Featured From the Archives: What To Do WHILE Querying

I had an entirely different post planned for today — about the good, bad, and ugly of prologues –but then I got hit with what I’m not-so-affectionately calling the Rip Van Winkle flu and was forced to sleep away any writing time I may have had. So the dissection of everyone’s most hated literary device will have to wait for another week, I’m afraid.

Instead, I’m going to give you an encore of an article I wrote earlier this year, which is especially pertinent now, when hundreds of writers with freshly finished NaNoWriMo drafts are preparing to brave the query trenches and Twitter is heading into what’s otherwise known as Pitch Party Season. Be sure you check out the counterpoint article referenced as well, for the full spectrum of both good and bad behaviors found in querying.

Good luck to all those participating in #pitmad today! And until next week, happy writing!

What To Do WHILE Querying

by Kisa Whipkey

Originally Posted on 7/3/15

A few months ago (okay, six months ago), I posted a surprisingly popular piece about what not to do when querying, detailing all the things authors should avoid, as well as some of the things they shouldn’t (I posted a reprise of it last week too, in case you were wondering). But that only covered the initial part of the process, the actual act of querying. Today, I want to talk about things you, as an author, can do while you wait oh-so-patiently (yes, that was sarcasm, people) for those elusive responses. And in keeping with the tone of the previous post, there will probably be at least a tiny bit of snark, so be ready.

What To Do WHILE Querying

(aka How to Avoid the Finger-Drumming Lure of Bad Decisions)

Let’s face it, waiting sucks. It has always sucked. And it will continue to suck, because it’s waiting. And waiting — say it with me now — SUCKS. Humans aren’t wired to be patient, and the age of the internet, with its instant gratification and its lightning fast access to information and entertainment, has done absolutely zip when it comes to instilling the virtue of said trait.

Well, publishing isn’t the internet. At all. Publishing is a relic, a dinosaur founded on the very essence of patience. Yes, there have been advances that minimize the time it takes for an author to see their name in print, and yes, there will continue to be avenues and improvements that further move us toward that as yet unattainable moment when a decision is instantaneous. But today is not that day. Today, a querying author faces weeks, months, and possibly even years before they’ll finally hold their book-baby in their hands. Today, you wait.

I’m sure you can see how this scenario often leads to behaviors and decisions that can be problematic, many of which I listed in the previous post. No one likes waiting. No one likes that nail-chewing anxiety of having their fate in someone else’s hands. But how do you get around it?

The easiest way to avoid becoming the poster child for what not to do is to find some other way to distract yourself. Agonizing over the wait, refreshing your inbox every twenty seconds, is only going to drive you crazy. So here are some things to try instead.

1. Learn the Ins & Outs of the Industry

This is especially important for the newbies out there, which is why it’s going to be the biggest section. Debut authors are like fledgling birds, testing their wings for the first time. And that’s a special, unique place to be. But it’s also dangerous. Just like baby birds have no idea what waits for them as soon as they leave that cozy nest, debut authors often have little to no understanding of the industry beyond the steps required to query. It’s okay if this sounds like you. We were all there once. I promise.

One of the deadliest poisons to the author/publisher relationship is unrealistic expectations. Let me paint the picture for you: as a kid, you decided you wanted to become a writer. You loved reading and the act of putting words on paper, and stories just seemed to flow magically from your fingertips. You envisioned topping the New York Times Bestseller list, landing that triple-figure book deal with a Big 5 publisher, instantaneous fame, book-signing tours, movie deals, and quitting your crappy day job with money to spare. Right? Don’t lie, we’ve all done it.

Enter reality.

The sad fact is that only the top 1% of the top 1% ever reach any of those things. The rest of us slum it out in the query trenches, find a nice home at a small to moderate-sized press or even forge our own paths and do the self-publishing thing. You will see more rejections than accolades. Sales will be slow because no one knows who you are yet. Marketing budgets, if offered at all, will be tiny and heavily reliant on the author’s own willingness to do the majority of the work. There are no book tours, probably no movie deals, and you’ll be stuck at that crappy day job for probably several more novels. If you’re lucky.

But as discouraging as all that is, you can combat it. Do your research. Learn the way the publishing industry actually  works. Set aside those shiny expectations that will label you a diva author and figure out how to attain success within the system that already exists. Read blogs by industry professionals, attend writing conferences, research publishers and agents and contracts and marketing and every other tidbit you can get your hands on. A firm understanding of the way the industry operates will prepare you for what’s to come when you land that offer of a contract and will help you avoid becoming prey to the cats waiting below your nest.

2. Befriend Agents & Editors

Social media is fantastic for this sort of thing. Find and follow agents and editors, and even publishers, to see first-hand what they’re looking for. Get to know the people behind the “gate,” as it were. Because we are just people. People who love books just as much as you do.

When you’re on the outside, publishing seems like a big, scary world. But it’s actually not. Industry pros talk to each other as well as to authors, so if you can befriend a couple, guess what? Your chances of success just went up. You’re no longer just a name on the 800th query in the pile; you’re a person. They know you. They may even like you. And when that happens, you can guess what comes next: they dig your query out of that massive pile of submissions.

