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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Tuesday, February 18, 2003 - 05:01 pm:   

Well, Jeff opened a room for me, so I'd better start decorating. Did any of you visit Jack Dann's intro to himself! My god, all he needs is to add an Olympic medal and an expedition to Everest story to his accomplishments and he will have done it all. It doesn't help that he's also a very gracious and funny person.

So, for those of you who don't know, here I am:

I started writing in elementary school, but I didn't sell anything until 1989 (about twenty-five years later!). I puttered around for several years, selling a couple pieces a year, all to small markets, until I sold a story to Analog in '97. Sales took off then. I sold my 75th story a couple months ago, with appearances in most of the major magazines, including Asimov's, Realms of Fantasy, Weird Tales, Talebones, SCI FICTION, and many others. I've also appeared in several anthologies, including Dark Terrors 5 & 6, New Faces in Science Fiction, Polyphony #1, and Children of Cthulhu.

I also was a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in '99.

My latest endeavors include the release of my first collection, Strangers and Beggars, through Fairwood Press in August of '02. The book has been well received and was recently recognized by the American Library Association as a Best Book for Young Adults (although I didn't write the stories with that age group in mind). If your'e interested, you can read more about the book at http://www.sff.net/people/james.van.pelt/strangers2.htm

Also, Gardner Dozois took my SCI FICTION story from last year, "A Flock of Birds," for his upcoming Year's Best Science Fiction anthology.

When I'm not writing, I teach high school and college English in western Colorado. I also am the webmaster for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer Eligible Author Web Site.

My personal website is http://www.sff.net/people/james.van.pelt
The JWC website is http://www.sff.net/campbell-awards
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Jay C
Posted on Wednesday, February 19, 2003 - 10:24 am:   

Mr. Van Pelt,

Howdy. Good to see you here with your own room. Where would you like me to put this stuffed shark?
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Wednesday, February 19, 2003 - 02:31 pm:   

Hi Jay. You could put it on the table by that full suit of armor, or, if you want, on the shelf next to my copy of the Necronomicon. No, don't open it. It can be hard to put down.
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Jay C
Posted on Wednesday, February 19, 2003 - 04:07 pm:   

Ooooh. Necronomicon. Better than donuts.
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Diana Larsen
Posted on Friday, February 21, 2003 - 09:08 am:   

I wonder if it's different writing for young adults than a general audience. Do you get a list of do's and don't's from the publisher or just generally mentioned in how-to books?
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Friday, February 21, 2003 - 05:11 pm:   

Hi Diana. Man, you've just nailed my current problem. Strangers and Beggars got the ALA nod for Best Book for Young Adults, and none of the stories were written with young adults in mind. Not only that, but Colorado Public Radio is doing an interview with me next week, and the reporter is also interested in that angle.

So what I'm going to do here is explore what I might say to her next week.

Here's my theories about young adult fiction. First, a professor of mine once said that as far as he could tell, the way to get something identified as young adult or kid's lit was to have a young adult or a kid as a protagonist. In the book I only have four stories of the seventeen where a young adult is the main character, although several more take place in schools with teachers as main characters. So, clearly, having a young adult as a protagonist isn't the only way to interest that crowd.

Second, the stories I put in the book were PG13 at worst. In fact, when we were putting the book together, the publisher asked me to send 20 or so stories, figuring we would only print 16-18. Out of that list, he picked one that was "R" rated. It was about a world where plants could be grown in the shape of women for men to have sex with (it worked in the story!). But I teach high school English, and the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to be able to bring this book into our high school library, so I asked him to replace it with another, and he did.

I'm generally PG13 anyway, at least in my handling of language, and I have a tendency for uplifting resolutions. Maybe that is it.

At any rate, all the stories were reprints from the genre magazines, Asimov's, Analog, Weird Tales, Talebones, etc., and they weren't written specifically with young adults in mind. Maybe I've been teaching high school so long that I talk in a way that works for them?

The ALA's purpose in giving the award for Best Books for Young Adults is to find the books that that age group likes, whether it was marketed for them or not. There probably is a list of do's and don't's from some publishers, and there's probably how-to books for them too. I just don't know anything about them.
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Sunday, February 23, 2003 - 02:23 pm:   

I got some good news today: David Hartwell sent me a contract for my Weird Tales story from last year, "Origin of the Species," for inclusion in his The Year's Best Fantasy. That, along with the sale of my SCIFI.COM story, "A Flock of Birds," to Gardner Dozois's Year's Best Science Fiction antho and the ALA thing for Strangers and Beggars makes this a darned good beginning of the year.

Jim Van Pelt
http://www.sff.net/people/james.van.pelt
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Sunday, February 23, 2003 - 02:41 pm:   

Congratulations Jim--you've done well!

With regard to YA books--I've always had a problem figuring out what it the term "young adult" reading means. As a child, there was no such term and I was reading adult books by my teenage years.

Strangely, Terri W and my second adult fairy tale antho, BLACK THORN, WHITE ROSE was an ALA notable book the year it was published and frankly I was very surprised. There was a reception I went to in NYC and I spoke with some of the librarians --they didn't see any problem with the book (I'd have thought it a bit too racy for the market).

OTOH, THE GREEN MAN is intentionally aimed at the YA market with crossover marketing to the fantasy market--a few of the stories were rec'ed for the Nebs and one actually made the ballot--another surprise to me. The whole notion of defining a YA market is weird to me.
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Jay C
Posted on Sunday, February 23, 2003 - 03:22 pm:   

Well done that man...again.
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Vera Nazarian
Posted on Tuesday, February 25, 2003 - 10:58 am:   

Jim! Howdy, howdy!

