Interview Transcripts

 

Interview with Ralan of www.ralan.com

August, 2010

 

Mary Rosenblum:  Have you checked out  www.ralan.com?   This is THE speculative fiction market index.  Ralan not only keeps you current on what you can sell where, but he’ll tell you want the average response time is, and a host of other useful information. He’s a market-list-god for sure.  Ralan Conley lives in the frozen wastes of Scandinavia. His work has appeared in publications too numerous, or obscure, to mention. Some, to the consternation of former writing coaches, (he tells us) won contests, awards, and reader's polls, including 3 Bram Stoker and 1 Sapphire finalists. His illustrated Story Book is at www.Weupp.com So, Ralan, welcome!  I have been using and recommending your list for years.  I'm so pleased to spend the week with you and to say, more or less in person, thanks for all your hard work!  So tell us about yourself. Where and how did you get started.  And Bram Stoker awards?  Goodness, my dear, those are prestigious! 

 

Lizbeth:  Definition of "speculative fiction?" 

 

Ralan:  Hi Mary, and all Forum members. Thanks for the nice introduction.

I started writing speculative fiction in my early teens after reading it for several years (at 8 years old, the first book that got me going in this direction was Huge Lofting's Dr. Doolitte found by chance in the school library). But life (and the Vietnam war) got in the way and I started a long pause at about twenty. In 1993 I had some medical problems and found myself basically healthy, but physically unable to work. With a lot of time on my hands, despite going in for treatments every other day, I started writing again and submitting short stories. But now I was living overseas and I found a real lack of market listings, publishing news, and resources. I subscribed to Writers Digest (it cost a fortune for delivery over here) and bought their yearly Writer's Market, but found out the hard way that: 1.) their listings for speculative markets were limited, and 2.) many were badly out of date.

I wrote to every magazine I could find, asking for guidelines. As my collection of GLs grew I began putting them into an electronic form I could rifle through quickly, separating them into non-paying, paying, semipro, and pro markets. I also got online around that time because I taught computer skills (among other things) at a school for young people with attitude or learning problems. In my free time, I searched out new markets and writing resources (for my new "Links for Hungry Writers" page) as they began to come online. I taught myself (and my students at the same time) how to program HTML and together we built a web site for the school, one of the first educational sites in Scandinavia.

In November 1996, I felt I had enough material for a Speculative Fiction Market web site. My reason for going online was to help other writers who were stuck in far away places with little or no information about writing, manuscript formatting, or how to find markets. I've always visualized my target user as someone in an underdeveloped country, who has to walk long distances to reach a larger village to get maybe ten minutes on a solar-powered computer. At that time, I called my web site "Ralan's Home on the Web." Soon other writers were contacting me with tips on markets and resources -- and the thing just grew. In 1998, I started mailing out a monthly newsletter to all the editors or publishers of the publications I listed and to writers who joined my mailing list. That list now goes out to about 2000 people every month as Ralan's Monthly Report.

In the meantime my writing got better. I made my first sale: a humorous essay to Byline Magazine, and shortly began making sales to pay and semipro markets.

Yes, the Stokers are prestigious (as is the Sappire Award, in my opinion). I never won one, but the three Bram Stoker Award nominations (2002-2004) I've gotten were all for the web site, Ralan.com, in the Nonfiction category. In 2005 HWA decided to limit that category to actual books (even though several web sites had won the category in previous years). I was in complete agreement with that decision. I'd mentioned it to them each time I was nominated. What I didn't agree with was just dropping web sites without assigning a new category for them. I felt, and still do, that many people put as much work and thought into a web site as an author does for a book. They're two different things, but each just as worthy of recognition. But alas...

     ___________________

Hi Lizbeth,

It's a slippery term, isn't it? First off, fiction itself implies "speculation." A fiction story is not true, it comes from the imagination of the writer. The words:  speculate, assume, conjecture, daresay, imagine, presume, guess, suppose, surmise, suspect, and suspicion are all, or can be, parts of what makes up any fictional story, from literary to mainstream to bizarro. Speculative Fiction, or SpecFic as I began calling it in the late nineties, is to my mind any fictional story that has at least some element of something either not proven in our times, or something that will, or may, happen in the future. It encompasses science fiction, fantasy, some horror (although psychological horror may have none of those elements), and all of their sub-genres. Hope that answer your question. If not feel free to let me know.

