it. I just read the blurb that said “anti-social AI” and knew I should give it a try. Turns out, I too love Murderbot. I inhaled this novella and would happily read it again. The first person perspective is witty, casual, and hilarious. I laughed out loud frequently. The action sequences are incredibly well done and often awesome. Seriously, this is a great little book. Recommend: Yes! I promise, if you don’t mind some F bombs here and there, you will love Murderbot too!
Title:Artificial Condition (The Murderbot Diaries #2) Author: Martha Wells Format: Hardback Goodreads Rating: 4/5 Stars Thoughts: I loved this, and the only reason it didn’t get five stars is because I thought it could have been longer and a little more fleshed out. I also felt that Murderbot’s quest to figure out what happened before it had its memory purged was over too quickly, though I liked that it wasn’t a neat resolution. I also loved ART and hope it makes a comeback soon. Recommend: Yep. If you liked the first one, you’ll like this one.
Title:Rogue Protocol (The Murderbot Diaries #3) Author: Martha Wells Format: Hardback Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars Thoughts: I think this is the story where Murderbot really hits its stride. This was a gripping action story with way more emotion than I was prepared for. I still laughed a bunch, don’t you worry, but I also cried a little too. Yet again, it’s Murderbot’s connections with other AI that really standout, this time with Miki, a “pet robot” that surprises Murderbot with how deeply it cares for the people around it. And how much those people care for it. Recommend: Absolutely. Even if you weren’t in love with Artificial Condition, give this one a shot because it’s a return to form.
Title:The Wicked + the Divine vol. 8 Author(s): Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matt Wilson Format: Graphic Novel Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars Thoughts: While this isn’t a continuation of the story so far, it is a super fun collection of side stories and prequels that give a little more context for the world and story. There are some really funny spoofs included as well, such as the Scooby Doo AU (that’s “Alternate Universe”) that had me cackling in bed and waking my husband repeatedly. Recommend: If you’ve read the rest of the series so far, you should absolutely read this.
Title:Exit Strategy (The Murderbot Diaries #4) Author: Martha Wells Format: Hardback Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars Thoughts: Holy hell. This book was tense. Nonstop action throughout and a return to Dr. Mensah and her team. I loved every moment of this story, though my fingernails probably hated it since they were chewed to the point of bleeding I was so stressed. Also, yes, I did cry at the end. Recommend: Yes. You have to read this book, and if you haven’t yet, please read this series!
Title:Evil Eye Author: Madhuri Shekar Format: Digital Audiobook Narrator(s): Harsh Nayyar, Annapurna Sriram, Bernard White, Nick Choski, and Rita Wolf Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars Thoughts: This wasn’t on my radar at all but I was a little listless after finishing Murderbot and wanted to listen to something while I did chores. Since it was only a couple hours long I thought, why not? Turns out, this was a really impressive story I would have never tried without my Audible subscription. I loved the narrations, and though the story was a might predictable, I still really enjoyed it. The climax scene was incredibly intense to listen to and it definitely had me sweating. Recommend: Yes! If you have an Audible subscription, this was one of the Audible Originals for May. I think you can still get it though. It’s only a couple hours long and totally worth it. It was a great way to power through some chores.
Title: “Splitskin” Author: E. Catherine Tobler Collection: Transcendent: the Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction Editor: K.M. Szpara Format: Trade Paperback Goodreads Rating: N/A Thoughts: I won’t lie, I don’t think I understood half of what happened in this story, but it was so beautiful, so lyrical and poetic and utterly fascinating that I didn’t really care. I just wanted to languish in the language for a little bit longer. This is definitely one I would reread, in hopes of better comprehension and because the words were just that wonderful. Recommend: Yes, but only if you can enjoy a story for the craft alone. I won’t guarantee that you like what it has to say, or even understand what it has to say. But if you likes words and how people string them together, you’ll like this story.
Title: “A Salt and Sterling Tongue” Author: Emma Osborne Collection: N/A Editor(s): N/A Original Publication:Uncanny Magazine, Issue 28 Format: Digital Publication Goodreads Rating: N/A Thoughts: I loved this story. It’s very poetic with a rhythm that hints to the sea. It’s a heartbreaking story, so be prepared for that, but it’s really quite beautiful too. I think it’s worth a re-read sometime soon. Recommend: Yes. It’s a little bit longer than I normally like, but it shouldn’t take long to actually read. It’s worth every moment.
