Skip to main content
Message Font: Serif | Sans-Serif
No. of Recommendations: 0
>>>>That's a good point, and obviously it's up to you how you want to approach it, but my personal goal is to get some type of movement happening as soon as possible.

Hook: There's nothing wrong with that. My plan is to start at the top and work my way down. If I get a hit on one of the little guys, I'll probably be sending more stuff their way. But if I'm brilliant enough (or lucky enough) to land Analog or Playboy on my first try, then look at what I wojuld have wasted if I had started at the bottom and sold the same story right off.... If all the big names reject the stories, then I'll know to concentrate on the little fish for a while.

>>>>When I wrote my first magazine article, I submitted it on a Monday and got a call from the editor on Wednesday saying they wanted to publish it. It was with a smaller (now defunct) magazine called PC Techniques, but it paid well ($400 in 1993 for a 1200 word article).
>>>>The money was nice, but the important thing is that by starting at the lower rungs, I was heavily encouraged to continue writing. That was a huge boost to my self-confidence, and then I started writing a lot more prolifically once I realized that people liked my writing.
>>>>Granted, this is a lot of projection on my part, so obviously filter it through an anti-Hook polarization device, but I'm not sure I would have bothered writing a book if my first couple articles had been rejected and/or had been sat on for 4-6 months.

Maybe that's why our outlooks are different. Although I had been writing technical stuff for company use for years, my book was my first attempt at an external for-payment piece. I sent out two synopses simultaneously. I got back one letter almost immediately saying that they weren't taking any more submissions on the subject of OS/2 (they already had more OS/2 titles on the market than everyone else put together, I think). A few days later I got a call from the acquisitions editor of McGraw-Hill asking for some sample chapters to look at (even though I didn't yet have anything close to completed yet--I was just trolling for interest. I told him I could have three rough-draft chapters to him in two weeks. A week after that, I had a contract in my hands. So my experience was that starting at the top sometimes pays off. Maybe it won't go as smoothly with SF, but for all I know it will. Time will tell.

>>>>Ah, okay, the snippets I saw were short enough that it looked more like space opera to me. Do you actually go into the real science of the subjects, or do you do a cursory examination? The depth of the real science is what differentiates hard sci-fi from lighter fare.

It depends on the topic and how crucial it is to the story. When I was writing about how the refining process would need to be done to extract oxygen from Hematite (a type of iron oxide), I did research on the subject so I could speak intelligently about it. This was a key hook in the book, so I didn't want to come off as a buffoon to a metallurgist or geologist who might be reading the book. On the other hand, I realized that the average reader wouldn't really care for the nuts and bolts of the electrochemical process of smelting iron oxide ore, so I had to draw the line somewhere. (My mother still thinks it's too technical, even though it isn't all that detailed.)

But beyond the process itself, I went into the ramifications surrounding it (we need to build an air scrubber somehow to absorb the extra CO2 that we're exhaling and any air pollution we create via the refinery process which isn't as airtight as it ought to be; how the refinery can't take atmospheric input to separate the C from the O2 in the atmosphere--that's what the inoperative life support system is for). That sort of thing. I also went into the process of running computer sims to figure out the best place to attach a spare maneuvering thruster to the hull so the ship wouldn't go spinning off wildly when the unbalanced thrust was applied, and how they had to account for where the reinforced places in the hull were, and where the nearest fuel line could be tapped, and the fact that they had to build a hardpoint for attaching the external thruster to the hull, and that it needed to be built in two pieces so that the mass (not weight) of the thruster assembly wouldn't be too much for two space-walking crewmen to handle, and so on.

I didn't go to the depths of actually supplying schematics or mathematical equations, but I did spend a lot of time thinking through what had to come first,and what had to happen before that and before that, and what followed. It wasn't simply, "They kicked in the hyperjet drives and bingo, there they were." The whole first part of the book was heavy on how they fix this and how they jury-rig that to survive a few more days, and so on. I don't know if it would be considered "very hard" SF, but it's at least "medium hard" (firm? <g>) I would think.