 

Lizbeth:  Thank you Ralan! Much clearer now!

 

Ralan: I'm happy it helped.
I love your picture of the beach. Where is it? Reminds me of Crete.

 

Oceanscribe:  Hello Ralan,
Thanks very much for visiting Post a Note this week.
After a year of writing, rewriting, and submitting fiction to crime and mystery markets without success, I recently placed two flash fiction stories in literary publications. 
I like to write stories that seem plausible but contain situations and resolutions just creepy enough to make readers uncomfortable. I hadn’t considered speculative markets, since I don’t read or write science fiction, fantasy, or horror. Your definition of “speculative” seems to cover a broader range of fiction. Do speculative publications ever include plausible-but-creepy stories or should I just continue to focus on literary markets?

 

Ralan: I think quite a few publications will accept plausible but creepy stories. The onus is on you to find them. And you do that by very carefully going through the guidelines of likely candidates you find on market listing sites like Ralan.com. I also list a number of literary magazines that are open to speculative fiction as long as it doesn't follow the tradition genre formula, but is more literary in nature, which sounds like your stories.

 

Oceanscribe:  Thank you very much, Ralan.  That opens up more markets to me.

 

Ralan: Good luck with them!

 

Dale:  Hi Ralan,  Thanks for being here. I definitely appreciate your site. It's very handy and informative. My short fiction sales so far have been to semi-pro and "token" payment markets, all online, and having www.ralan.com  there as an aggregator for those markets is very helpful.

 

Ralan: That's also pretty much where my sales have been. I did sell one story to "Ocean's of the Mind," which paid pro rates and published regularly for more than a year, but failed to be qualified by SFWA because of low circulation. Sadly, that also caused it to close its doors. I've also had stories that won contests whose prizes were equivalent to pro rates. But the pro market is a hard nut to crack. You just have to keep trying. Good luck to you with that.

 

Amanda:  Hello, Ralan,
Thanks for visiting Post-a-Note, I've added your very informative website to my favourites and will subscribe once I get to my home computer. I'm at work right now...shhhh....
So, at the risk of sounding horribly dumb, speculative fiction can be any genre set in the future? Stephen King's "The Stand" would be horror set in the future? But, the Harry Potter series would not be SpecFic because it's not really set in the future, it's during the present but in another dimension...kind of. And anything set in the past, such as novels of knights or cowboys won't be SpecFic unless the author makes the setting futuristic? Which would then become fantasy, no?
Hard to pigeon hole. But pigeon-holing is a must because one of the cardinal sins of submitting seems to be sending the wrong genre to an inappropriate site or magazine.

 

Ralan: Hi ajcap,
In my first reply, higher up this page, Lizbeth asked a similar question about what the term speculative fiction means. If you scroll up there and read that, I'll wait.

------- la-de-dah --------

Ah, you're back. Well now it seems you were mixing up the genres of science fiction (sf), horror, and fantasy with the broader concept of speculative fiction. As you now know, all three of the above are a kind of speculative fiction. So, Harry Potter is fantasy, but it is also speculative fiction, and the other examples you set forth (The Strand and/or knights or cowboys set in the future) are also speculative fiction, and they are a blend of sf and horror, or sf and western or historical. It is perfectly okay to blend genres, even several of them. A sf, fantasy, historical ghost story for example.

 

Amanda:  Thank you for waiting! I did skim your answer to lizbeth (did I mention I'm at work?), but I thought I'd expand on SpecFic because it seems to be so broad a term.
I agree that fiction by definition is speculative to begin with, so maybe it would be easier to sample what isn't SpecFic. Non-fiction, obviously, so that would include memoirs, but what about historical novels. Say a novel depicting the romance between Napoleon and Josephine...based on facts from the past but one can only speculate what their love life was like, what conversations they had. Would I be able to submit such a story to a SpecFic site?
I'm thinking no, I'm thinking I'm being too literal, I'm thinking I'm thinking too much. The Spec of SpecFic insinuates speculating about the future...