Title: “The Need for Overwhelming Sensation” Author: Bogi Takács Collection:Transcendent: the Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction Editor(s): K.M. Szpara Format: Trade Paperback Goodreads Rating: N/A Thoughts: This story is wild. A lot happens very quickly and I was left wondering what the hell was going on. I felt disoriented through it, but I’m not sure that wasn’t the point. There’s a very steep learning curve and you have to trust the story to give you context as you go. But, I ultimately liked the world building and the magic/science used to power lightspeed jumps. It was an extremely intriguing blend of Science Fiction and Fantasy that I admittedly loved. The plot was a little vague, even as so much was happening. I was never very certain about what the point of it all was. I still liked it. Recommend: Sure! If nothing else, take a chance on it and see what you think.
Title: “The Librarian’s Dilemma” Author: E. Saxey Collection:Transcendent: the Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction Editor(s): K.M. Szpara Format: Trade Paperback Goodreads Rating: N/A Thoughts: A very interesting story about a person who’s trying to modernize and digitize an academic library and encountering resistance from the head librarian. It’s shockingly pertinent to today’s slowly evolving libraries, but also asks a really important question: are there some writings that aren’t worth saving? Recommend: Sure. If you have any experience with libraries I think this will be much more effective. I know I related to it because of that.
This is a post I’ve been planning and stewing on for the better part of six months. It came about as most things do for me, I experienced something that made me ask a question. I was at the West Salem Branch Library, my usual workplace, and I was in the stacks shelving fiction. As I went down the aisle, placing books in their respective places, I noticed that I shelved multiple Science Fiction classics in the general fiction section. Greats like Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Huxley’s Brave New World, Daniel Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon, and Orwell’s 1984 were all cataloged G-FIC. And not just in my library, but in almost every other library in our consortium of 19 public libraries!
Initially, I was a bit miffed. Why were some of the most celebrated books in Science Fiction history having their genre erased? Both Fahrenheit 451 and Flowers for Algernon have won Hugo awards (the oldest Science Fiction and Fantasy award in the country), and Keyes’ novel also won a Nebula (the most prestigious of SFF awards, depending on who you ask), but if you visits the Salem Public Library, you won’t find them with their Speculative peers.
I had to know why, so I emailed the Collection Development Librarian at Salem Public Library to learn more. Now, I work with Emily Byers on a number of projects at the library and knew she would answer my question with the care and thoroughness she exhibited in her daily work. I didn’t expect a two page email that detailed all the possible factors that Selectors and Catalogers must consider before deciding where to place a book in the library.
And while she admits that cataloging is both an art and science that is “ultimately subjective”, she outlined some of the criteria she used to decide on genre placement versus general fiction.
Factors range from the librarian specific, Bib Records and BISAC subjects from the vendor, to the discretionary, such as Reader’s Advisory considerations (who would want the book, and how can we make it easier for them to find it?) and how closely a text adheres to genre specific tropes. “In more ambiguous cases I would consider the work as a whole — for example, it may have a science fiction element (i.e. technology that’s not currently available), but without separate world building or other SF elements beyond a future setting, I might put that book in general fiction where it might be found by more readers.”
Hard to be riled up about books being more generally accessible. I mean, that’s the whole point of libraries; to provide services and access to materials. Emily even offered up some reference titles for further research on the topic if I was interested, which I totally am, so she even offered ease of access to me! She really opened my eyes to the work and consideration that goes into selecting and cataloging materials, especially in a library as big as ours, with over 500,000 circulating materials!
But what really stuck with me from this conversation was an even larger question: what purpose does genre really serve?
In the sense of the library, having collections divided into genres helps facilitate patron searches. For instance, I know that I like to read Science Fiction and Fantasy, but I also know that I’m not as well-versed in the genre as I’d like to be. I can go to the library, find the section I want, and then browse with relative confidence that I will find something that will pique my interest. And I have, on multiple occasions.
But as a writer, why do we write in genres? And how do the two functions of genre, from a writing and reading perspective, gel together?
These are, of course, completely subjective questions. My answer will be wildly different from yours. I read SFF because I love the awe and sense of wonder I get from reading something born from someone else’s imagination. Something I could have never come up with myself. Like pretty much every aspect of N.K. Jemisin’s novels, the setting of Sam J. Miller’s Blackfish City, and pretty much all of Sanderson’s magic systems. I read SFF because it helps me expand my own creativity and strive to write beyond my own perceived limitations.
But, I write SFF for different reasons. I don’t think there’s just one, and I think the reasons will grow and change as I do over the years. Right now, I’m experimenting with analyzing emotions and human motivations, and seem to be most comfortable doing so through a more removed lens, like that of an AI or non-human being. I think I write SFF because I tend to feel a bit separate from my peers, and have found an angle into expressing that isolation within the tropes of Science Fiction and Fantasy.
