Uncle Orson's Writing Class
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almost certainly out of date.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plus a synopsis of the rest of the novel) from an unpublished writer.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.