So don’t fall for the us vs. them mentality. Agents and editors are your friends. Just be careful you don’t abuse the privilege. You can read last week’s post for the cautionary note on that. 😉

3. Read Widely, Both Inside and Outside Your Target Genre

By now, you should be sensing a theme. Research, research, research. All of these are great ways to bide your time during the painstaking months of waiting. If you’re a writer, you really should be doing this anyway. But we all know how few those reading hours become when you’re wrapped in the thrall of writing. Which is why it’s perfect to spend some time catching up on the latest releases while your query works its way through the pipeline.

Why is this necessary? Well, for starters, it will give you a chance to see what the current trends in your genre are, or rather, were. Remember, the books releasing now are a few years old, because unlike the internet, publishing operates at a pace not unlike a sloth on Valium, which is to say, it’s slow. So by the time they’re on the shelf, those trends are pretty much dead. Which means that if your book fits in that trend, you can already guess it’s going to be a hard sell.

But the other reason is that you grow as a writer by reading the work of your peers. You’ll learn new styles, new approaches to storytelling, and possibly even new ways to combine genres. It will also come in extremely handy when an agent or editor asks you for comp titles (comparative books that appeal to the readership you’re targeting) for your work.

4. Start Something New

This is the last piece of advice I have, not because it’s less important, but because it should be the most obvious. Writers write. It what you do. Yes, you poured your heart and soul into that manuscript you just sent out into the world, but there’s nothing more you can do for it. It’s time to turn your attention to the next one. Because it may be years before your first-born novel sees the light at the end of the publishing tunnel, if it does at all. Many writers don’t succeed with their first, or second, or even third novel. Sometimes it’s the sixth or seventh that lands them their first book deal. And that’s perfectly normal. Those first attempts aren’t wasted effort. You learned and developed and grew, and now, now you have a back-list.

Back-lists and archives of “new” content are an author’s secret weapon. Because guess what? Readers are impatient too. Just like you don’t like waiting for agents and editors to respond, readers don’t like waiting for a new installment from their new favorite author. Which is why the best thing you can do while querying is to continue working. Continue honing your craft, be it on novels, short stories, or novellas. Continue generating new content, be it blog posts, contest entries, or platform-building endeavors. Just continue working. Because at the very least, it’ll keep you from drumming your fingers on the desk and falling prey to all the bad choices I mentioned last week. And you never know, one of those other projects could be the very thing that gets you noticed.

All right, those are my top suggestions for ways to make the waiting less agonizing, but they’re certainly not the only ways. I’d like to hear some of yours. So, authors and other editors, what do you do or recommend to keep the query-trench madness at bay? Sound off in the comments below! 🙂

What To Do WHILE Querying

A few months ago (okay, six months ago), I posted a surprisingly popular piece about what not to do when querying, detailing all the things authors should avoid, as well as some of the things they shouldn’t (I posted a reprise of it last week too, in case you were wondering). But that only covered the initial part of the process, the actual act of querying. Today, I want to talk about things you, as an author, can do while you wait oh-so-patiently (yes, that was sarcasm, people) for those elusive responses. And in keeping with the tone of the previous post, there will probably be at least a tiny bit of snark, so be ready.

What To Do WHILE Querying

(aka How to Avoid the Finger-Drumming Lure of Bad Decisions)

Let’s face it, waiting sucks. It has always sucked. And it will continue to suck, because it’s waiting. And waiting — say it with me now — SUCKS. Humans aren’t wired to be patient, and the age of the internet, with its instant gratification and its lightning fast access to information and entertainment, has done absolutely zip when it comes to instilling the virtue of patience.

Well, publishing isn’t the internet. At all. Publishing is a relic, a dinosaur founded on the very essence of patience. Yes, there have been advances that minimize the time it takes for an author to see their name in print, and yes, there will continue to be avenues and improvements that further move us toward that as yet unattainable moment when a decision is instantaneous. But today is not that day. Today, a querying author faces weeks, months, and possibly even years before they’ll finally hold their book-baby in their hands. Today, you wait.

I’m sure you can see how this scenario often leads to behaviors and decisions that can be problematic, many of which I listed in the previous post. No one likes waiting. No one likes that nail-chewing anxiety of having their fate in someone else’s hands. But how do you get around it?

The easiest way to avoid becoming the poster child for what not to do is to find some other way to distract yourself. Agonizing over the wait, refreshing your inbox every twenty seconds, is only going to drive you crazy. So here are some things to try instead.

1. Learn the Ins & Outs of the Industry

This is especially important for the newbies out there, which is why it’s going to be the biggest section. Debut authors are like fledgling birds, testing their wings for the first time. And that’s a special, unique place to be. But it’s also dangerous. Just like baby birds have no idea what waits for them as soon as they leave that cozy nest, debut authors often have little to no understanding of the industry beyond the steps required to query. It’s okay if this sounds like you. We were all there once. I promise.

One of the deadliest poisons to the author/publisher relationship is unrealistic expectations. Let me paint the picture for you: as a kid, you decided you wanted to become a writer. You loved reading and the act of putting words on paper, and stories just seemed to flow magically from your fingertips. You envisioned topping the New York Times Bestseller list, landing that triple figure book deal with a Big 5 publisher, instantaneous fame, book-signing tours, movie deals, and quitting your crappy day job with money to spare. Right? Don’t lie, we’ve all done it.

Enter reality.

