Category: Writing & Publishing

I have a new short story out, “Lost & Found,” in the sixth annual installment of writer/editor Alex Shvartsman’s popular Unidentified Funny Objects series.

My story in UFO5 was a satirical mash-up of The X-Files, Star Trek, Star Wars, Dr. Who, and the classic movie, Casablanca. “The ∏ Files” (“The Pi Files”), featuring Special Agents Mully and Scalder, was great fun to write.

This time, though, my story for UFO6 is a little more personal.

I used to work part-time at a community newspaper. It should have been a great job. The hours, the location, the work, the community, and the rest of the staff were all pleasant, and the pay was okay.

Unfortunately, though, the boss (who was the editor, publisher, and owner of the paper) was an incredibly toxic person, which made working there miserable and stressful, despite all the positive attributes the place otherwise had. In addition to his stunning incompetence, he was also prone to frequent tantrums and irrational rages, he was jaw-droppingly rude, and he regularly insulted and gaslighted the staff.

Unsurprisingly, the place had a comically high turnover rate. Departures were an even mix of quitting and getting fired. I was only there for a few months before I was fired, during which time we ran through 5 office managers, for example. One very nice person quit after just one day, telling me as she left how appalled and astounded she was by the boss’ behavior.

Well, at one point, the boss wanted to print some “joke” stories in the newspaper. He presented staffers with a few real news stories that he wanted us to riff on. I selected one about NASA, wrote my story as directed, and turned it in. After reading it, the boss informed me that this story was not at all what he had wanted. In fact, it was what he had asked for, but now he was asking for something else. So I wrote what I was asked for. He sent it back to me with some notes. I revised the material in accordance with the notes and turned it in. Now he gave me all-new feedback, stuff he had not said on any previous iteration, and had me revise it again. I did so. And then he did the same thing again.

Next, he told me to start all over from scratch. He couldn’t articulate why, he just knew he wanted something else. I pointed out that I had already done 5 versions. He said I would probably have to do 10 or 12 versions before we were done. 

It was the “I don’t know what I want, but I’ll know it when I see it” school of editing. I had consoled various writers friends about situations like this over the years, but this was the first time I had dealt with it myself. This is a well-known gambit of completely incompetent and/or malicious editors, and it always goes very badly for the writer.

Then he told me I didn’t know how to write humor. He also said I wasn’t creative. He gave me a contemptuous look and said, “Aren’t you supposed to be a science fiction writer or something?”

At which point, I finally lost my temper. I don’t remember exactly what I said, though I do recall working into my tirade the information that I’d never before been asked for 5 rewrites because I’d never before worked with such an incompetent editor. I took my work away from him and stalked out of his office after telling him my next version of it would be final, period.

Not long after that, I later learned, he posted a want-ad for someone to fill my position, and after he arranged a start date with the new hire, he fired me.

The sad part, so to speak, was that the pieces he kept spiking were funny, and none of them ever saw the light of day.

So when Alex Shvartsman asked me to participate in UFO6, I decided to turn my ideas  for that article into a short story. The result is “Lost & Found,” in which some surprising visitors emerge from a UFO orbiting Earth.

And apparently someone thinks I can write humor, since Imagine A Book SF gave my story 5 stars and said, “So many different layers of humor. Wonderful.”

Yep, getting published is still the best revenge.

 

 

I had the pleasure this summer of doing a radio interview with the delightful Patzi Gil, creator and host of Joy On Paper, a syndicated radio program “for writers and those who dream of writing.”

I meant to post this interview several months ago, but I have been run off my feet all year. And so I am doing this exactly the way I’m doing everything else in 2017, i.e. months after I meant to do it.

A writer and radio pro, Patzi Gil interviews writers and agents “to learn the story behind the book.” She talked with me about the years it took to get Esther Diamond published, the mishandled first release which led to my contract being canceled, and the second chance at life that the series found at my current (and wonderful) publisher, DAW Books. We also talked about how I first got started writing while living in Sicily years ago, why I chose to write about an actress, and what it’s like to be my father’s daughter.

Patzi is a charming, welcoming, and enthusiastic host. You can hear the interview here:

My newest short story, “Achilles Piquant & the Elsinore Vacillation,” is in this month’s (November 2016) Galaxy’s Edge Magazine, edited by Mike Resnick (my dad). It’s available free online this month, and will be available in ebook and print editions of the November issue for the foreseeable future.


After publisher Shahid Mahmud got the old man to agree to edit the mag, Pop asked me to submit a story for the second issue…. But as you may have noticed from the cover here, I am making my debut in issue #23. Oops.

I meant to submit a story 21 issues ago. Truly! But, as so often happens, time ran away from me…

Also, despite having written about 70 short stories, I am not a natural short fiction writer. With only a couple of exceptions (and this story is one of them), I have written all of my short stories for themed anthologies where an editor gave me a deadline (and not meeting it would mean not being in the book) and, more to the point (for me), story parameters.

Sometimes the parameters are simple, such as “write a fantasy story of 3K-6K words about a horse or equine creature” (Horse Fantastic, for which I wrote “No Room For the Unicorn,” now available in my Highway To Heaven collection). Sometimes they’re very specific, such as “write a science fiction or fantasy story about Sherlock Holmes” (Sherlock Holmes in Orbit, for which I wrote “The Adventure of the Missing Coffin,” now available in Maybe You’ve Heard of Me?). And sometimes they’re complex (I wrote “Your Name Here,” a satire about population control, for How To Save the World, a 2013 edition of Fiction River Magazine, for which editor John Helfers established  detailed parameters about the sort of science fictional challenges he wanted to see tackled).

