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rec.arts.sf.composition Frequently Asked Questions

( (Who's computer is this?) )
Content changed since last update will be marked {this way}.
Last updated: 11 Jun 2008

1. Introduction

This FAQ has been written by Michelle Bottorff based on comments and
suggestions from various members of the group, and is maintained and
posted by Michelle Bottorff (
<>) and Zeborah (
<>). The general purpose of the FAQ is to inform
newcomers and to serve as repository for useful information.

The FAQ will be posted bi-weekly to rasfc and maintained online at (Who's computer is this?)

If you have any comments, questions or contributions, please post them
in the newsgroup or send them to the FAQ maintainer (see above).

Table of contents

1. Introduction <#intro>

Table of Contents

2. What is on topic in this newsgroup? <#ontopic>

* What we are here to talk about <#subject>
* {Off-topic and controversial discussions <#offtopic>}
* Critiquing policy <#critique>
* Announcements, URL sharing, and Advertising policy <#ads>

3. What posting formats are acceptable? <#posting>

* Replying from Google Groups <#google>
* Quoting <#quoting>
* Crossposting <#crossposting>
* Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar <#style>
* Courteous conduct <#courtesy>

4. How does one start posting to rasfc? <#newbie>

* The proper way to not introduce yourself <#introduce>
* Red-flag topics that might best be avoided and why <#redflag>

5. What do the group members mean when they say...? <#vocab>

* Terminology, acronyms, common abbreviations

6. Where else can I go for help? <#help>

* Other newsgroups <#newsgroups>
* Critique groups online and in person <#critgroups>
* Reference librarians <#librarians>

7. What do I need to watch out for? <#warning>

* Regional specific advice <#regional>
* Writer scams <#scams>
* Copyright issues <#copyright>

8. What do I need to know about the business of writing? <#business>

* Manuscript format <#manuscript>
* Word count calculation <#wordcount>
* Submissions process <#submission>
* Advances <#advances>
* Agents <#agents>

9. What legal issues should I be aware of? <#legal>

* Your copyright <#yourcopyright>
* Other authors' copyright <#othercopyright>
* Trademarks <#trademarks>
* Assignment of rights <#rights>

10. Additional resources (our links section) <#additional>

* Writers' resources <#resources>
* Netiquette <#netiquette>

Appendix A: Newsgroup Charter <#charter>

2. What is on topic in this newsgroup?

What we are here to talk about

This group is for the discussion of the writing of speculative fiction,
(hereafter shortened to "sf"), or in other words fantasy and
science-fiction. (It is NOT for discussing music composition in San
Francisco!) The writing of any work of another genre that has strong
fantasy and/or science fictional aspects will probably also be
considered on topic.

Appropriate topics of discussion include the process and details of
developing settings (world-building), the business of selling the stuff
once it's written, the physical environment in which one writes and how
it affects one's writing, and, of course, the writing process itself.
The posting of actual sf works is NOT on topic. (see Critiquing policy

{Off-topic and controversial discussions}

Sometimes topics are introduced that seem insufficiently sfnal in nature
or that would be better addressed in another newsgroup, in which case it
is commonly requested that the discussion be moved elsewhere (and not
everyone who makes the request will do so politely). If you are not
familiar with the group, please check section 6 "Where else do I go for
help?" before posting, to make certain this is the right place for your
query/comment. Also read Section 4. "How does one start posting to
rasfc? <#newbie>"

{Often a thread will begin on a sfnal topic but veer into non-sfnal
territory. When this happens, particularly if it is likely to be a
controversial topic, either a participant or bystander may request that
the discussion be moved to rec.arts.sf.misc instead.

A request by a bystander may consist of a post on rasfc saying words to
the effect of, "This discussion would be better suited to
rec.arts.sf.misc", with followups set to rasfm. A move by a participant
may begin with a short statement in rasfc that "I disagree, but am going
to present my arguments in rec.arts.sf.misc".

Reasons for the move need not be given in rasfc itself (and probably
should not be, as they are likely themselves to be controversial); nor
should the arguments themselves. If they are presented there, a
responder may ignore the followups and post a short reply to rasfc
saying words to the effect that "These arguments should not have been
posted to rasfc, and I will be posting a rebuttal in rec.arts.sf.misc",
with followups set to rasfm.}

Critiquing policy

This is a discussion group, not a publication venue or a critiquing
group. However, it is difficult to discuss writing in detail without the
posting of illustrative examples and it is hard to discuss the cures for
a problem unless we understand what the problem is. Short examples (two
or three paragraphs) of your own composition may be posted freely as
part of a discussion of writing technique. (We frequently see, for
example, story beginnings posted with a "does this catch your interest
or not?" or an interior paragraph or two with a "does this sound too
much like an info-dump, how else could I convey this information?" This
sort of posting is quite welcome.)