*waves!*

:-)

Vera
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Tuesday, February 25, 2003 - 07:11 pm:   

Hi Vera! We run into each other all over the Internet.
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Vera Nazarian
Posted on Tuesday, February 25, 2003 - 07:19 pm:   

Dude, I am following you! ;-)

Vera
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Lou Antonelli - East Texas, USA
Posted on Wednesday, March 19, 2003 - 12:35 pm:   

Dear Jim,

I'm glad to have found your message board. We've visited a few times over as Asimov's but I hadn't seen you there recently. Now I understand why, looks like you have your own land grant.

I'm impressed with how well you have done recently. Perhaps the day will come when you can drop that dry erase marker and write full-time. I've been plugging away at a little fiction writing since last summer, with a few glimmers of hope so far. A semiprozine called GateWay has a story scheduled for publication. Andromeda Spaceways in Australia had a story go through a second reading before releasing it. I hope I don't have to send 36 stories to Asimov's like you did, however.
Are you the administrator for the Campbell Awards? And aren't there two awards named for Campbell? I know you are referring to the award for best new writer, what's the other one?
It's a cliche but sometimes true: Keep up the good work.

BTW, on the other message board I used the ID Texarcana, but I might as well use my real name since I'm sending stories around, anyhow.

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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Thursday, March 20, 2003 - 05:23 pm:   

Hi, Lou (Tex!). Thanks for the note. I'm glad to hear you are circulating stories. Let me know how they do.

You're right about two Campbell awards. The one I'm involved with is the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. I'm not an administrator for it, just an interested bystander. Since the Hugo committee is new each year, however, I'm sometimes called to answer questions about it. The other Campbell award is for novels, and I think it's a juried award.

Strangers and Beggars got a boost lately from the Colorado Blue Spruce award, another young adult lit award, where it made the finalist list.

I received my third bit of good reprint news last week: Stephen Jones is taking my Dark Terrors 6 story, "The Boy Behind the Gate," to reprint in The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror. If I combine that with the Dozois sale for best SF, and the Hartwell sale for best fantasy, I've achieved a weird kind of trifecta, hitting a best of anthology in all three genres in the same year. Is that the equivalent of a grand slam in golf?

Beside the reprints, I have new stories scheduled to appear in Asimov's, the New Faces in SF anthology, Talebones, Paradox, Absolute Magnitude, and Electric Story (a print anthology of stories to go along with Alan C. Clark illustrations).
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Lou Antonelli - East Texas, USA
Posted on Friday, March 21, 2003 - 10:46 am:   

Glad to hear the success continues. I'm always happy to see a relative newcomer doing well (even if he's from Colorado - wink, wink).
I would say, regarding the anthologies, it's more like the Triple Crown (a grand slam involves FOUR runs or titles). Still very impressive!!!
I guess I must qualify as a super-newcomer since I only wrote my first story last August and only first submitted a story in September. I've written ten stories since then which have been submitted someplace. I've had a few nibbles. A quarterly semiprozine called GateWay out of California says they'll print a story I sent their way, though it may be a while before it sees the light of day. Andromeda Spaceways out of Australia read a story and it passed the first reading, but they released it after the second. That was still encouraging. I have stories right now bouncing around Asimov's, F&SF, Interzone, 3SF and Revolution SF. I was thinking of sending a story to Absolute Magnitude or their other magazine, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination (the last story I read of yours was in Weird Tales). I have story that somehow straddles the line between science fiction and fantasy (how I ended up there, I'll never know) and I though one of the DNA mags might be a place to send it. I don't know if you have any insight into that set of publications, but if you do, I'd love to hear it.
Thank goodness I have a real job and don't have to rely on the fiction market for a living. At ConDFW, which was held in Dallas Feb. 21-23, one of the panel members said the average fiction writer in the U.S. makes $2,000-$7,000 off his/her writing. So obviously most people writing fiction still have other jobs.
I have to give my regular weekly lecture at the local high school journalism class in a couple of hours. Hope to hear from you again!
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Kate Eltham
Posted on Monday, March 24, 2003 - 10:40 pm:   

G'day Jim!

I first saw you at AussieCon3 in 1999. Good to catch up with you again - digitally speaking.

At a recent con I attended a panel on YA speculative fiction and most of the panelists agreed that the only difference (in Australia, at any rate) between adult spec fic and YA spec fic is that YA spec fic gets published!

Kate.
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Tuesday, March 25, 2003 - 05:52 am:   

Hi, Kate! Thanks for dropping in. My biggest regret about AussieCon was that I didn't get a chance to see anything else in Australia other than the four-block walk between my hotel and the convention center. Mostly I remember a lot of public transportation and that I was afraid to cross streets, particularly at intersections, because I was never sure from what direction the traffic would be coming.
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Tuesday, April 08, 2003 - 08:59 am:   

Colorado Public Radio interviewed me about my short story collection, Strangers and Beggars, and the show will play Wednesday during Colorado Matters. CPR airs from 10-11 a.m. and 7-8 p.m. In the Denver area, CPR can be found at KCFR 1340 AM. In Grand Junction, where I hang out, it's at KPRN 89.5 FM. The show will then be archived at the CPR web site, http://www.cpr.org, and anyone anywhere can listen to it from the Internet.
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Tim Akers
Posted on Tuesday, July 01, 2003 - 10:23 am:   

Just read your article about publishing on the SFWA site. I really enjoyed it. I'm one of those dolts who is down in the mouth after only six months, which is ridiculous I know, but there it is. No chance of me quitting though. I have to write, I don't have a choice in the matter.