I can do that kind of thing. I’ve done it 5 or 6 dozen times, after all. But my natural “lean,” as both a writer and also a reader, is much more toward novels than toward short fiction. And so I tend to stall when the only parameter is “write a science fiction short story one of these days for this bi-monthly magazine.” Hence the passage of many issues of the mag before I submitted a story (and during which time I wrote short stories for several themed anthologies).


Anyhow… around the time I was trying to think of a short story for Galaxy’s Edge, I read a passage in Christopher Hitchens’ memoir, Hitch-22, in which he described a dinner party game of inventing Robert Ludlum-style titles for Shakespeare plays. My sort of game! I love Shakespeare, and I love spy novels (and have enjoyed Ludlum novels like The Bourne Identity, The Rhinemann Exchange, and The Matarese Circle). I also love word games, and I even enjoy brainstorming titles (some writers hate it).

Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses and Midnight’s Children, was one of the diners playing this game with Hitchens, and he suggested The Elsinore Vacillation for Hamlet. I thought this was a delightful title, especially since Hamlet’s vacillation drives me crazy (it is not among my favorite Shakespeare plays). So I decided to use that title (crediting Mr. Rushdie, of course) and write a Hamlet parody.

I’ve also lately become a big fan of Agatha Christie, whose writing I only tried for the first time a few years ago, and I have been gradually working my way through all her books—I’m about halfway there. So my Shakespearean tale cross-pollinated with a cozy murder mystery, set aboard a starship, in which an indecisive and ambitious Lieutenant Hamlet secures the assistance of an investigative android, Achilles Piquant, to investigate the sudden death of the ship’s captain.

I had fun writing it, and I hope people have fun reading it.

 

June 4th update: This deal for 11 DRM-free ebooks ends at midnight tonight (EDS time)!

 

My book Rejections, Romance, & Royalties is in an 11-ebook bundle this week at StoryBundle, all DRM-free books on the craft & business of writing professionally.

Pay $5 and get a 6-book bundle, including my book; pay at least $15, and get the additional 5 bonus books and a 40%-off coupon for Jutoh ebooking software. You can also allocate part of your purchase price to foundations that encourage young people to read and write.

The bundle includes books by award-winners, bestsellers, and career writers, and there’s a lot of great information in these volumes.

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And here’s a sample chapter from Rejection, Romance, & Royalties:

Orphans of the Storm

Once upon a time (come on, who doesn’t love a story that begins that way?), I sold my first book, a romance novel, to Silhouette Books, a division of Harlequin Enterprises (a.k.a. The Evil Empire).

As first sales go, it was a fairly painless process. Several months after I sent them my manuscript, I received an encouraging letter from an editorial assistant saying she liked my book and was passing it higher up the food chain. A few months after that, I received another letter from her saying that the book was getting favorable readings, but acquiring a new author was a lengthy process at Silhouette, one which required patience and time. Then, about eleven months after I’d mailed in the manuscript, I received a FedEx letter from an editor at Silhouette; they’d been trying to reach me for several days, but there was no answer at the phone number I’d given them, and so they wanted me to call them.

(This was back in the spring of 1988. I didn’t have a computer, I had never heard of e-mail, and I didn’t own an answering machine.)

So I phoned them. The editor who’d signed the letter answered the phone, gushed nicely about my writing, and made me an offer for the book—an offer that was roughly the advance sum which, based on my research, I expected from them. The editor (whose name I’ve long since forgotten) praised my talent and said she would like to see everything else I had written. She explained that she’d be interested in buying several books per year from me.

I was, needless to say, thrilled!

The editor’s revision requests on that first book were neither arduous nor unreasonable. I completed them easily, turned in the final manuscript, and got paid. And, as requested, I sent her the rest of my work: two more complete manuscripts, and one partial.

The next time I heard from my editor was when I received a letter from her announcing she was leaving Silhouette and, indeed, leaving the publishing industry entirely (which is why I don’t even remember her name anymore). Her last day in the office, to answer questions or deal with her writers, was the day the letter was mailed and (obviously) several days before I received it. Her letter assured me I would soon be assigned to a new editor. She didn’t make any mention of the manuscripts that I had sent her at her request.

When I finally received another letter informing me who my new editor was, I phoned her so that we could get acquainted, talk about the book that I had in production there, and talk about the manuscripts which were now presumably sitting on her desk.

I only remember her first name, and only because it was so comically unsuited to her personality: Joy. She was a listless, sour person who told me that I’d been shoveled onto her already too-heavy workload along with a bunch of other writers whom, like me, she really didn’t want or have time for.

I asked when my first novel was scheduled for release. Joy didn’t know and was “too busy” to find out.

I asked about the three manuscripts which I had submitted at my previous editor’s request. Joy didn’t know and was too busy to find out. I reminded her of my option clause; Silhouette had sixty days, from submission, to give me an answer on those manuscripts. She coldly informed me she had no idea when she’d have time to read them.

A couple of months passed with no contact from Joy. So I phoned her. She never phoned back. I phoned her again. She still didn’t phone back. I phoned yet again—and caught her at her desk this time. She hadn’t looked at my manuscripts, had no idea where they were, was too busy to look for them, and didn’t really have time to waste talking to me. I reminded her that the option period had now expired, so an answer would be appropriate. She responded with irritable indifference and ended the conversation.

I had been (perhaps you’ve heard the term before) orphaned.

This is one of the many pitfalls of publishing that you don’t really think about (and perhaps don’t even hear about) when you’re trying to break into the business. While it doesn’t happen often, it’s nonetheless a typical enough experience that a writer should be aware of the possibility.