The sad fact is that only the top 1% of the top 1% ever reach any of those things. The rest of us slum it out in the query trenches, find a nice home at a small to moderate-sized press or even forge our own paths and do the self-publishing thing. You will see more rejections than accolades. Sales will be slow because no one knows who you are yet. Marketing budgets, if offered at all, will be tiny and heavily reliant on the author’s own willingness to do the majority of the work. There are no book tours, probably no movie deals, and you’ll be stuck at that crappy day job for probably several more novels. If you’re lucky.

But as discouraging as all that is, you can combat it. Do your research. Learn the way the publishing industry actually  works. Set aside those shiny expectations that will label you a diva author and figure out how to attain success within the system that already exists. Read blogs by industry professionals, attend writing conferences, research publishers and agents and contracts and marketing and every other tidbit you can get your hands on. A firm understanding of the way the industry operates will prepare you for what’s to come when you land that offer of a contract and will help you avoid becoming prey to the cats waiting below your nest.

2. Befriend Agents & Editors

Social media is fantastic for this sort of thing. Find and follow agents and editors and even publishers to see first-hand what they’re looking for and get to know the people behind the “gate,” as it were. Because we are just people. People who love books just as much as you do.

When you’re on the outside, publishing seems like a big, scary world. But it’s actually not. Industry pros talk to each other as well as to authors, so if you can befriend a couple, guess what? Your chances of success just went up. You’re no longer just a name on the 800th query in the pile; you’re a person. They know you. They may even like you. And when that happens, you can guess what comes next: they dig your query out of that massive pile of submissions.

So don’t fall for the us vs. them mentality. Agents and editors are your friends. Just be careful you don’t abuse the privilege. You can read last week’s post for the cautionary note on that. 😉

3. Read Widely, Both Inside and Outside Your Target Genre

By now, you should be sensing a theme. Research, research, research. All of these are great ways to bide your time during the painstaking months of waiting. If you’re a writer, you really should be doing this anyway. But we all know how few those reading hours become when you’re wrapped in the thrall of writing. Which is why it’s perfect to spend some time catching up on the latest releases while your query works its way through the pipeline.

Why is this necessary? Well, for starters, it will give you a chance to see what the current trends in your genre are, or rather, were. Remember, the books releasing now are a few years old, because unlike the internet, publishing operates at a pace not unlike a sloth on Valium, which is to say, it’s slow. So by the time they’re on the shelf, those trends are pretty much dead. Which means that if your book fits in that trend, you can already guess it’s going to be a hard sell.

But the other reason is that you grow as a writer by reading the work of your peers. You’ll learn new styles, new approaches to storytelling, and possibly even new ways to combine genres. It will also come in extremely handy when an agent or editor asks you for comp titles (comparative books that appeal to the readership you’re targeting) for your work.

4. Start Something New

This is the last piece of advice I have, not because it’s less important, but because it should be the most obvious. Writers write. It what you do. Yes, you poured your heart and soul into that manuscript you just sent out into the world, but there’s nothing more you can do for it. It’s time to turn your attention to the next one. Because it may be years before your first-born novel sees the light at the end of the publishing tunnel, if it does at all. Many writers don’t succeed with their first, or second, or even third novel. Sometimes it’s the sixth or seventh that lands them their first book deal. And that’s perfectly normal. Those first attempts aren’t wasted effort. You learned and developed and grew, and now, now you have a back-list.

Back-lists and archives of “new” content are an author’s secret weapon. Because guess what? Readers are impatient too. Just like you don’t like waiting for agents and editors to respond, readers don’t like waiting for a new installment from their new favorite author. Which is why the best thing you can do while querying is to continue working. Continue honing your craft, be it on novels, short stories, or novellas. Continue generating new content, be it blog posts, contest entries, or platform-building endeavors. Just continue working. Because at the very least, it’ll keep you from drumming your fingers on the desk and falling prey to all the bad choices I mentioned last week. And you never know, one of those other projects could be the very thing that gets you noticed.

All right, those are my top suggestions for ways to make the waiting less agonizing, but they’re certainly not the only ways. I’d like to hear some of yours. So, authors and other editors, what do you do or recommend to keep the query-trench madness at bay? Sound off in the comments below! 🙂

Featured From the Archives: What Not to Do When Querying

It’s #WritePit over on Twitter today (for those who don’t know, that means authors are pitching to editors and agents via that hashtag all day long), and in honor of that, I thought I’d re-post what is arguably one of my more popular pieces to date: What Not to Do When Querying.

I originally posted it in January of this year, so it’s not as old as some of the ones I dredge up from the archives, but it is relevant, if not appropriate even, today — ESPECIALLY today, as hundreds of writers flood the query trenches under the banner of a Twitter pitch party. I have a companion piece to this that I’ll be posting next week, but until then, here’s a sarcasm-laced tutorial on everything to avoid while pursuing a book deal. 😉

***

As Acquisitions & Editorial Director for REUTS Publications, I’ve been privy to first-hand knowledge of publishing’s “mysterious” acquisitions process.  And over the past two years, I’ve witnessed innumerable querying blunders that hurt the author’s chances rather than helping them. I’m not the first to offer up this kind of advice-oriented post, but armed with personal insight and pet-peeves, I thought I’d add my own thoughts into the mix.