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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Tuesday, July 01, 2003 - 10:12 pm:   

Hi, Tim. How weird. I just posted a reply to your note in the Rejections and Acceptances topic at the Rumor Mill.

There are some writers who seemed to hit the ground running (Nalo Hopkinson comes to mind, as well as Ken Wharton), but most serve a more leisurely apprenticeship.

I'd count the slow beginning as a great training school, and a remarkably free one at that. If no one is buying anything that you are writing yet, then you have infinite freedom to write anything you want, and that's a great way to develop your interest and voice. The first Analog story I sold I wrote not because I thought Analog would like it, but because it was the middle of winter and I really wanted to go fishing. So I wrote a fishing-with-an-alien story. Not only did Analog take it, but it also made the preliminary Nebula ballot.

Before that story, of course, Analog had never bought anything from me (for years!). You remain an unpublished writer until, one day, you aren't.

Good luck. I'll keep my eyes open for your name.

Jim Van Pelt
http://www.sff.net/people/james.van.pelt
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Tim Akers
Posted on Wednesday, July 02, 2003 - 08:36 am:   

My main issue with the apprenticeship is feedback. I've been in various writing groups, oneline and real time, but they've offered little in the way of real criticism. I have managed to form a reader group, people I don't know and who don't care about my feelings. They're willing to read stuff, comment, tear apart. That's worked nicely.

Anyway, we'll see. Thanks for the words. I dread plugging along for years and years without publication, but if that's the price then I'll willingly pay.
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Wednesday, July 02, 2003 - 03:16 pm:   

Yeah, plugging for a long time without a result can seem discouraging. What happened to me, though, was that I submitted stuff for about four or five years with no bites at all. Finally I made my first sale, a poem. The check was for $2. I never cashed it (probably screwed up their bank books).

Then nothing on the sales end for another couple years before I sold my first story. After that, I sold a story a year for six or seven years. As you can see, this is darned leisurely. In the meantime, I went to grad school for two years to get a master's degree in creative writing. Also, I was writing and submitting a lot. For the longest time, it seemed, I always had at least twenty stories circulating.

Then, a weird thing happened: I sold a story to Analog and Adventures in Sword and Sorcery at about the same time. It was like the house caught fire. This was in '97. Up to that point I think I'd sold 8 stories total. Since then I've sold almost 70 more. It's not that I was writing that fast, but all the stories I'd been writing before found homes, many of them at pro markets. I've place stories just about everywhere except F&SF (I haven't written anything to tickle Gordon Van Gelder's fancy, I guess, alas).

Now I'm down to three unsold stories in my inventory.

The key for me, I think, was that I wrote when I wasn't selling. Like you said when you posted at the Rumor Mill, I wrote because I felt compelled to. There were stories I wanted to tell. I still have stories I want to tell, so I keep writing. If I hit another dry spell, so be it.

The writing is the thing. Not the selling.
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Tim Akers
Posted on Thursday, July 03, 2003 - 06:28 am:   

That's a good point. What I find interesting about your story is that you had all these stories in circulation for such a long period of time, with few sales, but now you've managed to sell pretty much everything. Was there a great deal of revision going on, or did the story that no one wanted to buy for six years suddenly become salable? Like you reached some sort of critical mass or something.

Well, I appreciate you taking the time to talk to a new writer. Maybe you'll see my name soon, maybe you won't, maybe it'll be years from now. Hope the dry spell stays away, eh?
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Thursday, July 03, 2003 - 08:39 am:   

It's interesting that you use the phrase "critical mass," since that's what Connie Willis said about me to a friend of mine when the stories started selling so well. We liked the phrase so much, "Van Pelt has reached critical mass," that when we were desiging the cover of Strangers and Beggars we put in on as a place-holder blurb. Connie gave us a real blurb later.

No, the stories didn't go through multiple revisions. Generally, if I think a story is ready to send, I send it. Then, if it is rejected, I don't even reread it before putting it into an envelope to the next market (the sun sets on no rejected manuscript in my house). I do have had a couple stories that were revised after they'd started the editorial rounds. One, "The Diorama," kept coming back with comments about how they liked the story but that it seemed "slow" or "too long for the idea." It only took me being hit over the head with ten or so of those (I'm a slow learner I guess), before I sat down to tighten the story up. It sold to the next market to see it, TransVersions, which paid SFWA-level pro rates, and the story made Gardner Dozois's Year's Best SF honorable mention list.

On the other hand, I had a story I liked a lot that was eventually purchased by the 49th market to see it, also a SFWA-level pro market, and it also made Dozois's honorable mention list. I never changed a word in in from the first time it went out.

Of course, I'm kind of a revision and polish freak BEFORE the story goes out the first time.

I don't know why stories that circulated for so long found homes at about the same time. My appearance in Analog didn't exactly make me a household name in the publishing world. I was a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in '99, but I don't think making an award list makes the old stories any better either. The best explanation may very well be the "critical mass" one. Perhaps my stories had been going around for so long that the editors grew used to seeing my name in the slush pile, and my style eventually grew on them.

