I’ve heard it said that the only writing experience that comes close to making your first sale is getting in print. I agree. I have had my work printed as a editorial writer and even as a poet (I was no Wallace Stevens), but my science fiction career has been one of online publishing, until this weekend. I’ve told you that Apex Book Company was publishing a new collection called Descended From Darkness, and that I have a story in it, well two days ago it arrived in the mail and it is a thing of beauty. I’m not saying that because I have a story in there, I find it to be a genuinely lovely book. It is trade size and the cover art by Vitaly S. Alexius* is mesmerizing. Apex proves again that they are the finest dark science fiction publisher in the free world.
(*I had Justin Stewart down as the artist for the cover earlier as I got my names mixed up inside the jacket. Justin, your design work was also kick ass. Sorry! Thanks J.S. for pointing that out.)
Now, about me. I had a busy weekend, rough weekend. The book came in a manila mailer wrapped in the new Time magazine. I’d been watching the mailbox for a week and it was Saturday. I’d nearly lost hope. I didn’t open it right away wanting instead to open it later when I could laugh and jump around the room and not seem like a crazy person. When I held it in my hands, smelled the benzine and other long chain petrochemicals that go into processing paper, I felt like I had finally earned a place on my bookshelf. I started selling stories when the final move from print to online publishing had begun. Apex bought my story and I was thrilled because they were one of my favorite publications and were one of the last good ones still printed. I’d never had a story published in print so I was happy that I would finally be able to tell family and friends that I’d sold a story and not need a laptop to prove it. Founder/Editor Jason Sizemore sent me a note a couple of months later informing me that the magazine was moving to online publication and that my story would be in the first online edition. I had mixed feelings about this both for my story and for Apex. I loved Apex in print. It had this really great bone-matte paper and the art was street-cool and honest… perfect (I have issues #1 and #4 on my desk right now). I wanted to be a part of it, to be a part physically. I felt like getting printed in Apex would cement my existence in this reality of imminent deletion and limited data storage. I wanted to be part of the stable anachronism of the printed word. Understand that I’ve long been a believer in online publishing and I take a dim view of magazines and book companies that are not at least partially available online, but I came to reading via a love of printed books. When I was 15 I curled up in bed in that dark little house in the hollar with my copies of At the Mountains of Madness, Stranger in a Strange land, Dragons of Autumn Twilight, and Slaughterhouse Five and I shivered with cold and fear, fought dragonlords and fought WWII. There is an intimacy to the printed word that I wanted to be a part of and could not. I understood Jason’s reasoning, and he did kick the publishing savings to his authors by bumping up the pay/word (which I unaccountably still regret accepting), but I wanted it. Now I have it and I am so happy it was that same story I sold to Apex to first appear in print. The whole trajectory of this experience has a nice poetic resonance. So, as I shelve the first paper and ink book to bear my name between my copies of A Canticle for Leibowitz and A Deepness in the Sky, I want to take a moment to thank Mr. Jason Sizemore, Gill Ainsworth, and the entire staff of Apex Books for making this writer feel like he’s Marcel Proust.
I want my readers to do two things for me to help me thank the Apex people. First, buy the book. It’s full of great fiction with which I’m honored to be included (George Mann’s The Nature of Blood!!!). Secondly visit Apex Books and then recommend visiting it to someone. Traffic builds a website, and these people fight the good fight and in my opinion are the most populist of pro level zines. They’re damn hard to get into, but they are also accessible, kind to writers, kinder to fans, and they love Kentucky, which as the land of my dark birth, makes them a resource worth defending. So do it. Now!
So I’m sharing my method of tracking my submissions. It’s fairly simple my fellow simpletons (A Canticle for Leibowitz, read it and know). I make a spreadsheet with my stories listed across the top of the columns and the markets I like to submit to at the head of the rows. As I submit to each market I put an ‘S’ in the corresponding cell to mark ‘submitted,’ if I receive a rejection I put an ‘R’ in the cell for the story and market. For under consideration a ‘uc’ and on those rarest of occasions, the wonderful ‘P,’ for purchased, or published, or Please don’t change your mind. I back this up on my dry erase board which is easier than shifting back and forth from my submissions form as it hangs right beside my desk. That is about it. A friend tells me that she has individually printed forms for each market that go into a story file. The forms have each markets requirements and so on printed on them. She files them accordingly. I think she is a crazy person with bizarre control issues and probably has a certain way she like the cups in her cupboard arranged and the items in her medicine chest displayed. So there you go, my method. Whatever method you go with just make sure you have one. When you get more than one story going out into the world it can get damn confusing trying to keep up with who has what and when and why. I admit that I still screw up (my friend tells me she does not, and she color codes her closet), but it isn’t often.
That is the Science of Fiction.
I hope you all keeping up on your reading. It is the single most important thing a writer can do. Next up: I answer a reader’s question from my alternate home town of Philly PA: If I write science fiction will I be considered a hack?
The answer DG from PA is- Yes.