So, with only a modicum of tongue-in-cheek snark (okay, make that a lot of snark), I give you:

What Not to Do When Querying

(aka How to Piss Off an Acquisitions Editor)

By Kisa Whipkey

Originally Posted on 1/23/15

There are plenty of posts out there that explain what you’re supposed to do when querying, the steps that are supposed to lead to that coveted moment when someone offers you representation. There are also posts that tell you what to avoid. But I don’t know that I’ve seen anyone really say the following, in all its blunt glory. Because the truth of the matter is this: there are definitely things you can do as a writer to increase your chances of a book deal, but there are also plenty of ways to blow it. (Also, it should be noted that this information applies to agents as well, not just acquisitions editors.)

So let’s break down some of the worst publishing faux pas you can make, yes?

DO:

Submit to publishing houses and agencies that interest you.

DON’T:

Submit to them blindly, and then ask a bunch of questions about how they operate. That’s something that needs to come first and is a dangerous game to play. Vet the places you’re planning to query before you hand them your work. Not after. That wastes everyone’s time, and there’s nothing agents and editors hate more than wasting time. We have precious little of it as it is. Be courteous and ask your questions up front, please. Most of us are more than willing to answer.

DO:

Query agents and small presses.

DON’T:

Query them both simultaneously, and definitely, definitely don’t use a small press as leverage for attaining an agent’s interest.

This one’s two-fold, so let’s start with the first half: don’t query agents and editors simultaneously. Small presses are fantastic. So are agents. But they lead to two completely different publication paths. And there’s nothing we despise more than falling in love with something, only to discover that the author wasn’t serious about working with us after all. It breaks our literary-loving hearts. So please, know where each publication path leads and which one is right for both you and your project.

Which brings us to the second half. This is a serious faux pas, and one I hope none of you ever commit. Never ever use a small press for the sole intent of gaining interest from an agent. Leveraging an offer of publication from a small press to get an agent’s representation (or even a bigger publisher) is like dangling a wedding proposal from someone you pretended to like in front of the mate you really want. It’s mean, and cruel, and makes you a horrible person. It’s also a sure-fire way to end up on a publishing house’s Black List. Yes, we have those. And publishing is a small world; we talk. So be careful which bridges you burn. Treat all parties involved with respect and professionalism. If you want an agent, don’t query small press editors. If you receive an offer from somewhere else, tell us. There’s a perceived divide in publishing, the us vs them mentality, but we’re all just people. And we all just want a little consideration. Is that too much to ask?

DO:

Research the various agents and editors you’re querying. Find out what they like, personalize your query, follow their submission guidelines, and all that other stuff you’ve seen touted a million times. It’s good advice. We appreciate that.

DON’T:

Spam your submission to everyone at the agency/publishing house. And definitely don’t resubmit the same query, after receiving a rejection, to someone else within the company. Publishing houses are like families. We all know everyone else, and we know what they like. So if we see a submission cross our desk that isn’t a fit for us, but would be for one of our colleagues, we’ll tell you. Better yet, we’ll tell them. (Or, alternatively, acquisitions can be a team effort, as it is at REUTS, and everyone who has a say has already read your work prior to the decision being issued.) Talking about books is one of the reasons we got into publishing, so you can bet our water-cooler conversations revolve around that too. If you receive a rejection, accept it gracefully and move on.

DO:

Keep track of your submissions and the response times associated with each.

DON’T:

Incessantly hound an agent or editor for a decision. Wait until the listed response time has passed and then politely — key word there: politely — nudge for a response. Submission in-boxes are the first to brim over with a plethora of time-consuming tasks. And as I said above, editors and agents are incredibly busy people. Reading actually falls low on our priority scale, as our days are usually spent dealing with the various tasks associated with producing the projects we’ve already signed. So reading the new queries that rain down like, well, rain, is a luxury we don’t have on a daily basis.

We know you’re excited for your work, and that you can’t wait for that glorious day when someone from our side of the fence is equally excited for it, but constantly yapping at our heels like a chihuahua does nothing but annoy us. We don’t appreciate being backed into corners, and if you push too hard, guess what the answer is: NO. That’s not the relationship you want to have with your potential publishing allies, is it? You want someone to appreciate those words you slaved over, to savor the story you carefully crafted, and to join you in screaming its brilliance from the rooftops. Rushing a decision allows for none of those things. The most you’ll get is a half-assed read-through and a reluctant yes. Patience really is a virtue here, people. As much as it sucks, it will benefit you in the long run.

DO:

Follow agents, editors, and publishing houses on social media and interact with them. Forming networking connections is a fabulous way to form relationships that further your career. But be careful. There’s a fine line between creating useful contacts and this . . .

DON’T:

Abuse the accessibility social media gives you. We’re there because we genuinely want to meet the authors behind our next favorite read. We want to support the writing community and foster a kinship that bridges the gap between publisher and author. And we want friends who like what we like. We’re human. It happens.

We’re not there so you can harass our every waking moment with status requests, update requirements, or attempts to pressure us into taking your work by leveraging the opinions of others who have read it. That’s not the best impression to make, so just don’t do it, okay? There are a lot of factors that go into an acquisitions decision, but endorsements from random Twitter buddies isn’t one of them. Now, maybe if your random Twitter buddy is Stephen King or JK Rowling, that might be different. But still, save that for the query letter, or better yet, get them to blurb your book after it’s signed.

DO:

Create an online persona, platform, and all that good stuff.

