Some Advice for SF Writers

Van Ikin

Let's begin with words of warning: this article is neither an exhaustive nor a definitive consideration of its subject. It is merely a collection of guidelines and information, and it will be of most use if it prompts a follow-up (corrections, cross-comments and additional information) from others.


New writers always worry about markets, but they'd do best to worry first about the presentation of their manuscripts--the way they type the words onto the pages. If you do this in a way which says "Amateur" there is every chance that (a) your agent will send it back for re-typing, or (b) your agent will send you a bill for re-typing, or (c) if you're submitting freelance (not through an agent) then it's likely your story will never be read. Even if you get lucky and an unprofessionally presented manuscript actually gets accepted by the publisher, there's always the danger that the printer will insist that it be retyped before it is typeset . . .

So you have to abide by the rules, which are:

  1. Typing must be DOUBLE-SPACED. Very few editors will have any dealing at all with manuscripts which are in single-spaced typing.

  2. You must leave wide margins (1.2" - 1.5") all round (at top, bottom, and left and right edges).

  3. Number the pages of your typescript, including your surname, the story title (e.g. 'Asimov: "Nightfall"/p.2').

  4. Attach a separate title page to each story showing the following information:
    It is also wise to add two other statements:
    1. "This story has not previously been published and is not currently on offer to any other publisher."

    2. "I enclose a stamped and addressed envelope for reply".


2.i - Markets: Within Australia

Australian SF enthusiasts have always had the dream of a true-blue fair-dinkum Aussie SF magazine, but the dream has never been matched by reality. Remember Void and Far-Out! and Aphelion and Penny Dreadful and Thrills Incorporated and Vision of Tomorrow? All were attempts at an Aussie-SF magazine--and all failed. The closest that we have ever come to success was with Philip Gore's Omega Science Digest --and, whilst Omega certainly did not fail, it was technically a magazine of "science fact" rather than of "science fiction".

Many people would argue that Australia's small population, isolation, and territorial expanse make it impossible for a science fiction-magazine ever to thrive in this country, and such people have looked more to the publication of book form original fiction anthologies as a way of bringing Australian sf writers' work before the public eye.

The Australian sf short story markets would subdivide as follows:

Category 1 - Specialist sf publishers in Australia

APHELION PUBLICATIONS, PO Box 619, Nth Adelaide, SA, 5006.
[This publisher has a "two-tiered approach" to publishing Australian sf. For "the upper or professional" tier of writers there is to be a program of paperback books (anthologies and single-author books); for "the lower or developmental" tier there is "Thyme Fiction": a fiction supplement in the fanzine Thyme, with "a small (token) payment for each story used".]

EBONY BOOKS, GPO Box 1294L, Melbourne Vic 3001.
[ To the best of my knowledge, Ebony's resources are currently tied up with the regular publication of Australian Science Fiction Review.]

NORSTRILIA PRESS, P.O. Box 91 Carlton Vic 3053

PANGOLIN PRESS, P.O. Box 317, Strathpine, Qld 4500.
[I don't know much about this group; they describe themselves as "a wholly University Student owned and operated publishing company in Queensland", and in August 1989 they announced plans "to attempt an Anthology of Australian and New Zealand Science Fiction Stories as [their] first project". Interested writers were urged to send off for a "guidesheet" which would give details of rates of pay.]

Category 2 - General publishing houses which have shown some interest in sf.

There are none for the writer seeking to sell a single story. Some mainstream publishing houses (notable Angus & Robertson, Hale & Iremonger and University of Queensland Press) have produced sf short story anthologies, but the selection process is handled by the person commissioned to edit the book. There is no point at all in submitting a story direct to these publishers.

For general publishing houses with an interest in novel-length Australian sf, see below.

Category 3 - Publishing opportunities in the mainstream Australian literary scene.

I have my theory about this area of endeavour. According to rumour and folklore, the mainstream scene has no interest in sf and/or is sometimes derisively hostile to sf. This is undoubtedly true to the extent that Australian commercial editors would once have regarded sf as "a minority genre" (and therefore unprofitable) whilst Australian literary editors would once have regarded it as "unwashed pulp" (and therefore outside the range of their interests)--but I suspect the situation had changed in both camps. My own theory is that Aussie sf writers don't try to break into the mainstream markets, and that some success might await those who do try.