Here's a brief passage from Chapter 2, where the protagonist is dictating into his personal journal some of the problems relating to adding the third thruster:

Copyright 2003 Mark T. Chapman. All Rights reserved.
At first glance, it might appear that adding a third thruster would increase our speed by 50%, from 14 kph to 21 kph. Unfortunately, it's not that simple. If Shamu had been designed to support three *evenly spaced* thrusters that would be true. But because the ship wasn't designed that way, it's likely that the temporary hardpoint won't be up to the stresses of a thruster running at full speed. Even if it is, the rest of the ship isn't designed for the unevenly distributed stresses -- our makeshift layout only minimizes the stress; it doesn't eliminate it. So we're going to have to throttle back all three of the thrusters. (That may be for the best, as they weren't designed for lengthy full-power operation anyway.) This means we won't get 21 kph out of the thrusters. We may not even average the 17.9 kph we need to reach the asteroid in time. However, we'll be a lot closer to it than if we were to stay with two thrusters at only 14 kph.

We *may* be able to tweak some extra power out of the thrusters by adjusting the fuel mix, but as Tom pointed out, with three thrusters we'll consume 50% more fuel than with two thrusters, leaving us only two-thirds as much burn time. Worst case, we can't use up more than half of our fuel trying to fly as fast as possible to the asteroid, because we have to reserve the other half to slow down again. These are all problems that we have to solve in the simulations before we can use the third thruster. Still, the longer we wait before we light #3, the less time we'll have to take advantage of it.

That's probably not the most detailed discussion of technology in the book, but I think it shows that a lot of thought went into "what if". (Earlier I had some simple calculations to show how much speed to needed to close the gap before they ran out of air, and I mentioned a second set of sims that would have to plot the most efficient route through the asteroid belt, given the unbalanced thrust.)

>>>>Momentum is your friend, and nothing can kill it quite like a flurry of writing then rejection slips and no publications for a year or two.

True, but on the other hand, right now I have only four stories written. If I got an immediate hit and they say "Hey, do you have any more like that?", I might not yet have anything suitable to give them (although I'd certainly start writing! <g>). If it takes months to sell one I should have a few more of almost any type (of the ones I'm interested in, that is) written by then, which might actually help the momentum, if I have another one ready to go. (Or, at least it sounds good in theory.... <g>)

>>>>As much research as you've done into this, I'm sure you're stories will be looked at. Also, very short pieces are popular because they help with printing constraints -- if they go a little under page count one month, they'll often look for a 900 word story to get in there, etc.

Yeah. That's part of the reason I've "spread out" my stories. One is <500 words, one is 1,000, another is about 1,500, and the fourth is <4,000. I wasn't looking at specific targets (except to have a few flash pieces written for the markets that only deal in those), but I knew that different pubs have different needs. I thought it was interesting that Weird Tales specifically mentioned the really short stuff: "Most of what we buy is shorter than 8000 wds. ... Short-short stories (less than 1000 wds or so) are very hard to write, but they are easy to sell." The two pieces I have written so far that fall into their definition of short-short aren't in the right genre for WT, but I'll definitely keep the short-short story in mind when I think about horror/fanasy/dark fiction. If I can think of a good story that I can write in <1K words, I'll definitely submit it to WT.

It's funny that as a reader, I really don't care for ultra-short fiction, because just as I get interested in the story, it's over. But I find that they're fun to write. I don't have to get heavily involved in details for something that short. It's especially good for humorous pieces. (Just as it's difficult to write for a 60 min. sitcom, it's harder to maintain the humor in a long story.)

>>>>A relative of mine submitted a story to Playboy once and got rejected, and it was the happiest moment of his life. Why? Because the rejection slip had a handwritten note on it that said:
>>>>"Not what we're looking you have anything else by chance?"

My mother had several similar experiences when she was shopping around a couple of novels she wrote. Many of them said things like, "The writing is outstanding, but not exactly what we're look for. Keep going and you're bound to be successful." She finally got fed up and decided to write a Harlequin romance. She said they are so boilerplate that anyone could write one. All through it she kept saying, "This is so easy, but these books are such drek." Finally she submitted it to Harlequin. When she read the rejection slip she burst out laughing. To paraphrase, it said, "We suspect that you are an established writer who is attempting to branch out into another genre. Unfortunately, your disdain for the material comes through in your writing. We recommend that you return to your established market niche." She said, "I can't argue with that assessment. I really hate that type of book." <g>

Print the post  


What was Your Dumbest Investment?
Share it with us -- and learn from others' stories of flubs.
When Life Gives You Lemons
We all have had hardships and made poor decisions. The important thing is how we respond and grow. Read the story of a Fool who started from nothing, and looks to gain everything.
Contact Us
Contact Customer Service and other Fool departments here.
Work for Fools?
Winner of the Washingtonian great places to work, and Glassdoor #1 Company to Work For 2015! Have access to all of TMF's online and email products for FREE, and be paid for your contributions to TMF! Click the link and start your Fool career.