On Saturday at the Alaska Writers Conference I was standing behind stackable chairs arranged facing a lectern when the man beside me pointed out a woman seated across the room. "Who would think she’s a science fiction writer. She sure doesn’t look like it." The woman had gray hair and large glasses, not all that different in appearance from Lois McMaster Bujold, one of the current top science fiction writers. I scampered over and introduced myself to Sue Ann Bowling and begged some bookmarks for her two novels, Tourist Trap and Homecoming.
Unfortunately, both bookmarks disappointment me. One has a tiny picture of what might be a dogsled in whiteout conditions. The other has what seems to be a nebula but could just as easily be a jellyfish. The copy, lengthy endorsement quotes, give nothing about the plot of the books. I would have dismissed her books as poorly written but talked with the author. Tourist Trap is bout Roi who has a crippling disease caught only by the elite of his society, a society which has developed on a planet resembling Paleolithic Alaska. Okay, I’m interested.
The presentation from the lectern was on a subject I’d heard multiple times so I walked out quietly. In the hallway, I encountered Libbie Martins, who also writes science fiction. We escaped into the bar to drink Alaskan Amber. Libbie showed me her science fiction short story. I only was able to read a few paragraphs, but seems to deal with some interesting social issues. She also told me that Sue Ann Bowling’s writing is excellent.
All of this led me to thinking about Alaskan speculative fiction writers. I think we could help each other more. If Sue had a dependable critique group, her fellow writers could have headed off the problems with the indecipherable covers on the bookmarks. RWA is a wonderful organization but joining it isn’t an option for all SF writers. During the remainder of the conference, I jotted down names and collected business cards.
At this juncture in the publishing market, traditional publishers are dropping midlist authors, aiming only for best sellers or that is what I gather from my growing stack of reject letters. Here is a quote from a recent addition to the stack;
"I am very selective about taking on new clients since the publishing industry has become so narrow in its focus and harsh in its treatment of debut and midlist authors. Projects must have stellar world building, characters that leap off the page, pacing that is relentless and a story that entices the reader to take its journey with the characters. I know that’s a tall order, but if your writing is lacking in any of those areas, I must pass on it."
Reading between the lines I understand that agents want immediate success. They want to know from reading only the first page that the book will be in instant blockbuster. It’s a reasonable decision from an economic stand point, yet I’ve read that for years the books of Lois McMaster Bujold earned only pizza money. I’ve also seen numbers that show John Scalzi’s writing earned less than 1000 dollars per year for about five years. And I critiqued the opening of The Hunger Games before it was published. It’s a good story but I didn’t pick it out as a best seller from reading the first chapter in draft form.
It seems that midlist and new authors, jilted by traditional publishers, are increasingly turning to self-publishing. An Alaskan author, Tam Linsey, has recently self-published her dystopian novel Botanicast. She did her own cover, and the entire book from writing to marketing is excellent. I’d like to learn from her as well as from Sue Anne Bowling and others Alaskan and Yukon SF writers. What amazing people!
Unfortunately, the rest of the SF community hasn’t caught up. Science Fiction Writers Association doesn’t accept independent authors or unpublished authors as members. This leaves us all working on our own.
But I’m thinking, why should writers in Alaska be bound by decisions of the SFWA board? We can get together and support each other without approval from a board which meets thousands of miles away. I’ve started making a list of SF writers in Alaska and Yukon. As of this morning I have the names and e-mail addresses of thirty-five writers. My intent to set up a Yahoo group and a page associated with The Alaska Writers Guild. If nothing else I want a list of all the SF writers in Alaska and Yukon. I expect my list will be long. It’s possible that we are the largest category of writers in this corner of North America.
--- Eve Marlinspike