It is also allowable to post not more than 500 words worth of something
for general critique if they are posted under a subject header that
begins with "CRIT". These works must be "in progress". If you are not
intending to change them based on the comments you receive, do not post
them here. Even then it is strongly recommend that you find another
source of critiques. There are many online and in person critique groups
available. This subject is discussed in more depth in Section 6 <#help>.

Announcements, URL sharing, and advertising policy

Officially all advertisements are off topic. Be warned, "advertisement"
also includes postings saying "I just wrote this book, it's available at
[url] go check it out." Anything that is posted with the intent to get
people to go look at a particular website, or just to spend time on the
poster's behalf, without a commensurate offer of recompense is treading
on dangerous ground. Only the following specific types of "ads" are ever
welcome here:

* Requests for manuscripts from venues that pay professional rates.
Make sure the actual rates offered are included in the advertisement.
* Rare public service announcements posted by people who are very
familiar with the group and know that what they are posting will
be considered useful and relevant.
* Notices of the publication of works that were discussed in the
group by their author /as they were being written/.

If an ad, announcement or URL posting does not meet one of these three
criteria, it will be treated with contempt, and may result in a
complaint to the poster's ISP.

URL postings should contain a summary of what is there that people might
want to look at, providing enough information to determine whether or
not one wishes to do so, and whether the site is connected in any way
with the poster.

3. What posting formats are acceptable?

The posting conventions of this group are as follows:

Use only ASCII, no MIME or HTML.

Replying from Google Groups:

When you're looking at a message, instead of hitting "reply" at the
bottom of that message, hit "show options" at the top of it. Then hit
"reply" from the list of options that brings up, and it will give you
proper quoting and even attributions.

{Please also be aware that the "hide/show quoted text" option works
/only inside Google Groups/. Make an executive decision whether a given
chunk of text needs to be quoted at all -- see below.}


Quote the /relevant portion/ of the text you are replying to, and place
your comments beneath the quoted section. If what you are replying to is
long, snip out unnecessary portions of the quoted text, and interleave
your own replies between the quoted sections. Try to leave the
attribution headers intact, so that people will know who said what in
your quote portions.


If you wish to discuss something in more than one newsgroup, please post
separate messages to each group instead of crossposting by sending the
same message to more than one group at a time. When replying to a
message that has been posted to more than one group, please remove all
groups from the posting header except the one you are in, or the one
that your reply would be most relevant to.


Try to always use proper spelling, punctuation and grammar. It makes
your postings easier to read and sets a good example. Keep in mind that
many group members speak English as a second (or third or fifth)
language. It also makes a better impression on the professional writers
and editors that participate here.


Please observe this and other 'netiquette' conventions and be courteous
and considerate in your conduct. If you are not familiar with proper net
etiquette and conventions, we will be providing a list of netiquette
resources in Section 11, "Additional Resources" <#additional>.

4. How does one start posting to rasfc?

How not to introduce yourself

The accepted custom for joining in the discussion is to simply start
contributing to one of the threads already in progress. If you have an
experience to share that is relevant to something other people are
talking about, share it. If you are having a problem with something you
are writing, ask us a question about it. If you have advice to give or
information about something under discussion, tell us. Introductory
messages telling us your name and background are not required.

Red-flag topics that might best be avoided

If you share a new "rule" of writing you have just discovered, or
suggest that something that works for you will obviously work for
someone else, you will have pointed Kipling quotations jabbed in your
general direction. "There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal
lays, And every single one of them is right!" ( see "In The Neolithic
Age < (Who's computer is this?) >" at: (Who's computer is this?) ) It is safer to say
something on the order of "this technique may be helpful...", or even
"this technique was helpful to me..."

If you say that you have just written a great book and it is available
to be read at such-and-such a location, you will likely be ignored, and
possibly even flamed. (See "Announcements, URL sharing, and Advertising
policy" above.)

If you use the term sci-fi you will start a long argument over whether
or not this term is derogatory and demeaning. The short form 'sf' is
much safer, if somewhat ambiguous, and writing "science fiction" out the
long way always works.