You can see the titles of everything I've sold at http://www.sff.net/people/james.van.pelt/bibliography.htm
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Tim Akers
Posted on Thursday, July 03, 2003 - 09:38 am:   

I have a question, then, about pro rates. The SFWA requires that it pay three cents/word. That's easy enough to find. The hurdle is circulation...2000. In the various market listings I've found, there really are fairly few markets that meet that. Of the online pubs, only scifiction, strange horizons and gothic.net. In print I've only seen maybe a dozen. So, where are you getting these titles? It's the circulation thing that kills it, usually. Lots of markets, but mainly with circulations of 500, 900, or 1500.

Man, that was a long paragraph. Oops.
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Thursday, July 03, 2003 - 03:34 pm:   

Hi Tim. Not all the markets I submitted to were pro markets. For the story that sold to the 49th market to see it, which was a pro market, the magazine didn't exist when the story started its rounds. I'd sent it to many sub-SFWA markets first.

Of course, some of the semipro markets by SFWA standards are still outstanding places to appear, like Talebones or Chirascuro (sp?) or Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, for example. For me, the best place to look for the markets that are worthy to appear in is to look at the table of contents and the honorable mention lists in Gardner Dozois's and the Datlow/Windling year's best anthologies. At least an appearance in either of them says that the top anthologists in the field found worthwhile and interesting fiction in those sources. Since pro-rate pay for short fiction will not change my lifestyle, then I at least want the stories to appear where they have a chance of receiving critical attention.

I started submitting the story that was much rejected in 1990. I'd sold only two stories at that time, one to a small literary magazine, and the other to a small horror magazine, so I was really a neophyte. I wasn't thinking about SFWA at the time (didn't even know about it). I learned about the markets through the Writer's Digest Marketplace and another market book I checked out of the library. My submission pattern is much different now. The story has erotic and fantasy elements within it, and it's about 4,000 words long. Here's the list of magazines that saw the 48-time rejected story in the order I sent it:

Yellowsilk (7/26/90)
Amelia
Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine
Hanson's
Modern Short Stories
Erotic Fiction Quarterly
Aberations
New Blood
Writer's Forum
American Short Fiction
American Voice
Cemetery Dance
Jabberwocky
Haunts
Pirate Writings
Thirteen Moon Magazine
Realms of Fantasy
2 a.m.
Pulp
Century
Crank
Valkerie
Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
Blood and Midnight
Age of Wonder
Infinite Edge
Shadow Fall
Wet Bones
Asimov's
Talebones
Epitaph
Freezer Burn
The Urbanite
The Fractal
TransVersions
Brutarian
Agony in Black
Pulp Fiction
Dark Regions
The Silver Web
Out of the Shadows
Xoddity
Tales from the Teeth Park
Such a Pretty Face
Grimoir
Lore
Gothic.Net
Pulp Audience
The Third Alternative (sold, 10/19/00)

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Chelsea
Posted on Thursday, July 03, 2003 - 05:37 pm:   

forget it. I would have trunked that story by rejection one dozenth.

my most rejected story was rejected seven times before it saw publication - in this month's Abyss and Apex, in fact. and it saw nine submissions because I couldn't see anything wrong with it - at the time. now I see plenty of problems and would have taken it back if I hadn't already spent the money.

after that, the list of accepted stories grows short but they didn't go too many places - I've two stories that were accepted at the first market they hit, and a pro sale to the third market the story went to (and that story is a take it back how embarrasing episode too, but they published it so darn fast I couldn't stop it.) I had a story accepted at the second market it visited, but the magazine folded as quickly as it began, so it doesn't really count. and I've since dumped a bunch of stories in the trunk, never to see the light of day again. one of them saw five submissions, the rest, three or less.

But it's all right. these are early stories, not really ready for the light of day. I've been slowly building my inventory of half-assed tales now that I've learned a bit about writing. some folks write, polish, send. I write, lock away for six months, look at it again, blanch at how unskilled it is and rework it, polish, send... even though it's not pro level yet. it's still the best I can do with what I have, and when I've improved I'll dump whatever didn't sell and start over with a fresh batch.

I know it goes against conventional wisdom to not sub, and stop subbing a story after a couple of tries.

But really, I've only been writing four years and I'm not prolific so I'm not as far along in the apprenticeship as someone who even writes 12 stories a year. I've only just begun to write stuff that's worth keeping in circulation while I figure out how to write a great story - it takes a long time to learn the skills and you're never finished, and that was something I didn't figure out at first. Maybe in a couple more years.
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Thursday, July 03, 2003 - 10:14 pm:   

Not every writer is as stubborn as I am (or they lose faith in their stuff faster, or they recognize their own bad stuff better). I talked to David Marusek, who has published some amazing work, about his submissions habits, and he says he's never received a third rejection on a piece because if it's bounced twice he never sends it out again.

I was stunned, appalled and impressed all at the same time.

Different habits for different folks.
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Lou Antonelli - East Texas, USA
Posted on Saturday, July 05, 2003 - 08:02 pm:   

Dave is perhaps too much an artist. A guy who's willing to live in a cabin in Alaska so he can afford to live on what his writing pays is dedicated. At ConDFW in Dallas last February, he made a very good observation, when asked what's the key to breaking into short story writing. He said it's 1/3 talent, 1/3 connections and 1/3 luck.

I think that's very intelligent, which is why I have great respect for the man (even though I would never write what he writes - but the same goes for Charlie Stross).

I wrote my first story ever last August, and made my first submission last September, so the most rejections I have for any one story is six. It takes a while for these things to circulate. I have a spread sheet to track my stories now.

