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Monday, March 31, 2008

10 Guidelines for Aspiring Speculative Fiction Authors

This month I have the distinct honor of promoting The Return of the Sword, An Anthology of Heroic Adventure. This is such a great anthology and I've discovered several new favorite authors.

One of these new favorites is Robert Rhodes. Today, he shares some great tips that not only apply to aspiring speculative fiction authors of authors of any genre. Thanks so much!


10 Guidelines for Aspiring Speculative Fiction Authors by Robert Rhodes


1. Read. Read quality speculative and non-speculative fiction to know what has and hasn’t been done, to learn from others’ craftsmanship, and to be inspired.

2. Pay attention and take notes. Ideas may strike at any time. Have quick access to a notepad and pencil, and use them before the real world intrudes. (A draft message in an email account may also work.)

3. Master the basics. Understand the rules of composition. When necessary, consult a dictionary or manual such as The Elements of Style (Strunk & White), but only dust off a thesaurus as a last resort. Remember that spell-checking software can’t, for egg sample, bee trusted.

4. Create a complete, vivid story. Almost all good stories, speculative or not, integrate these elements: (1) a compelling character (2) in a fascinating setting (3) overcoming vast difficulties (4) by his or her own efforts and (5) achieving a worthwhile goal. (This guideline is a paraphrased summary of the excellent article “What Is A Short Story?” by Marion Zimmer Bradley, found on the website of her literary works trust: http://mzbworks.home.att.net/ .)

5. Reach for the stars. Write one of the very best stories you’ve ever read. Even if the final work falls just short, it will still be outstanding (unless you just read junk).

6. Beware of infatuation. After initially completing a story, celebrate—then step away and go work on another story or in the real world. Once you stop wanting to admire your immortal prose, you may have the emotional distance needed to revise it mercilessly.

7. Be open to criticism. Identify a handful of skilled and honest proofreaders, and carefully consider their comments. At the same time, develop the craftsmanship, instinct, and confidence to be the best and final judge of your work.

8. Be—or pretend to be—a professional. Carefully identify viable markets for your story. (A good starting point is ralan.com.) Follow submission guidelines to the letter. Understand standard manuscript format or the alternative requested. Proofread any cover letter, and keep it brief. Resist the temptations to brag to or flatter the editor or make the physical manuscript “stand out” (e.g., by using colored envelopes/paper/ink/font). The story will speak for itself; everything else should be black and white and clean to the point of starkness. Never reply to a rejection notice unless it was extremely gracious or helpful, in which case you may send a brief thank-you note.

9. Reward yourself. If your purpose is simply to write for yourself or your friends, fair enough. If your purpose is to be read widely, remember that money should always flow to authors in exchange for their difficult work. Accordingly, submit your work only to markets that pay real money. (Markets that only offer “exposure” don’t even offer that, as most readers use their time to read authors who are good enough to be paid, and no one is trolling those markets to discover new talent.) Avoid vanity presses and self-proclaimed agents who want money up front. Read contracts carefully, and don’t hesitate to ask questions.

10. Never, never, never quit. The first story you write will probably not be the first story you publish. Keep reading, writing, and submitting. If you have a good story that’s “just not right” for one market, submit to another within three days. Publishers, editors, and agents don’t want to keep genius undiscovered; they want to sell as many books as possible and usually have a fair sense of what will sell. For better or worse, reading tastes are what they are, and the marketplace has never been more competitive. But if you write an incredible story, it will almost certainly sell. If it doesn’t, give the industry—not yourself—the benefit of the doubt, and keep reading, writing, and submitting until your art is too powerful to be ignored. Writing well is ridiculously difficult and demands talent and persistence. Between the two, persistence is arguably more important—and the trait everyone can have. Now go write.

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Robert Rhodes is a book reviewer and author whose fiction has been accepted by markets including Black Gate and Flashing Swords Press. He is also a co-author of “The Sword in the Mirror: A Century of Sword & Sorcery”, forthcoming in The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Contemporary Popular American Literature. He can be contacted by or on facebook.com. And be sure to check out his blog.


For more information about The Return of the Sword or to purchase click here.

1 comment:

Nik said...

Sound advice, Rob. I think I'll follow it.