Author Archives: Rose Fox

About Rose Fox

I'm the science fiction/fantasy/horror and romance/erotica reviews editor for Publishers Weekly.

For the Love

Rose Fox -- February 19th, 2014

Writers frequently warn one another against working for free, “for exposure”, or “for the love”. Writing is a business, and writers should get paid. To that end, SFWA recently announced an increase in their “pro rates” from 5¢/wd to 6¢/wd, hoping to encourage speculative fiction publishers and magazines to pay writers more.

However, many of those same publications–particularly online magazines that make fiction available to readers for free, and rely on donations to cover expenses–pay editors little to nothing. The staff of the well-regarded Strange Horizons are all volunteers. Other sites, such as ClarkesworldBeneath Ceaseless Skies, and Lightspeed, are more circumspect, but their Hugo nominations in the “Best Semiprozine” category are telling. According to the Hugo Awards site, “A lot of science fiction and fantasy magazines are run on a semi-professional basis: that is they pay a little, but generally not enough to make a living for anyone. The object of this category is to separate such things from fanzines, which are generally loss-making hobbyist pursuits.” What counts as professional? “A professional publication either (1) provided at least a quarter the income of any one person or, (2) was owned or published by any entity which provided at least a quarter the income of any of its staff and/or owner.” So these semiprozines are defined by not paying professional rates for editors, even as many of them pride themselves on paying pro rates (as defined by SFWA) for writers.

The editors of these sites are incredibly talented. They publish stories, poems, and illustrations that win awards and accolades. They provide an important service to the industry and to readers; short fiction is where some of the most interesting ideas in speculative fiction are developed, and many of our most outstanding authors primarily write short works. So why are there no SFWA pro rates for editors? When there’s outcry over the publishing industry’s reliance on unpaid interns, why doesn’t anyone talk about the speculative short fiction industry’s reliance on unpaid editorial staff? If writers or artists were asked to work for free to the tune of dozens of pieces over the course of a year, the practice would be derided as exploitative. But we exploit editors without a second thought.

Money isn’t thick on the ground for anyone in this industry, obviously. Calling 6¢/wd “pro” for writers might have made sense a few decades ago, but it’s absurd now. (By contrast, the Editorial Freelancers Association puts pro rates for fiction at 20–25¢/wd.) Nonetheless, I wish SFWA had put forward a 1¢/wd raise for editors as well as for authors. 1¢/wd isn’t much–those same EFA rates suggest more like 10¢/wd for substantive editing–but it’s a whole lot better than nothing.

Would that mean that readers need to pony up more for fiction, either in subscription fees or in donations? Absolutely. But I don’t think the world will end if publications explicitly state that editors need to get paid for their work as much as writers do, and ask readers to support that philosophy with their dollars. Crowdfunded writing projects should include a budget line item for editing, not as a stretch goal but as an essential component. Patreon appeals for patronage should mention paying editors as well as paying writers. The speculative fiction community happily gives awards for editing: arguably four separate Hugos, if you count Best Semiprozine and Best Fanzine as well as Best Editor, Short Form and Best Editor, Long Form. We name our awards after editors and magazine publishers: the Hugo, the Campbell, the other Campbell. (There’s inexplicably no Merril Award or Carr Award for best anthology, but that’s a separate rant.) This is not a community that’s unaware of the value of editing, or unwilling to acknowledge the tremendous work that editors do. I think it would take very little nudging to encourage a cultural shift toward paying editors for their time and effort and knowledge.

The editors who help our wonderful short fiction scene thrive deserve their award nominations, no question. They also deserve financial compensation. If we don’t expect writers to work “for the love”, we shouldn’t expect it from editors either.

Ice-T Reluctantly Records a Dungeons & Dragons Audiobook

Rose Fox -- February 6th, 2014

As reported by Paste and The Verge and shared on Twitter by the inimitable @MaureenJohnson (who says “This… may be… the most important thing that has ever happened”), the third episode of Ice-T’s Final Level podcast episode recounts the rapper and actor’s experiences recording a Dungeons & Dragons audiobook with dialogue like “Outside I go, into the sun thereof.” He also complains about the difficulty of pronouncing various invented terms. Apparently a coach encouraged Ice-T through the traumatizing experience. “He was saying people have broken down trying to read that stuff.”