Ralan: You should not submit a historical fiction story to a speculative fiction publication. I did mention that basically all fiction is by nature speculative (being that it's not true), but such a story as you describe would not be of interest to anyone, either the editor or the readers, of a publication that only publishes sf, fantasy, or horror fiction. You'll have to send that to a publication that publishes historical fiction.

 

Ann:  Welcome Ralan. Thank you for coming to Post a Note giving me the opportunity to find out and visit your very informative website.
 Your comment:-
 My reason for going online was to help other writers who were stuck in far away places with little or no information about writing, manuscript formatting, or how to find markets. 
I am one of those writers, I live most of the time in Papua New Guinea. A big thanks for thinking of those who do live in undeveloped countries.

Mary Rosenblum:  So, you have the best speculative fiction market list out there.  Google has nothing on you.  The markets are updated and you even offer response time information. This is a HUGE amount of work.  So how do you get this done?  Elves who sneak in at night to work?  And do you make enough money from donations to live on or at least pay to keep the lights on?  So much of the internet these days is 'for free' but people can't eat when no money comes in.  

 

Ralan: It is a huge amount of work. I wouldn't do it if I didn't enjoy it. The day to day updating and care taking of the web site are all done by me. My virtual monster/helpmate, Fil, is no help at all really, but he is a convenient fiction. But I do have plenty of help. Many editors regularly send me updates on their listings. That's the easiest way for me -- just get the info and make the update. The next easiest is the authors who send me tips -- usually I have to verify the tip by checking the web site or writing the editor or publisher, then I can make the update and add a Tip Thanks to the person who first got the tip to me -- if they want it -- getting their permission the first time they send me a tip means another e-mail sent to get their permission. I manage this by being highly organized. I mean after 14 years you'd think I have system, right? Well, I do. Of course, sometimes things come in that require some new solution and they take up more time. But I always save what I did the first time and if it crops again I can draw on that. Needless to say this all requires an excellent computer system, sophisticated anti-virus/spam and firewall protection, and extremely reliable backups -- all of which cost money. Not to mention the costs of the design and maintenance of the web site domains (I have three) and hosts.

I run one banner ad, which appears at the top of every page, the income of which helps. And every September I have a donation drive. So far, while the drive has never reached my goal, the two of those incomes manage to pay all the costs of maintaining the site with enough left over for me to be able to buy the best equipment to do the job, and keep it running, and for me to do a few writer activities, like attending a Con or two each year. I don't suppose it'll ever do more than that, but one hopes, right? A few writers make donations at other times of the year; some have even pledged me a percentage of any sale they got off a listing found at Ralan.com. I also make a little from the sale of my own stories. Otherwise, I have other sources of income which pay the costs of living.

 

Mary Rosenblum:  All right, I'm going to step in here and speak to everyone who uses www.ralan.com....and you know who you are!!!  Everything on the internet is not free. That is a myth.  It's paid for by the people who put it there because they care about it,  and don't get paid for what we make use of.  So hey, all of you posting here.  Pay up please.  I do.  Ralan, will you post a link here where people can donate to the site?  

 

Ralan: The easiest way to donate is to use the PayPal "Donate" button at the top of every page at www.ralan.com. All major credit cards are welcome and you don't have to join PayPal. If you have a PayPal account, you can donate directly to my account, just e-mail me (my e-mail address is in the menu at Ralan.com) and I'll send you the account name. If you can't or won't use the button or direct payment, you can also send a check -- again, write me for the address.

I should stress that I, of course, don't require people to donate. Everything on the web site is free for everyone to use. I also occasionally help writer's out who have problems with publications -- non-payment, removal of works, etc. -- and I do this without asking if the writer has donated or not.

The simple fact is that over 10,000 people access Ralan.com every month, but those who send a donation number about 100 every year. I understand that there are people who can't help out monetarily -- these are hard times. I only hope they will help the other way, by telling me about things they find out while marketing their works, like publications that are temporarily, or permanently, closed, or ones that have changed their guidelines and not informed me. I update within 24 hours (weekends excepted, except for really important news), so if a publication's guidelines and my listing don't match up, chances are good they haven't told me.

