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Frequently Asked Questions

Question: I am an aspiring science fiction writer, and I am in need of guidance. I am working on a book, but I was advised that you can't get a book published without an agent and you can't get an agent until you've had short stories published. Do you find this to be true?

OSC Replies: I started in the field in 1975. I haven't had to get a first novel published since 1977. I hear from some people that you have to get an agent first these days, but I really don't believe it -- I know TOR and several others are still looking at queries (not manuscripts) from novices. My advice, however, is almost certainly out of date. Why don't you simply write a letter to each publisher asking if they will look at a query (i.e., the first two or three chapters plus a synopsis of the rest of the novel) from an unpublished writer. They'll answer and tell you the truth about their policy. That will at least give you the information you need to make some decisions.

As to publishing short stories first, that's certainly one way to get an introduction to the field, but there are more than a few writers who have nice novel-writing careers who didn't write a single short story (or at least didn't publish any) before their first novel came out.

Question: I keep running into online writer's forums, filled with people who have uploaded stories to the web, but never published. Does anyone ever get discovered this way?

OSC Replies: I don't think so. Or if they do, there's more to the story than that -- somebody had to recommend it to somebody else. The web is big, and few people who have any clout (i.e., publishers or editors) can afford time to go browsing stories that WEREN'T submitted to them.

Furthermore, if you put your story up on the web, that constitutes first publication. You can't then sell "first rights" to anybody, and first rights are usually all that anyone is willing to buy. Just a thought.

The only reason to upload a story on the web is if you're in a writing group online, and it's part of the commentary process. But to upload it for the general public, hoping to find readers -- that's publication.

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