Ice-T concludes, “I told my manager… let me read some porno or something, a sex book. I know about that.” Shhh, don’t tell him about X-rated D&D fanfic!

Full podcast here. The discussion begins at about 2:20.

4 Things to Remember Before Crowdfunding Your Book

Rose Fox -- January 10th, 2014

Crowdfunding can be a great tool for self-publishers. On the author side, it’s the equivalent of getting an advance from a traditional publisher. On the publisher side, it’s a handy way to get pre-orders and acquire funds for paying service providers up front. And readers love directly participating in the creation of books.

I’ve participated in crowdfunding as a funder and a creator. These experiences have taught me a lot about crowdfunding books, and about the things that are often overlooked when authors and publishers are setting up their funding projects.

If you’re thinking of crowdfunding a book, here are some things to keep in mind before you launch:

1. Plan and budget for promotion. First you’ll need to promote the crowdfunding page and get people to sign up. Then you’ll need to promote the finished product and get people to buy it. Word of mouth is vital and can’t be bought, but don’t discount the power of advertising. You might want to buy a banner ad or two on a fan site. You might want travel funds so you can go to conventions and talk about your book. You might want to hire a freelance PR expert. However you promote your project and your book, it’s going to cost you. And remember you’ll need to pay up front for any early promotion, before you get those precious crowdsourced funds.

2. Plan and budget for being a publisher. The “publishing” part of “self-publishing” encompasses a lot more than converting a Word doc to epub and calling it a book. Expect to provide yourself with all the services a publisher provides. Story editing isn’t enough; budget for a copy editor to catch factual errors and a proofreader to catch typos and formatting issues. If you’re not a professional designer, hire one–for both cover and interior design–and expect to pay business prices for the font and artwork on the cover. You’ll also need to pay taxes like a business.

3. Pad all your deadlines and budget estimates. Then pad them some more. I often see wildly unrealistic “expected delivery” dates, and I’ve lost count of the number of emails I’ve gotten from creators apologizing for something taking longer or costing more than expected. Book publishing is especially prone to deadline creep because there are so many people involved: authors, editors, illustrators, designers, printers, shippers, retailers. Expect delays at every turn. Get cost and delivery date estimates from service providers, in writing, well in advance, and then assume that they’re underestimates and pad them in your own calculations. If it turns out you gave yourself more time or raised more money than you need, great! Deliver the product early, and allocate the extra funds to promotion, which is always underfunded.

4. Prepare for success. You planned to produce a 12-story e-book collection. Then you hit a whole bunch of stretch goals, and now you’re going to have to write 4 extra stories, get them all edited, hire an artist to create 16 illustrations, and line up a printer for the limited hardcover edition. Congratulations! This will take you a lot longer and cost you a lot more than you originally anticipated. Every time you add a stretch goal, adjust your base-cost budget (which may mean getting new quotes from editors and printers) and schedule to allow for the extra work it will take to fulfill that goal. And don’t make offers like “free international shipping!” that are only sustainable if the project stays small, because a sudden rush of overseas backers can bankrupt you.

Many years ago, a boss taught me to “underpromise and overdeliver”; that’s a great attitude to take to crowdfunding. Another relevant proverb is “You can’t prepare for everything, so be prepared for anything”. You may not know what’s going to run late or go over budget, but some part of the project almost certainly is, so give yourself plenty of wiggle room. Your backers will thank you.

The Indefatigable Christmas Romance

Rose Fox -- December 20th, 2013

amishcountrychristmasEvery year ends with a flood of Christmas-themed romance novels. Christmas is treated as a flexible adjective that can be attached to any subgenre of romance: historical, contemporary, paranormal (yes, even soulless vampires love Christmas!), western, military. Christmas romance stories are set in big cities and small towns. They feature protagonists of every race, and there’s lots of heartwarming family togetherness and comical family squabbling. In 2013 PW reviewed at least 25 Christmas romances, with titles like The Cowboy’s Christmas Baby, Plaid Tidings, and An Amish Country Christmas. (And of course A SEAL Wolf Christmas, covered previously.)