Using someone's name as the subject line of a post is usually only done
in the rec.arts.sf.* hierarchy to announce their death or serious
illness. Please don't frighten us! If you want to talk to someone,
preferably email them; otherwise please include "ping", "paging",
"attention", or some similar word in the subject line.

Although it is allowable to start out by posting something under a CRIT
header, you will usually get more responses to such a posting if you
have been around for a while and people recognize your name.

Also, please remember, if you ask a question and you are told to go
elsewhere for the answer, it isn't because we don't want to be helpful,
but because we think there are sometimes better places to find answers
than rasfc, even when the question itself is on topic.

5. What do the group members mean when they say...?

If you are not familiar with general usenet terminology and common
acronyms, please check the links in section 11. This listing only
includes terms common here, but relatively uncommon elsewhere. To save
space, I have removed all referents to group in-jokes, however I am
collecting these and hope to get them up on a web-page (after the FAQ
itself is completed).

footnote symbol. A request for further explanation on a subject.
Originated at Minicon; for full details see David Goldfarb's
explanation at message ID <ehctvo$6a8$ on
Google Groups
< (Who's computer is this?)
'I agree', 'ditto', 'likewise', 'me, too'. Derives from the
practice, supposedly common (or once common) amongst unsophisticated
AOL subscribers, of quoting a whole post just to say 'me, too'.}
As you know, Bob. A reference to the technique of passing on
background information to the reader by having a character tell
another character something he already knows. This is a part of the
Turkey City Lexicon <#turkey(see *TCL* below).
Butt in chair. Also sometimes lengthened to "Butt in chair, fingers
on keyboard." This is a frequently recommended method for getting
past a variety of writing problems. Sometimes you just have to roll
up your sleeves and get to work.
An activity that pretends to be useful, but is actually being done
so that you can avoid writing.
A story that is exactly 50 words long. At the time of this writing,
cinquentas by rasfc participants are being collected at (Who's computer is this?) If you wish any of your
cinquentas to be included in this collection email them to Neil
Barnes at
dancing rodents
(and variants): a synonym for *conga rats*, i.e. "congratulations".
Extruded Fantasy Product. This generally refers to highly derivative
fantasy epics.
Eight Deadly Words
"I don't /care/ *what* happens to these people!" (coined by Dorothy
Eye of Argon
A story so badly and yet boldly written that it stands as a classic.
Eye of Argon reading sessions are occasionally held at sf
conventions, with the rule that you can only read for as long as you
can keep from laughing. Available online at: (Who's computer is this?) eyeargon.html
< (Who's computer is this?) (Who's computer is this?) eyeintro.html
<{Also (Who's computer is this?) now available in
book form from Wildside Press, ISBN 0-8095-6261-8, complete with the
long-missing ending.}
International Write Something Month, an alternate to NaNoWriMo (see
below) for those who think that slower is sometimes better. See (Who's computer is this?)
A term coined by Jo Walton, referring to the process of scattering
background information and other hints throughout the text, rather
than placing it all together in a lump. (see info-dumping below.)
Writing a large segment of expository information on historical
background, technology, or other aspects of the setting, rather than
conveying the same information by using scattered references. (See
incluing, above.)
A term coined by Alfred Hitchcock, referring to something that is
central to the plot, and motivating to the characters, but doesn't
actually mean anything in and of itself. The quintessential example
is the Maltese Falcon.
A term referring to the overall character or personality of a story.
Some writers come up with a mode for their story first, and choose a
narrative voice, structure and mood to match. Other writers start
with the narrative voice, structure, and mood, and end up with an
overall mode. This is another of Jo Walton's terms, and she says the
definition here isn't quite right. A google search of the term will
reveal extensive discussion on how to define it.
National Novel Writing Month, which encourages aspiring writers to
take part by attempting to write a 50.000 word novel in the month of
November. See (Who's computer is this?)
the activity of discussing the plots and characterization in general
terms, usually with the intent to solve some kind of problem that
one of the participants has been having with a particular work.
Point of View, a technical writing term referring to the apparent
position of the narrator in relation to the story he is telling.
let it stand, used to mark passages in the manuscript that the line
editor wants to change, or that you think the line editor will want
to change, such as words spelled wrong on purpose.
Turkey City Lexicon, a compendium of terminology compiled by the
critique group "Turkey City". Opinions about the usefulness of this
lexicon vary widely. Some rasfc regulars find its overall tone snide
and feel that it dismisses techniques that can be used effectively
in the right circumstances, and others think that as a list of
"common errors" it can be most helpful in evaluating manuscripts.
See (Who's computer is this?) turkeycity.html
< (Who's computer is this?) >
Work in Progress (WIR: Work in Revision, WIS: Work in Submission), a
shorthand way of referring to one's current writing project.
This is the process of creating new worlds for your stories to be
set in (see links in Section 11 <#additional>). Really elaborate
world-building occasionally gets in the way of actually producing
the stories themselves (see cat-vacuuming, above).

