Thursday, July 28, 2005


We returned safely from our great California journey (six hours across I-10 from Phoenix to L.A.), and waiting for me at home was my copy of this month's Locus magazine. For those that don't know, Locus is the closest thing there is to a trade journal for science fiction and fantasy writers. It consists mostly of reviews and announcements of what books have been bought by publishers in the past month, with an interview or two thrown in for good measure.

This is actually the second time that I've subscribed to Locus. I subscribed a few years ago after having the magazine recommended by the instructor of a Gotham Writers' Workshop course I took. I have a great deal of respect for her opinion (she was a past president of Science Fiction Writers of America), so decided to give it a whirl. After months of thumbing through the magazine idly, reading an occasional interview, I didn't bother to renew my subscription, as I wasn't really doing much with the magazine.

A few months ago, I began reading the blogs of past Clarion students, and noted that a number of Clarion instructors have also recommended Locus. I got the impression that these instructors considered reading Locus to be part of the "business side of SF writing," but I never found anyone who mentioned just why their instructors recommended the magazine. If any of those Clarion grads read this, by any chance, I'd be very interested in hearing the specifics of what your instructors had to say about the magazine.

Failing that input, here's my best guess as to the usefulness of the magazine. Your mileage may vary, and given my earlier experience with the magazine, I'm almost certainly missing something important.

  • Interviews: Any time an author is willing to share his or her approach to writing, I think there is value in reading it. That said, I find the interviews to be somewhat amateurish, not much more than raw transcripts. I would have liked to have seen some probing questions asked of the people interviewed, so that we can get a deeper insight into their perspective. Currently there are any number of writing magazines out there that seem to do a better job in this regard.
  • Book reviews: It's definitely worth seeing what Locus' reviewer staff thinks about a book, however, I am strongly against writing to the preference of any one reviewer or group of reviewers. I didn't find the reviews to be terribly in-depth or instructive from the standpoint of a developing writer -- there's not much to take home here from a craft point of view. On the other hand, Locus reviews do seem to place the books they review within the context of the much larger body of established SF, so there is value in seeing where the different genres and writing styles fit in the overall picture.
  • Books/magazines published: I'm left scratching my head over this one. My first impression was that other than the joy of seeing your name in print, who cares? I've been trying to figure out the usefulness of this section -- which takes up a significant fraction of the magazine -- and the only thing I can figure is that it serves writers in the same way that the Wall Street Journal serves stockbrokers. The raw numbers themselves aren't terribly interesting or even useful. But if you look at the overall trends, there may be some information there that you can use. For example, if you see that a certain publisher has been buying a lot of a particular kind of fantasy lately, that may be a clue to a receptive market for your story if you have (or can produce) what they are buying. On the other hand, if you see a lot of the same kinds of books being bought by a number of different publishers, maybe that's your clue to an area where you could try something new, something that might let you stand out from the crowd. It makes for dreadfully tedious reading, however.
  • Author news: I thnk this section is more relevant if you are actually aquainted with the authors mentioned, although I was pleased to see information about some of my favorite SF authors published. I was also pleased to see a photo and names of the Clarion East class of 2005, so I'm hoping a search of the blogosphere will unearth some of their blogs of their experiences.
  • Poll/survey results: This particular issue had the results of the annual Locus reader poll, which is used to hand out awards. While they seem to be trying to establish their credibility relative to the Hugo and Nebula awards, I think there is one major difference that is being glossed over. Readers of Locus are almost exclusively writers of SF, not readers of SF, as is the case with these other awards. While I certainly value the respect of my peers (more than many people who know me realize), I think ultimately it is the SF fan base who controls our lives and we should therefore value above all others.

So, ultimately, I thnk there is value in Locus, but that value has to be mined from its pages. It would be nice if Locus could present all this detail with commentary and interpretation (again, the Wall Street Journal makes a fine analogy), but that may be a bit much to expect from a limited budget. Maybe someday I'll be curious and knowledgeable enough to offer that kind analysis column to Locus on a monthly basis. That, however, is a very long time away.

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