Being “orphaned” usually means that your editor leaves the publishing house, for one reason or another, and the editor who gets you in her place doesn’t particularly want you or care about your career. She didn’t discover you, didn’t acquire you—she’s merely inherited you, and she clearly wishes she hadn’t.

Some writers wind up leaving publishing houses (involuntarily) after being orphaned; because it’s not just the publisher who buys and believes in your work—it is very specifically and importantly the editor. Without an editor interested in your work and championing you within the house, you probably have no real future there.

Now, let’s clarify: Being orphaned does not necessarily lead to problems. There are numerous instances where your new editor is just as enthused about your writing as your old one was, perhaps even more so. There are many instances where you are just as compatible with your new editor as you were with her predecessor, perhaps even more so. There are editors who inherit you and automatically call you up to tell you how excited they are about working with you hereafter. There are editors who, before making that call, spend all weekend reading everything you’ve published with their house so they can chat intelligently with you about your work. So let’s not panic. Being orphaned is not always a disaster. It’s not even always an awkward or difficult thing.

In my case, however, it was a genuine career crisis. I knew no one at Silhouette Books, and none of them knew me. I was a brand new writer with one modest sale under my belt. It’s very common for writers to disappear after just one or two sales, so no one at Silhouette would have ever wondered why I had never survived beyond my first book with them. I was powerless and friendless, and I had been inherited by an editor who very clearly just wanted to get rid of me. An editor who wanted me to disappear, because I represented nothing to her except extra work that she didn’t want. An editor who, just by stalling me, rejecting me, and dodging my calls, had the ability to make me disappear.

This went on for five months. The closest Joy ever got to reading my work was to farm out one of my manuscripts to a free-lance reader who, she then told me, gave it an “unfavorable report.” Joy explained to me that, based on that reaction, she herself didn’t expect to like any of my work, and she doubted that I would make another sale to Silhouette.

Wow, can’t get much clearer than that, can she?

I panicked. I knew that in order to save my fledgling career, I had to do something to get past this (I use the word loosely) editor. She was a serious impediment to my professional survival. So I did something I almost never do: I sought the advice of my father, science fiction writer Mike Resnick.

At his suggestion, I wrote a carefully worded letter to Joy’s boss. I praised Joy effusively… and remarked on how terrible I felt about the way she was so overworked. I commented on her tremendous work ethic and personal charm… and mourned that she was so busy, she’d gone five months without having a chance to read any of my optioned manuscripts. I expressed tremendous admiration for Joy… while reflecting that it just seemed unfair that she was afflicted with so many writers she didn’t even have time to return my phone calls. And I nobly volunteered to be assigned to another editor—someone who, while perhaps lacking Joy’s warmth, brilliance, and efficiency, might actually have a chance to read my submissions.

In other words, I asked for a new editor and explained my reasons, while being careful not to openly criticize the one I was with. I also copied the letter to Joy herself, so that I wouldn’t appear to be going behind her back or trying to stir up trouble.

It worked. Joy’s boss phoned me personally for a long, friendly chat. She never criticized Joy in our conversation, but she clearly understood that it was a bad situation and I needed to be moved. Within a week or two, I was reassigned to another editor—one who spent the weekend reading the book I had under contract there and all of my new submissions, then phoned me, made me an offer, talked about how enthused she was about working with me hereafter, and did all the other things that a good editor does when she inherits a writer. She and I worked together for several years at Silhouette, and we have remained friendly ever since those days. So the story has a happy ending.

So, when your editorial relationship isn’t working out, you can ask for a new editor. A smart publisher knows that editors and writers work better when they’re teamed with the right individuals. (Unfortunately, not all publishers are smart; but if you don’t ask, you’ll never know.)

However, if you’re going to do this, your editorial problems need to be real problems, not just a case of an editor who didn’t buy a book you wanted to sell her, or whose personality you’re not that crazy about. Also, remember that although most publishing houses will humor this request once, they’ll rarely do it twice; if you have problems with your subsequent editor there, then you are likely to be regarded as the problem. So before asking for a new editor, make sure that you’re positive that any change would be an improvement. (In my situation with Joy, I was quite positive.)

Asking for a new editor, while well within your rights as a writer, is a delicate political move. You may have many good reasons to hate the editor, but she is an employee (possibly even a favored and longtime one) of the house. So it’s best to be as tactful and non-accusatory as possible, while nonetheless making your needs known to your editor’s superior.

As for Joy… she left publishing forever only a few weeks after I got reassigned, so you’re in no danger of running into her. (A lot of editors you’ll meet along the way leave publishing forever. Really. It’s not just the ones who work with me.)

And remember the editorial assistant who kept sending me nice encouraging letters before my first sale? She later became my editor for a couple of years. She eventually left the business, but we’ve remained friends all these years. (And just to clarify: She did not leave the business because of me, okay?)

                                                                * * *    

You can purchase the bundle of books at Story Bundle for only a few more days, so grab it now.

For a limited time only, my nonfiction book on the working life of the average downtrodden professional novelist, Rejection, Romance, & Royalties: The Wacky World of a Working Writer, is in a book bundle (a group of DRM-free ebooks sold as a set, a herd, a gaggle!) with a bunch of other cool books on the craft and business of writing, including:

  • The Novel Writer’s Toolkit by Bob Mayer
  • Writing Into the Dark by Dean Wesley Smith
  • Playing the Short Game by Douglas Smith
  • Making Tracks – A Writer’s Guide to Audiobooks by J. Daniel Sawyer
  • Business For Breakfast – Vol 1: The Beginning Professional Writer by Leah Cutter

They’re available at: http://storybundle.com/writing

You can get that whole set of ebooks for as little as $5. But if you decide to pay at least $15, you also get this whole set of bonus ebooks:

  • Break Writer’s Block Now! by Jerrold Mundis
  • Writing Horses – The Fine Art of Getting It Right by Judith Tarr
  • The Write Attitude by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
  • Pitfalls of Writing Fantasy by Vonda N. McIntyre
  • 30 Days in the Word Mines by Chuck Wendig

The bonus package additionally includes a 40% discount coupon for Jutoh, an ebook creation tool for all platforms.

