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Subject: [rec.arts.sf.composition] Frequently Asked Questions

This article was archived around: 1 Aug 1999 11:14:49 GMT

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Archive-name: writing/sf-composition Posting-Frequency: bi-weekly Last-modified: 1997/04/29 Version: 1.3b URL: http://www.mgl.ca/~loki/rasfc Copyright: (c) 1997 Geoffrey Wiseman Maintainer: Geoffrey Wiseman <loki@mgl.ca>
[ Frequently Asked Questions for rec.arts.sf.composition, v1.3a ] Date of last modification: April 29, 1997. 0.0 VERSION CONTROL 96-11-21: v1.0 of the FAQ is released. 96-12-01: v1.1 contains minor corrections and adjustments 97-02-20: v1.2 contains real FAQ questions, with more to come. 97-04-17: v1.2a extra credits 97-04-21: v1.3 a substantial revision including new questions 97-04-29: v1.3a two new questions and some minor changes. 97-05-05: v1.3b approved by news.answers. posted, archived and sent to FAQ server. 0.1 Credits At the time this document was last modified, assorted credit for bits of this FAQ were due to: Loki <gwiseman@uoguelph.ca> Stevens R. Miller <lex@interport.net> Gary Farber <gfarber@panix.com> Patricia Wrede <pwrede6492@aol.com> Lisa Leutheuser <eal@umich.edu> Patrick Nielsen Hayden <pnh@tor.com> Dan Goodman <dsgood@visi.com> Patricia C. Wrede <pwrede6492@aol.com> Extra credit is given to the following people for contributing to this FAQ in an indirect fashion by being a long-time font of useful information: Gary Farber <gfarber@panix.com> Liz Holliday <Liz@gila.demon.co.uk> Patrick Nielsen Hayden <pnh@tor.com> Lawrence Watt-Evans <lawrence@clark.net> 1.0 INTRODUCTION This document is to serve as a list of frequently asked questions, as well as a form of help document for the Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.sf.composition. At the time this document was last modified, the maintainer of this FAQ was Loki and he could be found at gwiseman@uoguelph.ca for general email or loki@mgl.ca for general, non-urgent FAQ commentary that will be looked at less frequently. If you feel in need of a form of address and "oh great and wonderful maintainer of the rasfc FAQ" seems like a mouthful, try 'Geoff' or 'Loki'. Any questions, suggestions, comments or other feedback can be directed to him. Comments posted to rec.arts.sf.composition may well be seen, but no guarantees will be made. As well, requests for a copy of the FAQ may be sent to this address, although the FAQ itself should be up on the WWW in the near future. 1.1 Charter The charter for this newsgroup was posted with the RFD (Request for Discussion) and CFV (Call for Votes) for this newsgroup. It is reproduced here, with minimal modifications: Before discussing the newsgroup, one must define 'sf', for which I refer to the original CFV for the group that created the rec.arts.sf.* hierarchy: "Both science fiction and fantasy, as well as that vast blurred mass of material in between." This charter mirrors the position of the HWA: Horror is an emotion, not a genre. If the Horror takes place in a speculative fiction book, it can be discussed in an sf newsgroup. The rec.arts.sf.composition newsgroup would include, but not be limited to the following types of discussion: General writing questions, to be answered from the sf perspective. This includes market research, submission format and discussions on the process of writing itself, as it connects with the writing of sf. Discussion of the process of writing speculative fiction between professionals, aspiring writers or the merely interested. Discussion of the methods and processes of worldbuilding, the creation of new, alternate or historically-based worlds in which speculative fiction is often set. This newsgroup is not meant to replace or significantly overlap other groups. As such, topics that are on-topic and useful in other groups should be kept to those groups. That would include, but not be limited to the following exclusions: Discussion connected to writing, but not specifically to sf, nor with an important sf slant should be posted in misc.writing. Discussion about the science used in speculative fiction should be posted to rec.arts.sf.science. Discussion of existing written work should be left to rec.arts.sf.written. As well, the charter specifically excludes the posting of work unless that posting is specifically related to a topic that is being discussed, and is used in that context, and quoted briefly. Posting of work to be read and/or critiqued is excluded from the charter of this newsgroup, for a number of reasons. For those who wish to avail themselves of the group's resources, a specially marked header, "CRIT: " will be used to post short requests for critiquing or reading, with all followups directed to email, the poster's web page, rec.arts.prose, or any other valid forum, rather than the newsgroup. As for advertising, overt advertising is excluded from the group, particularly off-topic overt advertising (the kind that doesn't care what this charter says anyway). Tactful, brief, infrequently posted references to information that can be found elsewhere will be tolerated, but advertisers must tread that fine line carefully if they wish to avoid flamage from ad-hating regulars. 