Christmas is uniquely suited to romance plots, since it includes kissing, gift-giving, and miracles. A two-week Christmas break is time enough to connect, and the cold weather encourages certain warmth-generating activities. There are big family gatherings where coincidental encounters can happen and secrets can be revealed and misunderstandings can be misunderstood, and family members may conspire to get the lovers together or keep them apart.

Many romances paint real historical and contemporary settings as far less religious than they actually were or are. African-American romances sometimes focus on the church as a center of community, but churches are completely erased from Regency or Victorian England until it’s time for someone to get married. Christmas offers some Christian authors an opportunity to sneak in a bit of religion without their books being categorized as “inspirational”. For others it’s simply part of the dominant American and English culture, and Christmas romances in winter are as natural as beach reads in summer.

Christmas romances are obviously popular, and the category looks to be growing every year. By all accounts, writers love writing them and readers love reading them. Maybe the success of Christmas romance will encourage other holidays to get in on the action: a grandmother turns yenta at the Passover Seder, a love story begins when a woman throws a handful of colored powder at a man during Lathmar Holi, a Beltane one-night-stand turns into romance for a pair of adorable mismatched Wiccans. Love is love in any culture and any season.

Amazon’s New Idea is Old Hat

Rose Fox -- December 6th, 2013

Whether you think the notion of Amazon “Prime Air” delivery via drone aircraft is fabulous or farcical, it certainly seems futuristic. When I saw the images, though, they immediately reminded me of a 1921 piece in Popular Mechanics (featured in the book The Wonderful Future That Never Was) predicting that packages would soon be individually delivered to your doorstep by aircraft. The only difference is that 92 years ago, the proposed delivery system was a parachute:

The nonstop delivery of airplane mail via parachute is being rapidly developed in the United States, France, and England. Valuable matter—the only kind carried by airplanes—must be carefully guarded, which means, among other things, that it must be landed within a few feet of the person authorized to receive it. At present the accuracy with which the bags are landed depends entirely upon the skill and aim of the airman. However, some astonishingly close “hits” are being made with, and still greater accuracy is expected from, a two-speed parachute which is being developed in France. In the meantime it is quite safe to predict that parachute delivery will sometime become the rule.

Quite safe, indeed!

The concerns about security bring up some questions I haven’t seen anyone address regarding Prime Air. How would the drone know it’s delivering to the right person? Could it collect a signature? How would it deal with apartment buildings, offices, and other places where delivery outside the front door is obviously unfeasible? I’m willing to buzz in the UPS delivery driver; I’m a lot less willing to open the door for some random flying robot carrying an unlabeled box. And that doesn’t even get into the FAA aspects. All told, I think Amazon Prime Air is about as feasible as parachuting packages.

I wonder what impossible methods of package delivery will be proposed 92 years from now. Teleportation, perhaps.


6 Ways to Beat Reader’s Block

Rose Fox -- November 22nd, 2013

I spent most of 2013 suffering from reader’s block. Whenever I thought about reading, it didn’t sound like fun; it sounded like effort. I could easily think of any number of things I’d rather be doing. When I needed to read something for work, I had no problem doing so, and even enjoyed much of what I read. But as soon as I closed the file or put down the book, reading for pleasure felt impossibly far out of reach.

Fortunately, there are ways around this problem. Here are six steps for beating reader’s block and getting back that passion for reading.

1. Treat your book aversion like any other sort of anxiety or phobia.

For some people that means gritting your teeth and jumping in. For others it might help to have support from a friend: make a reading date, or read aloud to each other. One might medicate, or meditate, or sit in a favorite peaceful place. Whatever you do to overcome other anxieties can also help you overcome this one.

2. Whet your appetite.

Read an article, a poem, or a short story–ideally a really superb one that reminds you just how great the written word can be. If you’d rather try a longer book, place a bookmark 20 pages in and stop when you get there. Set a timer for reading, or read on your commute so there’s a defined end-point. Leave yourself wanting more.

