Chris Stamp on writing SCIENCE FICTION
I wrote several science fiction short stories during 2011, and hope to write more when life allows. My first published story, Planetsmith, appeared on AE:The Canadian Science Fiction review. Subsequently I published Damnation on Cast of Wonders , Shooting Stars on Brain Harvest and Dandelion & Gossamer (a finalist in the Writers of the Future competition) is available in M-Brane SF Quarterly.
If you are reading this, maybe you are wondering whether to try it yourself. In which case the first thing you need to know if you are thinking of writing science fiction for publication is that the market is, like all fiction markets, utterly saturated. One online magazine I researched complained that there are more writers than readers, and I'm still not sure whether they were exaggerating. The professional magazines (Asimov's etc) receive hundreds of stories every month, and pretty much all of them have an acceptance rate of less than one percent. So getting a sci-fi story published is a hugely challenging. Once you have your first one published, it probably becomes a little easier.
The other thing to understand is that the sheer volume of material that editors and their readers have to get through makes it impossible for them to strike up conversations with everyone who would like to talk to them, or ask for brief feedback or advice. This can make it feel like a lonely business, when all you get is terse rejection after weeks or months of waiting, and nobody will talk to you. It's not a business for those who take things personally. Actually, waiting is something you should avoid at all costs, no matter how seductive it is. It's a recipe for disappointment and demoralisation. What you need to do is get on with the next thing, and try to not even think about what the responses to submissions might be, except maybe once a week when you update your spreadsheet of which stories you have sent where (you'll be sending stories to dozens of places if you stick at it).
You'll need some people who will give you honest feedback on your story before you can get it to the point that it is ready for submission to a publication. This is quite a big thing to ask of someone - for those people, it will inevitably involve giving you some harsh truths on early drafts, no matter how good your story might eventually become with work. If you can't take criticism, writing is not for you. Writing is so subjective that even work that attains huge popular success is subject to criticism, and often rejected several times (yes, even Harry Potter and Twilight). Finding a good critic who is prepared to read your flawed work, be very honest with you and can suggest how to improve your stories, is a key factor in your chances of success. You are lucky if you know such a person, but if you don't there are other options. There are writing groups in most towns, and you can also use online groups like Critters, which is excellent for giving you a good volume of opinions from people who have an active interest in writing. You need to be willing to reciprocate and offer advice and opinions to others, but far from being a chore, this is often an enlightening process with regards to reflecting on your own work.
If you are still interested in starting to write sci-fi you'll also want to look at Duotrope, a fantastic resource that gives you the hard facts on how long it takes to hear back from each publication, what their acceptance rates are and what their pay rate is (assuming you care - you shouldn’t be planning on living off the money you get from it).
As well as short stories, I also wrote a novel, Fall Of Man, which is as yet unpublished. Along the way I sent it to a gentleman named Professor James Lovelock. You may have heard of him, he's quite famous. He is a remarkable man, with a remarkable life, documented in the biography He Knew He Was Right by John and Mary Gribbin. James and his wife read my story while on holiday and loved it, and I've since kept in touch, which has made the whole thing worthwhile just for that. I haven't given up on having it published, but novels are no easier to get published than short stories, so at the moment I'm waiting for a more promising opportunity than sending it out speculatively to agents who receive hundreds of manuscripts every month.
A friend of mine, fantasy author Alan Campbell, has been a great source of advice and encouragement - thanks Alan! You should read his books - they're fantastic, in both senses of the word. Thanks also to Stephen Hewitt (Cafe Shorts) for invaluable help, advice and encouragement when I was taking my first exploratory steps into the world of fiction writing.