The purchase price also allows you to donate a portion of the money to Girls Write Now and Mighty Writers, both of which causes help nurture future generations of writers.

StoryBundle offers a book-buying model that lets you decide what you want to pay and how you want your purchasing dollars to be allocated. Find out more when you visit http://storybundle.com/writing to purchase this great package of books on the craft and business of writing, written by bestsellers, award-winners, and career novelists.

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I was Guest of Honor (GoH – pronounced “go”) at MillenniCon 29 this weekend, where a good time was had by all. And at the traditional GoH reception on Friday night, the convention unveiled a beautiful sheet cake which was the size of my car–and decorated with themes from my Esther Diamond fantasy series, which I found especially thoughtful. (Note the diamond, the comedy-tragedy dual-mask image that’s the traditional symbol of thespians like Esther, and the books. Also, the cake was yummy!)

Photo Mar 20, 7 57 36 PM

MillenniCon is a science fiction/fantasy fannish convention in the Cincinnati/Dayton/Ohio Valley area, so it’s local to me (I’m a longtime Cincinnatian and now live in Northern Kentucky–so close to Cincinnati than I can easily walk to downtown Cinti, across the Ohio River, and can see parts of it from my back yard.) They like to feature local sf/f writers, and past GoHs include fellow Cincinnatians Mike Resnick (my dad) and Stephen Leigh aka S.L. Farrell, as well as Midwestern residents John Scalzi, Jim Hines, Eric Flint, and Tobias Buckell. Over the years, they’ve also brought in guests from farther afield, including Robert Sawyer, Connie Willis, Catherine Asaro, David Brin, Larry Niven, Lois McMaster Bujold, Joe Haldeman, and so on. As you can imagine, I am honored to be in such company.

Before opening ceremonies (generally pretty unceremonial in the sf/f world, but always fun and friendly), my fearless GoH liaison Cheryl, responsible all weekend for making sure I didn’t disappear down a manhole or get lost in the laundry, took me and several others out for dinner, including former MillenniCon GoH and friend-of-con David Drake. Later on, after the GoH reception back at the hotel and some evening programming (during which I confessed to enjoying Elvis Presley movies), there was the usual round of parties. (As I have said before, the sf/f world is mostly about the parties, not the books.)

I was settling down to sleep around 2am that night when I realized I had forgotten a bunch of essential things at home–such as something to read to the audience at my reading in the morning–so I made a middle-of-the-night trek back to my house across the river to get forgotten items. Upon arriving home, I surprised the Infamous Hector in the middle of constructing a catapult in the cellar by using–it seemed–pieces of a Scrabble game he had  liberated from the top shelf (9 feet high) in an upstairs closet. So it was a rather long night.

Like many others at MillenniCon, I was jailed the next day. (This is a fundraiser whereby people pay a few dollars to arrest and imprison anyone of their choice for 5-15 minutes in a temporary jail that’s constructed in the lobby. The jailer is a well-armed Klingon, so I went quietly, officer.) That evening, writer Stephen Leigh aka SL Farrell, who has been publicly performing in rock bands for decades, did a great job of entertaining the audience during the intermission at the masquerade while we waited for the judges to deliberate and make their decisions. Afterwards, on my way to the parties, I saw a giant blue sea monster in the hallway, and everyone said I’d had enough to drink. But I saw it again the next day, too, after all the effects of wine and questionable company had worn off. Hah!

Sunday wrapped up with some more programming, during which time I realized that I probably shouldn’t spend so much time at parties when I have a heavy programming schedule, since I am not quite the spring flower that I used to be.

Overall, I believe that being a good GoH means being polite and accessible, available to committee and attendees during most waking hours during the con, well-prepared on programming, and courteous to everyone who has shown up in hopes of having a nice time. So I tried hard to follow that example, since that’s all much easier than, oh, writing a book, and certainly not a lot to ask of an author in exchange for making her the honored guest of a convention.

And concoms make it a very positive experience for the GoH by running a good con where everyone has a good time, as well as extending warm hospitality to the GoH. All of which was the case at MillenniCon, which was a happy experience for me and, as far as I could tell, for everyone else, too.

Next year is MillenniCon’s 30th anniversary, for which they’re planning big festivities, including inviting back some former GoHs, such as my dad and my friend Jim Hines–so I’ll certainly be in attendance!

I did a radio interview today on Cincinnati Edition, hosted by Mark Heyne on WVXU, in tandem with MillenniCon Chair, Christy Johnson. Here’s the recorded feed, which runs about 25 minutes:

http://wvxu.org/post/author-laura-resnick-will-be-special-guest-weekends-millenicon-29-cincinnati

 I’m GoH (guest of honor) at MillenniCon this weekend. Here’s a link to the con:
http://www.millennicon.org/


And here’s my schedule:

FRIDAY

 7pm:    Opening Ceremonies        (Harrison/Garfield)

 8pm:    GoH Reception        (Con Suite)

 10pm: Guilty Secrets           (Taft/Grant)
Things we’ve written that we didn’t tell anyone about; movies and books we love that we secretly love but keep a secret. What happens at this panel stays at this panel.
Resnick (m), C. Hartwell, C. Matthews, S. Rechtin

 

 SATURDAY

 11am: GoH Reading (Harrison/Garfield)