And thanks to all my reading, I’m learning to build imaginative worlds, invent complex magic systems, and tell stories from perspectives I may not have personally experienced along the way.
I also think that, by writing genre fiction, my stories and their themes are more likely to find readers with similar interests and concerns as myself. By writing genre fiction I may very well limit my audience, but I think I also increase my chances of proving successful with my readership, because we all know, at least a tiny bit, what the heck we’re getting into when we crack open those pages.
Does genre fiction have an advantage over general or literary fiction when it comes to discussing and exploring themes of humanity? I don’t necessarily think so. I think genre fiction has an advantage to me, because it’s the content I’m drawn to, and only the content we ingest actually has the opportunity work its magic on us.
So yes, I was initially peeved to see so many of Science Fiction’s giants shelved in General Fiction, as if the genre had been shorn from their spines because they had ascended from the hive of scum and villainy that so many people think is genre fiction. But, ultimately, placing them in with general fiction makes those titles easier to find for people who might not otherwise think to read them. And that’s a really good thing. Any time a book finds itself in a patron’s hands, that’s a good thing.
A great thing is when the patron comes back, excited and enthralled, asking, “Do you have anything else like this?”
Nothing feels better than knowing a book suggestion was a hit with the patron and then launching into a discussion of what they liked about it and what they’d like to get out of their next read. That’s what I really love about my job; I get to talk about books with members of my community and help them find their new favorite authors.
And the day I get to show someone that there’s an entire section of the library they might like, the day I can introduce them to Genre Fiction, and they’re world broadens just that little bit more? That’s the best day.
Submissions! Duh. What did you think I was gonna say?
Maybe you saw the tweet that went viral lately, about the woman who made it her goal to get 100 rejection letters by the end of the year. She’s having trouble reaching her goal because she keeps getting acceptances instead! Which is awesome! Good for her.
This year I also set a goal: submit two short stories for publication. I set the bar low on purpose; it’s been almost five years since I last published anything, and I wanted to keep the pressure to a minimum. Which was smart of me since I’ve been low-key stressed about it this whole time. I’m pretty high anxiety, if you haven’t noticed, and trying to hold myself accountable for something as beyond my control as short story publishing is a recipe for disaster.
Before I get into the nitty gritty of how this whole process is going for me personally, let’s talk about how I even decided where the hell to submit in the first place. It can be a daunting process. You have a story, you’re proud of it. You worked hard, brought it life, fostered it into the best you possibly could, and now you want to share it. But how?
There are some questions you’re going to need to ask yourself:
What is my story’s genre?
What length category does my story fit? Micro? Flash? Short? Novelette? Novella? You get the picture.
What pay-rate am I willing to accept? Pro? Semi-pro? Token?
How long am I willing to wait to hear back from a magazine?
How many attempts will I make before I call it quits?
Am I willing to revise per editor feedback?
There’s probably more questions that will come up as you move on in the submission process, but these are some good ones to have a prepared answer for before you even begin. Once you have a good grip on the above there are some resources to help you wade through the incredible ocean of publication options.
First and foremost is The Submission Grinder. This website has it all! Authors create a free account to track their submissions, and the website compiles the results into numbers other authors can use to make educated decisions about their own submission process.
This is the data on a magazine I am currently submitted to:
The site also keeps track of all your personal submission stats. Where you’ve submitted, how long it was out, the outcome, if you received your pay or not, etc. You can search for markets (publishing lingo for magazines/sites/publishers, etc.,) based on genre, word count, whether they’re currently open for submissions or not, and their pay-rate.
Really, the only negative for The Submission Grinder is that it is only as accurate as the information it is provided. Not all authors use the site, so you never know if you’re really seeing the whole picture. But, it’s still a fantastic resource and it’s been my lifeline this year.
The second resource I use most is Ralan.com. This is a genre specific resource, a catalog of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror publications that is updated constantly. It’s been active since 1996(!) and though it definitely still hangs on to its early internet roots, it has been a really great way to find markets I might not have discovered otherwise. There’s also pages for writing tips, links, and all kinds of related media. Markets are organized by pay-rate, and then alphabetically.
I would suggest Submittable next, mainly because a ton of publishers use this software to accept and organize their submissions. Make an account (it’s free!), and then start trawling through the Discovery page. That’s where markets have opened their submissions, and you might find an opportunity you wouldn’t have otherwise.
Moksha is another submission management software/website that some publishers use. It’s very similar to Submittable, and chances are you’ll end up with account on both. Submittable is a little more author -friendly, whereas Moksha is publisher focused. You won’t make an account here until you try to submit to a publisher that uses it.