1.2 Annotations The charter as shown above was only slightly modified to clear up the section on the posting of work, as the phrasing wasn't as specific as it should have been. 1.3 FAQ Procedures At this time, the FAQ will be posted every two weeks. Changes to that timing will be made as the FAQ maintainer sees fit. It can also be posted on request, requested by email or found on the web at http://www.mgl.ca/~loki/rasfc. Further, it is archived on rtfm.mit.edu and can be found in news.answers. Anyone who wishes to keep a copy to post, email or from which to quote or post is asked to keep their copy up to date. Additions to the FAQ will be made as seen fit by the FAQ maintainer, but may be suggested by emailing the FAQ maintainer, or posting in the newsgroup. It is hoped that the Frequently Asked Questions section will primarily be composed of paragraphs quoted directly from newsgroup participants, or edited for brevity or clarity. Those participants will be asked in email before their comments are added, and their comments will only appear in the FAQ if they agree to it. 1.4 Where can I find this FAQ? It will be posted every two weeks by MIT's faq-server to news.answers, rec.answers and rec.arts.sf.composition. It can be found via FTP (or email) through rtfm.mit.edu under the archive name writing/sf-composition. It is on the web at http://www.mgl.ca/~loki/rasfc. 2.0 NEWSGROUP METHODS 2.1 Critiques As mentioned in the group's charter, posting of work to be read or critiqued is against the charter. Not only are there better, more valid places for that sort of activity, and not only does this cause publication difficulties that new writers may not have thought about, but these messages, being long and potentially frequent, could drive legitimate readers and traffic from the group. Please keep postings of work to small excerpts that fit into the discussion, or just don't post them. If you wish to post a message requesting that people read or critique your work, please use the "CRIT:" subject prefix to allow people to killfile your posts if they have no interest in reading or critiquing your work, or anyone else's. These messages should be kept brief, and should largely be a short summary of what you're requesting (be that reading or critiquing), a description of your story (theme, genre, size--whatever you feel is relevant, but be brief) and where that story can be found (email, WWW, FTP, whatever you want, just not on the group). 2.2 Netiquette That subject is too vast to go into in detail, and isn't really the business of the FAQ maintainer or the FAQ. However, it is hoped that flameage, crossposting, spam, and other egregious breaches of netiquette can be kept to a minimum, as they have been with rec.arts.sf.written. Further information can be found on the news.announce.newusers group, in the form of FAQs. 2.3 Advertising As stated in the charter, overt advertising is excluded from the group; if you wish to promote your work, your services or your products, please leave only a very brief message with minimal marketese. That is, while "My new book is on the shelves! Anyone seen it?" or "I've a program I think might be useful to writers: blah blah blah for more information, see the following URL:" is generally tolerable, long ads or extremely non-relevant posts or posts filled with hyperbole will likely get flamed. The charter deliberately leaves the matter vague--it is up to the group participants to determine what level of advertising is acceptable. While one can probably expect the posters (by and large, at least) to be reasonable, tread the line carefully. There -is- such a thing as bad publicity. I had a great example of an ad, but I seem to have misplaced it. I'll put it in here, if I locate it again. 2.4 Moderation The group, as proposed, was unmoderated. Most of those participating in the discussion of the group were strongly against group moderation. That policy will only change if the group as a whole, particularly regulars, decide to firmly support a switch to a moderated policy. 2.5 North America centrism, specifically USA-centrism. Some of the things in this FAQ will undoubtedly be given by American experts concerning submissions to American markets; although this is the prime audience of the FAQ, any corrections to make the FAQ more global are certainly welcomed. 