DON’T:

Parade things you don’t want the world to see. One of the biggest factors in an acquisitions decision is actually whether or not the team involved would want to work with the author. So, in that sense, submitting a query is on par with a job interview. And guess what? We do our research. We may love your talent, falling all over your manuscript with gushing adoration, but if we discover that you’re the world’s biggest Prima Donna on social media, guess what? Your appeal just went down. Don’t get me wrong, opinions are great. Everyone has them, along with a certain piece of anatomy that usually accompanies that phrase. But think about how your opinions may be perceived by someone on the outside.

Shaming other authors, railing against other publishers, responding horribly to a rejection, and whining like an attention-starved kitten are not appealing things in a potential partner. Would you date someone who checked those boxes? Probably not. So can you blame us if we don’t want to work with that person either? Publishing is a long-term relationship, taking months or years to come to fruition, and you can be darn sure we’re not going to want to work with someone who will make that time an ulcer-inducing, grey-hair-creating pain-fest. You could have the most brilliant masterpiece, but if you yourself are a piece of work online, I’m pretty sure you can guess what the verdict will be. So the moral here is this: think about your online persona. Craft one that will be appealing to both your audience and your potential publisher. And generally try to avoid things that would fall under the heading “authors behaving badly.”

The take-away from this candid look at the publishing process is simple, really. It all comes down to common courtesy. Editors and agents are people. As in human. As in we have lives and obligations and families too. And just like you want us to shower you with glowing praise and go to the ends of the earth to champion your project, we want you to understand that your manuscript is not God’s gift to publishing. We may think it’s brilliant, it may be among our favorite reads of all time, but it’s definitely not the only one we’re working on. Show respect of that fact, handle your interactions with poise and professionalism, and you’ll manage to avoid every single one of the querying faux pas I just listed. Sound like a plan? 😉

Featured From the Archives: My Average Day as an Editor (in GIFs)

As you read this, I may or may not be buried neck-deep in projects for the Day Job of Doom and daydreaming of a huge shot of Fireball Whisky later tonight. But, since I have never missed posting something for your entertainment, I managed to find a few moments to schedule this post. You’ll have to forgive the archive-diving — again. But given the week I’ve had, and the overwhelming response to my giveaway question requesting more editing/publishing insights, this one is definitely appropriate. And everyone loves GIFs, right? So, without further ado, your encore performance of . . .

My Average Day as an Editor (in GIFs)

by Kisa Whipkey

Originally Posted on 4/18/14

There have been a lot of GIF posts about what the publishing or writing process is like, but I’ve never seen one for what it’s like on the other side of the fence. Until now. This week, I’m breaking the unspoken rule that writers are never allowed behind the publishing curtain and illustrating what my average day as an editor looks like. And, because I had a request for a post with GIFs, I’m going to use everyone’s favorite sarcastic medium (which means that any of you reading this via an email/mobile device may have to click through to the actual site to see them). Before we dive in, I do want to say that this is solely what my average day looks like — other editors will be slightly different. The moral of this story, though, is that editors need cheerleaders too. You’ll understand by the time we get to the end. Don’t worry. 😉

My Average Day as an Editor

The alarm goes off at 6:15 am and I’m all like:

 

 

and . . .

 

Okay, maybe that’s a lie. It’s actually a lot more like this:

 

bill-murray-beating-alarm-clock

 

But anyway, I’m up. I’m ready for the day. I’ve got all the things I need to do circling through my head, and I’m ready to tackle them all. Until . . .

 

louie

 

I remember that I have to go to work. Not editing work — work work. Because, you know, editing doesn’t pay as well as everyone thinks, and I still have to eat.

So, for the next eight hours, I go punch the clock at the dreaded day job and secretly think to myself . . .

idiots

 

while outwardly doing this . . .

 

katy-nod-dance

 

Meanwhile, my inbox is filling up. By the time I actually get to start my day as an editor, I have 64 new emails (that’s a light day). Of those, approximately 1/3 will be submissions, 1/3 will be about the various tasks I assist with at REUTS, and some days, as many as 1/3 are authors freaking out over something. Those days, I tend to open my inbox and immediately think . . .

rudd-sucks

See, contrary to popular belief, editors work on a lot of projects at once. And writers (yes, you) are a high maintenance bunch, prone to neurotic freak-outs and requiring constant reassurance.

cat

That’s okay, though. We (as editors) understand, and we love you guys. Really, we do. But some days, you make us do this . . .

too-much

 

Anyway, I’m getting off topic. On those days where my inbox is full of people freaking out, I spend the next several hours holding their hands and providing reassurance. (See, the take-away here, writers, is that every time you send one of those freak-out emails, the person on the other side loses valuable time they could have spent actually working on your project.)

**Note, I do not consider status requests and legitimate questions freak-out emails. Those are always welcomed and definitely allowed. 😉 **

By the time that’s done, it’s dinner time. But, before then, I’ll read through a couple of the submissions, which looks something like this:

 

umno

Or . . .

James-Earl-Jones-Totes-McGotes2

Or sometimes even . . .

jon-fan

FattyGenius

 

And occasionally this (if I’m the odd man out on the voting) . . .

not_having_it

Then it’s dinner time, and I step away from the computer for the first time all day.

By the time I get back, there’s at least one more freak-out email waiting not-so-patiently for me.

wut

 

frustrated

So, I deal with that one too (because I don’t like to leave anyone with more anxiety on their plate than necessary) and then finally, FINALLY, I get to edit. You know, that thing everyone thinks editors spend their days doing, but that we actually only get a few hours with. It’s a victorious moment when I finally get to this part of the day. Like . . .

fsa

 

Then, after investing several more solid hours into the thing I enjoy most, this happens . . .

tired

So I . . .

give-up

and . . .

exhausted

and the whole thing starts over.

