[Robert J. Sawyer] Science Fiction Writer
Hugo and Nebula Winner

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The Book's Written, What Now?

by Robert J. Sawyer

Copyright © 2002 and 2008 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved

Finish the book. No one will buy a partial manuscript from a first-timer; you have to prove that you can complete a book, and the only way to prove that is by actually doing so.

Read widely in the field, and spend many hours in bookstores. Your goal is to know which publishers issue what kinds of books. Find the ones that issue work similar to your own, then rank those potential markets in order of rates of pay / prestige (very roughly, Tor and Bantam are the top of the market, Baen and DAW the bottom; everyone else falls in between).

(Pointed aside: Often people will say to me, "I've never read any of your work, but I was wondering if you could tell me how to get my science-fiction novel published." And I always reply: know the field and know the markets. If you've never read any of my work, you haven't read all the Hugo and Nebula Award winners, which should be the basic bookshelf of any informed SF reader (my The Terminal Experiment won the Nebula Award for Best Novel of 1995, and my Hominids won the Hugo Award for 2003); indeed, you also clearly haven't been reading the recent Hugo nominees (I've had novels on the 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2003, and 2004 Hugo ballots [respectively, The Terminal Experiment, Starplex, Frameshift, Factoring Humanity, Calculating God, Hominids, and Humans]. In other words, without being self-serving, it's pretty easy for me to say, if you haven't read any of my work, you're not ready to try to market your own work.)

If you say that your book is unique, or crosses genres, or defies categorization, then set it aside and write another book to be your "first" novel. An editor has to be able to classify your book for the sales force, who will never read the manuscript.

Pick your first-choice publisher, and identify a specific editor at that publisher who publishes work like yours. (All Tor books credit the editor on the copyright page; many authors mention their editors in the acknowledgments.)

Go to that publisher's web site, and read the writers' guidelines, if there are any. If not, write a query letter to the specific editor you've identified, stressing why you chose him or her ("You edit XXXXX and YYYYY, who are two of my favorite authors; I'm trying to do work that might measure up to theirs"). Tell the editor what type of novel you've written ("present-day first-contact," "far-future space opera," "military SF," "alternate history," etc.). Also state how long the book is, make clear that it is finished, emphasize that you're working on another book (publishers almost always lose money on first novels; editors are looking to acquire careers, not one-off books), and ask for permission to submit your novel (or the first three chapters and a synopsis of the rest, if that's what the editor prefers).

Submit to one publisher at a time. Be patient. Use proper manuscript format. Enclose return postage. If and when you get an offer from a publisher, contact one of the agents listed on my web site about representation.

Rob's upcoming writing workshops and courses

More Good Reading

Letter to Beginning Writers
Rob's "On Writing" advice columns
Rob's upcoming appearances
Rob's essay on getting good press
Rob's thoughts on the process of being interviewed
Media backgrounder about Rob
Rob's own print advertisement for his novel Calculating God (Adobe Acrobat file, 392K)

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