 

Mary Rosenblum:  Ralan, you're up to your elbows in markets every day.  What do you see happening in the world of publishing?  Good things?  Not so good things? What's your take on what is out there? 

 

Ralan: A prophet I'm not. That said, I believe 2010 is going to be a tough year, as 2009 was, for just about everyone, including most writers. The big names will not be as affected and they will have their markets, although I suspect we'll see some to considerable consolidating, especially in the book marketplace. The small press, always running on the margin, will be hit harder, which will make it more difficult for the rest of us.
For magazines and e-zines (the short fiction markets) I've seen a trend toward less pay, or less total content (therefore less pay) in all levels of publications. I think that will grow. We will probably see some of our icons not make it through. In 2008 and 2009 I saw the total number of paying, Semi-pro, and pro markets shrink for the first time since I started.
I see some promise in new marketing approaches, especially for anthologies. I've recently had to change my long standing position about shared royalty markets. In the past they've all paid next to nothing and I have typically placed them in the 4theLuv category. But now, because of very aggressive marketing plans, unusual scheduling, and the inclusion of several, if not many, well-known names on the part of a couple of markets, I've changed that policy. But if you are planning one of these, you're going to have to show me the numbers, and prove them, if you want anything other than a 4theLuv listing.
Remember that the current financial crisis comes on top of a long-time, growing crisis of readers. There are less of them every day, it seems. The Internet, while being a boon for writers in some ways also provides a wealth of other things to do than read. People only have so much free time. In years past they picked up a book or watched TV. Now they can also surf the net, play games, listen to podcasts, chat with friends or strangers, study maps and pictures of far away places (even galaxies!) -- dozens of activities are beckoning.
I still don't think this will be the year that electronic text catches up to the sales of printed text. The new readers are coming closer to a size that is as small and light as a paperback, but they are still not easy on the eye and the prices are not yet within the reach of everyone. eBook sales will continue to increase though, Im sure.
But my message is, don't give up. Even though it's tougher, there are still writers making it to the big time every day. The writing game always goes to the turtle. Slow and steady. Keep writing, submitting, revising and re-sending those stories and novels out until they sell.

 

Mary Rosenblum:  Boy, I agree with you, although from what I"m hearing from people in the sales end of things, the ebook readers are selling better than expected (Nook and Kindle).  But the money for writers is really fading.  People simply won't pay as much for electronic format and even the freelance NF writers are getting pay cuts as more of their stuff ends up on websites.  What I see is that there will be a greater access to the market through small print press and ebook publishers, but decreased money for everybody. And where do readers find their next book if not at the chains?  
What do you think?  

 

Ralan: In the U.S., first the big chains gobbled up nearly all the indie bookstores, now online sales, even though falling, are threatening the chains. They may disappear altogether, or maybe they'll sell books at Starbucks, or McDonald's. eBook sales are rising, as I said, and eventually they may equal print sales, maybe even surpass it, but total sales in the U.S. will not be what they once were. That problem is not as big over here, but the lack of a thriving American market will affect the rest of the world, since so many of your books are translated. And what about the movie industry's reliance on new books? With less of them we'll see even more useless re-dos of old movies.

 

Sammy:  Hi, Ralan. Quick question here, where would you suggest someone submit their book manuscript? It's of the fantasy genre. I've been looking around forever and i just can't seem to find anything. 