The roll-call of such possible mainstream markets is large, and the following list is just a sampling of the publications I think might be worth tackling. Some are "mass-media" publications, others are moderate-to-small circulation literary or academic journals.

SYDNEY MORNING HERALD LITERARY SUPPLEMEMT, ed. Geoffrey Dutton, GPO Box 506, Sydney, NSW 2001.

AUSTRALIAN SHORT STORIES, ed. Rob Pascoe, PO Box 40, Carlton, Vic. 3053. [$60 per 1,000 words.]

ISLAND MAGAZINE, PO Box 207, Sandy Bay, Tas. 7005. [Minimum of $50 per story.]

LiNQ [Literature in North Queensland], James Cook University, Qld. 4811. [$20 per story.]

MEANJIN, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Vic. 3052. [$50 per 1,000 words.]

NEW EYES, Box 300, Mortdale NSW 2233.

OVERLAND, PO Box 249, Mount Eliza, Vic. 3930. [Minimum of $40 per story.]

QUADRANT, Box C344, Clarence Street Post Office, Sydney, NSW 2000.

SOUTHERLY, Department of English, University of Sydney, NSW 2006. [Minimum of $80 per story.]

WESTERLY, Department of English, University of Western Australia, Nedlands, WA 6009. [Minimum of $50 per story.]

2.ii - Markets: Overseas.

All I can do here is provide a name-and-address listing of some of the more obvious overseas publications which take short stories. Prospective contributors would be strongly advised to peruse a couple of copies of each magazine first, in order to study the market and acquire some sense of editorial tastes.

ABORIGINAL SCIENCE FICTION, PO Box 2449, Woburn, MA 01888-0849, USA. [US$17 for 6 issues.]


FANTASY TALES, ed. Stephen Jones, Robinson Publishing, 11 Shepherd House, Shepherd Street, London W1Y 7LD, UK. [The Spring '89 issue was Vol.10, No.2.]

INTERZONE, 124 Osborne Road, Brighton BN1 6LU, UK.

ISAAC ASIMOV's SF MAGAZINE, 380 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10017, USA. [Note: this magazine insists that contributors should first write to them for their instruction sheet. You need to enclose return postage.]

NEW PATHWAYS INTO SF AND FANTASY, c/o MGA Services, PO Box 863994, Plano, TX 75086-3994, USA. [Mainly experimental fiction.]

STRANGE PLASMA, Edgewood Press, PO Box 264, Cambridge, MA 02238, USA. [US$3 per copy.]

VISIONS, 409 College Avenue, Ithaca, NY 14850, USA.


One of the attendees at AussieCon II in 1985 was big-name American publishing editor Lou Aronica. Contrary to many people's expectations, Aronica went about scotching the myth that "it was best to begin by writing stories"; Aronica called for new writers to try to break into the market with novel-length works, and he strongly encouraged those with novel-length ideas to write a careful plot-outline, prepare a few sample chapters, and then establish contact with a publisher.

3.i - Markets: Overseas.

Quite frankly, anyone who has written an sf novel should submit it overseas. Australian publishers see sf as an internationalist literary genre - and so, by and large, they leave it to be published by overseas publishers. Unless your sf novel had a strong Australian flavour (and that would probably be seen as a point against it anyway!), I think most Australian publishers would wonder why you were seeking Australian publication.

I won't attempt a listing here, for what we're talking about is the world publishing scene. It might be worth noting, though, that the "Tor Doubles" imprint accepts very short novels (as little as 35,000 words in length). Contact: Patrick Nielsen Hayden, editor - Tor Doubles, 49 West 24th St., New York, NY 10010, USA.

3.ii - Markets: Within Australia.

