Friday, July 8, 2011

IS SFR THE NBT?: THE DARK BEFORE THE DAWN


I hope you all had a chance to hop over to the Science Fiction Romance Brigade site and check out Laurie’s post Could SFR the NBT and How Might We Get There? Laurie raises some intriguing issues and makes some great suggestions for how we could move forward over the next year in promoting the SFR cause.

My experiences at the RWA Conference in New York had me thinking about the future of SFR, too, but my take on things was much less action-oriented and much more philosophical. Let me start at the beginning and you’ll see what I mean.

Back when I thought I wanted to be a straight-up science fiction writer, I used to regret that I’d missed the early days of SF, the so-called Golden Age, when legendary magazine editors like John Campbell actually paid for SF stories, dozens of “fanzines” run by teenage geniuses like Harlan Ellison put out reviews and stories of their own, the science was accessible and the covers lurid. All that opportunity, I thought!

I glossed over the difficulties those early authors faced—finding “real” publishers for their novels, overcoming the “pulp fiction” designation the literary establishment had given them and the total lack of opportunity for women in the genre in those early days. (We forget that Bradbury and Asimov weren’t always considered literary giants, worthy of being taught in schools. They used to be the male equivalent of romance writers.)

Now here we are at the beginning of an era, on the cusp of something great. All the opportunity is out there for those of us who are creating the SFR sub-genre. If it succeeds, people will look back on this time and say, “Boy, wouldn’t it have been great to have been there!” But it doesn’t feel so great. It feels like a lot of rejection and struggle and naysaying.

I met with one agent at the conference, who was kind enough to spend time reading my manuscript Unchained Memory. She was enthusiastic and supportive and she gave me some great, specific feedback. She loved me. She loved my writing. She loves SFR in general. But she regretfully declined taking me on as a client. Why? She doesn’t believe SFR will sell to the big print publishers. To the digital market, yes. But, as she was honest enough to point out, I don’t need an agent for that.

Other folks I talked to weren’t quite so frank in their assessment. There was a lot of “well, it depends on the book,” or “nothing is selling well these days”, but it was clear we still have a long way to go before the NY establishment is enthusiastic about SFR. The powers that be will grudgingly make room for science fiction elements in a YA tale or in erotica, perhaps, or in a romantic suspense thriller, as long as we’re talking alternate universes or mad scientists, not aliens and spaceships. We’re just not there yet.

I suspect we are in that dark place before the dawn of enlightenment where Sherrilyn Kenyon or Christine Feehan found themselves before the breakthrough of paranormal romance. Those authors, now universally acknowledged as the writers who created the paranormal craze, were served with rejection after rejection from agents and editors who insisted that vampires and Dark Hunters were not the least bit sexy. But as we like to say in martial arts, timing is everything. Today both of these authors hit the NY TIMES Bestseller List with every new book they write, and Sherrilyn Kenyon caused a fan sensation at the RWA Literacy Signing both last year and this.

Someday someone is going to write the breakout novel that will light the blaze of SFR, and we can all hope to catch that comet’s tail. Until then we can follow the strategies Laurie and others have laid out in her Brigade post. And do what writers do—keep writing.

Cheers, Donna
(I’ll return with a new journal post next week.)

2 comments:

  1. As I'm so fond of saying, Donna, keep fighting the good fight. I know SFR has a huge audience out there who hasn't even discovered SF with R in print yet. Our task is to keep getting the word out, keep reaching out to those fans who don't even know they're SFR fans yet.

    To everything there is a season... SFR's day will come.

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  2. That was lovely feedback from that agent, Donna - even though she had to say no in the end. I actually think it's getting harder and harder to break through with an agent. Even if you do, they aren't getting deals very easily. I know someone who's had an agent for over a year and has eventually sold her book - BUT it's to a company she could have easily submitted to herself. I know agents do open doors more easily but I think the doors themselves are getting harder to push open.

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Hosted by 5 Science Fiction Romance authors with 8 RWA Golden Heart finals and a RITA final between them. We aim to entertain with spirited commentary on the past, present, and future of SFR, hot topics, and our take on Science Fiction and SFR books, television, movies and culture.