6. Where else can i go for help?

Other newsgroups:

* rec.arts.sf.written <news:rec.arts.sf.written- For discussion of
books that have been published already (and thus are off topic here)
* - For all your science fiction related science
* soc.history.war.misc - For military history questions
* soc.history.what-if - For alternate history discussion and advice
* soc.history.medieval - For questions about medieval times (!)
* rec.equestrian - For horse related questions
* misc.writing - For general questions about writing (!)
* misc.writing.moderated - For general questions about writing. Very
quiet, but occasionally contains notices of paying markets.

(!) These groups are subject to frequent flame-wars. Be wary.

Critique groups online and in person:

Critique groups are a useful tool in improving your writing. But you
need to find a group that suits your needs, because a group that is
helpful to one writer can be a waste of time, or even damaging to
another writer. If participating in any group seems to make you write
less often and enjoy it less, that probably isn't the right group for you.

To find a writers' group local to you try asking at the local book
stores, libraries and sf fan clubs. Go to local conventions and ask
around. Most large metropolitan areas will have a writers' group for
science fiction and fantasy writers, but in less populated areas there
may only be general writers' groups, or even none at all. Some sf
writers find that they can work well in a general group, but others find
that all the other participants respond to their work with total
bewilderment, and can't find any useful advice to give.

Another source of critiques is to join an online group. The various
groups have different formats and policies. The one totally vital thing
to keep in mind is that any writing posted to a public forum is
considered published, so all legitimate groups are private and require
that you sign up. Here are a few of the bigger, better known ones that
you can try.

* (Who's computer is this?)
* (Who's computer is this?)
* (Who's computer is this?)
* http://sff.onlinewritingworkshop. (Who's computer is this?) com/
< (Who's computer is this?) subscription required)
* (Who's computer is this?) (for hard science fiction novelists,
yearly subscription required)

Reference librarians:

Many large libraries will have a reference librarian on staff who can
help answer your research questions. If you are not local to such a
library you can still make use of these resources by contacting such a
librarian via mail, or you can try the Stumpers mailing list which is
primarily for library employees faced with questions they can't answer
from their own resources.

To make use of the Stumpers list, simply send your question via email
to: <mailto:list@project-wombat.orgIf you are
not a subscriber, your message will still be answered, only with a
slight delay for authorization. Make the subject line of your email
descriptive and precede it with a question mark. Something like "How
many lefthanded policemen are there in Chile?" is what's wanted, rather
than something vague like "Question about South America". Include in the
body a description of where you've tried to find the information, and
what you already know about the topic. This saves responders from wasted
efforts. More information about the list, including archives, is
available at (Who's computer is this?) (Information on Stumpers
provided by Dan Goodman)

There are a wealth of resources available on the internet. Learning to
use websearch engines will help you make good use of this material.

7. What do I need to watch out for?

Regional specific advice

No matter how well intentioned and no matter how expert the advice you
are given, it's not likely to be good advice if it applies to the
publishing industry in another country, or if it applies to a different
segment of the publishing industry. There are participants in this group
from all over the globe; always verify where, what and whom people are
talking about, before deciding to follow advice that might not apply to
you. If you want to know about science fiction publishers in the UK,
don't read up on mainstream publishers in the US and think the same
rules will apply.

Writer scams

There are nasty people out there who prey on innocent young writers (and
even, occasionally, not-so-innocent older writers). Beware of anyone who
is "particularly eager to work with new writers". Beware of any editor
who offers to "doctor" your manuscript for a fee. Beware of any "agent"
who goes out looking for clients. Beware any publisher who asks you for
money. In short, keep Yog's Law in mind: In real publishing money flows
*to* the writer, not from the writer. For more complete details on what
to watch out for, try the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of
America's "Writers Beware" pages at (Who's computer is this?)

Copyright issues

There is still a lot of confusion over how copyrights apply to
electronic mediums. Never assume that because something is freely
available online that you have the right to copy it or distribute it.
However, if you post your own material to the web, or in an open forum,
many publishing houses will consider that a "publication" and you have
therefore just used up your "first publication" rights to that material,
and you may find it very difficult to sell it later on, so be careful
about what you yourself make available to the world. For more
information on copyrights see Section 9 <#legal>.

