Mike Resnick and Barry N. Malzberg, The Business of $cience Fiction: Two Insiders Discuss Writing and Publishing

This review was written by Faith J. Cormier.

The Business of $cience Fiction: Two Insiders Discuss Writing and Publishing is a collection of essays from “The Resnick/Malzberg Dialogues,” a regular feature of the SFWA Bulletin. (The SFWA is the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.) It’s another excellent example of WYSIWYG in the area of titles, because this is exactly what you get, a discussion of the business of writing and publishing science fiction by two experts in the field, for other authors and would-be authors.

Mike Resnick has, according to Locus’ list, won more awards for short fiction than any other science fiction writer, living or dead. He has been a published writer since the age of 15, writing prolifically in the “adult” and science fiction fields. He has also edited numerous anthologies.

Barry N. Malzberg is also a prolific writer of both novels and short stories. He has written in a number of areas besides science fiction, notably crime fiction. He worked for the Scott Meredith Literary Agency for many years.

Resnick and Malzberg have a lot in common, including their long, prolific careers and experience in multiple genres. They are also nearly the same age. At the same time, they manage to have very different opinions about most things. It’s almost as good as a familiar comedy routine. Resnick says something positive, or at least hopeful, and Malzberg points out the holes in his argument and the ways in which his own experience is the opposite of Resnick’s. I don’t know what the reason is for that. Perhaps one is a half-full kind of guy and the other a half-empty type. Perhaps working for a literary agency sours a person. Perhaps once you’ve made a living writing soft-core porn almost anything looks better. It could even be a literary device in which they deliberately take opposing positions no matter what their actual opinions are, but that sounds like cheating to me.

The 26 articles in this volume are divided into three sections: “Writing and Selling,” which is mainly about markets, “The Business,” which is mainly about professionalism, and “The Field,” which is mainly about recent changes in the science fiction publishing. (I’m oversimplifying here, but not much, and there’s lots of solid material about each of these subjects.)

Though occasionally depressing, The Business of $cience Fiction is a good introduction to publishing for someone who is ready to go to the next stage, someone who can actually put a subject and a predicate in the same sentence and now needs to figure out how to get published. I think the depressing aspects are deliberate. Both authors feel that the industry as it is now structured is exploiting “The Clueless,” as two chapters are titled, all the wannabees who haven’t the foggiest idea how to be professional writers, even though they may have the talent for it. While I’m sure there are plenty of differences among genres, most of their advice would apply to beginners in any field of writing.

One thing would really have improved The Business of $cience Fiction, though. I wish McFarland had included the original date of publication of each essay. Because they’re arranged by broad topic instead of chronologically, it’s impossible to track any evolution in the authors’ positions, or in the marketplace, over time. Did nothing happen in ten years to change either’s opinion about anything? I don’t believe that, but I can’t tell which essay represents what they think now as opposed to what they thought in 2005. A couple of the essays do mention when they were written, but most do not.

This tiny quibble aside, I recommend the book strongly.

(McFarland, 2010)

About Robert Tilendis

Robert M. Tilendis lives a deceptively quiet life. He has made money as a dishwasher, errand boy, legal librarian, arts administrator, shipping expert, free-lance writer and editor, and probably a few other things he’s tried very hard to forget about. He has also been a student of history, art, theater, psychology, ceramics, and dance. Through it all, he has been an artist and poet, just to provide a little stability in his life. Along about January of every year, he wonders why he still lives someplace as mundane as Chicago; it must be that he likes it there.

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