3.0 FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS 3.1 What is the appropriate manuscript format for submission to speculative fiction markets? Is it important to get every detail right? As long as you get the basics right, there won't be any real harm done; in fact, it is a common opinion among pros and editors that many amateurs spend far too much time worrying about format that should be spent improving their writing. However, getting the basics right is certainly one of the first steps to from wannabe to would-be. Essentially: Spend ten minutes getting to know what the format is, stick to it, and stop worrying about it. Your main body of text should be double-spaced, with ragged-right justification (or left justification, as opposed to -full- justification) text organized into a series of paragraphs. Except when needed as scene breaks, there should be no additional blank lines between paragraphs. Scene break lines are preferably marked, either with an asterisk (*) or a pound sign (#). The typeface should not be proportionally spaced, and should be as close to typewriter text as possible. For most of us, that means Courier 12pt. The text should start halfway down the first page; as for the rest of the page, the writer's name and address should be in the upper left-hand corner, the word count in the upper right, the title and byline centered in the middle of the page. Every other page in the document should have the writer's last name, the story title and the page number in the upper right-hand corner, usually separated by slashes (eg: Wiseman / rasfc FAQ / page 2 ). Do not bind the manuscript in any permanent way; a removeable clip is acceptable. If the manuscript need not be returned, mark DISPOSABLE on the first page. Any part of the text meant to be displayed in italics should be underlined and -not- in italics. Although many reference sources not specific to sf/f/h will specify that you should include a rights-offered statement, this is not a standard practice in speculative fiction publication and should be avoided. References include: "Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy," Dozois, G. et al, ed.; St. Martin's Press, New York; 1993: 3.2 What about cover letters? If an editor has a specific policy with respect to cover letters, follow it. Otherwise, be brief. Most people with editing experience will tell you that unprofessional cover letters are a common mistake of amateurs. Your cover letter should simply include any -relevant- previous sales (no, not your article on hand-rolling cigarettes for the school paper), and potentially that you've graduated from Clarion, if you have. State that you're submitting a story, attached, and end the cover letter there, while you're still ahead. 3.3 So what's all this about rights, anyway? Unless otherwise specified, sf magazines are buying North American First Serial rights. In theory, this means that something published out of North America is saleable. In practice, mention -any- previous sales in the cover letter--most editors are not looking to buy reprints of any sort, unless you happen to be big-name. Of course, if you're not selling to a North American magazine, it is unlikely to be buying North American First Serial rights, but again, in practice, the distinction is rarely important. Likewise, electronic publication (web pages, newsgroups, large email lists, any place with real circulation) is likely to affect a work's salability; if you are trying to sell a work that has been electronically 'published' be sure and include that information in the cover letter. 3.4 Do I need a copyright notice? No. Stevens R. Miller summarized the issue quite well, so I'll quote directly: By international law (known as "the Berne Convention"), any work is protected by copyright law upon its fixation in a tangible medium. The author of the work owns the copyright unless the work was created for hire. No notice or symbol is required on the work. Some legal advantages apply when a notice is present, however, and the law defines a valid notice to look like: Copyright 1996 by Stevens R. Miller The "C" in a circle and other variations are also legal, but the above is always valid. In some countries, the phrase "all rights reserved" should accompany the notice. In the United States, the phrase adds nothing, but it also takes nothing away. To commence a suit for infringement, the copyright must be registered. However, registration can occur after infringement. Copyright lasts for the duration of the author's life, plus a term of years that Congress periodically has increased. In 1994, the term was fifty years. Anonymous works, joint works, works owned by corporations, and others all have rules governing them that vary the above, but the main point is: Once you've written it down somewhere, you have a copyright to it. Lisa Leutheuser (eal@umich.edu) adds the following caveat: If you're sending something through e-mail, don't take the chance that the recipient's e-mail software can handle anything beyond ASCII text, such as that fancy c-in-a-circle. Use "Copyright." Same said for fax machines. Why take the chance that the fax machine will not clearly scan the little c-in-a-circle? Basically, it's easiest just to include the full word. (C) and the full copyright symbol are harder to reproduce and often won't carry through all transmission media. 