Hub Magazine is site of the week on

5 06 2008, the official website of the SciFi channel, is featuring Hub Magazine as their site of the week.

Well? What’re you waiting for? Get over there!


Getting published.

7 05 2008

You want to get published. You’ve written something fantastic, but where do you go to get it into the big wide world?

Let’s look at your main potential outlets:

  1. The Internet
  2. Print Magazines
  3. Book publishers

Now let’s look at your potential earnings:

  1. None
  2. Some

It doesn’t matter whether you’ve written fiction or non-fiction, long or short. The first thing you absolutely, positively have to do is research. You need to investigate what markets are available for your particular output, and you need to be realistc about whether or not there’s an audience for what you’ve written.

Let’s start with the easy one: The Internet. I say “easy” because technically you could just get yourself a web page, slap your writing on it, and call that “published”. No editors, no agents, and nobody to protect you when the bots come-a-stealin’.

One step up from putting it on the internet yourself is to join one of those sites that builds content by letting you post your stuff on their site. Some have little to no editorial control, while others do their best to ensure all their content meets their guidelines. One such site is Suite 101 which has been going for over ten years, and pulls in 7 million visitors a month. It also pays you based on advertising revenue generated from the articles you write.

For fiction writers there is a bewildering array of opportunities out there, and there’s nothing I can say except that finding the publication for you is going to be a cold, hard slog through search engines and forums. You’ll need to find sites which list potential markets – Ralan is an excellent example – then check the publication out for yourself. Read their guidelines, see if you can find good or bad feedback about them online, ask fellow writers what they’ve heard about it. Some e-publications out there don’t bother editing at all, some have poor process, some have great editors behind them. Only doing your research will guide you in the right direction.

Next up, Print Magazines. The more your piece relates to a specific niche, the more likely you are to find an outlet for it. Just be wary of undertaking an article with too small a target audience, lest you find that no such outlet exists. Don’t just think of the newsstand magazines, either. Until you are established as a Freelance writer, you’re most likely to sell to magazines with lower circulations – hobby club publications, subscriber-only magazines and the like. And if you’re writing for a niche, you’re best off if you yourself are part of it – you wouldn’t want to try to sell to Tractor Fancier Quarterly if you haven’t a clue about Tractors, would you? Would you?

Try your nearest library – they often subscribe to periodicals outside the average. You may stumble across publications you had no idea existed, and now feel a burning urge to write for. Also get whichever annual listings book is suitable to your target country’s market (e.g. Writer’s Markets, Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, etc).

The internet can be your friend here, too. Find out whether your target publication treats its freelancers well or poorly, whether they pay up on time or hang about for months on end.

And, vitally, read whatever magazine it is that you want to submit to. You may find they already did a piece on the Magnum 7140 Tractor two issues ago and are unlikely to welcome another article on it so soon. Or you may find that the horror magazine you were about to send to likes quirky gothic romances and your epic tale of a trophy wife’s descent into schizophrenia leading to her murdering her next door neighbour and making a purse from his arse-cheeks may not be appreciated there.

Finally, Book Publishers. This is assuming you’ve written, well, a book. Again, fiction or non-fiction, you’ll need one of those aforementioned annual market books. They’ll tell you who publishes what, and who accepts unsolicited submissions (if the slush pile is the route you want to take). Some are happy to solicit you after an email or phone call, others will refuse all contact or consider you unsolicited even after you’ve contacted them first.  Every single one has a right way and a wrong way of going about contacting them, and failure to adhere to their guidelines can get you thrown out by your ear.

Realistically, though, what you want if you’ve got a book manuscript in your hands is an agent. Agents can turn you from unsoliced to solicited. It’s often said that it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Well, agents know all the people that you need to know, and can get your work in front of them.

And you never, NEVER pay an agent up-front for their work. You never pay them afterwards. If an agent asks you for money at any time, they aren’t an agent, they’re a leech. Yes, their money comes from taking a small cut of your earnings. What would you rather have? The contacts and protection of a good agent, or a complete failure at finding yourself a publisher?

Finding an agent means just as much research as finding any other outlet, and deserves a post all to itself. In the meantime, always remember the Preditors & Editors list. It is your friend.

Getting published can be a hard slog, or it could be a complete breeze. But the more effort that you put into making it a breeze, the more rewarding you will find the experience.

Nose to the grindstone.

23 03 2008

What with illness and working, I’ve been quite quiet of late. And as I’m heading off to Japan in May, with Pantechnicon 7 due on the 1st of June, you can imagine just how hectic life has been and will continue to be for the next few weeks.