My first publication was on the webzine Revolution Science Fiction last month. I have another acceptance from them, and an acceptance from a small quarterly called GateWay, I think. I'm not sure if they're going to make it until they publish me.

I'm just about to do the first major rewrite ever on a story, and it's in response to comments from Gardner Dozois. He didn't accept it, but he'll look at a rewrite (no promises). Otherwise, I always look over a story when it comes back for a tweak or two. In one case, I just changed the title.

If the story has major problems, and you're sharp enough to see them, you probably won't send it out anyhow.

BTW, Jim, how was the birthday? And how's the novel coming. I'll take a stab at the word count - 57,000. Am I close? I'm sure you'll finish it!
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Saturday, July 05, 2003 - 10:09 pm:   

Hi, Lou. Congrats on the hopeful encouragement from Gardner on the rewrite. Good luck with it.

The birthday was great! The family took me to Red Lobster (which is as close to real seafood as we can get in Grand Junction).

Since I'm not going to WorldCon, and delivering the novel at WorldCon was my original goal, the pressure has been removed. I've been working on a couple short stories instead. I keep having this niggling feeling that short stories are where my heart really is.
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Lou Antonelli - East Texas, USA
Posted on Sunday, July 06, 2003 - 09:26 pm:   

Why don't you come to ArmadilloCon then in August?Gardner and Ellen will be there, too.
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Monday, July 07, 2003 - 08:27 am:   

Hi Lou. I've thought about trying another convention, but anything I fly to and spend a few days in a hotel will be expensive. Instead I'm spending my travel money on the family this summer. I will be at MileHiCon in Denver in October. The annual SFWA business meeting will be there (since WorldCon is out of the country), and it should attract a greater than normal share of pros.

On another note, I picked up both the Dozois and Hartwell Year's Best anthos (Hartwell's fantasy one), with my stories in them. A pleasant surprise was that not only did Gardner reprint "A Flock of Birds," but he also honorably mentioned seven other of my stories.
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Tim Akers
Posted on Monday, July 07, 2003 - 09:29 am:   

I'm beginning to think it might be a good idea to hit a convention this year. That 1/3 connections thing is 1/3 I simply don't have. So, here's the question. If I can only go to one convention, which one should it be?
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Lou Antonelli - East Texas, USA
Posted on Monday, July 07, 2003 - 12:47 pm:   

Well, Tim, I would certainly say WorldCon, if you can make it to Toronto. But it's hard; neither Jim nor I can. Otherwise it's a matter of geography. The convention in Austin August 8-10 will be especially good this year, because it's their silver anniversary. They have an especially fine line-up of guests because of that (all guests from past ArmadilloCons have been re-invited).

The only other con I'm going to is Conestoga 7 in Tulsa in two weeks. It also has a writers' workshop (as does ArmadilloCon). I picked these two during the summer because they are within driving distance for me (Austin is 250 miles away, Tulsa 320).

There are some very, very good regional cons, from what I have read, and so it really does depend on where you're at.

I didn't realize until Jim mentioned MileHiCon that the SFWA business meeting would be there. I will probably try to go, now. It's 960 miles away, I can still probably drive. It should take me about five hours (did I mention my nickname in high school was Leadfoot Louie?)

I had the Barnes & Noble in Tyler order me the Dozois anthology. There is a creative writer's group that meets next Saturday, so I guess I will pick the book up then.

BTW, Jim, you need to keep working on that novel. Nope, no more writing short fiction for you. Leave a little room for up and coming writers (wink, wink, wink).
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Tim Akers
Posted on Monday, July 07, 2003 - 01:21 pm:   

I'm in chicago, so toronto's not that far away. windycon, wiscon off the top of my head. I guess we'll have to see.
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Monday, July 07, 2003 - 11:41 pm:   

Hi, Tim. The World Fantasy Con (which is in D.C. this year I think), is also outstanding. The pro to fan ratio is much higher than any other convention I've gone to.

I wouldn't disregard smaller local cons either. My first con was a WorldCon (L.A., '96), and it was a doozy, but I've also made great contacts at smaller conventions where there is more time for one on one conversations. WorldCon, in particular, can be very hectic for the working pros. Still, if you have a chance to go to a WorldCon, don't miss it.
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JaNell Golden
Posted on Wednesday, July 09, 2003 - 06:21 pm:   

I went to World Fantasy for the first time this past year (as part of the programming staff) and was wonderfully impressed.

www.jazilla.net

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Tim Akers
Posted on Wednesday, July 09, 2003 - 06:34 pm:   

The name 'World Fantasy' makes me a little nervous. I know we're all specfic, but I'm primarily a scifi guy. Still worth considering?
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Thursday, July 10, 2003 - 12:01 am:   

World Fantasy doesn't take you out of the SF world at all. It's the same editors, publishers and agents. Because it's not as big, and there are fewer fans, there's more time for pros to mingle and chat. I THINK of myself as a science fiction writer, although I've probably published as much fantasy as SF, but I got a ton out of going last year.
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Tim Akers
Posted on Thursday, July 10, 2003 - 06:49 am:   

Alright, thanks Jim. On a pleasant note, I just got the best rejection slip to date. It was from scifiction, and was a whole paragraph of what did and didn't work for her. Ellen rocks!
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Thursday, July 10, 2003 - 09:43 am:   

Congrats! I've always found Ellen to be helpful and positive. She's great in person too. Her experience in SF/F/H is encyclopediac.

