Monday, August 29, 2005

Getting Back in Space

I've noticed that up until a couple of months ago, it seemed as if fewer and fewer science fiction stories that actually take place in space or on an obviously alien world were being published. It seems that editors are buying the "edgier" stories that are set on Earth, often in the not-too-distant future. I recognize the social commentary that is inherent in this type of story, but dammit, it was "space stories" that got me hooked on science fiction in the first place! I had almost stopped reading Asimov's, simply because they seemed to only be running these social-commentary stories. That, of course, doesn't bode well for a would-be fiction writer: If you don't like the stories the editor is buying, the odds of his buying something you have written are very, very small. Analog has always published stories that were closer to my tastes, but there's a huge danger in restricting yourself to just one market. While I recognize that there are a lot of smaller markets out there (some of which don't actually pay you in money, which is necessary to be a professional sale, in my opinion), there's no denying that the two Dell magazines are at the top of the heap for science fiction short stories. Fantasy and Science Fiction is also a top market as well, naturally, but because they are not strictly devoted to science fiction, I think Analog and Asimov's are more "prestigious" sales. As I've said before, I don't really care about the money, I'm motivated by the acclaim. :)

I'm pleased to note, however, that the latest two issues of Asimov's have featured a number of stories in the "space-based" sub-genre. I don't know if that's the influence of Sheila Williams taking over the magazine, or if I had just run into a glut of the other type of stories as a random fluctuation. Maybe here's a good use of Locus as a research tool: Are space-based science fiction stories being bought in the larger field today? It's definitely something worth knowing.

They say you should write the kind of story you want to read, and I agree with that 100%. If you don't love your work, your reader isn't going to love it either. But if the type of story you like to read isn't currently the type that's selling, what does a professional writer do? It's hard to write to the current market without feeling like a whore, even if you are able to somehow generate the excitement about the work needed to write well. The best and most obvious answer, naturally, is to write the blockbuster novel of the type you do like to read -- and make it so incredibly good that everyone wants to imitate you. Publishing is one of the few fields where you can single handedly swing the market that way (witness Harry Potter, after all). This is easier said than done, of course. I would like to think that if we focus on really good storytelling, then there is a market somewhere for all of our work, perhaps even in the "majors" that were mentioned above. It may be a lot harder to work past the inherent bias against your type of story, but if you can hook the editor from the beginning, you've got a good chance. It may not be the easy road to success, and I envy the writers who actually enjoy writing the kind of fiction that is currently popular (whatever kind that may be at the moment). They've definitely got a leg up on some tight competition. As I've said before, though, the challenge is at least half the interest for me, so I'm really okay with that (envious though I may be). If it were easy, it wouldn't be any fun!

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