3. Read something that won’t make you angry or upset.

It can be a book you’ve read recently, or something recommended by a trusted friend who’s aware of your particular hot buttons and concerns. Later on you can challenge yourself to read unvetted books that might be rife with sexism, racism, homophobia, gratuitous violence, or other elements that make you want to throw the book at the wall. Right now, stick with something safe.

4. Read a book that’s very familiar, or entirely unfamiliar.

A book you know backwards and forwards will soothe you. A book in a totally unfamiliar genre, category, medium (such as an audiobook if you’re used to text), or style will shake you out of your rut. If you read professionally, go for something that’s very distinct from the books you deal with at work.

5. Read something lighthearted.

If an immersive or heart-wrenching reading experience sounds daunting, try a book of elephant jokes, or a bathroom reader, or nonsense rhymes, or anything else that’s very much not intended to challenge you emotionally or intellectually.

6. Savor the desire to read.

This may sound counterintuitive, but once you start feeling the urge to read again, don’t immediately or constantly indulge it. Enjoy knowing that you’ve broken the block. Every time you pick up a book, before you open it, take a moment to really feel your desire for it. Do you want to find out what happens next, or encounter old friends among the characters? Do you want the delight of the humor or the thrill of learning something new? Are you enjoying the cadences of this particular audiobook narrator, or of a close friend reading you poems that are dear to their heart? Immerse yourself in the wanting before you immerse yourself in the having. That way, the next time reader’s block threatens, you’ll have a new weapon in your arsenal: the visceral memory of the longing for a good book.

I broke my reader’s block with Patricia Kennealy-Morrison’s Keltiad magical space opera trilogy. I made myself wait four days between choosing it and reading it, and then drew it out over the course of a week. (For me, three familiar novels in a week is a nice moderate pace.) I’ve adored these books for 25 years, and they hold up surprisingly well to rereading. They’re fluffy, sure, but that just serves to remind me that reading doesn’t have to be a tremendous intellectual or emotional challenge, and I can do it even when I’m brain-fried. Instead of analyzing their flaws, as I would probably do with a new-to-me book, I’m eagerly paging ahead to longtime favorite phrases and scenes. This is reading for pleasure, pure pleasure, and I’m loving every moment of it.

When I finish the trilogy, I’m not sure what I’ll read next. I might just take a day or two to enjoy being back in the game. I can read again! It’s not gone forever! I am so glad, and so relieved.

Uniquely Compelling and Poignant

Rose Fox -- November 8th, 2013

poignantPW‘s reviews director has issued a ban on the words compellingunique, and poignant in our reviews. When I wrote to my reviewers asking them to avoid these overused terms, they had some creative replies.

Can we portmanteau our way out of this? I’d like to describe a book as “poignelling.” Or maybe “compique.”

I replied that “Poignelling” sounds like the last name of an obscure 1930s politician. Vote Poignelling! Another reviewer suggested that “poignelling” would be the gerund of “poignell”: to speak movingly, at the top of your lungs. A third put in a vote for “unipellant.”

Just replace the word with the definition. “The author rendered the main character’s loss in a poignant manner.” becomes “The author rendered the main character’s loss in a manner painfully sharp to the emotions or senses.”

Alas, this technique would be incompatible with PW review length limits.

Maybe I’ll just switch to various smiley faces.

That sounds much more efficient!

One reviewer asked plaintively whether we could supply a list of substitutes. We could–but then everyone would use them and we’d have to issue another ban three months down the road. It makes much more sense to let each reviewer find their own gripping, unusual, and vibrant (or fascinating, standout, and heartstring-tugging) alternatives.

PW reviewers Adam Lipkin, Steven H Silver, Stefan Dziemanowicz, Michael Levy, and Vicki Borah Bloom contributed their wit and wisdom to this post.

