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Welcome, New Subscribers!

I guess you're here for the skinny on how I sold my short story "Go, Space Racer!" to Playboy Magazine. (March/April 2018 issue on newsstands nationwide February 27th!) So let's get right to it.

The saga begins on June 2, 2016, when my literary agent tweeted this...

Turns out he'd gotten email from an editor at Playboy who had been reading my debut novel, Waypoint Kangaroo. (The novel was not out yet, but my publisher had distributed some advance reading copies for reviews and promotional purposes.) The editor said she was enjoying the book and would consider publishing any new short fiction I had.

Reader, I sent them a story that afternoon.

And then didn't hear anything.

Here's the thing about short fiction markets: not all of them will explicitly reject your work when you submit it. Some will simply "time out" after a while, and they may or may not tell you how long that is. Most also don't accept simultaneous submissions, so you have to wait for one market to reject your story before sending it to another.

My personal policy is to withdraw a piece after it's been with any market for a full year. Many markets will tell you how long to wait for a response before giving up, but some can be slow for various reasons. The thing to keep in mind is that it's never personal. Editors are busy, and short fiction is a buyer's market.

So I withdrew that first story a year later, in June of 2017, and moved on. I had a new novel to promote and other stories to write.
 

CUT TO:

Last December 7th, I got an email from Sam with the subject line "Call for SF/futuristic short stories." This was a bit unusual, since he (like most literary agents) generally only represents novel-length works.

This time, Playboy's fiction editor--the same editor who had enjoyed Waypoint Kangaroo the year before--was looking for a piece to publish on a quick turnaround. (I don't know the actual circumstances, but various mishaps can force an editor to scramble to find content. Everybody has deadlines.)

I had a science fiction story that had been sitting in a small press anthology's submission queue for a few months at that point, and I figured what the hell, this was a better market, even if it was a long shot. Playboy doesn't accept unsolicited fiction submissions, so I didn't have many opportunities for them to even consider my work.

More importantly, I didn't hold a grudge from my previous story submission experience. This is the job. Writing and publishing can be weird sometimes.

Anyway, I withdrew this new story from the anthology (that editor was very understanding) and sent it off to Sam.

One week later, Sam emailed me to say "Playboy wants to publish your short story!"

That was a great result. And a fast response. But wait, it gets even better!

This was our subsequent conversation (paraphrased):

Sam: This is the first short story I've ever sold for an author! They're offering [REDONKULOUS AMOUNT OF MONEY]. Sweet, right?

me: Dude. That is way above and beyond SFWA pro rates for short fiction.

Sam: I know! I still asked them for more money cause agent.

me: whut

Sam: Wait for it...

(an hour and a half later)

Sam: The editor went up to [25% ABOVE ORIGINAL OFFER]. Shall I accept?

me: YES. TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN.
I have no idea what he said to them, but best agent is best.

(I've redacted the figures above because I'm actually embarrassed to say how much they paid. But if you meet me at a convention and get me drunk enough, I'll be happy to make you hate me.)

The Moral of the Story

I started writing "Go, Space Racer!" way back in July of 2014. It was my week 2 story at the Clarion West writers workshop, and our instructor that week, Kij Johnson, had great insights on how to improve that original, 4,100-word version. I continued working on the story after CW, taking it to two other critique groups and making several major revisions along the way.

By the time it comes out next month, it will have taken this this 6,000-word story almost four years to get from first draft to publication. For comparison: my second novel, Kangaroo Too, took less than two years--first draft started in November 2015, published in June 2017. And that was 101,000 words long. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Writing fiction is the most challenging and most rewarding thing I've ever done. Just to put that in perspective, some of the more challenging things I've done in my life include graduating from Stanford University with a degree in computer science, working as a web applications engineer at Google, and founding a nonprofit organization that runs monthly puzzle events for thousands of players around the world.

And yeah, even compared to all that, writing a good story that people want to read is incredibly difficult. But it's worth all the work, all the waiting, and all the heartache of wondering whether the art that you've poured your heart and soul into will ever be seen by others. It's worth it when you finally succeed, no matter how long it takes.

Most challenging and most rewarding thing I've ever done.

It just takes a little patience. Takes a little time. A little perseverance, and a little uphill climb...

You know what? Just listen to the song below. And then, once you've wiped that single tear from your eye, get back to work.

"Shaving cream?"
Copyright © 2018 Curtis C. Chen, All rights reserved.


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