And there you have it, my average day as an editor. Sounds like fun, right?

thumbs-up-matt-leblanc

The point of this (besides getting to have way too much fun with GIFs) is to show you just how hectic an editor’s life can be. We’re not robots who sit and do nothing but edit 24/7. We’re people, with lives and jobs, families, and human needs. So cut your editor some slack if they don’t get back to you immediately, or if it’s taking longer than you expected to edit your manuscript. We’re not purposely doing these things to hurt you. Editing is a time intensive job, and to do it right, you have to invest that time. The argument I always tell myself when stress threatens to overwhelm me, or someone’s pushing me to meet deadlines that aren’t possible without giving up things like sleeping and eating, is this — would you rather it be done right? Or be done fast? It’s not a perfect world, and those two can’t coexist. Anyone who claims otherwise is lying. Trust me.

**A big thanks to www.reactiongifs.com for supplying all the GIFtastic fun. Be sure to check them out! Their database is phenomenal. :)**

Featured From the Archives: Exploring the Subgenres of Science Fiction

Whew! We made it! Welcome to the final installment of our refresher course in subgenres. It’s quite a doozy too, so I won’t keep you. Next week, I’ll be back with new content of a To Be Determined nature, but for now, I give you one of the longest posts I’ve ever written. Happy reading! 😉

Exploring the Subgenres of Science Fiction

By Kisa Whipkey

Originally Posted on 9/13/13

Welcome to the daunting final installment of my subgenre series — the long-awaited behemoth, Science Fiction.

Sci-fi is most often synonymous with spaceships, aliens, technology, robots, and to some, Star Trek or Star Wars. But there’s more to it than that.  Just like Fantasy sports a whopping 31 subgenres, Science Fiction contains a plethora of subtle variations, each deserving of its own subcategory. A shocking 37 subcategories, to be exact. (And I thought Fantasy was bad!) Now you know why I had to keep deferring this one. That’s a lot of research! Ready to find out what these 37 subcategories are? Then let’s get to it.

Hard Science Fiction

This is the subgenre most people think of when they hear “Science Fiction.” Drawing from the “hard” sciences — physics, astronomy, chemistry– Hard Science Fiction is not for those easily lost by conceptual details. Scientific realism trumps the more mundane aspects of character or plot development, placing this subgenre’s focus on things like exploration and discovery instead. Expect a lot of attention to be paid to process explanations and technology, and if this is a genre you want to write, expect to put in hefty amounts of research. Plausibility is king in this field. If it’s not believable, that ship’s not gonna fly. (Pun intended.)

Star Trek is the most notable example of Hard Sci-fi. There is character development across the series, but that’s not the main focus. I mean, they say it right in the opening sequence. The mission is to “boldly go where no man has gone before.” That same slogan applies to pretty much everything in this category.

Soft Science Fiction

The exact opposite of Hard Sci-fi, Soft Sci-fi puts the emphasis on character and plot, with the scientific aspects taking a backseat. This subgenre focuses on what are considered the “soft” sciences– anthropology, political science, sociology, psychology, etc.  Anne McCaffrey’s Dragon Riders of Pern series would fall in this category. Deceptively starting off as a Fantasy with just a light hint of Sci-fi, later books in the series reveal a heavier Sci-fi slant. But the focus is largely on the characters and cultures, with very clear influence from the disciplines of anthropology and political science.

Military Science Fiction

The name says it all on this one. Military Science Fiction revolves around a distinctly militaristic theme. Usually, the characters are part of the military and the plot involves some kind of war. For those fans of the video game world, Bioware’s Mass Effect trilogy and Bungie’s Halo series are prime examples of this type of story.

Robot Fiction

Another one where the name is pretty self-explanatory. Works in this category place heavy focus on the science of robotics. Isaac Asimov is one of the most prominent pioneers of this subgenre, but you’ll see this theme a lot in films. 2004’s I, Robot springs to mind as a popular example of these kinds of stories.

Social Science Fiction

Social Science Fiction is an interesting creature. It relies heavily on the influence of Social Science to extrapolate and then criticize future societies. So at its heart, it’s a genre bent on satire, on delivering criticisms and moral messages about our own society through the filter of a fictional, future one.  This subgenre shares a lot of similarities with Dystopian Fiction in that sense. Notable, and probably familiar, examples include Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and The Giver by Lois Lowry.

Space Opera

For those of you who pictured the operatic blue alien from The Fifth Element, I’m sorry to say, you’re wrong. This subgenre has nothing to do with music. It does, however, bear a slight resemblance to its more earthly counterpart — the Soap Opera.

Space Operas are adventure stories. Romanticized and melodramatic sometimes, but still. They usually center around a sympathetic hero going up against insane odds in an epic battle to save the universe.  Good always wins in a Space Opera, and if you can’t guess the notable work I’m alluding to yet, here’s a hint: it features light-sabers, Wookies, and a princess in a slave outfit. 😉

That’s right, Star Wars was, and is, considered a Space Opera. (Alternatively, it’s also known as a Science Fantasy, for the same thematic reasons.)

So although this subgenre may have some intrinsic ties to the much-ridiculed Soap Opera, don’t let that color your feelings. Star Wars is one of the most successful Science Fiction franchises of all time, and if it can survive being called a Space Opera, your work probably can too.