PW Best Books 2013: ‘A Hero to Come Home To’ by Marilyn Pappano

Rose Fox -- October 25th, 2013

heroLeading up to the November 1st publication of PW’s Best Books of 2013, our reviews editors are blogging about some of their favorites from our top 100. Here’s the latest post:

I edit two sections of reviews: SF/fantasy/horror and romance/erotica. Both cover a lot of ground, and while my tastes are pretty broad and I deliberately read widely, I have particular favorite subgenres. One of the big challenges for me, when Best Books time comes around, is finding a selection of books that represent both my own tastes and the best of what those very large and diverse categories have to offer in a given year.

I admit I especially struggle with this when it comes to contemporary romance. Without fantasy worldbuilding or pretty historical clothes to distract me, the flaws in characters are often glaring. A lot of contemporary romance is set in small towns; I love big cities. A lot of contemporary romance doesn’t question or actively embraces elements of modern life that I have real problems with, such as heteronormativity, entrenched gender roles, and veneration of the military, while neglecting elements of modern life that I appreciate and enjoy, such as diversity of various kinds. Given this, every year I’m a bit trepidatious when I approach the contemporary romances that my reviewers have singled out as worthy of extra attention.

At a glance, Marilyn Pappano’s A Hero to Come Home To is the opposite of anything I’d ever read voluntarily. It’s a contemporary het romance set in a small Oklahoma town, and it’s got a strong military focus. But a closer look reveals some elements that caught my interest. The main characters are an army sergeant’s widow and a paratrooper who’s had a leg amputated; that suggests the author is taking a genuinely nuanced approach to the realities of military life, despite the blithe use of “hero” in the title. Also, I’ve both grieved the death of a partner and spent ten years coping with an intermittent physical disability. If Pappano could handle those issues well, I thought, this might be a book I’d find worth reading. I sat down and gave it a try.

By the end of it I was choked up with emotion. It’s extremely rare for a book to make me cry–I don’t remember the last one that did–but this came close.

Carly’s widowhood is handled really well. Her grief for her deceased husband, Jeff, is real, and so is her newfound passion for Dane. While contrasts are inevitably drawn between the two men, Pappano does a brilliant job of making them both worthy of Carly’s love. Dane is the one who feels like he doesn’t measure up to “perfect” Jeff, while Carly is happy to see Dane as “perfect” in his own way. I’ve read far too many romances where a past or deceased partner had to be tarnished in some way so that the hero could be The One; it gets tiresome, and isn’t true to life. Pappano doesn’t make that mistake. Carly has The Two, and that’s presented as entirely right and appropriate.

Dane’s efforts to adapt to one-legged life are likewise described in ways that rang true to me. He oscillates between trying to pretend he can still do everything he used to do and grudgingly admitting that he can’t. A lot of Dane’s self-image and self-esteem are wrapped up in physical ability, as were all his plans for work after leaving the military. He’s having to rebuild his life and psyche from the ground up. And since a prosthesis lets him walk around and otherwise hide the extent of his injury, he struggles with how and whether to reveal the truth to Carly–a revelation that carries an enormous weight of possible rejection, like any other coming-out. But whenever Dane risks becoming too obsessed with his own struggles, his growing affection for Carly helps him remember that there’s more to life than injury and recovery.

Pappano develops a full cast, laying the groundwork for future books while bringing the town of Tallgrass to life. It’s not at all a stereotypical small town, either. The bustling downtown area feels like a place where even this city kid would be happy to spend a few days. There’s plenty of racial diversity. Carly spends Tuesday evenings hanging out with other military widows, each of whom will presumably get her own second chance at love; a military widower, whose wife died after sustaining combat injuries, hangs around the outskirts of the group and wonders whether the ladies would welcome him. There are grieving widows and angry widows and secretly relieved widows, childless widows and a pregnant widow (a Russian woman who enjoys being fussed over by her Mexican husband’s family) and a widow raising her husband’s children from his first marriage, people living with children or parents or siblings or alone. There are well-off characters and poor characters, townies and ranchers, churchgoers and agnostics, alcoholics and non-drinkers, good-natured people and prickly people.