As mentioned above, an Australian publisher is likely to look upon an sf novel as "being outside his area"-- unless that sf novel has a strong "Australian-ness" to it, or unless it has a strong claim to "literary merit" (in the more elitist sense of the term). Some of the Australian publishers who have shown interest in either Australian sf or popular fiction of "internationalist" appeal are:

ALLEN & UNWIN AUSTRALIA, PO Box 764, North Sydney, NSW 2059.


HUTCHINSON GROUP (Aust.) Pty Ltd, 30-32 Cremorne St, Richmond, Vic. 3121.

MANDARIN AUSTRALIA, OCTOPUS PUBLISHING GROUP, 22 Salmon Street, Port Melbourne, Vic. 3207.

PAN BOOKS AUSTRALIA, 68 Moncur St., Woollahra, NSW 2025.

TRANSWORLD PUBLISHERS [Bantam and Corgi imprints], Level 1, 20 Young St., Neutral Bay, NSW 2089.


(Note: because of corporate takeovers in the publishing world, some of these addresses may have changed and some of the publishers' interests altered.)


For the writer who wants to go all the way there are literary competitions. Their advantage can be measured in dollars and publicity; their disadvantage can be measured in time lost.

Most competitions deal only with unpublished works (though some offer publication as part of the prize), and the writer who submits to a competition must be prepared to have his or her story tied up for usually 2-6 months before the competition is over and they are free to submit to a publisher. Thus time goes by. On the other hand, a win can bring in extra money and generate some publicity for the author, sometimes even making the submitted item more attractive to a potential publisher

Unfortunately, it's hard to monitor the competition scene, for competitions come and go, their deadline dates change, and they are often poorly advertised (after all, the money is to go to authors, not to newspapers for running advertisements). The best way to keep in contact with the ebb and flow of Australian literary competitions is to watch the literary pages of major newspapers (especially The Australian and The Sydney Morning Herald) and to join the Australian Society of Authors (see below); publications such as Locus are a good guide to the overseas competition scene. The following is merely an illustrative list of examples:

THE T.A.G HUNGERFORD AWARD FOR FICTION: for a WA writer who has not previously published a book in the fiction genre; $5,000 and a publishing contract with Fremantle Arts Centre Press. The Secretary, Fremantle Arts Centre Press, PO Box 891, Fremantle, WA 6160. 1990 closing date: May 4.

THE NEW IDEA/CENTURY HUTCHINSON FICTION PRIZE: a $25,000 advance against worldwide royalties for "an international bestselling novel". GPO Box 1292K, Melbourne 3001. 1990 Closing Date: February 28.

THE VOGEL AWARD: for book-length fiction by a writer under 35 years of age. See the weekend Australian newspaper for details.

THE WRITERS OF THE FUTURE CONTEST: for new and amateur writers, prizes of $500, $750 and $1000. New Era Publications, PO Box 466, Paddington, NSW 2021.

P.E.N 1990 SHORT STORY AWARD: for original, unpublished stories up to 3,000 words, only one submission per author. Prizes of $500 and $250. Closing date: August 15, 1990. You need to write first for an application form and further details. The Editor, PEN Quarterly, PO Box 431, Mona Vale, NSW 2103.

THE TURNER TOMORROW AWARD (US): designed to "encourage writing that creates positive solutions to world problems". US$500,000 for an unpublished work of fiction "set in the near future, with themes ensuring the survival and prosperity of all life on our planet". Plus four other "Awards of Merit<" at a mere US$50,000 each! You have to write first for an "entry kit" to: The Turner Tomorrow Awards, One CNN Centre, Box 105366, Atlanta, GA 30348-5366, USA.


Best described as the "trade union" for Australian writers, the ASA monitors prices and markets, seeks a better deal for writers (in payment and contracts) and generally tries to ensure "fair play" in the literary world. Their newsletter keeps writers abreast of publishing opportunities, literary competitions etc. They also provide a listing of publishers and individuals wanting people to write articles or books for them. Their address is: Australian Society of Authors, PO Box 450, Milsons Point, NSW 2061.

Originally appeared pp34-41, Eidolon Issue 01, May 1990.
Copyright © Van Ikin, 1990. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with kind permission of the author.