 12pm: GoH Autographs (Lobby)

 2pm:    Women and the Future (Taft/Grant)
Will women become the new men in the 21st century?” Women are attaining the majority of college degrees, and are the more numerous sex in our country. Women are often the head of the household and bread winner today. Single motherhood is almost a norm today. How will this affect society and relationships in 20, 40, 60 years?
Sax (M), D. Waltz, L. Resnick, C. Matthews, H. Davis, S. Rechtin

 4pm:    Make ‘Em Laugh (Taft/Grant)
Writing comedy and humor in SFF
Resnick (M), C. Stasheff, A. Matthews, C. Matthews

 

SUNDAY

 11am: Authors & Pets (Harrison/Garfield)
Pets are often incorporated into SFF writing. Come learn how some authors are challenged and inspired by their pets.
Waltz, L. Resnick, S. Leigh, M. Resnick

12pm: GoH Autographs (Lobby)

2pm:    GoH Q&Q      (Harrison/Garfield)

3pm:    Closing Ceremonies (Harisson/Garfield)

 

Years ago, I was a recovering romance writer looking for a new genre, and I wrote a proposal for an urban fantasy series that I felt was exactly what I should be writing: A comedy series set in New York City and featuring Esther Diamond, a struggling actress (I was also a recovering aspiring actress) who gets involved in supernatural misadventures via her career. The proposal included a brief description of the series, synopses for the first three books, and the first three chapters of book one, Disappearing Nightly.

As readers of the series already know, in Disappearing Nightly, Esther is performing in an off-Broadway flop called Sorcerer! when the leading lady really vanishes during the disappearing act. After several more performers around the city mysteriously disappear during their magic acts, Esther joins forces with Dr. Maximillian Zadok, an elderly mage who specializes in unraveling mystical mayhem. She also butts heads with Detective Connor Lopez, a skeptical NYPD cop who finds Esther attractive in green body paint—or anything else.

Max and Esther would become partners in paranormal crime-solving as the series continued, and Esther’s relationship with Lopez would become more serious and more conflicted. Structured like a mystery series, the books would mostly (though not always) be stand-alone stories, and the series would be open-ended. That is, the characters confront Evil as a day-to-day job that someone’s always got to do; there is no specific entity or master-enemy who can ultimately be defeated or destroyed to remove all Evil from the world (or from New York City).

However, neither urban fantasy nor comedy was popular in the fantasy genre when I wrote the Esther Diamond proposal. This meant that selling the series would take some persistence. But, alas, I was letting my work be represented by literary agents at the time, and too many agents (including all four of my former agents) approach selling books with all the enthusiasm and commitment that I bring to thinking about cleaning my oven. In a pattern that typifies my experiences with literary agents, my then-agent sent the Esther Diamond proposal to three editors, they all rejected it, and the agent promptly declared the series unsaleable, refused to send it out ever again, and thereafter bit my head off whenever I raised the subject.

 A few years later I fired the agent, and then I sent out Esther Diamond on my own. Within weeks, I got a good multi-book offer for her.

Unfortunately, though, that publisher did a poor job of publishing the first book, including a terrible cover, bad pricing decisions, and no marketing. This happens a lot. (And lest you think, “Ah! A literary agent would have known not to sell there!” Actually, the agent I’d recently fired placed other writers with that same publisher while refusing to send Esther Diamond anywhere.) As you’d expect, the book sank like a stone (which also happens a lot). Responding exactly the way most publishers usually respond to their own publishing mistakes, the publisher canceled my contract. So this series, which it had taken me years to get aloft, was shot down and lying dead in the water once again.

Meanwhile, in a fit of “conventional wisdom” idiocy, I had hired my new/fourth literary agent to “represent” me after I got that book deal on the table by myself. This was a very expensive mistake on my part. She collected 15% of that deal and never took the slightest interest in my career again. From then on, it became progressively harder to get my calls returned or my emails answered. And now that I had been dumped by the publisher and my career was in trouble, she made it clear that I was as welcome at that agency as a corpse at a vegan banquet.

Technically, I fired that agent; but that’s a lot like saying, “I filed for divorce after discovering my spouse had left me.” Then I (foolishly) queried some other agents. They were all negative about my plan to find a new publisher for Esther Diamond and even more negative about my writing. (If you were thinking that 20 book sales protects you from agents telling you that you can’t write–hah!–then think again.) Before long, I realized that it was well past time to give up on agents and concentrate on getting another publishing contract. So I once again researched the market and submitted Esther on my own… And, once again, within a few weeks, I got a good multi-book offer for her.

(Sidebar: Giving up on literary agents proved to be one of the very best business decisions I’ve ever made. I’ll talk about this more in future posts (and I’ve talked about it often in my Nink column and on other people’s blogs), but my career has improved so much since I quit working with agents that I regret not making the decision years before I did, and it’s difficult to think of a scenario in which I’d choose to go back to working with one.)

The editor who took a chance on this canceled series was the inimitable Betsy Wollheim, publisher of DAW Books—who won a well-deserved Hugo Award for Best Editor in sf/f in 2012. (Her co-publisher, Sheila Gilbert, got a long-overdue nomination for the same award in 2014.)  DAW Books, which is a small independently owned house (distributed by the Random Penguin empire), is very different from any other publishing house I’ve ever worked with, in that they treat me like a respected professional associate and treat my work as a valued asset. My experience with other publishers for many years was consistently that I was typically treated as something between a necessary nuisance and a crack whore, and my work was treated as anything from filler for holes in the schedule to street garbage. So, needless to say, I have been very happy at DAW Books and hope to keep writing for them for a long time.

