A Fanfiction Writer's Guide to Publication
Copyright 2000 Robert B. Marks, all rights reserved
Fanfiction is a great medium for practicing the art of writing, a training ground for new writers in fact, but there comes a time in most fanfiction writers' lives when they are faced with a decision: to break out of fanfiction into semi- or fully professional writing, or to remain a fan writer.
Breaking into semi- or fully professional writing is not easy by any stretch of the imagination, but it is the more rewarding path, once it bears fruit. This guide is to help fanfiction writers make the transition from a fan writer to a paid writer. A great deal is not said in this guide, as much technique will come with practice; however, this will make things easier.
STEPS IN THE TRANSITION
1. Look in the mirror and give yourself an ego trip. I'm not kidding; writing of any sort for paying markets requires a thick skin, and it is likely that you will be rejected far more frequently than you will be accepted. So, always remember that you are a good writer, and don't let the rejection letters get to you.
2. Complete the manuscript. This is self explanatory for short stories, but it is not necessarily for anthologies or novels. A writer can sell a novel based on three chapters and a synopsis, but it is much easier to make the sale if you can prove that you can finish the work you've started. For a beginning novel, you want to be in the 85,000 to 120,000 word range. For a novella, you want to be in the 16,000 to 25,000 word range.
3. Choose your market carefully. A good idea is to pick up a Writer's Market, which you can get at the local bookstore. You want to look at the number of submissions (eg. if a magazine gets 2 submissions a month, there is probably a reason) and the rate of pay. The professional pay for a story is set at three cents per word. Some good markets to begin with are listed below.
4. If you are trying to get a book published, contact the publisher first, either with a query letter, email or telephone call (it is surprising how many publishers will solicit manuscripts over the phone). This allows you to write "Requested Material" on your submission, and prevents you from being lost in the slush pile.
5. Draft a professional looking cover letter. In the case of a novel, you should attach a brief synopsis (which can be general plot points or chapter by chapter). Otherwise, you should say something about the story in one or two sentences (eg. it is about the end of the world and it is inspired by Deep Impact, or something like that). Do NOT try to sell the story in the cover letter; the story will sell itself, and trying to pitch the story in your letter will only turn editors off. At the bottom of your letter, you should attach a brief list of publication credits.
6. Reformat the manuscript. A submission manuscript should be on 8.5" X 11" paper (or its equivalent), and preferably on 20 lb. paper. The manuscript should be double spaced in a courier 12 point font with 1.25" margins all around. The pages should be numbered in the upper right corner, and have your name and story title in the upper left corner. On the first page you should include your address and word count. If the magazine asks for competition format, your name may only appear in the cover letter. You may paper clip the story if you wish, but don't staple it unless you check first with the editors.
7. Mail the story out, but to one publisher at a time; editors do not like simultaneous submissions. If you are mailing out a novel, you should place the novel in a manuscript box (the box you bought your paper in should do). Otherwise, place the manuscript in a large envelope and mail it out. You should include a SASE (self addressed, stamped envelope) in the mailing, and if you wish to receive confirmation of arrival, a self addressed, stamped post card. Address the envelope to the editor.
8. Keep writing, and don't let the rejection letters get you down. In general, you will be competing with hundreds of stories for publication, so success will come with persistence. Remember, it took Harlan Ellison a year to sell his first professional story. Right now, a writer is doing well if it only takes three years.
9. If you manage to get a sale, learn what rights you are selling. Most magazines and publishers will buy first publication rights, which means that they will publish it first, and then after a set time, it can be reprinted. Be wary of "work for hire", as that means that you are paid once, and then the work is no longer your own. Some publishers, such as Pocket Books, are reputable, but in some cases authors have been taken advantage of in work for hire situations. Media books, such as Dungeons & Dragons, Star Trek, or Doctor Who, are generally work for hire.