I’ll recommend a new resource to me: QueryTracker is a website that helps writers connect with agents. I haven’t used it much yet, mainly because I don’t have a novel ready to submit to an agent. There’s a free and a premium option, but since I’m not actively seeking an agent, I’m just using the free service. You can search for agents based on whether they’re open to queries, what they want to read, and where they are based out of.
A recent discovery of mine is a magazine called The Writer. I found it at my library, and I’ve really enjoyed it so far. They have a classifieds section as well as a segment towards the end of each issue that lists upcoming conferences, publication opportunities, agents, and workshops. It’s a rotating theme, so each issue offers something different. Maybe it’s not as comprehensive as some of the websites listed above, but I think it’s worth recommending.
So, I have all these resources… how’s the submitting going?
Well. I think. Although it doesn’t always feel that way. Rejections sting, especially when the story makes it into the final round of consideration. Generally my stories are performing well, but not well enough to get that acceptance letter yet.
I’ve submitted thirteen times this year so far, two currently pending, four personal rejections and seven form rejections. The Cost of Rain has made it to the final round of consideration twice, and Lifelike has done so once.
As you can see, different magazines have very different turnaround times. I think that’s been the biggest challenge for me, personally, because the waiting is just killer. I’ve been submitting since March and The Cost of Rain has only been out eight times. Lifelike‘s been out for submission since April and it’s only been to five markets!
It had a really great run right out of the gate and made it to the final round, but just got eked out of acceptance. That was hard. That hurt, because there was so much hope. The longer it was out the better I felt my chances were, and therein is my biggest challenge with submitting.
No matter how good the charts and numbers look the odds of rejection are just as high, if not higher, than those of being accepted. There are no guarantees, the statistics only mean so much. Publishing is not an objective endeavor. Your story can be great, but if you don’t find the editor that feels that same way, it won’t matter. Storytelling and reading are subjective by nature. Taste and preferences will always play a role in the selection process.
This is why you hear stories about authors submitting manuscripts dozens and dozens of times. This is why you keep submitting until you don’t have any other options left. What do you do after that? Well, I don’t know yet, but I’ll be sure to tell you once I find out.
Thanks to The Submission Grinder I have a list of markets that I can send each story to. I wrote them down, and once I send them the story I cross them off the list. That way, if I get the dreaded rejection, I can pick another one and send it right away. No lingering, no pained searching for the next thing. Just open my Mass Effect themed notepad, pick a market, use The Submission Grinder to be sure they’re accepting submissions, and off the story goes.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
My biggest takeaways from this process so far are:
Submitting takes a long time
Very, very few magazines allow for simultaneous submissions. You have to submit to one market at a time and wait for their response. This sucks. Just keeping it real. But it’s the way of things right now, so be prepared to know what markets are open when so you can plan your submissions accordingly.
Rejections hurt, but they do get easier
Form rejections suck. Mainly because it’s a form rejection. Your story wasn’t selected, and it didn’t stand out enough for the editor to offer any personal commentary. Laaaame.
Personal rejections are good. I mean, they also suck. Like, the big one. It hurts more, because they usually include the editor saying how much they “liked the story, but…” I don’t want to read “but”. I want to read, “We’re happy to inform you…” But, personal rejections are good because they almost always tell you why they decided not to take the story. There’s an explanation of what scene didn’t quite work, or why the ending fell flat, or whatever the case may be. There’s constructive criticism and it’s helped me make subtle changes to address weaknesses in my stories I couldn’t recognize on my own. So, yeah, personal rejections suck, but they’re also good.
If you prepare yourself, have your handy-dandy notebook with markets to send to, submitting gets easier. You’re armed with a list of opportunities, of potential. Oh, this magazine didn’t want my story? Well, here’s a list of 15 more that might want it! Hooray! So, enjoy your pity party ice cream/popsicle/alcoholic beverage of choice while you pick the next market, and then get on with your day.
Every author you’ve read has been here and done this
Okay. Maybe not literally every author, there’s always those weirdos that make it big out of nowhere, but the vast majority had to duke it out over and over again with their short story submissions. They had to earn those professional sales and wage wars with themselves to keep fighting on. Don’t believe me? Check out the #ShareYourRejections thread on twitter. You’ll be surprised at the rejections some authors have received! This is just you slogging through the story you’ll tell to a whole generation of newbie writers some day. So believe in yourself already.