I spent my last day of freedom yesterday poncing around London with some lovely chaps from the SciFiNow Forum. We met up at Waterloo, then nose-dived down to Putney for the launch of Russ Whitfield’s new novel, Gladiatrix.

Then it was off to Forbidden Planet, before spending the evening drifting aimlessly from one pub to the next in search of food and a lunatic-free atmosphere, finally landing at the Horniman at Hays, just off Tooley Street.

A fabulous day was had by all. That’s the last anyone’ll see of me for three months, I think…

All quiet on the Western Front.

11 02 2008

I’ll be quieter than usual over the coming couple of weeks. Working through Hub’s slush pile, preparing Pantechnicon Issue Six, and having a birthday.

Normal service will resume shortly.

The internal organs of the publishing industry.

7 02 2008

There are a lot of reasons why Publishing is a slow beast. Sparked by Nobby’s comment to this post, here’s some insight as to why. I don’t promise that anything you read here will make you feel any better about waiting eighteen months for a rejection slip, but perhaps it’ll bring understanding, if not sympathy.

We’ll start off with some helpful facts:

  • Lots of people want to be published writers. Lots. Hundreds of thousands of people.
  • A great many of those hundreds of thousands want to be paid.
  • Books don’t sell as well as films or TV programmes.

Next, let’s look at these facts in more detail:

  • Hundreds of thousands of people want to be published writers.

There are a million reasons why. Some are seeking a form of immortality, wishing for their name to be known to strangers after they themselves are long gone. Others want the kind of money and fame that J. K. Rowling have come to attain. Still more would like a legacy to leave their families. Plenty just want approval from strangers. Many write because they simply cannot exist without doing so. Lots want to tell stories or relate truths that entertain or educate others. It’s really unnecessary to understand why these hundreds of thousands of people write; merely accept that they do.

  • Many of them want to be paid.

Again, there are plenty of reasons for this. Lots of writers want to write professionally, which means getting paid to do the job. Many believe they aren’t writers unless they’ve been given their first advance. Some actually have to put bread on the table. Others honestly think that all writers are as rich as Rowling. What’s important to understand here is that when there are hundreds of thousands of writers who want paying, they will naturally target publishers who pay. Preferably publishers who’ve already made an author ludicrously wealthy.

  • Books do not sell well.

That is to say they do not sell as many single units as other entertainment media. A top-seller in the UK is a book that shifts over 400,000 copies, but if only 400,000 people turned out to see a new film the film would be a flop and the studio would likely go bust. That’s just a simple response to modern life: a relatively small percentage of the world is willing to set aside the time it takes to read a book, when a film can tell them a story in ninety minutes. You can find more information about actual book sales figures here, and before you get excited about the millions of pounds, realise that number is distributed between the 115,522 new books published in 2006 and all previous books still in circulation. Notice also here that a very small proportion of newly published books are fiction. Non-fiction and specialist non-fiction carry higher price-tags than fiction due to the narrower circulation. While a nice book with pretty photographs of Tigers might cost you £25, a nice book on the latest cardiac surgery techniques could set you back £200.

So that’s all the good news out of the way. Let’s start assembling it into the bad news. I’ll start small, using the Hub and Pantechnicon slush piles as an example. As previously mentioned, Hub’s sluch pile is quite large. By contrast, Pantechnicon’s is not. Why?

Hub pays.

Now I’m not going to get into the whys and wherefores. The simple fact is that a paying publisher naturally attracts more submissions than a non-paying one. A hell of a lot more. Pantechnicon puts out a quarterly PDF and never struggles to fill its pages, but I only have to turn away approximately 55% of submissions as unsuitable. The general quality of submissions is high even before editorial input. The slush pile is more of a neatly-kept slush folder with four or five new submissions a month. Perfect, as far as I’m concerned. I have time to read every submission as well as edit the ones I’ve already accepted and lay out the issue that’s about to be released. I have time to keep in touch with contributors, source artwork, look for interviewees, and install new features on the website.

But Hub’s slush pile is a nightmare. We receive approximately twenty submissions a month (and that’s after being closed to regular-length stories and only accepting Flash fiction), with a far lower success rate. We have to turn away over 85% of submissions, either due to poor quality, lack of suitability for Hub (i.e. non-SF/F/H stories) or sheer averageness. That’s time we’re losing. Time we could be spending sourcing interviewees, fixing up the website, seeking a wider audience, making the PDF look prettier and such. And even with three of us, it’s a fight to keep on top of the slush pile.