Steampunk

Steampunk is an strange one, spawning an entire subculture as well as a subgenre. It’s often set in an industrialized not-so-distant, alternate future, with heavy influences from 19th century Victorian England and the American Wild West. Strange combo, no? It may also contain elements of Fantasy, Horror, or Historical Fiction. The main requirement, though, is that a story in this category must include steam-technology and a 19th century perspective on everything from machinery to fashion. Examples include the work of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne as well as more contemporary author, Phillip Pullman.  But with the rapidly growing popularity of this cultural movement, Steampunk will likely have several more notable titles soon.

Cyberpunk

Cyberpunk is Sci-Fi’s answer to the Detective/Crime Novel. Its settings are typically dark and gritty, with a heavy emphasis placed on advanced technology. Plots often revolve around the degradation of society and the abuse of technology. Hackers, Artificial Intelligence and Megacorporations spying on the world are all elements seen in these high-intensity thrill rides. The work of Phillip K. Dick falls largely under this category, making him one of the most well-known authors in this field.

Biopunk

Biopunk is pretty much the same as Cyberpunk, but instead of an emphasis on technology, it focuses on the biological. Genetic modification and DNA engineering are common in this subgenre, providing a cautionary look at the downside to messing with biology. The Island of Dr Moreau by H. G. Wells would be a prime example, although it technically predates the creation of this category.

Nanopunk

Another cousin of the previous “punk” categories, Nanopunk focuses on a specific set of technology — nanotechnology. Michael Chricton’s Prey, as well as NBC’s recent hit show, Revolution, are both examples.

Superhero Fiction

Ah yes, a subgenre full of dudes in tights and capes, and women wearing barely-there spandex and magic-powered accessories. I don’t think there’s a person alive who isn’t familiar with this category, (don’t lie, you know you went through the towel-turned-cape wearing phase when you were a kid) although it’s much more popular in the visual mediums– TV, film, video games, and comic books.

The basic idea is exactly what you’d expect, a “good” protagonist dressed in an elaborate costume faces off against a supervillain. Often, both hero and villain have superhuman abilities, making their battles nothing less than epic. Which is why we continue to reboot these narratives over and over and over again. I mean, seriously, what are we on, like our 8th Batman?

Scientific Romance

No, this isn’t a combination of Sci-Fi and Romance, although that does exist. (It’s considered Science Fiction Romance, in case you forgot. 😉 ) Scientific Romance is actually an archaic term that was the genre’s original name. Now, it refers specifically to works from the late 19th to early 20th centuries or ones that are purposely written to sound that way. H.G Wells, Jules Vern, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are considered part of this category, largely because they were writing during that time frame, pioneering the genre.

Gothic Science Fiction

I find it interesting that this isn’t lumped into Horror Sci-Fi, but rather is given its own designation. Gothic Science Fiction is what it claims– a combination of Gothic-minded elements and Sci-fi. Vampires and Zombies are frequent visitors here. The most common plot is the attempt to explain monsters through science. There’s heavy emphasis placed on the biological explanation of these more-typically mythological creatures while still maintaining that darker, Gothic edge. Think Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend.

Mundane Science Fiction

This subgenre very closely resembles Hard Sci-fi, except there’s no interstellar travel or alien life forms. Fascinatingly enough, part of this subgenre is a position that things like worm holes, warp drives, and multi-galaxy exploration (all things typically found in Hard Sci-fi) are speculative wish-fulfillment and could never really happen. (Which I suppose makes the choice of “mundane” in the title fairly appropriate.) Instead, this subgenre focuses on stories that could happen, and often contain scientific data that can be, or has been, corroborated by scientists. Geoff Ryman and the short story anthology he edited, When It Changed: Science Into Fiction, are the most prominent names associated with this subgenre.

Horror Science-fiction

Just like it sounds, this is a combination of Horror and Sci-fi. Pairing the adrenaline inducing gore and violence of Horror with Sci-fi’s action-based futures, this is a powerful combination. Alien invasions, mad scientists, experiments gone wrong, there’s really no end to the number of ways Sci-fi can terrify us. Resident Evil, The Body-snatchers, The Alien Franchise, even The Terminator, are all examples of just how lucrative this category can be.

Comic Sci-fi

Again, pretty straight-forward. In fact, so straight-forward that all I should have to say is this: Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. See? Enough said, right?

But seriously, this is a combination of Comedy and Sci-fi. It exploits the elements of Science Fiction for comic relief, often leaning toward satire, as in our example above.

Science Fantasy

This is a blend of Science Fiction and Fantasy (Duh, right?) that lends a sheen of scientific realism to things that could never really exist. This is a squishy subgenre at best, and has never been truly solidified with a description. Surprisingly, one of my all-time favorite series, Shannara, by Terry Brooks, is considered this. I never knew that. See? Even I learn something doing these posts.

Apocalyptic Science Fiction

These next two subcategories are very tightly linked. Apocalyptic Science Fiction is all about the end of days, the downfall of civilization. The whole story leads up to some cataclysmic event that destroys life as we know it. Sometimes we survive, sometimes we don’t. But once disaster strikes, the story’s over. Otherwise, it becomes part of the next subgenre.