There are a bunch of other friendly, knowing folk at the conventions also. I've had great conversations that taught me a lot with David Brin, Connie Willis (she goes to MileHiCon every year, so if you'd like a chance to talk to her at a smaller venue, that would be the one--it's in Denver in October), Derryl Murphy, Shane Bell, James Patrick Kelly, Paul Levinson, Michael Burstein, Stan Schmidt, Robert Sawyer, Harry Turtledove, L.E. Modesitt, Jack Williamson, Hal Clement, Kevin Anderson, Kelly Link, Patrick and Honna Swenson, Patrick Neilson Haydon, Joshua Bilmes, Linn Prentiss, and, well, a gazillion others. Heck, it's fun just compiling the list. Because of conventions, when I walk through the SF/F/H section of my bookstore, I'm thinking, "I know him, and I've met her, and I had lunch with those three." It changes your whole attitude about publishing and your place in it.
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Tim Akers
Posted on Thursday, July 10, 2003 - 10:42 am:   

I guess one of the things I'm confused by is...what goes on at the conventions? This is a ridiculous question, probably, but I'm trying to sell my wife on the idea. Not having been, it's a little hard to tell her what I would be doing. I suppose you go to panels, listen to speakers, but where do you meet the pros. In hallways? Do you just walk up and and say "hi, I'm practically nobody. Tell me all about the industry." i mean, my god, I'm a shy man. I'm likely to seize up and freak everyone out.

Anyway...thanks for all your help. Checking out amtrak prices to d.c.
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Scott William Carter
Posted on Thursday, July 10, 2003 - 10:47 am:   

Hey Jim,

As a relatively new writer (one professional sale), I've enjoyed your comments about writing. I live in Western Oregon, where I've been fortunate to run into a lot of professional writers; your submission philosophy rings true with what almost all of them tell me. However, Lou mentioned David Marusek saying that breaking into short story writing was "1/3 talent, 1/3 connections and 1/3 luck," and I wondered what you thought of that. I don't have any quibbles with talent being on the list, but the other two seem to be far less important than, say, a solid work ethic and perseverance.

I've always held to the belief that it was better, at least the majority of the time, to stay home and pound out at least 1000 words a day than it was to chase editors around the country at conventions. I'd do both if I didn't have family and work obligations, but given the choice . . .

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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Friday, July 11, 2003 - 12:41 am:   

Hi, Tim. There's a big part of conventions that are scripted: all the paneling and programming. For my first conventions, those were really the most important parts of the day. I learned a ton from what I heard (took lots of notes, and at WorldCons they frequently have had a company taping all the panels, so I bought tapes for the ones I missed that I wanted to hear--the tapes make great long-drive entertainment). The planned part of the day starts at 10:00 or so, and goes until dinner. At a bigger convention, there may also be programming later at night, along with all kinds of other diversions. You haven't lived until you've seen eighty people in a room big enough for maybe forty, who are all singing along with Wierd Al Yankovich videos.

As for meeting folks, like you, I'm shy. I know, I know, I'm a school teacher, but facing a classroom of kids is nothing like walking into a room of strangers. So when I got to my first convention, the L.A. WorldCon in '96, I was by myself and didn't know a soul. I knew, though, that a lot of what makes a convention work for a writer was meeting people, so, when the first day was over and the parties were scheduled for the evening, I decided I had to swallow my shyness and go to the parties, otherwise my 1,200 mile-long drive and the hundreds of dollars I was spending to go to the convention would be wasted.

(At a WorldCon, and many smaller cons, people post what rooms parties are in and who are hosting them. Some parties are small, sponsored by special interest groups, like "The First Annual Australian Beer Tasting and 'The Trouble With Tribbles' Trivia Fans Party," and others are sponsored by publishers, like the TOR party. You just need to check the party board which is displayed somewhere prominantly or a party schedule which might be in the convention's newsheet.)

So, that first night,what I did was I made a human scavenger list. I put the name of every editor or publisher I'd sent a manuscript to on a sheet of paper, then I went from party to party, asking whoever seemed to be in charge in the room if anyone on my list happened to be there. My thought was that I could introduce myself as a writer who had been sending him/her stuff. After that, if invited, I could shift into idle chitchat mode and see where it lead.

The whole point of meeting folks initially is to put a human face on the publishing process. Meeting them won't mean that they'll buy your stuff. You still have to send good stuff, but it personalizes what's going on.

I didn't actually talk to anyone on my list the first night, but I did meet a lot of nice folks who gave me good advice about where to find more info. Also, the conversations were fun. For the first time in my life I was in a room full of people who liked, understood and felt passionately about science fiction and the life of the mind. I can't tell you how gratifying that was.

The coup that I scored at that convention was that I'd met Dave Truesdale, the editor of Tangent, through e-mail. Tangent is a short-fiction review magazine (it's on line now at http://tangentonline.com). Dave was the one who suggested I go to the convention. At any rate, on the second day, I found Dave in the dealer's room (which is a great place to get lost and to spend scads of money). He took me around, introduced me to folks, and later that evening took me to the SFWA suite. God, it was fan paradise! At one point I was hemmed into a group that included Gardner Dozois, Larry Niven, Joe Haldeman and Connie Willis. Sitting in a chair under my elbow was Robert Silverberg.

So Dave turned out to be my first contact.

Who will be your first contact, and who you meet and talk to will be entirely accidental and unplanned. But you have to be ready for the accidents because they will happen. Conventions are about socializing, and, unless you are in a persistent vegitative state, you will meet people and begin to make contacts.

