Guest Blog: Publishing ladder tougher climb for SFFH writers

Guest blogger: T.W. Fendley

I'm a writer of historical fantasy and science fiction with a Mesoamerican twist for adults and young adults, and one of the newest "Underlords" in the Literary Underworld. I first learned about this cooperative venture from the founder, Elizabeth Donald, a few years ago at Archon, the annual St. Louis-area science fiction/fantasy convention. I made sure to contact Elizabeth after L&L Dreamspell published my debut historical fantasy novel, ZERO TIME, and was thrilled to join this great group of writers.

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Soon after I started writing fiction in the mid-'90s, a co-worker asked me to join a group of romance writers. It was just the inspiration I needed, even though I didn't write romance. The Crescent City Writers introduced me to the business of writing and to critique groups. Many also belonged to organizations like Romance Writers of America (RWA) and Sisters in Crime (SinC), which had local chapters in New Orleans where we lived. Around the same time, I took a worldbuilding class taught by renowned science fiction writer George Alec Effinger at the University of New Orleans and joined his excellent science fiction and fantasy (SFF) writers' workshop.

It quickly became apparent, though, that the rungs of the publication ladder were harder to climb in the speculative genres. Of more than a dozen writers in our romance group, only the three newest of us weren't published. Although twice as many writers participated in Effinger's workshop, only one was published. Some differences between the groups were readily apparent--the romance group members helped sponsor conferences that brought in agents, volunteered at booksellers' conventions, and invited guest speakers to help the writers improve their knowledge of everything from forensics to taxes. They worked on the business aspects as well as writing, while the SFF workshop focused only on critiques.

Where were the local chapters of science fiction, fantasy and horror (SFFH) writing organizations? Now, more than fifteen years later, I'm asking the same question. The SFWA (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America) and HWA (Horror Writers Association) are the premiere spec fiction organizations, but I've never encountered local chapters. In fact, the criteria are so stringent that many published writers can't qualify for membership. Small press and self-published authors are excluded because of SFWA's requirement for authors to receive a $2,000+ book advance, and short story writers must sell to "approved" markets to be SFWA-eligible. HWA is more lenient with its associate membership, which requires "one minimally paid publication in any of several categories. (This might be something as unassuming as a 500-word story for which you've received $25 or more.)"

Compare this to RWA general membership, which is open to "all persons seriously pursuing a romance fiction-writing career" and SinC, which seeks authors "pursuing a career in mystery writing." SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) welcomes all those "who have an interest in children’s literature and illustration." While I understand the desire to maintain high standards in the SFFH genres, I wonder if exclusivity may prevent the kinds of interactions and mentoring that could launch more talented writers into the publishing world's top tiers. Fortunately, as the lines between mystery, romance and spec fiction blur, SFFH writers can benefit more from organizations tailored for their writerly genre "cousins." And some of us are lucky to live in places with an all-inclusive groups like the St. Louis Writers Guild.

Of course, not all SFFH groups are so exclusive. I commend online organizations like Broad Universe for offering newbies a hand. It’s a great group of women who are serious about writing and who have fun, too. They host readings and book sales at conventions, and place magazine ads featuring their members. They’re even helping me learn how to do podcasts, which I’ve wanted to do for a long time. Check out the August Broad Pod with four humorous excerpts, hosted by yours truly.

I'd be curious to know if I've simply overlooked some great spec fiction organizations. I'd love to hear from you!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: With Zero Time -- Dec. 21, 2012 -- quickly approaching, I've been working to complete two ebook novelettes set in the same universe as my novel, Zero Time, which is available in print and ebook formats. A prequel, Jaguar Hope, will soon be available on Kindle, followed by The Mother Serpent's Daughter, which tells the master shaman's story.  I'm also seeking an agent for my young adult fantasy novel, The Labyrinth of Time, and homes for a variety of SFFH short stories.

Readers can find me at:
Literary Underworld
Facebook page
Goodreads author page

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Zero Time: As the end of the Maya calendar nears, an expedition to Earth has zero time to save its race from extinction. Only Keihla Benton can save two worlds from the powers of Darkness. But first she must unlock the secrets of Machu Picchu and her own past.

Finalist for the 2012 Walter Williams Major Work Award presented by the Missouri Writers' Guild
Semifinalist in Kindle Book Review's Best Indie Book of 2012 contest