I could tell I was finally at the right house with this book early on, when DAW (in an example of how differently they work than all my previous publishers) asked me what cover artists I was thinking of for this series–and it turned out we both had the same top pick: the brilliant Dan Dos Santos, who has done all but one of the the DAW Esther Diamond releases to date. (Dan was not available to do the reissue of Disappearing Nightly, which dropped into the schedule on short notice after I got the rights back. The DAW cover for DN was done by the talented David Palumbo, who was very professional and great to work with.) I also worked well together with DAW editorially and on production, and this is a better series as a result of being at that house instead of any other. So things have really worked out for the best, despite the long hard road that Esther Diamond traveled to get here.

The first book we did together was Doppelgangster, Esther #2, followed by Unsympathetic Magic and Vamparazzi. By then, I had rights back to Disappearing Nightly and the original, doomed edition was no longer in print; so I did a few minor revisions to the manuscript (it’s a luxury to be able to do some continuity fixes on book #1 of a series after you’ve written book #4). DAW repackaged it with the Palumbo cover and released this reissue the same year it released Esther #5, Polterheist, which was followed by The Misfortune Cookie a year later, and then Abracadaver in November 2014.

I’m now working on Esther Diamond #8, Goldzilla, set on Wall Street, and ED #9 & #10 are under contract with DAW. (That doesn’t mean the series ends with #10; it just means that’s how far we’re contracted at this time.)

Deep into writing this series now, after years of trying to get it off the ground, I still feel that this is exactly what I should be writing (though not the only thing that’s exactly what I should be writing), so I’m in this for the long haul. And I hope that readers will be, too!

Esther Diamond: Disappearing Nightly by Laura Resnick Esther Diamond: Doppelgangster by Laura Resnick Esther Diamond: Unsympathetic Magic by Laura Resnick Esther Diamond: Vamparazzi by Laura Resnick
Esther Diamond: Polterheist by Laura Resnick Esther Diamond: The Misfortune Cookie by Laura Resnick Esther Diamond: Abracadaver by Laura Resnick

 

SF/F writer K. Tempest Bradford recently published an article challenging readers to go one year without reading straight white male authors. Here’s the article in question:

http://www.xojane.com/entertainment/reading-challenge-stop-reading-white-straight-cis-male-authors-for-one-year

Everyone and their cousin seems to be talking about it this week. And since every noisy fray really needs yet one more voice, here’s my take on it. (Written mostly, I confess, because I’m stalling on attacking a mountain of 2014 bookkeeping and other unpleasant paperwork that currently covers my desk.)

I think a fair bit of this brouhaha is due to the nature of the sf/f genre and the social issues being debated (to put it mildly) in the sf/f community. After all, in the romance genre (which is where most of my writing friends work, and where I got my start as a novelist, lo, those many years ago), most of the writers and readers are women. So exhortations to read more women authors don’t arise in that community, since that’s what they’re already reading much/most of the time. (I’m not sure about other aspects of diversity in the romance genre, though.)

Anyhow, my reaction to being challenged to give up Straight White Male writers for a year goes like this.

I can’t think of any writers whose names indicate their sexual orientation. Can you? Is there any such thing as a gay/lesbian/transgender name? Or do authors routinely list their sexual orientation in their formal jacket bios? Such as:

“The author has published four previous novels, has won multiple awards, lives in a coastal village in Maine, and is gay.”

I can’t recall seeing that bio on a book jacket.

Nor does an author’s fiction give the reader a reliable indication of his or her sexual orientation. For example, the New York Times bestselling Lord John novels feature a gay protagonist; the author of his adventures is heterosexual (Diana Gabaldon). There are also gay authors who write straight protagonists. I can think of several current examples, but since I’m not sure how public they are about their sexual orientation, I’ll stick with naming the late E.M. Forster and the (very) late Oscar Wilde.

And even when an author’s photo clearly indicates their gender and racial/ethnic heritage, how often do photos reveal their sexual orientation? (Rarely, if ever, would be my guess.)

And what if there is no photo? (My last 8 books have all been published without an author photo.) Many (most?) writers also do not have names that reliably indicate their race or ethnicity. For example, among the names Sargeant, McLinn, Christopher, Delaney, Putney, Morrison, Day, Barnes, Gerristen, and Jenkins, which of those names “sound white” to you? Are some of those authors African-American? Or Asian or Hispanic, using married names, paternal-family names , or pseudonyms that don’t perfectly align with their ethnicity? (Hint: Most of those authors are not white.) Similarly, are you sure an author named Arroyo, Wu, or Offong is not white? Again, what if that’s a married name, paternal family name, adoptive family name, etc.?

And, again, a writer’s material doesn’t necessarily indicate their ethnicity, either. For example, the protagonist of the Kirinyaga stories is a Kikuyu mundumugu who holds fast to traditional tribal values and laws; the author of those award-winning stories is my dad, Mike Resnick, a white atheist from a Jewish background, who shares none of his African protagonist’s beliefs.

A percentage of writers also have names or pseudonyms that don’t reliably reveal their gender: N.K. Jemisin, Nevada Barr, J.K. Rowling, Paris Afton Bonds, C.L. Moore, P.D. James, Kim Stanley Robinson, Evelyn Waugh, E.M. Forster, Georges Sand, George Eliot, e.e. cummings, Kameron Hurley, J.D. Salinger, Harper Lee, and so on. Not to mention how many writers’ names originate in languages so unfamiliar to me (Thai, Turkish, Chinese, Arabic, Swahili, etc.) that I’ve no idea what gender the name signals, even if it’s self-evident to people who know that language or culture. And when she started writing as Robert Galbraith, J.K. Rowling took pains to conceal that the author was not male. Similarly, Jennifer Wilde was a popular romance writer in the 1970s whose true gender and sexual orientation were concealed for years (the late Tom Huff, a gay man).