Whew! Long post.
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Friday, July 11, 2003 - 01:02 am:   

Hey, Scott. I admire David Marusek immensely, and I wouldn't contradict him. You couldn't go too far wrong listening to him.

However, for me, I'd say that the secret to eventually selling is about 90% talent and 90% perseverance.

Talent, by the way, is an iffy and argumentative word. It implies a sort of inborn ability which I only partially believe in. If a person has an imaginative turn of mind (which many do), and is willing to keep working at that turn of mind and the craft to shape that turn of mind into stories that eventually are saleable, then he/she risks later being called "talented" but it was mostly work.

There may be a luck component, but it still takes putting a PUBLISHABLE manuscript in the right place at the right time. Stephen King once said that the secret to publishing was to be in the right place at the right time. He went on to say that since writers can never know when the write time is, they have to get to the right place and stay there. I've always liked that thought, since the "right place" means, "the place where you are doing the best work you are capable of."

As far as contacts go, it is true that I've sold stories to markets that other folks didn't get to hear about, and I've been invited to projects that were exclusive deals too, but those weren't my first sales. Contacts had nothing to do with those. I wrote the best stories I could. I sent them to what I thought were the best markets for them. And, eventually, I sold them. I didn't know anyone and they didn't know me (other than from what they saw on the page).

I know that sounds contradictory in spirit to what I just wrote Tim about conventions. For me conventions are very important. Since I do have a minor reputation now, and I do know folks, I feel it's important for me to go to them. But the basic paradigm that sells stories involves writers on one end, editors on the other, and the mailing of manuscripts. Editors buy stories all the time from folks they have never met (and they reject a lot from those they have).

I wrote an article that is available at the SFWA website that touches on these issues. It's called "Perseverance, Publishing and the Urge to Write." It's at http://www.sfwa.org/writing/jamesvanpelt1.htm

Hope that helps.
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Tim Akers
Posted on Friday, July 11, 2003 - 10:37 am:   

Well, you sold me. I just did all the necessary busy work to go to TorCon. I hope I'm not registering too late to be able to vote on the Hugos and stuff. But the room, con membership and flight stuff is all lined up. I rock.
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Friday, July 11, 2003 - 11:14 am:   

Tim, congrats! Unfortunately for me, although I have my membership paid for, my budget went into a crisis, so I'll miss Torcon. It will be the first WorldCon I haven't been at since '96.

Make sure you get to the SFWA suite if you can. You have to be accompanied by a SFWA member. Also, look for the major parties thrown by the publishers. The parties, by the way, can be crowded. Lots of conversations, but they can be wearing. Remember that publishing folk also hang out in the bars.

Another good place to meet people is at author readings and koffeklatches. A koffeklatch is a small-group meeting with a SF personage (maybe 10 people, tops). You have to sign up for them, and popular folk fill up in a hurry.
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Tim Akers
Posted on Friday, July 11, 2003 - 11:22 am:   

Yeah, I'm pumped. Sorry I won't see you there, but I can understand the cost being prohibitive. I'll see what I can do about the SFWA Suite. Unless all three of the stories I have currently out to magazines sell, I'll probably need the chaperone.

Anyway...wOOt! So excited. Should probably sit down for a while.
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Justin Stanchfield
Posted on Wednesday, July 23, 2003 - 07:49 am:   

Hi, Jim!

I just saw your post on the RM and straggled over. Great board you've got here! So, any advice about making contacts for those of us who can't attend cons? Does rubbing elbows online help, or does a new writer simply make him/herself an electronic pest? <g> I know I've been guilty of that one.

Any thoughts, as always, greatly appreciated.


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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Wednesday, July 23, 2003 - 01:47 pm:   

Hi, Justin. I do think it's possible to make contacts without attending conventions (like you just did here *g*). I have several friendships now with folks I've never met in person. Bruce Holland Rogers and I have corresponded quite a bit, so much so that when my short story collection was in preparation, I felt comfortable enough to ask him to write the introduction, which he did--it's a darned good one, if I do say so myself. It made ME want to reread the book. I'll meet Bruce for the first time face to face at the Black Hills Writing Conference in September, where we both are speaking. My first contact with him was a fan letter I wrote him because I thought "The Dead Boy at Your Window" was so brilliant.

Another good online connection I made was with Brian Hopkins (multiple Bram Stoker winner). He was cruising the web one day and found my website. He sent me a how-dee-do and, several dozen e-mails later, we were collaborating on short stories which we were able to sell, one to Realms of Fantasy and another to an anthology project.

I also have made contacts through my snailmail correspondance with editors. This is a good argument for providing a cover letter, by the way. My most fruitful contact this way has been with George Scithers whose editing not only goes way back in this field, but he's also one of the current editors at Weird Tales. We'd been exchanging pleasantries for several years (mine in the cover letter and his in the rejections) before he bought a story from me. I finally met him at World Fantasy last year.

I think I have a good relationship with Andy Cox at the Third Alternative because of cover letters and e-mail. I've never met him, but now I'm writing a column for him for The Fix.

So, here's my suggestions, and it's not just about making contacts. It's about getting involved with the people who are the industry. It's about professional growth, I think.

First, I think if you read something you like, you ought to drop the author a note. You never know how a relationship with someone might start. But I don't think it ought to be done cynically, as in "If I write an appreciative comment to someone, they'll tell me when there's an anthology opportunity," but because you genuinely liked the story. You'd be surprised how little feedback writers get sometimes about their stories. Sometimes publishing a story is like tossing a rock into a bottomless chasm and waiting for the echo.