Submitting this year has been a HUGE learning process. I’ve worked really hard not only on editing my fiction into a level of polish that I believe will earn a professional sale, but in organizing myself in such a way that feels… professional. Submitting is teaching me the skills I need to keep writing and publishing, the skills I’ll need to turn this passion into a career. Skills like time management, setting and meeting personal deadlines, discipline, fortitude, and strong organization, virtually (my files), physically (my desk/papers), and mentally (navigating this crazy publishing world).
I hope my tips and transparency in this process are helpful for you. I’m learning my lessons and want to share, because maybe they’ll help you when you’re feeling low at the hands of your rejections. And maybe this post will help you move on to the next opportunity.
It’s been a quiet week spent reading for Book Club. I just finished The Paper Magician last night, but won’t be posting the review until next Thursday, after our meeting. But, at least you have that to look forward to!
What I’ve really been focused on this week is research for The Steel Armada. Now, this is the first time I’ve ever actually done full blown research for a book. I’ve done some quick Googling on the spot to get clarity on an issue or scene, but I’ve never sat down with a text and taken notes and built up details and the world from there.
I had my first study session on Monday. For the first time in a long time, I took the manuscript out into the wild (Governor’s Cup, a local coffee shop downtown) and put in my earbuds to bring the din of espresso machines and conversations down to the comforting bustle of business.
It was a nice hour spent pouring over Sailing Ships. As previously mentioned, that book is a gold mine of info, but it’s actually a little advanced for me. It’s giving me terminology and diagrams, but it doesn’t really explain what the various parts of the ships do. So, I know where the mizzen is a on a ship, but I don’t know what function it serves.
So, my research is leading to more research. Which is awesome! I’m taking notes, learning new things, and letting those things further develop the world. And when the world develops so do the characters who live in it.
But, I want to talk a little about research in general, in terms of writing fiction.
Those of us who took any Creative Writing courses have heard the “tried and true” advice spoken with finality: Write What You Know.
…Yeah. About that…
Funny thing for Speculative Fiction authors is that this advice falls flat. I’m writing about a desiccated planet and the small fraction of humanity that survived on a flying armada of steel ships above it. I don’t exactly know what that’s like.
But, I know what it’s like to be a seventeen year old girl falling in love with her best friend. I know what it’s like to lose your father figure. And I know what it’s like to demand more from the people and the world around you.
And anything I don’t know, like the architecture of rigged ships, I can research.
Which is really the most important thing I’ve learned so far. Speculative Fiction authors can still write what they know, they just have to know a lot about a ton of different things. The key to great world building is developing the small details that lend your world credibility. Yes, there’s much in Fantasy and even Science Fiction that is made up of things we can never truly know before we set out to write them. But, I can learn as much as I can about the things that are real, or based on reality.
Do giant sailed ships made of steel fly through the air? No. But, those ships of my creation can follow the look and feel of wooden rigged ships from human history. And the more I know about that, the more realistic I can make the ships of my creation.
Now, I’m not saying I’m going to be an expert of fully rigged ships after this book is finished. And I doubt I’ll ever try my hand at sailing even the smallest of sailed craft. That actually sounds terrifying to me. But, I will be able to name the parts of a ship with clarity and confidence.
Watch out Jeopardy! I’ll wreck that ship category when the time comes!
(See what I did there? Wreck? Ship? Hah!)
Another big research topic I’ll be doing soon is Aeroponics versus Hydroponics. These people have food, both plant-based and livestock, which means they grow crops. How? What’s their nutrition like? Their livestock’s nutrition? These are questions that need answered.
Not because they’re vital to the plot. They aren’t. At no point does a potentially under-nourished cow play a critical role in freeing this society from its oppressors. But, if I can lay the foundation of my own understanding, I can address any questions that might come up.
For instance, now that I think about it, goats are a far more believable protein source than cows. They’re way more versatile eaters and take up less space, while providing milk, cheese, meat, and hide.
But, if you haven’t noticed by now, the research spiral can be a dangerous thing. I think it’s why I’ve avoided it so far. Because questions only lead to more questions, and I have a tendency to want them all answered.
Let me tell you now, that is not necessary. You don’t have to answer every single question. Because ultimately you just need enough truth to wrinkle out any doubt from your manuscript.
Of course, it’s not a bad thing to do too much research. You just have to recognize when to rein it in and bring your focus back to what really matters: the manuscript.
So, I’m spending a lot of time doing research this round of edits. But, I still feel hopeful about an August finish. I think this round of edits will go by faster because there’s a lot of content creation happening. That’s way more interesting than going through line for line and reworking things.
But, all this content creation means I’ll probably have to do a fourth draft, to clean up the lines I’ve added in order to flesh everything out. Bummer. I still want to have all of that done by August.
I’m going to need an endless supply of coffee and snacks.