7 Things I Learned About Starting A Career in Science Fiction

Write, have deadlines, meet people! How one gets their book or story published is a common question for writers, and Runtime author S. B. Divya recently jotted down 7 TL;DR steps that were essential to moving her work from the laptop to the printed page. There’s no one trick, but a continuum of activities…

  1. Take a class or workshop: There’s nothing like a deadline and a guaranteed audience to motivate you to finish a story. I took an online class with Gotham Writer’s Workshop, but there are plenty of other good options, both in-person and online. Most will require you to submit a finished work and learn to give and receive critiques. Many will also force you to produce something new during the class or workshop, which is a great exercise in silencing your inner critic.
  1. Join a writer’s group: This one can come with its share of pitfalls so choose carefully. After my first short story was published, I joined the Codex Writer’s Group, a forum aimed at neo-pro writers of genre fiction, where I found an incredibly active, supportive, and informative community. I knew about them because I’d seen them mentioned in story notes by authors whose work I admired. When choosing a writer’s group, consider the type of writing that group does, whether the skill level of the other members is comparable to yours, and whether you can reasonably meet the group’s schedule for submitting and critiquing.
  1. Short stories as a gateway: Science-fiction and fantasy have a long history of supporting short fiction. If you don’t mind stepping away from bestselling-novelist dreams, writing and publishing short fiction can be a great way to establish yourself in the community and also to polish your basic storytelling skills. This is also a good route to consider if your lifestyle doesn’t give you lots of time to write. It’s much faster to draft, revise, and submit a short story than a novel.
  1. Say yes to everything: When opportunity knocks, answer it, even if it isn’t something that was in your original master plan. Early in your career, you can afford to take chances, and many things can be taken as learning experiences. I said yes to writing for a video game, yes to being a first-reader for a magazine, and yes to a novella contest, all of which have paid off in different ways, including leading me to my first standalone publication and an agent. The one caveat here is to beware of over-commitment. Like any other job, don’t take on so much that you can’t deliver on your promises.
  1. Participate in conventions: If you have the time and money, going to science fiction & fantasy conventions is a great way to forward your career. You’ll have access to panels on craft, business, and fandom. Many offer writing workshops. They’re great places to meet other authors, editors and publishers, though it’s healthier if you see these as opportunities for long-lasting friendships rather than making deals.
  1. Be supportive: You reap what you sow, and while it’s true that we’re all competing for market share, there are plenty of readers out there. Give supportive critiques to others. Cheer their successes and commiserate over their rejections. Support projects like anthologies or new magazines by contributing to and promoting their efforts. Genre fiction seems to go through cycles of drama and upheaval so be aware of that negativity. Steer clear of it if it starts to discourage you from writing and reading what you love.
  1. Send it out: This one applies to all kinds of fiction. Get yourself a few beta readers who are familiar with the sub-genres that you’re writing. Have them check your story for things like world-building consistency, overuse of tropes, and suspension of disbelief, in addition to the usual building blocks of fiction. Use their comments for judicious editing, and then submit your story. Whether you’re sending out queries to agents or full manuscripts to short story magazines, you won’t get published unless you try. Perhaps you feel like you’re shooting for the moon. I certainly did when I sent my novella in for an open submission call, but sometimes the orbital paths align, the hardware doesn’t break, and you get to land somewhere new.

This article was originally published December 2016 by Writer’s Digest.

S.B. DivyaRuntime S.B. Divya sweepstakes is a lover of science, math, fiction, and the Oxford comma. Her short stories have been published at Lightspeed, Tor.com, and other magazines, and her novella Runtime is a Nebula Award finalist. Divya’s writing appears in the indie game Rogue Wizards. She also co-edits Escape Pod, a weekly science fiction podcast, with Mur Lafferty. She holds degrees in Computational Neuroscience and Signal Processing, and she worked for twenty years as an electrical engineer before becoming an author. Follow her on Twitter @divyastweets.

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