So in order to ensure that I am not reading straight white male authors, I’d have to do far more googling and research on writers than I am willing to do, since my interest is in their fiction rather than in the authors or their personal details. And even if I wanted to go to such effort, some of that information isn’t available without a bizarre intrusion into their privacy, since some writers choose not to discuss various aspects of their lives in interviews and social media.

Additionally, apart from having no interest in trying to research writers’ personal information before deciding whether to read their fiction, my reaction to Bradford’s article is that I would have found her argument more effective if phrased in a positive and constructive way, rather than phrased in the negative, counter-productive way she chose—by advising on authors (straight white male) not to read. What if some of my favorite writers are straight white males, after all? I’m certainly not going to deprive myself of the pleasure of reading their fiction for a year—precisely because, first and foremost, reading fiction should be a pleasure, in my opinion; not a duty, a chore, a project, or a social obligation. (The latter is particular to me. I know so many authors personally, I had to make a conscious choice years ago that knowing someone—even being close to them—doesn’t oblige me to read their books. Otherwise, I’d spend so much time reading for social obligation, I wouldn’t have any time left to read what I really want to read.)

I agree completely that reading a wide variety of authors and themes is a wonderful idea, one to be embraced. This practice has always been encouraged in my family, and it’s practiced by many of my friends, too. I also agree that reading about women, other societies, and other sexual orientations from the perspective of authors who are women, or who are from other societies than our own, or who have other sexual orientations other than “straight” is a suggestion to be embraced. But I don’t agree that limiting my reading in any way is a good idea. Not even if it’s the group—straight white male writers—whose voices have been heard the longest, loudest, and most consistently in our society’s reading culture…. Though not in usually my own reading, as it happens.

Years ago, some stranger at a party asked me what I read, as people often do with writers. I named a bunch of books I’d read lately, and named a bunch of writers that were among my favorites, and when I was done… The person asked, “Don’t you ever read any male authors?” I had named only women, and I hadn’t even noticed! Not until this person remarked on it.

Although I still tend to read more women than men, ever since that conversation made me realize I’d been limiting my reading, I make more of an effort to read male novelists. Your mileage may vary, but eliminating straight white male authors from my reading would probably set me back, in terms of the variety I read, since male authors (of any ethnicity or sexual orientation) used to be noticeably absent from my fiction reading.

 

typewriterI started writing this in response to a post in a discussion on The Passive Voice, a blog I read regularly, in which a writer whom I respect noted that one of the drawbacks with indie writing (aka self-publishing) in sf/f is that the work so rarely gets noticed in awards venues, seldom getting nominated or appearing on awards ballots. But my response got so long, I thought to myself, you know, this is really a blog post. And now that I have a blog (!), I should post it there. So here goes.

In terms of whether it’s a disadvantage worth considering (when deciding whether to self-publish novels or submit them to publishers) that indie fiction in sf/f gets little/less attention in the awards process… I think sf/f awards ballots are probably both less important and more accessible than they’re usually given credit for being.

The last time I was nominated for an award in sf/f was 1993, when I won the Campbell (best new sf/f writer). So I have not appeared on an sf/f award ballot for nearly 22 years.

Yet since 1993 (when I had no intention of writing sf/f novels), I’ve released 11 fantasy novels from major houses, and currently have 5 more under contract; have released another 50-60 sf/f short stories, and currently have 5-6 more in production or owed to editors; and I was asked to write a column for the SFWA Bulletin (which I did, 2000-2003), though it was then already 7 years since I had last appeared on an awards ballot.

(I have also done other writing in the past 22 years—such as 2-3 more romance novels and several romance novellas, a nonfiction book, about 10 years of a monthly column for Nink—as well as attending graduate school full-time and then working briefly for a news bureau overseas, etc., etc.; but the above is what I’ve sold in sf/f since my last award nomination.)

Writing has been my full-time living most of the time since 1993 (and for several years before that). I’ve worked regularly/steadily as a writer most of that time, and I’ve been working constantly in sf/f ever since I got literary agents out of my career. (Contrary to the popular mythology surrounding them, my own repeated experience was that literary agents were a genuine impediment to getting book contracts and earning a living.) A key reason (apart from my general inertia and disorganization) that I don’t submit short fiction to magazines and still haven’t self-published any frontlist (though I always intend to do both things!) is that I’m always running to keep up with my sf/f book contracts and my obligations to sf/f editors who’ve commissioned short stories from me.

My work is usually well-reviewed, and I’ve had starred reviews and some of my books have made various Year’s Best lists. But my work never appears on awards ballots and, as far as I know, is never even discussed or considered when people are deciding whom/what to nominate. (I state this as a factual observation, not as a complaint, reproach, or plea for comfort and reassurance.)

Moreover, when I saw the promo materials (aimed at head buyers and distributors) for my first-ever fantasy novel, In Legend Born (Tor Books, 1998), it didn’t mention my Campbell Award, so I pointed this out as an obvious mistake that should be rectified. But the publisher told me, nope, they weren’t putting that anywhere in the promo material, because it was irrelevant and no one cared.

I’ve also learned over the years that I make more substantial book advances than some Hugo, Nebula, Tiptree, etc. winners—though less than others, of course. Because book advances are largely based on sales or anticipated sales, rather than on awards.

Betsy-Wollheim

My editor and DAW Books co-publisher Betsy Wollheim receiving a well-deserved Best Editor Hugo in 2012.