Now imagine Bloomsbury or Random House. Imagine an agency who happens to have a famous client. Imagine their slush piles. And they’re not receiving Flash fiction or short stories. They’re receiving synopses and sample chapters of novels. They could be receiving 30,000 words per submission.

This is where book sales come into play, because while it’s easy to say “Well, they should hire more people to clear the piles,” they cannot afford to, because sales are not high enough. What’s worse is that because of their love of books, readers and editors are taking their work home with them every day. There is no 9-5 in Publishing. There’s not even a five-day week. These people will take manuscripts home and read them all evening, then wake up in the morning and read them at breakfast. They’ll read them over the weekend, when they should be out with their families having fun. They will slog their guts out, and their slush piles will never get smaller.

When someone finally finds a submission that really grabs them, then request the rest of the book. There’s always the chance that the other 120,000 words just don’t live up to the promise of the first 30,000. That’s more wasted time. And if they do, they have to be picked over laboriously, edited into publishable shape. It may take a customer two days to read a 200,000-word novel, but an editor can’t be so speedy. They’ll have to read it through once to get the feel for it. Then they’ll have to go through word by word, paragraph by paragraph, chapter by chapter. This could be a breeze, or it could take a month. And all the while that’s time taken away from the submissions that are piling up.

Then an editor sends the edited manuscript back to the author. They have a breather while they wait for the second draft. Do they spend it on the slush pile? Or on a second draft that came back in? Or on a first draft that they really love that still needs edits? Or meeting with Marketing or Directors to beg for them to accept another novel that they found in the slush pile that they adore and desperately want to get published?

Marketing and Directors are not the evils of the world, either. Ultimately they are in business, and business requires saleable product. If they fail to sell, the whole business is at risk. If the publishing house goes under, they won’t be publishing anything else, ever. So, ultimately, they may be acting in their own interests (keeping a job, paying a mortgage), but they’re acting in the interests of future writers, too, because writers are what keeps the business afloat.

In short one could say that the problem truly afflicting the publishing industry is the lack of avid readers in the world, versus the sheer quantity of writers. Motives aside, it all boils down to numbers.

Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking…

25 01 2008

I’ve recieved an invitation to do just that, from the East Midlands branch of the Youth Libraries Group. The YLG is an organisation which arranges training events for librarians who work with children and young adults, and this particular event is centred around 2008 being the National Year of Reading.

I’ll be speaking to an audience of librarians about new technologies in reading; primarily, of course, about Pantechnicon and the differences between electronic and print publications. With a Q&A session, this should last for half an hour, by the end of which they will know everything and I will have a mental image of two hundred naked librarians.

These lovely librarians will then go forth and disseminate. Whilst it’s a great opportunity to promote Pantechnicon (and I’ll undoubtedly sneak in a Hub pimp too), it’s also a great chance to talk about children’s reading habits and how to engage them in getting pleasure from stories that aren’t told in pictures.

The event takes place in April, so I’d better get cracking on writing the presentation. Wish me luck!

The Slush Pile.

18 01 2008

The time has come for Alasdair and I to roll up our sleeves and cut a swathe through the dense jungle that we like to call Hub Magazine’s slush pile. We regularly plug away at this, and just about manage to keep it at roughly the same level of complete disaster even though we regularly get through fifty or so stories whenever we get into it.

On top of this, Hub hasn’t accepted short story submissions for several months. It’s fully stocked on those, and has been for quite some time. So all that’s in the inbox is a collection of patiently-waiting Flash fiction submissions.

179 of them.

Now, even with Alisdair and I cutting that pile in half and taking half each, that’s around 90 stories to read. If, by some magic misfortune, they were all tragically awful and only took five minutes to read the first few paragraphs and come to the realisation of how apalling they were, that’s seven and a half hours of work in the reading.

We’re not that lucky though. Most stories will require reading through to the very end. Sometimes you get there and realise the twist just isn’t good enough, or that the payoff isn’t great. Sometimes you don’t get it so you read it again. So let’s average about twelve minutes to read a story, as most Flash fiction comes in at around 3-4 pages. That’s eighteen hours of work.

Then each and every email has to be replied to. I like to offer a little personalised feedback, but it’s going to have to be kept quite short. Let’s say five minutes per email.

So, clearing this slush pile is going to take twenty five and a half hours. That’s essentially a four-day week’s worth of work.

All I can say is please be patient. We’ll get there, and we’ll do it within the next few weeks. And then we’ll foolishly open ourselves up for submissions again, because we hate ourselves.