8. What do I need to know about the business end of writing?

Manuscript format

Most of the publishing world still runs on paper. Do not send electronic
submissions to any publication unless their writer's guidelines
specifically state that they accept electronic submissions. There is no
industry wide standard format for electronic submissions yet, so the
same writer's guidelines that say they accept electronic submissions,
should also indicate which formats are acceptable. Follow those
guidelines precisely.

Hardcopy (paper) submissions are standardized, and to use anything other
than the standard format will make you look unprofessional. Even though
the rules seem arbitrary there are reasons for every one of them.

* Use black ink and a non-proportional "typewriter" font. (12pt
Courier recommended.)
* Use white bond paper. US "letter" size to North American markets,
and A4 for most other markets. Most publishers can handle the
other standard size of paper, but it is occasionally recommended
that if you are sending A4 manuscripts to North America you make a
larger margin at the bottom so that your manuscript can be copied
onto the smaller US paper size.
* Set your margins to 1 inch (2.5 cm) on the top bottom and sides.
* The main body of text should be left justified and double spaced.
line between paragraphs (other than the one that gets there
naturally as a result of double-spacing).
* Indicate scene breaks with a blank line, then a centered '*' or
'#' and then another blank line.
* Any text that you intend to be in italics should be underlined in
the manuscript; boldface should have a wavy underline, with "bold"
in the margin.
* On the first page of the manuscript, your name, address, and
optionally a phone number or email address should be in the upper
left corner, and the word count in the upper right. The story's
title is centered in the middle of the page, with the byline (by
Wouldbe Writer) centered on the line below. The main text starts
two lines below that.
* On every other page of the manuscript your last name, the story
title (or an abbreviation of it, if it is long), and the page
number should be in the upper right corner.
* Do not staple or permanently bind the manuscript pages together in
any way. You may include a removable clip, if you desire.
* Do not include on the manuscript itself a copyright notice or a
statement of the rights being offered when submitting to US sf
* If you do not want the manuscript returned to you, write
"DISPOSABLE" on the title page.

Word count calculation

The publishing industry is mostly interested in the amount of space the
story takes up, rather than the actual number of words. If you are going
to plug in the word count from your word processor, round it off to the
nearest hundred for short stories, and the nearest thousand for novels.

If you use standard manuscript format you can often estimate wordage
based on your page count.

Submissions process

1. Finish the story.

Only previously published writers can sell an incomplete story. However,
multi-volume stories can often be sold on the strength of the first
volume, so you don't have to finish the entire series to sell it.

2. Do market research

to determine which houses/imprints publish the same kind of story you
have just written. (Even if your writing is off the wall and unique, you
still need to discover which houses publish off the wall and unique.)
The best way to do this is usually to browse the bookstores. When you
find books that are similar to yours make a note of the publisher, and
then check the author's acknowledgments page -- sometimes they thank
their editors or agents, in which case you should make a note of those
names. You can also find out which editors buy which kinds of books from
a study of industry magazines such as /Locus/ and /Science Fiction
Chronicle/. Make a list for future reference of everyone you identified
as a potential market.

3. Obtain the writer's guidelines

for the markets you have identified. Often they can be found on the
publisher's website, or you can write to the publishing house for them.
The editorial addresses of publishing houses can be found in /The
Literary Marketplace/ (often found in the reference section of
libraries), and in /Writer's Market/. The writer's guidelines will tell
you whether your next step is to send a query letter (step 4), a portion
and outline (step 5), or the complete manuscript (step 6). If the
guidelines say "no unsolicited submissions", you can still send a query
letter. If it says "no unagented submissions, make a note, and (assuming
you don't have an agent) cross them off your list. (More information on
agents can be found below.)

4. Write and send a query letter.

A query letter is one page long. Start out, if at all possible, by
addressing the letter to a specific editor that you know is interested
in the kind of story you have written. Tell the editor the title and
wordage of your story, and possibly the genre/subgenre. Then in three
paragraphs or less describe the story in such a way that it will sound
interesting to the editor without: praising it, sounding like a
back-cover blurb, or keeping the surprise ending secret. Next mention
any relevant experience you have, writing or otherwise. If you have
published professionally, mention either the latest 2-3 sales, or the
2-3 most relevant sales. If you have a degree in a subject, or work
professionally in an industry that is directly relevant to the book,
mention that. If you are a graduate of Clarion you can mention that, but
do not mention any other writing courses or workshops you have taken. Do
not list your hobbies, family members or pets.