I was glad to see frank discussion of the toll that military service takes on servicemembers and their families, but would have liked mention of the toll that the American military takes on the inhabitants of Iraq and Afghanistan. Some openly gay characters would be terrific too. But while Pappano is clearly willing to push the boundaries of contemporary romance, she also has to take the mores of her readers into consideration. Much as this isn’t a typical book for me, I’m pretty sure that a queer New York City liberal who skipped high school classes to march in anti-war protests is not a typical reader for this book. And for writing this good–for emotions so vivid and real that they really do bring tears to my eyes–I’m willing to meet her halfway.

When I closed the book I found myself eager to spend more time with Carly’s crowd, even though I have very little in common with them. They’re all so lovable. Perhaps that’s because, in Pappano’s world, everyone is worthy of love. And isn’t that what romance novels are all about?

A review copy of the sequel, A Man to Hold on To, arrived at my office yesterday. I immediately grabbed it and took it home and devoured it. Not only has Pappano written a contemporary small-town military romance that I like, but she’s done it so well that the entire series is now on my must-read-right-away list. There’s no question that A Hero to Come Home To is one of 2013′s best books.

What to Read on Indigenous People’s Day

Rose Fox -- October 11th, 2013

walkingcloudsGiven that Christopher Columbus was a truly terrible person who was directly and indirectly responsible for the illness, injury, enslavement, and death of thousands (at minimum) of Taínos and other natives, many people now observe Indigenous People’s Day instead of Columbus Day, honoring the natives of the continent we now call North America (named after another European explorer because history is written by the victors). I started thinking about putting together a reading list for Indigenous People’s Day and realized that indigenous authors and characters are woefully scarce on my shelves, which primarily hold science fiction, fantasy, and horror.

I loved Charles De Lint’s Svaha and Andre Norton’s Fur Magic when I was a teen, but I suspect that if I reread them now I’d see the depiction of Native Americans as pretty stereotyped. I hear good things about A.C. Crispin’s StarBridge books, some of which have a Native American heroine, and C.E. Murphy’s Walker Papers urban fantasy novels starring a mixed-race shaman, but I haven’t read them myself. And when I look at the TOC of Grace L. Dillon’s Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction, I think the only contributor whose work I’ve read outside that anthology is the magnificent Nalo Hopkinson.

I also read romance, but I’ve yet to encounter a romance novel that depicts Native Americans or other indigenous peoples in anything like a respectful and true-to-life way. If you know of one, please tell me!

So my plan for Indigenous People’s Day is to read Walking the Clouds, see if I can find a copy of Stephen Graham Jones’s The Bird Is Gone, and do more research into speculative fiction by and about Native Americans. My reading may have been lacking up to this point, but it’s never too late to educate myself.

There are some great resources out there: Oyate, Cynthia Leitich Smith’s children’s and YA literature listipl2′s list of Native American authors, and SciFan’s list of 450 books in many genres with Native American themes (though of course there’s no guarantee that those books handle the subject matter well, so read with care). But general resources are no substitute for personal recommendations, so please leave a comment telling us about your favorite books by and about North American natives.

Triple Combo!

Rose Fox -- September 30th, 2013

Not content with mashing up two genres, some authors are combining three or more. These are the best I’ve seen recently.

Shapeshifters + romance + aquatic life = Someone to Cuttle by Luna Loupe

Cover image for "Someone to Cuttle".

Yes, that’s a cuttlefish shapeshifter romance. As far as I know this title is unrelated to Ally Blue’s infamous Eight Arms to Hold You, a novel of love between a man and a were-octopus.

Amish + vampires + science fiction = Amish Vampires in Space by Kerry Nietz

Cover image for "Amish Vampires in Space".

Navy SEALS + werewolves + romance = Hunter’s Heart by J.D. Tyler, part of the Alpha Pack series of Navy SEAL werewolf romances

Cover image for "Hunter's Heart".

Navy SEALs + werewolves + romance + Christmas = A SEAL Wolf Christmas by Terry Spear, part of another series of Navy SEAL werewolf romances

Cover image for "A SEAL Wolf Christmas".

I love those unabashed titles. Readers who pick up A SEAL Wolf Christmas or Amish Vampires in Space won’t have any doubt what they’re getting into. It’s clear the authors and publishers are having fun with these and not taking them too seriously.

What are your favorite triple-treat mash-ups?