3.5 Trademarks Stevens R. Miller on the subject: A trademark is a form of intellectual property. It is any word, name, symbol, or device used by a manufacturer or merchant to identify his or her goods. (15 USC 1127). A valid trademark may not be used by anyone other than the markholder if that usage would reasonably confuse the public about whether or not the markholder's goods were being offered by the nonholder. Usage that cannot reasonably create this confusion is not a violation of trademark law. One can, therefore, use a trademark without permission or attribution, provided no reasonable confusion will result. The letter's "tm" need not be attached in such usage. Other restrictions besides trademark law, however, argue against unpermitted usage. Trademarks can also be protected by either copyright or patent law. If the trademark is used in a disparaging way, issues of unfair competition and defamation can arise. And, even where usage is entirely lawful, a markholder may, either through ignorance or with malicious intent, commence legal action that can be troublesome to combat. As a practical matter, trademarks should not be used without permission, unless one is prepared to defend against a law suit. (Foregoing is my general assessment of the matter based on my understanding of the law. This is not my area and anyone in need of advice on a particular issue should not rely on it.) Observation seems to indicate that tradmark use within fiction is common and not as fraught with danger as the above might indicate, but if you want to stay on the safe side, bear the above in mind. 3.6 How do I specify the word count on my manuscript? Your word processor very likely can give you the 'exact' word count of your docment; besides the fact that different word processors will give you different results, you should know that editors don't want to know how many 'words' you have, but want to estimate the amount of space that would be required by your text. Given the above, the word count should be given in an estimated form, rather than the exact form. The editors don't want to see the exact number, it makes a very small amount of extra work for them, and it marks the writer as an amateur. A common practice is to round off short story counts to the nearest hundred, and novels to the nearest thousand. 3.7 Hey, there's an email/news article from an agent/publisher here. Should I send something in? No reputable speculative fiction agents have been seen posting on Usenet so far, AFAIK. Chances are, it will remain that way. Be instantly suspicious of any agent who's soliciting you, rather than vice versa. There have been -very- infrequent postings by publishers. White Wolf, for instance, has posted their guidelines to newsgroups on occasion. Again, however, be suspicious unless you know the publisher. If you can't find the publisher in Locus, ask around. If no-one else has heard of them, that tells you all you need to know. Someone has nicely assembled 'dubious agents' and 'dubious publishers' lists for the 'net. While they aren't specific to speculative fiction, it's just a little bit more ammo for your research: The Dubious Agents List http://rain-crow-publishing.com/market/dub_ag.html The Dubious Publishers List http://rain-crow-publishing.com/market/dub_pub.html Robert J. Sawyer (76702.747@CompuServe.COM) listed the following agents as currently representing at least one member of the SFFWA: James Allen, Matthew Bialer (of William Morris), Barbara Bova, Richard Curtis, Russell Galen (of Scovil Chichak Galen), Ashley Grayson, Susan L. Graham, Merrilee Heifetz (of Writers' House), Joshua Bilmes (of JABerwocky), Sharon Jarvis, Virginia Kidd, Donald A. Maass, Ricia Mainhardt, Jonathan Matson (of Harold Matson), Kirby McCauley (of Pimlico), Shawna McCarthy (of Scovil Chichak Galen), Martha Millard, Howard Morhaim, William Morris, Inc., Owlswick Literary Agency, Scovil Chichak Galen, Valerie Smith, Ralph M. Vicinanza, Cherry Weiner, Eleanor Wood (of Spectrum) That list is, of course, dating itself as we speak and may never be valid for another second of its lifetime, but it gives a starting place for now. Hopefully, those in the know can help make sure it doesn't get egregiously out of date, but it's not to rely on. Read Locus for real agent information, or chat up your favorite on-line author. ;) 3.8 How's the submission process for novels really work? What about copyediting? From the keyboard of the eminent Patricia C. Wrede (pwrede6492@aol.com) comes the following: When you submit a manuscript, you usually send in one copy. That's the submission copy, or submission draft. The editor then decides whether or not to buy it. If not, you go on to the next publisher. If so... The editor asks for revisions. Always. Slow down the pace here, pick it up there, explain *why* the parrot didn't eat the goldfish this time when he'd eaten all six of the previous goldfish, add a darker edge, bring this sub-plot forward and push that one back, expand the fight scene and trim the conversation over tea (or vice versa; depends on the editor), and so on. Some of them are reasonable revisions; some of them you feel intensely stupid for not having thought of yourself; some of them are completely out of the question and you want to murder the editor for even *thinking* of them, much less suggesting them. So you talk. And