Post-Apocalyptic Science Fiction

If Apocalyptic is about the disaster itself, Post-apocalyptic naturally features what happens next,after the crisis. Often it includes desolate landscapes, a much smaller population, and sometimes even a return to medieval, or non-technology-enhanced ways of life. Apocalyptic fiction is often depressing, but Post-apocalyptic brings a sense of hope with it, revolving around themes like survival and rebirth/rebuild.

Zombie Fiction

I know what you’re thinking: Doesn’t this belong in Horror? Well, that depends entirely on the storytelling approach. When the emphasis is placed on the fear created by a Zombie Apocalypse, and violence and gore play a major role, then yes, I would tend to agree that it’s more fitting in Horror. But when the focus of the story is on an infectious contagion sweeping through the world, turning everyone to mindless, flesh-craving mutants, that’s Sci-fi’s realm. So it really just depends.

Alien Invasion

There seems to be a lot of these self-explanatory subgenres in Sci-fi, doesn’t there? Alien Invasion is exactly what you’d expect: Aliens invading Earth for the nefarious reasons of either destroying or enslaving mankind. This has been one of the most common storylines in Sci-fi; it’s right up there with Hard Sci-fi’s exploration and discovery. From War of the Worlds, to Independance Day, toAvatar, Alien Invasions have fascinated audiences. I wonder if we’ll find it so fascinating if it ever really happens?

Alien Conspiracy

Unlike Alien Invasion, where all hell breaks loose as massive ships descend from the sky, Alien Conspiracy takes a more subtle stance on the whole Alien thing. UFO sightings and abductions are fair game in this category and stories usually center on the conspiracy itself, on the journey to truth. Perhaps the most well-known example of this subgenre is The X-Files.

Time Travel

First popularized as a Sci-fi subgenre by H.G. Wells and The Time Machine, Time Travel is one of those things, like Historical, that crosses several genres. And, like Zombies, the designation between each is subtle and based on the approach. Time Travel without an explicit, scientific explanation would fall more in the realm of Fantasy, but when it’s based in science, like The Time Machine, it’s most definitely Sci-Fi. Other than that distinction, the idea is the same– traveling through time. End of story.

Alternate History

We’ve seen this header elsewhere. And just like its Fantasy counterpart, Sci-fi’s version is pretty straightforward. It’s a story rooted in history, but then deviates from that to create an alternate timeline. Pretty simple, no?

Parallel Worlds

This is the only subgenre that allows for pure speculation, more akin to Fantasy in many ways than its Sci-fi brothers. The idea is that there is a parallel universe to our own, where the world is either recognizable or very much not. Often including elements of Time Travel, Parallel Worlds is rife with endless possibilities for imaginative new twists. The most prominent and recent example I can think of is Fox’s cult hit, Fringe.

Lost Worlds

This subgenre features tales of adventure, discovering lost locations (islands, continents, planets, etc.) that tend to feature dinosaurs or other extinct creatures and cultures. Jules Verne’s A Journey to the Center of the Earth is a prime example of this type of fiction.

Dystopian Fiction

Just like Dystopian Fantasy (which isn’t an official subgenre yet), Dystopian Sci-fi is all about the opposite of Uptopia. Generally set in a near-future heavy with social unrest, Dystopian Fiction explores things like police states, repression, and dictatorship. They also commonly feature rebellions. This subgenre has seen a recent boost in popularity, especially with the YA audience, claiming such heavy-hitters as Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games Trilogy and Marie Lu’s LegendSeries.

Space Western

Yep, space cowboys. (Oh, come on, you know you were thinking it.) Combining the ideology of frontier America with intergalactic travel may sound like a ridiculous concept, but it’s actually a pretty potent combination. How many of you have heard of a little show by the name of Firefly?**Waits for the fanboy/girl squealing to die down.** Yeah, exactly. That’s a Space Western. Enough said, right?

Retro Futurism

This subgenre can boiled down to a phrase: “The future as seen from the past.” It has to conform to a vision of the future presented by artists pre-1960, creating a nostalgic blend of elements to showcase a timeline that could have been but never was. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, The Rocketeer, and even The Phantom all qualify for this category.

Recursive Science Fiction

How’s this for a convoluted subgenre? Recursive Science Fiction is Science Fiction about Science Fiction. The best way I can describe it is that it’s a framed narrative often featuring a protagonist writing a science fiction story. Fortunately, it’s rare, so I wouldn’t dwell on this one if I were you.

Slipstream

Landing somewhere between Literary and Speculative Fiction, Slipstream is just plain weird. It’s actually known as the “fiction of strangeness.” It actively tries to break the conventions of genre, crossing between the various styles with ease. A good Slipstream will leave you feeling confused and uncomfortable, and is often accompanied by a resounding, “WTF?” But hey, to each their own!

Anthropological Science Fiction

This subgenre is rooted entirely in the discipline of Anthropology. It seeks to portray races and cultures to the same scientific degree that anthropologists do, even if those races and cultures are entirely fictitious. Notable names under this header include Ursula K. Le Guin, Chad Oliver, and Michael Bishop.

And that concludes our long, sometimes arduous, journey through the many literary subgenres. Next week, I’ll return to my previous style of snarky commentary on something random. (Which really means I have no idea what to write about now and will spend the next 4-5 days scrabbling for a topic.) Thanks for sticking around and if you happen to have a topic request, feel free to send it via the Contact page. (Like seriously, no idea what to write about. Suggestions would be mighty helpful! 😉 )