 

Ralan: Hi sammy,
I get asked this question a lot. So many times, in fact, that I had to write a stock answer. I do personalize it for each person, but basically the message I want to give them is same and there are just not enough hours in the day for me to re-write it each time, of course.
How to find a publisher is a big question and deserves a big answer. I'm sure I don't have the whole answer, but I can hopefully get you started on the right path, enough so you can find some markets for your fantasy novel anyway. Every writer, and the work they want to submit, are unique. It is impossible for me to tell you where to submit your work without first knowing a lot about you and your novel. This is basically what agents do and they get a lot of money for it. I'm not an agent, so it would not be ethical for me to charge you for my advice. So, this is the free version.
My web site is a resource for all writers, both new and professional. For a new writer like you, I know the publishing business seems like a complicated, unfeeling, glorious mess. Well, that's about right.  It is all that, plus it's a very tough nut to crack right now.  Readership is down and there are more writers actively submitting now than at any time in history. What you need to do is arm yourself with the best knowledge about publishing you can find. And steel yourself for a long uphill journey. But yes, you say ... but what about J.K. Rowlings? She became a millionaire almost overnight. Not quite. She was ten years writing Harry Potter and many years trying in vain to sell it. And success stories like hers (where the writer has suffered years of rejection and poverty) are few, and getting fewer. Still they do happen.
My web site is here to help. But how do you use it? The pages on my web site you want to use are: "Writing Help" for basic information submitting in a professional manner (very important), "Writing Links" to find on-line information on just about anything you want to know about writing and publishing, and "Book Publishers" where you'll find markets to send your manuscript to. Here's what a typical listing (only this one's made up, so don't submit to it) will look like:

MARKET NOTE: does not accept submissions dated on the 13th of any month
TALES OF THE SPITTOON PUBLISHING - print/e-books; sf/f/h (fic/nonfic/poem). Pay: 15% of net. Words: 80-120k. RT: 60 days. Reprints: query. E-subs: YES. Huck A. Lugee, Editor (QS).

Okay ... now excuse me if I'm being too basic, but I didn't know how much you do and don't understand, so I'm trying to hit all the bases. The top line is very important. A "MARKET NOTE" or "UPDATE" contains vital information about the current situation at the listed market. In this case a superstitious editor who won't read anything sent or dated on the 13th of any month! "Tales of the Spittoon Publishing" publishes both print books and e-books. They are looking for science fiction, fantasy, and horror (sf/f/h), and they are interested in fiction (fic), nonfiction (nonfic), and poetry (poem). They pay a royalty of 15% of the net sale of your book (this means after they first take out expenses). They'll accept submissions of between 80,000 to 120,000 words. Some other market listings will have a lower word limit on their range, some may say "no limits" meaning their range is wide open, or they may qualify it by saying "no limits," which means they are pretty much wide open. In the RT (Response Time) they say they usually respond (think reject -- acceptances almost always take longer) to submissions within 60 days. Remember that this is what the editor says, and editors are usually optimistic -- it will probably take longer. A good rule of thumb is to add 30 days (or more) onto their stated RT before you query them about what up with your novel. You can find actual response times (how long it really takes them) to many publishers on my "Response Times" page and athttp://critters.critique.org/blackholes (a part of The Critters Writers' Workshop, which you would do well to consider joining). Where it says, "Reprints: query," that means that if your novel has been published before (even on your own web site!), this editor will still consider it, but only if you e-mail him a brief letter telling him about the work, and where and when it was published. Remember keep this brief -- a half page (250 words) is more than enough. This line may also read "no," in which case you should never query, or submit a reprint to this editor; or it might read "yes," which means you can send the editor a reprint without querying first, BUT always, ALWAYS tell the editor that it is a reprint and where and when it has been published. The next point is, "E-subs: yes" (Note: if this is blue click on it and more info will pop-up). This tells you that this publication will accept your manuscript by e-mail. Do not submit via e-mail if this reads no. And be sure you follow the editor’s wishes about how to send the work (cut-&-pasted in the body of the e-mail, or attached as a certain type of file: .doc, .rtf, or .txt). Also most book publishers will only want a query package (a brief cover letter (one page!), the first 3 chapters, and a synopsis) sent first. Last is the name of the person you should address your submission to (Huck A. Lugee in this case) and his or her title (editor, publisher, etc.). Many of the listings the name is also an e-mail link and there may be special instructions embedded in that too -- always click on that link and read those instructions. The (QS) means that the linked e-mail address can be used to send queries (Q) and/or submissions (S). If there's only a (Q), do not send submissions to that e-mail address -- the editor may have another e-address for submissions (check the full guidelines for that), or might not accept e-mail submissions at all.
There are many publishers that will accept your novel listed on my "Book Publishers" page. But how do you find the "right one?" It's an educated guess. After you check through the short listings (jotting down all the publishers that sound like they might be okay), go back and read each one's complete guidelines. You do this by clicking on the name (in blue). A new browser should appear (if it doesn't you must enable your browser to read JavaScripts in the "Preferences" menu, or turn off any pop-up window blockers you may have running). This is the "meat" of the editor's desires for works. Read carefully, this is information on exactly what kind of works this person wants and doesn't want. There's also important info on how to submit (follow these TO THE LETTER, or the editor will just delete your submission!), what rights you'll be selling, what editor to send your work to, and perhaps more.
After you've gone through them all, pick the ones that sound the best for your work and submit a query package to each one. Remember, a query package is not a submission, you are merely asking an editor to consider a submission (the entire book) from you. Therefore, you may send queries packages to as many publishers as you wish -- all at one time. Even though the guidelines may say not to submit to other publishers at the same time, ignore that. You are not submitting, you are querying. You may also send a query package to any publisher, even if they say they are not open to unsolicited submissions except from agents. You are not submitting, you are querying for permission to submit (which is then a solicited submission). This is the trick in selling a novel. Most, if not all, major publishers will take from a half to two years to respond to an unknown writer's submission, so if you send it to one at a time your children will have take over submitting your book at some point. The final part of this trick is, if one publisher does ask for a submission, and if they require it exclusively, then if you have a second publisher ask for a submission, you'll have to tell the second one that your novel is currently submitted exclusively somewhere else. They might, or might not, be willing to wait. It's the chance you take. But the odds of it actually happening are small, so what the heck!
For help with submission formats, and a bunch of other advice, read my "Writing Help" page.  Of course, there are many other sources of information about writing and submitting available to you (hundreds of books have been written on the subject!).  A bunch of the online resources are on my "Writing Links" page, which is categorized and alphabetized to help you find what you're looking for.
Remember the key words in writing (other than "read, read, read!" and "write, write, write!") are patience and persistence. Whenever you get a rejection, send it right back out again. Sometimes an editor will make comments (most times not). If you're lucky enough to get some, read them carefully. The editor is telling you something about your work that you may want to fix (if you agree). Think of it as a little bit of free advice, but remember: not all editors are the same, or as well-qualified. The important thing is not to take it personally (hard to do I know, our works are like our children). Say to yourself, "that wasn't the right place, maybe this next one will be." Even very experienced writers get rejected at least 10 times for every sale -- or more. I've had works that were rejected over 25 times, then finally found a home -- and even won an award or contest.

