The 7 Most Common Misconceptions About Science Fiction PublishingS

Science fiction book publishers sail the multiverse like a fleet of unstoppable hyper-cruisers. And many of us dream of being beamed up to one of these motherships. But at the same time, a lot of people don't understand how the system works. Here are the seven most common mistaken ideas about science fiction book publishers.

Top image: Eric Haft/Deviant Art.

Even in the days of self-publishing success, a lot of us still dream of a contract with one of the big publishers — but people also have a lot of weird ideas about the system. We asked some top editors in science fiction, and they told us the biggest misconceptions people have about the science fiction book field.

1) Publishers are trying to keep ebooks from being sold internationally

People often mistakenly believe that a particular ebook isn't for sale in a particular country "because the publisher can’t be bothered," says Anne Sowards with Ace and Roc Books. In fact, there could be all sorts of reasons why a book isn't available in a particular country, including contractual issues and legal restrictions.

2) When you've published a book, you're immediately a famous author

Often it seems as though people believe that "as soon as you've had a book published you've made it somehow," says Jonathan Oliver with Solaris Publishing. In reality, "it can take a long time to build up a profile as a writer and, unless you're immensely lucky, your first published novel isn't immediately going to shoot you into stardom and untold wealth. You don't just write a book and rest on your laurels. You build up a reputation one book at a time."

Ginjer Buchanan with Ace and Roc, adds that most readers might have a somewhat "off-base notion of what 'the writer's life' is like, in terms of finances, etc." She says, "I've always been fond of [Michael] Chabon's Wonder Boys — not his most successful book because readers don't much care about writers writing about writing, but a pretty accurate picture of the ups and downs of writing that second book — often the hardest thing an author has to do!"

The 7 Most Common Misconceptions About Science Fiction PublishingS

Image by Stefan Martiniere.

3) Editors just read manuscripts all day, in a nice armchair.

Says Diana Gill with Harper Voyager:

Surprisingly, people still believe that editors (and probably agents) just sit and read all day, when the editing and submission reading is homework, aka nights and weekends. They definitely don't realize how much editors handle in the office, and how we stretch across all of the departments.

Adds Jennifer Heddle with Lucasfilm/LucasBooks:

For me the biggest misconception is that editors sit around reading all day, imperiously waving our hands and deciding who gets to be the next Terry Goodkind and who doesn't. That sounds like a great life, but it sure isn't one I've ever experienced! I think aspiring writers often lose sight of the fact that publishing is a cold hard business like any other, and many decisions have to be made for monetary reasons, whether those of us who work in publishing like it or not. It's never personal.

Speaking of which...

4) This is all personal

Among authors, the most prevalent misconception is that "there are sure-fire shortcuts to be had," says Buchanan. People believe "knowing somebody or attending certain writer's conferences or having a particular agent might help to bring a writer to an editor's attention. But what will seal the deal is said writer's grasp of both the art and craft of writing."

Gill says she sometimes gets annoyed at how many people believe that "editors and publishers are actively, malicious trying to keep people out or destroy their careers, when our careers depend on authors and titles be successful."

The 7 Most Common Misconceptions About Science Fiction PublishingS

Cover art to By Heresy Distressed by David Weber.

5) Science fiction isn't actually about human topics.

Says Lou Anders with Pyr Books:

Those outside the field constantly perpetuate the myth that science fiction stories aren't about people and humanity. I am sick to death of having people explain to me that their own book, film, television show etc.. isn't actually science fiction because it is "a story about people that uses science fiction as a way to explore some aspect of the human condition." The rest of us apparently just publish technical manuals for made up devices.

Adds Anders, the biggest misconception "inside the field" is "the size of the readership," namely "that it's much larger than it is."

6) Men are in charge of science fiction publishing.

One of the biggest misconceptions is that "science fiction publishing is run by men," says Anne Sowards with Ace and Roc. In fact, despite the ongoing debates over gender in science fiction, a ton of editors and other publishing professionals are women. And there's also a pervasive belief that the door is closed to women authors in science fiction as opposed to urban fantasy, which a few editors said just isn't true.

The 7 Most Common Misconceptions About Science Fiction PublishingSImage by MANCHU

7) Publishers won't spend any money marketing your book, unless you're an A-list author.

Says Lee Harris with Angry Robot Books, this is "so very, very untrue." He adds:

It's true that there is generally less money to spend on marketing than there used to be, and it's certainly true that publishers ask their authors to get involved in the marketing side of things more than, say, 20 years ago (although no respectable publisher will ever ask the author to spend their own money on this, only time). But there is money spent. How does your publisher spend their marketing funds? Well, let's look at some of the top ones (though there are many, many more).

1) Cover art. One of the most effective ways of marketing your book is with good cover art. Good designers and good artists cost money. This is one of the most important marketing spends (though not necessarily the highest).

2) Trade advertising. What it says. This is how your publisher advertises your book to the people who will stock it in their stores. This comes in the form of advertisements in trade journals, TI sheets (Title Information), samples, catalogues, etc. You don't see any of this because it isn't aimed at the general public. Nevertheless, it happens.

3) Trade events. Another way to reach the fine folk who decide what books sit on their shelves. Also useful for marketing your book to foreign publishers and film studios.

4) Advance Reader Copies (ARCs). Whether physical or electronic. An electronic ARC service (such as NetGalley) costs marketing dollars. And you don't want to know how much it costs to produce and distribute physical ARCs (well, you might want to know - it's usually about 10-15 times the cost of printing a single typical mass market paperback).

5) Getting your book on shelves. Yes, some stores charge to merely stock their books (in addition to the discount they receive), and having your books readily available in bookstores is a good thing...

6) Getting your book into Top 100 / Top 50 shelves. Not as common as it once was, but some stores charge to have your book in their chart. The more you pay, the higher up the chart you debut.

7) Other store promotions. Being featured on end-displays, tables, spinner-racks, etc. Your publisher pays for this.

8) Consumer advertising. Magazine advertising, websites, etc.

9) Consumer events. Conventions, festivals, etc. It costs to attend, and to have a presence in Dealer Rooms, etc.

10) Signings, etc. Travel, hotels, and that all-important after-show champagne of the highest quality (or cheap scotch - whatever).

Some of these are things you might not have previously considered as having a marketing spend (such as your book being featured on a table in your local bookstore), and some of these you will never see (as they're aimed at store book buyers), but there are a lot of ways in which your publisher will market your book - and most of them cost money.