{Sound impossible? My commiserations. Writing queries is hard. For more
advice on how to do a good job of it, try:

* (Who's computer is this?) writer_hq.aspx
< (Who's computer is this?) >
* (Who's computer is this?) htm
< (Who's computer is this?) >
* (Who's computer is this?)
* (Who's computer is this?) prededitors/pubquery.htm
< (Who's computer is this?) >
* (Who's computer is this?) html#6
< (Who's computer is this?) >
* (Who's computer is this?) faq_qery.htm
< (Who's computer is this?) >
* (Who's computer is this?) has vast quantities of readers'
queries with Miss Snark's comments
* Rachel Vater's "Got Hook?" on livejournal. Overview at
http://raleva31.livejournal. (Who's computer is this?) com/44304.html
< (Who's computer is this?) umpteen zillion
submitted hooks with Raleva's comments in the previous howevermany

Include a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) for their reply. You
may send this letter out simultaneously to as many editors as you
desire, and they will generally get back to you in two weeks to three
months. If an editor responds saying you may send them a portion and
outline or manuscript, continue on to step 5 or 6. If an editor says "no
thanks" cross them off your list for this particular story, but you can
still try again with your next one. If two editors respond at the same
time pick one to send your story to first. You may not send a manuscript
(or even part of a manuscript) to more than one editor at a time, unless
the writers' guidelines for both editors said that they accept
"simultaneous submissions". Most sf publishers do not.

5. Prepare and submit a portion and outline,

also called the three chapters and a synopsis, and other similar
The editors (unless they specifically stated otherwise) want the first
part of the book. Three chapters is an estimate, if you write
exceptionally long or exceptionally short chapters, you will need to
adjust. Try to send about the first 10 000 words.

There is no set format for a synopsis or an outline. The basic idea is
that the editor has read the first bit of the book, and has an idea of
your style, and your ability to grab the reader, and now they want to
know if the rest of the book is likely to live up to that promise.
Structure it in a manner that suits your story, explain the basic plot
twists, and character growth, and anything else relevant. The
synopsis/outline should cover the entire book, including the portion you
are submitting.

Use a full sized envelope so that you do not need to fold anything.
(Manuscripts with creases are harder to read.) Do not use an envelope
with little metal tabs, because they are hard on fingers and get caught
in mail sorting machines.

If at all possible, address the submission to a specific editor that you
know is interested in this kind of book. Include an SASE, and a brief
cover letter which includes the title and wordage of the book, and any
relevant experience (see query letters above). If the portion and
outline are being sent because of a positive response to a query letter,
say so in the cover letter, (if the positive response was not a recent
one, say when it was,) and put the magic words "solicited material" on
the envelope.Do not send the portion and outline to two editors at once
unless they have both indicated that they don't mind. (see above)

Editors will take from two weeks to a year to respond. If you haven't
heard from an editor in four months it is generally allowable to send a
self addressed stamped postcard saying "I sent you my manuscript 4
months ago and haven't heard from you since. Did you A) never get it?,
B) send it back already, or C) are still looking at it. Some editors
don't mind you phoning them; check their writer's guidelines to see. If
there is no reply to the postcard and the second postcard sent a month
or two later, you may wish to withdraw your submission. This is done by
sending a polite letter to the editor in question saying that you are
withdrawing your submission, and the title of the book and the date you
sent it to them. Don't get snide or angry, you may someday want to send
this editor a different manuscript. Once the submission has been
withdrawn (or is rejected) you may send the portion and outline to a
different publisher.

6. Send the complete manuscript.

This is just like sending a portion and outline, except that it tends to
be bulkier. You can send it in a manuscript box, or in an oversized
envelope with cardboard stiffeners to prevent crumpled corners and
unwanted folding. (Elastic bands to hold everything together are
optional, if the envelope is a good enough fit they shouldn't be
needed.) If you want the manuscript returned, you need to include
another oversized self addressed stamped envelope (this is handy, even
if you are using a manuscript box.) If the manuscript is disposable,
include an ordinary sized SASE for the editor's response. Do not
over-wrap the manuscript. Editors really hate having to search for a
pair of scissors to cut through layers of packing tape and so forth.

7. What if they say yes?

The editor will probably ask for the name of your agent. Getting an
agent to negotiate your contracts for you is considered a good idea.
(More on agents below.)