So whatever the challenges of publishing indie that ones takes into account… my own experiences ensure that I’m not at all convinced that getting awards and nominations matters that much in a novelist’s career. Not enough, at any rate, to be factored into weighing the decision of whether to self-publish or to submit to publishers.

Which is not to say that awards don’t matter at all. For one thing, who doesn’t enjoy getting such recognition and kudos? Who doesn’t enjoy having a fantastic trophy in their office, as well as a daily reminder, within easy view, that they have published at least one thing that a lot of awards voters thought was the best work of the year in its category? Who doesn’t like subtitling their own name with, “_____ Award winner”? Winning awards is very satisfying, and personal satisfaction rates high in my world view.

Also, in a professional sense, an award is a handy thing. It raises the profile of your name and your work for a while. (For example, I first started thinking in 1994 about writing a fantasy novel because, after I won the 1993 Campbell, people started asking when I was going to write a novel in sf/f. I’d won for my body-of-work of short fiction up until then, and I was writing short fiction in sf/f strictly as an enjoyable sideline, sort of a paying hobby, amidst my book contracts as romance writer Laura Leone, where my career focus had been prior to 1993. But once people started asking, “Now that you’ve won the Campbell, when are you going to write a novel in this genre?” it occurred to me—because nothing slips past me!—that I had a window of opportunity here and should pursue it.)

Dad & awards

My dad, sf/f writer Mike Resnick, whose name recognition grew due, in part, to appearing often on awards ballots (and sometimes winning).

Moreover, getting on ballots regularly raises the profile of your name, in general, which is very handy. Name recognition is a key thing the writer strives for, so that editors will read the work quickly and eagerly (rather than let it gather dust in some remote corner of the office for two years), and so that readers will buy the work—nay, pre-order it!

And having said that, the good news is that there’s no reason indie novelists in sf/f can’t successfully pursue name-recognition-through-awards without a traditional book publisher in their careers, since most award categories in sf/f aren’t actually for novels, after all.

For example, the talented Kameron Hurley, whose sf/f novels are currently published by Angry Robot, won two 2014 Hugos, one for Best Fan Writer and the other for Best Related Work; both of those awards are for material that originated on her blog (some of it subsequently republished elsewhere). My friend Jim C. Hines, a popular novelist published by DAW Books, won his 2012 Hugo for Best Fan Writer, based on material on his blog. If you look through the Hugos history, you’ll see various other such examples.

Nor do you need traditionally published novels to attract nominations for your “other” work. Ted Chiang’s name appears on the Hugo and/or Nebula ballots almost every time he writes something—and he has never written a novel. Ken Liu, whose first novel will be released in April 2015, has previously won the Hugo, the Nebula, and the World Fantasy Awards with his short fiction. There are regularly nominees in the short story, novelette, and novella slots on all of those awards ballots who haven’t published novels, just as there are winners in the related works and fan writing categories every year in the Hugos. And a writer who gets on those ballots can just as easily put “Nebula finalist” or “Hugo nominee” (or winner) on her indie-published novels as a traditional publisher can.

Yes, award-winning short fiction in sf/f is still still usually published by traditional or semi-traditional venues (as per the above examples), rather self-published. If your goal with a story is to get awards attention, then submitting to sf/f fiction magazines is a strategy you should seriously consider. This is business, not ideology, so you should always match your strategy for a given project to your goals for it, rather than burying your goals in unthinking loyalty to The One True Way of releasing your work. Anyhow, the good news there is that the exclusive digital license with most sf/f markets for short fiction is reasonably brief, compared to the decades-long exclusive digital license that major book publishers still present as “non-negotiable” in their contracts.

(For people wondering where these short fiction markets are, check out my Writer’s Resources Page, which includes links to sites with market listings. Or review recent finalist ballots for the major sf/f awards and take note of which publications regularly have stories on those ballots.)

And, of course, if a work of short fiction doesn’t sell after being submitted to every viable market, you can (a) revisit the markets that have changed editors since you got your rejection, or (b) self-publish it, which is an option that didn’t exist in the Jurassic era when I won the Campbell. Whether you do that, or self-publish your short fiction from the get-go, indie release is not a graveyard-of-certain-obscurity anymore in terms of awards, though you’ll presumably have to campaign even harder than a traditionally published short fiction writer does (and let’s not be coy–many people do indeed campaign for nominations and awards in sf/f).

Also, while others may disagree, I feel that I see a significant (not predictable, overwhelming, or universal; but significant) corollary each year between writers who get on  sf/f awards ballots and writers who’ve made themselves very noticeable in the sf/f community through high-profile blogging, Tweeting, and social media, and/or many con appearances, and/or SFWA service.

So I think an indie writer who wanted to raise the profile of her books through awards/nominations would be sensible to employ a strategy of submitting regularly to the sf/f magazines whose contents appear often on the awards ballots while simultaneously writing a blog where she works shrewdly on attracting a large blog audience (note: this requires more than ranting at people to go read your blog), Tweeting effectively, writing a lot of “related works” and “fan writing” material, and perhaps serving in a prominent, visible SFWA volunteer role. It’s an exhausting prescription (which is why I haven’t tried it), but I really do think that if a person’s fiction is good, then her chances of appearing on sf/f awards ballots within 2-3 years, if she maintained that schedule, would be strong, due to having attracted some name recognition, through various means, among people engaged in the sf/f world and likely to participate in nominating works for awards—which is a small, targetable community, after all.

Finally, keep in mind that lots of people read sf/f who don’t attend sf/f cons, read no sf/f blogs or newsgroups, and pay little-or-no attention to sf/f awards. That’s why writers who’ve never been nominated for an sf/f award (or who, like me, haven’t been nominated for anything in over 20 years) can have decent writing careers.