10. If you should sell a novel, retain an agent to negotiate the contract; they generally know far more than you do about contracts, and can help immensely. Do not contact an agent until you have a contract offer; Jennifer Jackson, of the Donald Maass Literary Agency, receives no less than 120 unsolicited query letters per week in her post office box. Once you have a contract offer, however, contact the agency over the phone and inform them immediately that you have a contact and require somebody to negotiate it (it is possible to acquire an agent within a week by doing this). Then, listen carefully to what they have to offer you. Not all agents are for all authors. When contacting agents, you will need to know what sales they have made recently, what rights they can negotiate, and what fees are involved. Most legitimate agents will only charge photocopying fees. Any agency that charges reading fees is suspect, as they are not making all of their income from selling your work.
THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND
- No matter what, KEEP WRITING. One only improves by continuing to write.
- It is more exciting to have your characters doing things than thinking about them. Instead of “He thought for a moment, then spoke,” use “He spoke, pausing for a moment,” or something to that effect.
- If you want to know how long a book will be in publication, this formula was posted on rec.arts.sf.composition: take the number of thousands of words, and multiply it by four. Therefore, a 100,000 word manuscript will come out to 400 pages in paperback.
- There are some web sites that claim to display your writing to publishers and agents. This is actually a waste of time; a recent report from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) has shown that there are no reputable publishers or agents scanning the Internet for new talent. If you want to be seen by a publisher, mail them something, or have your agent do it for you.
- Be careful about posting your work on the Internet. Once a full story has been posted, either on a web page or a newsgroup, it is considered published, and many publishers won’t even look at it.
SOME GOOD MARKETS TO START WITH:
Analog Science Fiction and Fact (science fiction [hard science, soft sociological], serialized novels): 475 Park Ave. S., Floor 11, New York, NY, 10016-6901, USA, (212) 686-6901; edited by Stanley Schmidt; 2,000-80,000 words; 5-8 cents/word for first N.A. rights and nonexclusive foreign rights; reports in 1 month for queries and manuscripts; can be emailed at email@example.com
Asimov's Science Fiction (science fiction [hard science, soft sociological], fantasy, no horror or psychic/supernatural): 475 Park Ave. S., Floor 11, New York, NY, 10016-6901, USA, (212) 686-7188; edited by Gardner Dozois; up to 20,000 words; 5-8 cents/word for first N.A. rights and specified foreign rights; reports in 2-3 months; can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (fantasy and science fiction): P.O. Box 1806, New York, NY, 10159-1806, USA, (212) 982-2676; edited by Gordon Van Gelder; up to 25,000 words; 5-7 cents/word for first N.A. serial rights, foreign rights and anthology option if requested; reports in 6-8 weeks (but generally within 4 weeks)
Weird Tales (fantasy [science, sword and sorcery], horror, psychic/supernatural/occult, translations): 123 Crooked Lane, King of Prussia, PA, 19406-2570, USA; edited by George Scithers; up to 10,000 words; 3 cents/word min. for first N.A. serial rights and anthology option; reports in 2-3 weeks (lately has had a backlog, so actually a bit slower); can be emailed at email@example.com
Baen Books (fantasy and science fiction): P.O. Box 1403, Riverdale, NY, 10471, USA, (718) 548-3100; acquisitions editor: Toni Weisskopf; pays advance and royalties; send manuscript or synopsis and 3 consecutive sample chapters; reports in 6-9 months
Daw Books Inc. (science fiction [hard science, soft sociological], fantasy, mainstream thrillers): 375 Hudson St., New York, NY, 10014, USA; acquisitions editor: Peter Stampfel; pays advance and royalties; send complete manuscript and SASE; reports in 3-5 months
Millennium (science fiction, fantasy, horror): Orion House, 5 Upper St. Martin's Lane, London, WC2H 9EA, England; acquisitions editor: Simon Spanton; pays advance and royalties; send cover letter, synopsis, and fifty sample pages (if outside of England, use self addressed envelope and international reply coupon)
Tor Books (fantasy, mainstream, science fiction, horror): 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY, 10010, (212) 388-0100; acquisitions editor: Patrick Nielsen Hayden; pays advance and royalties; query first and then send manuscript (address to "Editorial")
2000 Novel & Short Story Writer's Market, Writer's Digest Books
rec.arts.sf.composition (several writers and editors can be found here, including Patrick Nielsen Hayden)