It takes a certain brand of human to guide and focus the birth of thoughts and dreams, someone talented enough to pin characters, alive and squirming, onto the pages so the world can embrace them. A special link is formed between the author and the publisher, and if you’re lucky enough to have an editor who’s a perfectionist, dedicated, honest, and a compassionate friend, you’ve had an acceptance from Michael Barnette at Shadowfire Press and he’s introduced you to Helen Ravell.
Helen, welcome. Thank you for sharing your time, yourself, with us today. What are the most common reasons a sci-fi romance novel is rejected?
For Shadowfire, the most common reason we reject is if the story is just not engaging enough. Shadowfire has a strong commitment to quality plots first and foremost. Some issues of craft can be worked on, but if the plot is not there, nothing can be done. Another, related problem, especially in sci-fi, is too much world building and back story, especially at the start of the story. World building is great, but not at the expense of the plot or characterization.
What are the biggest mistakes new authors make?
Submitting a story before it has been thoroughly redrafted and polished. This can apply not only to technical aspects of language, but in Science Fiction particularly, it is easy to get into a tangle where aspects of the world are inconsistent. Another problem is making sure that the protagonist and antagonist have roughly equal power. If you want to pit your characters against each other, as you should, you don’t want the power imbalance to be so obviously out that your character wanders into Mary Sueism. The writer’s best friend is a critique reader who is NOT their best friend. You have to find someone who is prepared to say...”No, this doesn’t work, and no, you are not going to get away with it.”
What do you look for in a sci-fi submission?
Apart from that engaging plot, we want characters that we can relate to. I want to be able to feel their triumphs and tragedies, hurt when they hurt, laugh when they laugh. And in Sci-fi I want that to happen in a new world which at the same time makes me reflect on human nature as I know it. What grabs your attention, makes you sit up and want to read more?
I want to read more when the author presents me with a puzzle...why are these people here? What do they want out of life? What personal characteristics do they need to survive in this strange land? And once I have asked all this questions, I want to find out the answers with a fast paced read that grips me with all showing and no telling. Sci-fi is an action format and the text and style have to be active.
How far do you read into a submission before you know if the novel is right for you?
I can usually tell by the first three chapters but unless it is woefully badly written, I do the author the courtesy of a complete read.
Tell me about a few of your favorite SFP science fiction romances. What really stood out in these stories that made them unique?
I love Gwen Campbell’s new series beginning with As My Warrior Commands.
# # #There is a fiery, independent woman who knows what she wants…and isn’t about to let any strutting male stop her from getting it.
Sibyls are old crones. Everybody knows that. So what's a warrior supposed to think when a beautiful young woman turns up in the middle of a siege, says she's a sibyl, predicts the downfall of a kingdom and tells him he's going there with her to prevent it? He does what any hot-blooded warrior would do. He follows the woman. She's intelligent, brave, can see the future, has an ass he can't stop staring at and she knows how to make him laugh. What he doesn't know is that the sibyls have predicted the downfall of the Kingdom of Jareb-Phar if a young sibyl enters their throne room. What they don't know is if her arrival will be coincidental or cause the kingdom's fall. The only thing the warrior does know for sure is that beneath his beautiful, young sibyl's discipline is a woman as lusty and wanton as he is.
# # #
I also like Nina Croft’s Tiger of Talmare, it’s funny and fast paced and hot.
# # #Melissa Stark will take on just about any job as long as the price is right. But this particular job she would gladly take on for free because Captain Zachary Knight has been a thorn in her side ever since she stole his starship ten years ago.
Back then he was a genuine hero and poster boy for the army's hybrid breeding program. Now things have changed. Zach has been accused of a massacre on the planet of Talmare and is being shipped home to stand trial. But certain influential people want to make sure Zach never reaches Earth and Mel and her crew on The Revenge have been hired to intercept him and return him to Talmare.
It should have been easy money. The problem is, Zach is impossible to resist and once Mel gets her hands on him she's doesn't want to let him go. Now those same people are also after Mel.
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What is SFP looking for now? What kinds of submissions would you like to see pop up in your e-queries? Anything you’re dying to see more of? Steampunk? Futuristic? Space Opera? Any dream novels?
I think Steam Punk is going to keep growing so of course we’d like to see more of that. Personally, I love the submissions that are a little off centre, where the author presents me with something unexpected but very interesting (I recommend Arlene Webb’s Rebel if you want to see something very different. The entire Shadowfire editing staff sat up and paid attention when it crossed our desk.)
Would you like to share a little history concerning SFP?
Shadowfire Press started over two years ago, when Michael Barnette and Auburnimp, saddened by the closure of another publisher, decided to start up their own publishing company. I was pleased when they asked me to be their editor and I particularly liked their dedication to presenting good stories across a wide range of genres. We have, over the two years developed a strong group of in-house authors who cover romance, fantasy, paranormal, science fiction and horror. We have m/f, f/f, m/m, shapeshifters, faeries and weres.
The company continues to grow with the support of our readers and our wonderful authors and we intend to be around for a very long time.
Wonderful. With the dedication to quality plot, determination to get more and more new voices out there, we’re glad the crew at SFP is committed to the business, the fun of the written word. Thank you, very much, for taking time out of your busy life, Helen.