Second, correspond with editors. This is easier online now, and some editors visit bulletin boards regularly. Ellen Datlow, Andy Cox and Gardner Dozois are frequent readers and posters to bulletin boards. This is in addition to the cover letter suggestion earlier. In my cover letters I might thank the editor for a comment on a previous story, or say something about the last issue of their magazine, or, if I've heard news about them, about what I'd heard. Just normal conversational stuff. Nothing obnoxious (I hope!).

Third, watch for author or editor chats online. SCIFI.COM lists online events. Join the chat with your real name.

Visit and post to writers' bulletin boards, like the Rumor Mill or this one. You never know what you'll learn or who you'll meet.

That's what I can think of off the top of my head. Can anyone else think of ways to deepen your involvement in the field without going to conventions?

I'm going to start a new thread called, "Being a Pro Writer" to continue this discussion. This topic is getting pretty long and takes a while to load on my machine.
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Justin Stanchfield
Posted on Friday, July 25, 2003 - 05:42 pm:   

Thanks for the good advice, Jim!
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Thursday, January 15, 2004 - 05:09 am:   

Asimov's has posted online their stories that have made the preliminary Nebula ballot, including my story, "The Last of the O-Forms." You can read the stories at http://www.asimovs.com/

Also, Asimov's is running their yearly Readers' Award ballot at http://www.asimovs.com/asimovreaders_2003.shtml

My short story, "The Long Way Home," appeared in Asimov's last year. If anyone is interested in reading the story, I can e-mail it to them.
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Thomas R
Posted on Thursday, January 15, 2004 - 10:55 pm:   

Congrats Jim!I subscribe so read The Long Way Home already.
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Jetse
Posted on Friday, January 16, 2004 - 01:39 am:   

Congrats, Jim. Like Thomas R, I subscribe to Asimov's as well, but I am very much behind on my reading.

What I'm wondering is: can you just email the story to a perfect stranger while Asimov's still have the one year exclusive to it?

Please note that I personally have no problems with that offer, I'm just curious to know if your contract with Asimov's allows you to do this.
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Saturday, January 17, 2004 - 12:35 pm:   

Hi, Jetse. Yes, the author can send a copy of the story to someone, and there isn't a problem with Asimov's. I couldn't post it to a web site, of course, or sell it to someone else, but there is some discretionary use, particularly for promotion. As far as I understand my contract, that is.

There won't be much demand for my story, I would expect, because the Asimov's readers' poll is a competition among all the Asimov's stories. I don't think someone would vote who hasn't read a fair number of the stories, unless they were casting a vote as a favor, which would pretty much screw up the point of the readers' poll, don't you think? Most of the requests I get are from subscribers who don't have that issue anymore or folks who buy off the news stand and missed that month. Occasionally a non-subscriber asks for a copy because they have heard about the story or they like my stuff. I figure that sending them a story promotes both Asimov's and myself. Win/win all the way around, particularly since someone who wanted to read that story wouldn't be able to find it at a news stand now. It has long since been replaced by subsequent issues.

It's fairly common practice among SFWA members, whose stories are on the Nebula ballot, to send copies of their stories to all the potential voters (about 1,100 members).
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Jetse
Posted on Saturday, January 17, 2004 - 05:38 pm:   

Thanks for the info, Jim. I always try to vote on readers' polls of the mags I subscribe to.

Also, what I understand from last year's Asimov's readers' poll, is that the difference between the top stories can be very minimal. So those few copies you send may make a lot of difference.

Best of luck with it!
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Saturday, January 17, 2004 - 10:28 pm:   

I've become much more relaxed about the voting for these things. The first time I received a Nebula recommendation, for example, I got really obsessed with how many recommendations I'd received. A story has to have at least ten recs in a year from the time it was published to make the preliminary Nebula ballot.

But I realized after a while that if a story couldn't garner 10 recs on its own, it certainly had no chance of making the finalist ballot, and that took the pressure off it. Now I kind of watch with benign interest, and campaigning for my stories is pretty much limited to the kind of announcements I made here.

It's interesting to see how hard some folks work to promote their stories for awards, though. I get novels and stories sent to me each year for award-voting consideration, and there's always rumors of vote-swapping and block voting for friends. Last year there was a story that made the Hugo finalist ballot that was the result of a bunch of friends or fans getting together and swamping the ballot for a story that by any critical standard wasn't worthy (I'm not kidding; it was pathetic). Fortunately, the story was ruled ineligible because it had actually been in print a couple of years earlier.

The potential abuses and the possible politicizing of awards is a sobering thing.

In the meantime, though, I really like them and support the idea of the awards. Other than the obvious fulfilling nature of creating imaginary worlds, writing has darned few perks anyways (where are the short-story groupies throwing their room keys!), and the money isn't big, so all that's left is the joy of receiving these kinds of awards. Winning a Hugo or Nebula, for example, is kind of like being voted into the hall of fame. No matter what else happens, they can't take it away from you. You join an elite crowd on an exclusive list. It has to feel grand.
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Patrick Swenson
Posted on Friday, April 22, 2005 - 08:32 pm:   

Hi, Jim! Saying hello on your board. As you might have seen, we've got our own place here in the Night Shade housing development!
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Sunday, April 24, 2005 - 08:30 pm:   

Hi, Patrick. I posted the news of the new topic over at Speculations.

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