The editor will probably also ask for revisions. Unless everything on
that list is something you agree wholeheartedly about, you should
discuss these with your editor. You make the changes that you and your
editor have agreed upon. And then send in a copy (or two or three) of
the revised manuscript. Publishers may also print ARCs (Advance Reader
Copies) at this point which are sent to reviewers and bookstores.

When sending in the final manuscript it can be useful to include a style
sheet -- this indicates the variations that you were attempting to stick
to, 'grey' rather than 'gray', or whatever. It may also include a list
of foreign and invented words, proper names, nicknames etc. List these
in alphabetical order for ease of use.

Depending on the contract you may have a chance to review the
copy-edited draft. This is where you get to use "STET" or 'let it
stand', and you may use it so much that you will want a stamp.

The last step is the proofs, sometimes still called galley proofs. These
are your last chance to correct errors so make sure you can meet the

It can take up to two years from having the editor say yes, before you
actually get to see your book in print.


An advance is the upfront money you get from selling a book. The amount
of advance received varies widely based on how famous an author is, how
much the editor liked the manuscript, and so forth. It is difficult to
give a "likely amount": simply assume it won't be enough to pay you back
for the time and effort that you put into the book in the first place.

Advances are only one of the three kinds of money it is possible to make
from selling books. After your book is published, it will begin to earn
royalties. The more copies are bought, the more royalties it earns.
After it has earned sufficient royalties to cover the cost of the
advance (if it ever does,) then you will start receiving royalty
payments. Odd bits of money may occasionally appear from the sale of
"subsidiary rights." Added all together it is still unlikely that the
money will add up to enough to pay you back for the time and effort that
you put into the book. Writers are one of the most notoriously underpaid
segments of the workforce.


The job of the agent is to negotiate your contracts. Agents will also
market books for you (but not your short stories, you have to market
those yourself) but that is not their primary purpose. Therefore you do
not need to have an agent to sell a book. In fact it is demonstratively
easier to get an agent after you have already sold at least one book.

There are, however, some markets that are closed to unagented authors.

If you want to get an agent before you have sold any books, the
technique is very similar to the one described in the section on the
submission process, simply replace the word "editor" with agent.

If you have just sold a book, you will probably want an agent in a
hurry, so you can try the sped up version, where you call all the agents
on your list, explain to them that you have just sold a book, what the
book was about and who you sold it to. This will hopefully get several
interested responses.

The Association of Authors' Representatives (Who's computer is this?)
has a searchable database of member agents. Its UK counterpart is the
Association of Authors' Agents (Who's computer is this?) Another
useful listing of agents is at (Who's computer is this?)

WARNING! Beware of any agent who asks you for money. Agents are supposed
to take a proportion (usually 10-15%) of the money you get from the
publisher, and by getting you better contracts, they actually end up
paying for themselves. Any agent who asks you for money upfront may be a
scam artist. (see Section 7 <#warningand "Writers Beware" at (Who's computer is this?) ).

9. What legal issues should I be aware of?

Your copyright

As a general rule, as soon as you record a work in any medium, you own
the copyright on that work. You do not need to register the copyright or
to mark the copyright on the manuscript in order to be protected by
copyright law. These rules (Berne Convention) took effect in the USA
about 1978 and in most of the rest of the world much earlier.

However, in order to sue for damages in the USA, you do need to register
the copyright. Unless you are self-publishing, your editor should do
this for you.

Other authors' copyright

Works written before a certain year (which varies according to country
of publication) are considered out of copyright and can be freely quoted.

Under "Fair Use" provisions, it is usually acceptable to quote a small
part of a work that is still in copyright, as long as it is quoted
accurately and correctly cited. "Fair Use" provisions are rather vague
about how much can be quoted; it's best to err on the side of caution.

To quote from very short works such as poems and songs, however, it is
usually necessary to get permission. This is because even a few words
can make up a large percentage of a poem or song. Some copyright holders
will be happy to grant permission; many may charge a smaller or greater
fee; sometimes the fee is not affordable.

In any case, it is the author's responsibility to follow copyright law
and to obtain any necessary permissions.

This FAQ is not an intellectual properties lawyer, nor are the posters
on rasfc. You can find some official information on copyright law at:

* Australia: (Who's computer is this?)
* Canada: http://strategis. (Who's computer is this?)
< (Who's computer is this?) >
* European Union: (Who's computer is this?) ecup/lex/lex.htm#national
< (Who's computer is this?) >
* New Zealand: (Who's computer is this?)
* USA: (Who's computer is this?) circ1.html
< (Who's computer is this?)


