Balticon! Holly Black! The Red-Stained Wings drops May 28th!

Also, a taste of what's to come.

Greetings, fellow people who care about science fiction and fantasy.

First note: My adorable and talented husband, Scott Lynch, and I will be guests of honor at Balticon on Memorial Day weekend. We will be paneling, hanging out, and (on Sunday) throwing a launch party for my new book, The Red-Stained Wings, which comes out the Tuesday after Memorial Day.

The launch party will be on Sunday at 3 pm in the Club Lounge. There will be cupcakes. Get there early if you want a gluten-free one!

As a special treat for Balticon attendees, we’ve made arrangements with my publisher, Tor Books, for early copies of The Red-Stained Wings to be available via Larry Smith Books in the dealer’s room.

Get it five days before everybody else!

I will also be appearing at The Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley, MA at 7 pm on May 30th with SPECIAL GUEST HOLLY BLACK AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA ahem for a more general-admission sort of book launch party. Come out and play!

On to other things!

One of the changes in this newsletter is that, because Substack offers a two-tiered model, I’m going to be writing occasional musings on publishing, art, and so forth, mostly aimed at aspiring writers. I’ve been doing this for a living since 2003 and I feel like I’m generally fairly successful, so I might have something useful to say on that front.

Those essays will also be going up on my Patreon for subscribers at the $5 level, because it seems churlish to double-dip. (The price is slightly higher here because Substack takes a bigger cut; sorry about that.)

I’m also offering subscribers and Patreon backers the opportunity to ask me agony aunt questions about publishing and writing, through Substack’s interactive/feedback features.

I’m not guaranteeing that I can answer all of them, or that the answers will be good ones, but I will do my best.

I might also talk somewhat about dealing with PTSD and trauma in subscriber posts. The internet at large feels less and less like a safe place to be vulnerable these days (there are no safe places, I know, I know) but I also find I have a lot to say on that front, lately, and only some of it fits in fiction.

Possibly even politics, if I can stop being so fucking tired about it.

So, back onto that first topic, Publishing And How It Works.

Today I’d like to talk a little bit about submission guidelines (specifically short fiction submission guidelines), and why they exist.

It’s not actually just to annoy you, the aspiring writer. Or because editors are disconnected gatekeepers who don’t know genius when they see it. Or because literally everybody in publishing is trying to keep you out.

Editors, in fact, love discovering brilliant new talent. This is one part bragging rights, one part altruism, and one part the desperate need to keep finding new quality content because the established assholes like me keep getting busier and busier and less able to squeeze short fiction into our schedules—especially at 8 cents a word.

The editor is not looking for a reason to reject you. The editor is looking for a reason to accept you. They want you to succeed.

Which means that you have to face the hard fact that if an editor doesn’t buy your short fiction, it’s probably for one of three reasons: they didn’t think it was good enough; it didn’t fit the market; it didn’t fit the guidelines.

“It’s not good enough” may seem like a horrible reason to be rejected when you have put your soul and mind into that work, tried your hardest, and produced the best and most polished piece of narrative prose you can. When you have dug deep, been clever, and eradicated every adverb.

On the other hand, it’s in your control. You can practice and improve. You would not believe how bad my early writing was, and how many rejections I racked up. (I still get rejections, by the way. I have two stories on sub right now that will probably get rejected.)

Also, your stories don’t have to be “good enough” to crack a professional market. A story with “nothing wrong with it” is not necessarily a story with anything uniquely right with it.

Stories seeking publication in top-tier markets have to be among the best in the world. Remember that your competition for those slots is also among the best in the world. You’ve don’t have to be as good as Ann Leckie (though if you are you won’t be collecting rejections for too long) but you have to be better than everybody else who is not quite as good as Ann Leckie.

And if they are that good, they still have to get read. And suit the market.

That’s where submission guidelines come in. Those guidelines are also not arbitrary, designed to annoy the aspiring writer, and without reason. They’re there because:

(a) the editor or publisher has a certain amount of money to spend on each issue, and a certain amount of space in that issue (if paper), and longer stories cost more money (most places pay per word, after all) and take up more space. Which means that one long story may take up as much room and budget as three shorter works, and the three shorter works may appeal to three different and overlapping audiences within a magazine’s readership.

Think about it: when was the last time you liked every story in a zine issue?

b) the editor has a certain audience in mind for the magazine, and knows what sort of people read it. Is their target audience John Chu readers, or Greg Egan fans? (If it’s both, that’s going to be a pretty diverse readership and hard to satisfy, because of the second half of point (a) above.

A horror magazine is not going to want your sci-fi romance, even if it’s the best sci-fi romance in the world. A slipstream magazine is not going to want your splatterpunk. Trying to make them take it is like trying to make me like mayonnaise: it won’t happen and the more you push it on me, the more I will later remember how annoying you are.

c) Professionals follow the guidelines. Editors want to deal with professionals. Editors don’t want to deal with divas, and divas do things like not reading the magazine, not reading the guidelines, and sending a 26,000-word urban fantasy novella to a venue that published hard science fiction flash is just going to get eyes rolled at you and a very quick rejection. Or possibly they will sit on the story for a week or two and then reject it, because they may suspect that you are the sort of writer who will send them another 26,000-word story the instant you get the rejection email.

How do I know this? Well, I used to be a be a small press ‘zine editor. I’ve seen it happen, and believe me, we all talk about the people who flout the guidelines. Names may not be named, in general, but all too often somebody will begin with “You won’t believe—” and somebody else will answer “—huh the same thing…” and before long, notes are being compared.

It is acceptable to query if you have a story you think might be just right for a market but that in some way violates the guidelines, of course. A polite and professional note (not: “This is so much better than that crap you usually publish, please!”) is unlikely to get you on anybody’s diva list. On the other hand, don’t expect the ‘zine to take the story if it’s really outside their guidelines.

They still have those pecuniary considerations, and the taste of their readers to contemplate.

Phew. Well, that’s all for today: signing off for now to go work on my bottomless novel. Act 3 is the act that never ends.

See you sometime next week, probably!