eventually, you come to an agreement about what needs to be done. Then you, the writer, go and do it. The revisions are almost never a matter of fixing a page here and a page there; you end up doing a run through the whole manuscript, which you then print up and send off. (Some publishers request more than one copy at this point, so that the Art Department can have one while Editing and Production work on the other.) If the editor decides that it is now acceptable, this becomes the Final Manuscript, which gets sent to the copyeditor and then to the typesetter. The editor can (but seldom does) ask for a second or even a third round of revisions, in which case it's just an intermediate manuscript. In very rare instances (or in the case of publishers who don't believe in wasting time editing bestselling authors whose books will sell like hotcakes anyway), the editor will decide that the copy you originally submitted is fine, and send it straight on to the copyeditor (this actually happened to me once; it was a considerable shock). In this case, the submission manuscript and the final manuscript are the same thing. When sending in the final copy, it can be useful to include a style sheet--this indicates the variations that you were -attempting- to stick to. That means, if you used 'grey' and 'gray' inconsistently, your stylesheet will let the copyeditor know you meant to use the infinitely preferable 'grey'. :) As far as the format of the style sheet, Gary Farber had this to say: There are several; this is not an important detail so long as it is clear. Some houses have preferences for their copyeditors, some don't. The crucial detail is that every word is listed in alphabetical order as this is the quickest way to use the sheet(s) for reference. Whether you go with a more graphic format like an enlarged tic-tac-toe graph, each section for a letter, or use a strictly linear list by letter does not matter so long as it is clear and logical. Lastly, when you get a chance to review the copy-edited draft (this may or may not be specified in your contract--if it isn't, you -may- not get this chance, if time is short), a word that'll come in handy is 'stet'. You may use it so often that a 'stet' stamp will come in handy. You should be able to find it in a dictionary, but it means 'let it stand' and indicates that you want the copyedited change not to be made--you want the original, unchanged form which you originally submitted. 3.9 Are there Writer's groups/workshops on the 'net? Yes. Most people feel that a solid local writer's group is a better solution, but if there isn't one accessible to you, then an on-line workshop may be your ticket. You can search around the 'net for one, or just hop over to: http://www.critique.org/users/critters/eworkshops.html 3.10 To what speculative fiction magazines should I submit? There are market lists available on the 'net. The most commonly described one is: http://www.greyware.com/marketlist/ Very common advice from pros is to aim for the top of the heap, and work your way down, submitting constantly. For most people, that means the top pay-wise, OMNI, Playboy, Writers of the Future, Analog, Asimov's and perhaps a couple more. However, most of the prozines are worth being published in. Once you're in to semi-pro, it's up to you. Other people prefer to define the top of the heap through some other algorithm that works for them. That, as well, is up to you. But don't sell yourself short. Someone (iforgoetwho@perhapszhe'llspeakup.org) recently suggested that perhaps a better terminology than this almost B&D "submission" and "rejection": "I displayed my new short-short to Pirate Writings this week." "Oh really? How'd it go?" "Oh, they failed to comprehend it. However, they did send a good note of incomprehension, so that's always a promising sign." "Oh, good. Keep trying, they're bound to understand your work sooner or later." If nothing else, this makes the ol' repeated-submission routine much more entertaining to describe. 3.11 Why aren't there more questions than this? And more detail? What's the secret handshake, and why haven't you told me yet? What's the manuscript format again? Wannabe's and would-be's often get too caught up in the 'mysteries' of the writing world, and spend all their time worrying about how best to break through, obsessing about manuscript format, and calling editors at home. Here's what Patrick Nielsen Hayden (pnh@tor.com) had to say on the subject. Other people with similarly respectable experience have mirrored what he had to say, including Lawrence Watt Evans, and Gary Farber. I can barely find the words to say how tired I am of online obsessiveness about this stuff. Write good books. Write good books and send them out. They will get found. Most of the people fussing over Courier or query letters have not written good books and are not going to write good books. That's why they fixate on the petty little details instead. 