Copyright law doesn't protect names, titles, slogans, or short phrases.
It is possible to protect these as a trademark, which involves paying
fees. For most authors it's simply not worth it.

If you're writing a story and want to mention in passing someone else's
trademark, it's probably not a big deal. If you wanted to use a
trademark in any way that might even conceivably be confusing (for
example, calling your story "Star Wars", your spaceship "Death Star", or
your character "Luke Skywalker") you would probably have problems. There
may also be problems if you use the trademark in a derogatory way.

In any problematic case, it is safest to either invent your own names or
obtain permission to use the trademark; and it is always safest to get
real information from an official website (belonging to the appropriate
country) or even advice from an intellectual properties lawyer.

Assignment of rights

When a work is accepted for publication, the author is selling some
particular rights to the publisher. Typically these will be first
publication rights, meaning that the publisher has the right to be the
first person to publish that work. "Serial rights" are to do with
publication in a magazine or other periodical; "electronic rights" are
to do with publication via the internet.

Other rights include foreign rights, audio rights, dramatic rights,
reprint rights, movie rights, among others. Publishers' contracts may
ask for more rights than is strictly necessary; agents can in these
cases be invaluable in knowing what clauses should be cut out before
being signed.

Some more information about contracts and electronic rights is available
at (Who's computer is this?) /contracts.htm
< (Who's computer is this?) >

10. Additional resources

Writers' resources

* (Who's computer is this?) writing/worldbuilding1.htm
< (Who's computer is this?) Patricia
Wrede's world-building questions
* Naming resources
o (Who's computer is this?) - the Medieval Names Archive
(for names and naming practices before 1600, mostly but not
entirely European)
o (Who's computer is this?) - the Onomastikon (fine for
most writerly purposes but occasionally a bit iffy if
authenticity is a major concern)
o (Who's computer is this?) jrk/conlang.html
< (Who's computer is this?) Richard
Kennaway's Constructed Languages List (for imaginary languages)


A good up-to-date resource is "Playing nice on usenet" at (Who's computer is this?) unice.htm
< (Who's computer is this?) >.

Lost in Usenet at (Who's computer is this?) is a thorough and more
traditionally oriented resource.

Appendix A: Newsgroup Charter

(Note that the following is included primarily for context and historic
interest. Where the charter disagrees with sections of the FAQ above,
the sections above are more representative of current preference and
custom, and should take precedence.)

Before discussing the newsgroup, one must define 'sf', for which I refer
to the original CFV for the group that created the rec.arts.sf.*
hierarchy: "Both science fiction and fantasy, as well as that vast
blurred mass of material in between." This charter mirrors the position
of the HWA: Horror is an emotion, not a genre. If the Horror takes place
in a speculative fiction book, it can be discussed in an sf newsgroup.
The rec.arts.sf.composition newsgroup would include, but not be limited
to the following types of discussion:

* General writing questions, to be answered from the sf perspective.
This includes market research, submission format and discussions
on the process of writing itself, as it connects with the writing
of sf.
* Discussion of the process of writing speculative fiction between
professionals, aspiring writers or the merely interested.
* Discussion of the methods and processes of worldbuilding, the
creation of new, alternate or historically-based worlds in which
speculative fiction is often set.

This newsgroup is not meant to replace or significantly overlap other
groups. As such, topics that are on-topic and useful in other groups
should be kept to those groups. That would include, but not be limited
to the following exclusions:

* Discussion connected to writing, but not specifically to sf, nor
with an important sf slant should be posted in misc.writing.
* Discussion about the science used in speculative fiction should be
posted to
* Discussion of existing written work should be left to

As well, the charter specifically excludes the posting of work unless
that posting is specifically related to a topic that is being discussed,
and is used in that context, and quoted briefly. Posting of work to be
read and/or critiqued is excluded from the charter of this newsgroup,
for a number of reasons. For those who wish to avail themselves of the
group's resources, a specially marked header, "CRIT: " will be used to
post short requests for critiquing or reading, with all followups
directed to email, the poster's web page, rec.arts.prose, or any other
valid forum, rather than the newsgroup.

As for advertising, overt advertising is excluded from the group,
particularly off-topic overt advertising (the kind that doesn't care
what this charter says anyway). Tactful, brief, infrequently posted
references to information that can be found elsewhere will be tolerated,
but advertisers must tread that fine line carefully if they wish to
avoid flamage from ad-hating regulars.


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