 

Sammy:  Ralan, thank you! I'm glad you "covered all the bases" because i really don't know much, if anything about the publishing business. I'll definitely give Tales of the Spitton Publishing a shot...sounds like my books will fit right in there. Grin I can send in multiple submissions to them, too yes? 

 

Ralan:  Yeah, give ol' Huck a try. You won't regret it.

 

WriterRob: THANK-YOU Ralan.  Your answers are very thorough and impressive.  I must hit the print button...oh no, but wait...probably need to go buy another ink cartridge/paper first.  I think its safe to say, "we" all appreciate your help.  Can't wait to check out you website when I get home today (I'm still at my day job...but, don't tell anyone).

 

Ralan:  I'm good at keeping secrets. Sorry you have to buy new ink and paper. Usually, I just buy a new printer, it's cheaper than the cartridges.. Well, I guess that's it. No more questions have come in today and I'm afraid I have to run. It was a pleasure visiting the Long Ridge Writing Group. I wish all of you good writing and submitting. Thanks to Mary for the invitation to be with you this week.

Bests,
Ralan

 

Mary Rosenblum:  Ralan you were GREAT!!! Thanks for spending time with us!  And all of you...PAY UP!   Really good internet content is only 'free' until the providers starve and stop providing.  Five bucks is fine if that's all you have but do pay, okay?   He's working for you!  Go to www.ralan.com and click on the ‘donate’ button.  Even ten bucks is something, eh?  You can afford that.  Yes, you can!



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