3.12 Who is Dan Goodman, and why does he keep telling me to talk to a reference librarian? If every writer with a question asked around online instead of doing a little legwork for themselves, we'd be inundated with questions. If your question seems like the kind of thing you should be looking up, beware that we will suggest that you should do just that. If you have a particularly good reason why you're not looking it up, you might want to state that in your question- asking post. If you -are- going to look things up, you might want to know about reference librarians, since many people don't. Dan Goodman (dsgood@visi.com) wrote this up for the FAQ: You want to find out what sailors in the Spanish Armada ate. You go to the library; you look where cookbooks are, and books on sailing. If the answer isn't there, what do you do? You ask a reference librarian. There may be a reference- only book, or a book in storage, with the answer. Or a newspaper or magazine article which someone at the library clipped out and saved. Or maybe the information is in a book on Comparative Bureaucracy in the sociology section. A reference librarian who doesn't have the answer at hand can ask other reference librarians. It helps if you tell the reference librarian what you're looking for. Not "where can I find information about a historical figure in an Eastern European country?" but "I'm looking for information on the historical Dracula -- not the fictional one." Not "What does the word 'gamahuche' mean?" but show the passage in which you found the word. It also helps if you explain what you intend to do with the information. Don't worry about looking ignorant or foolish. The last questioner may have been looking for T.S. Eliot's (or maybe it was Winston S. Churchill's) novel about gamekeeping -- with a title something like "Chatterton's Lady." Yes, I made that up -- the real examples I've been given aren't believable. 3.13 What kind of advance am I likely to get for my first book? Although some clearly run to either extreme, $4,000-$10,000 is a reasonable approximation. For a more clear approximation, submit your novel to a publisher, and convince them to buy it. It will depend on your story, and on the publisher, and any number of other things you can't control. Ultimately, it does your career good to earn out your advance, so don't fret too much about the payment. If your book earns out, you'll start collecting royalties. As a side note, though, once a publisher has informed you that they're interested in purchasing your novel, this is an ideal time to find an agent. You have a sale on the table, but you want someone to negotiate it properly for you. With a sale in hand, it's much easier to get a listen at an agent that you're interested in. 3.14 Simultaneous Submissions: Are they ok? Some people find the wait to hear the results of a particular submission/display of their work to a publisher to be unbearable. They would like to submit the same story or manuscript to more than one publisher at a same time. However, as convenient as this might be, it tends not to work out very well for the editors, who spend a bunch of time reading a story, decide to accept it, prepare themselves with that in mind. In the case of short stories, this tends to involve preparing an issue with a story in mind; for novels, this tends to involve a lot of discussion with various people to determine if it fits into the lineup, and so forth. In order to avoid these problems, almost all editors in the SF genre will not accept simultaneous submissions. This makes the practice rather pointless. You can technically get away with it, but this will only happen if only one person wishes to accept your manuscript, so betting on not getting caught is akin to betting that your writing isn't very good. Ultimately, you'll have to decide for yourself. Some people still feel that simsubbs are the way to go. However, the large majority of SF pros (writers and editors) view it as an extremely bad idea. 3.15 When submitting three-chapters-and-a-synopsis, should the rest of the novel be complete, or can I send my work in as soon as I ahve the three chapters? Let me start off with a quote from Gary Farber: If you'd had a book published, odds are 95% that you'd know the answer to this: so I presume you are unpublished, in which case, yes, you need to have the manuscript finished. It would be a very rare and exceptional case for an editor to risk signing a contract with someone who has no track record and no completed manuscript -- there are too many risks. There are exceptions, but it would be unwise for you to count on being one. Like simsubs, you can get away with it if you're lucky, but it's not a good idea to count on this. The publisher might ask to see the rest of your manuscript right away, and you won't have it to give to them. Alternately, you might want to make major editing changes to the part the editor already has. If your agent or publisher is willing to deal with this, and they've been informed up-front, it's fine. Just be aware that editors and agents are rarely willing to do this for a new writer that they have no experience with. -- Loki : loki@mgl.ca : rec.arts.sf.composition FAQ