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Alternate History General Discussion

MAC161

Well-known member
Published by SLP
Location
WI, USA
As was noted in this SLP interview, Inklings Press does some AH short fiction. I've seen AH stories appear in several pro-rate sf magazines such as Clarkesworld, Asimov's and Analog, although the competition for pro-rate short fiction is obviously pretty stiff.

Although I'd add a cautionary tale that despite listing themselves as open to AH, there's still plenty of markets which don't really get it. Without naming any names, I recently had a polite rejection for an AH short story for an anthology which described itself as open to AH. They included their slush reader feedback - which complained that my story didn't reflect the history of the country it was set in, without realising that it was alternate history. The lesson I took from that was to make the divergences much, much more explicit and obvious when writing for an audience outside of the AH online subculture.
Yeah, I submitted to Asimov's once, and no luck. Of course, it was an earlier, REALLY crappy version of Red Delta, so this was for the best, in the end.

Of these three, which have been the most open to short AH in your experience? And are there other such outfits that might accept it under the broader SF label?
 
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Jared

fatal softener
Published by SLP
Location
Over the rainbow
Yeah, I submitted to Asimov's once, and no luck. Of course, it was an earlier, REALLY crappy version of Red Delta, so this was for the best, in the end.

Of these three, which have been the most open to short AH in your experience? And are there other such outfits that might accept it under the broader SF label?
The acceptance rates for pro-rate magazines like those three are generally under 1%. So while they're open to AH, any story is going to have to be spectacular to make the cut.

In terms of their openness to accepting AH, Clarkesworld have shown some - one of their stories won the 2014 Sidewise Award for short fiction, and they've had at least one other nomination. But AH is not their dominant subgenre or anything, it's just that they accept them occasionally.

Analog do similar things, and they've noted that their next issue (July/August 2021, which of course is coming in June) includes a Space Age alternate history - I expect that Apple TV's current series has some inspiration for that.

Edit: But given the hit rate for the pro magazines, I'm seriously just considering putting a short story collection together myself and self-publishing it. That would include a couple of stories which started life as vignettes here, but more which aren't. (A few AH ones in there, but more which aren't, so it'd be a stretch to pitch it to SLP.)
 

Skinny87

You Say Feudal/I Say Futile
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@Jared your post is an increasingly-common view amongst authors I'm seeing online. Self-publishing just doesn't have that stigma any more, and can at least be controlled fully by the author.

And while advertising can be difficult and payment low, the same can be said for pro magazine sales it seems
 

Jared

fatal softener
Published by SLP
Location
Over the rainbow
The payment rates for pro magazines aren’t low. Pro rates means at least 8 cents (US) per word (SWFA minimum) and the best ones these days are around 10 cents. So a pro rate sale of, say, a 4000 word short would earn a tidy $400 US, plus all the exposure and reputational boosts that come with that (that helps most if one has a backlist off other titles, since some readers who like the short story will usually move on to other works by that author)

Without wanting to turn this into an off-topic tangent about the relative merits of self-publishing versus trad publishing, there are plenty of successful indie authors who make a very good full-time living from self-publishing. But they run it as a business, which means getting professional cover design (unless one has real graphical talents), professional editing and proofing, and most importantly, marketing.

The reality is that except for a handful of big names and the initial publicity burst (which shouldn’t be underestimated), most traditionally published authors have to do most of their own marketing anyway. Self-publishing properly means that the author pays for the initial publication costs as per above, but keeps a much, much larger share of the profits (ie all of them, except where royalty sharing with audiobook narrators and the like).

Self-publishing can of course be done badly and cheaply (ie an unedited tome which lacks structure and is full of grammatical errors and typos), but done properly is another matter.
 

Jared

fatal softener
Published by SLP
Location
Over the rainbow
This is the really bastardly part of self-publishing (and small-press publishing), far as I can tell.
Marketing takes work, but is doable for someone who wants to take the time to learn. I'm a member of a couple of Facebook writers groups who are very good at explaining how to learn. Some of it costs $$$$, but some of it is cheaper (a lot of authors are building a social media presence on TikTok, for example, which has considerably increased their sales).

But a key consideration is the size of the market that an author is aiming for. AH exists as a market - witness the number of authors who have self-published in that field - but sales are concentrated in certain types of AH and dealing with particular time periods. AHs with a military slant dealing with alternate WW2s or near-WW2s are quite popular, judging by the most highly-ranked self-published AHs on Amazon, and how Festung Europa and the Drakes Drum series are among the best-selling of all SLP titles. But even in those fields, the AH market is dwarfed by some other kinds of spec fic - space opera and urban fantasy, for example - and those in turn are dwarfed by the overall size of the romance market (though that also has a lot of subgenres, some of which sell better than others).
 

ChrisNuttall

Active member
Marketing takes work, but is doable for someone who wants to take the time to learn. I'm a member of a couple of Facebook writers groups who are very good at explaining how to learn. Some of it costs $$$$, but some of it is cheaper (a lot of authors are building a social media presence on TikTok, for example, which has considerably increased their sales).

But a key consideration is the size of the market that an author is aiming for. AH exists as a market - witness the number of authors who have self-published in that field - but sales are concentrated in certain types of AH and dealing with particular time periods. AHs with a military slant dealing with alternate WW2s or near-WW2s are quite popular, judging by the most highly-ranked self-published AHs on Amazon, and how Festung Europa and the Drakes Drum series are among the best-selling of all SLP titles. But even in those fields, the AH market is dwarfed by some other kinds of spec fic - space opera and urban fantasy, for example - and those in turn are dwarfed by the overall size of the romance market (though that also has a lot of subgenres, some of which sell better than others).
A lot really depends on just what you're doing. Books that are really nothing more than timelines - like Look To The West - have a very limited market, while novels tend to do better as they draw in readers of other fiction (war, detective, etc). Invasion of 1950 drew in a lot of readers of mil-fic even as they scoffed at the AH itself.

Chris
 

Charles EP M.

Well-known member
Published by SLP
Though Drake's Drum and Festung Europa are timelines, which isn't stopping them selling because WW2-but-different timelines are more commercial than a number of narrative tales that aren't WW2.
 

Coiler

Connoisseur of the Miscellaneous
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Nu Yawk
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On a semi-related note, I've found that both outright World War IIIs and Larry Bond-style "big war thriller" novels in general almost always have to be either around World War II or contemporary in some fashion to attract any kind of mainstream audience whatsoever.

Walt Gragg's The Red Line is what I've brought up a lot of times before as my go-to example with its clumsily shoehorning a Cold War gone hot into a "contemporary" setting. It's fairly easy to make a missile-age war a contemporary one, particularly if you know the audience won't mind/will overlook the technical inaccuracies.
 

lordroel

Well-known member
I remember reading a t.l. j.f.k lives everly president that succeeded j.f.k. was a realistic possibility then almost towards the end Elvis Presley becomes president of the united states.
If Reagan a actor can become president, why not Elvis.
 

Coiler

Connoisseur of the Miscellaneous
Published by SLP
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Nu Yawk
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One of my divergences has Alien being made in the TL under its original working title, Starbeast, and (as could easily have happened) being just a throwaway monster movie. Giger didn't participate in making the (much less memorable) monster because he was too busy designing the interior of a bizarre Atlantic City casino[1].

[1]One of my Smithtown concepts was setting the thriller inside such a weird casino, and I still want to use that location for something. How could you not?
 

Time Enough

"Enthusiastic Cis Male Partner"
Pronouns
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One of my divergences has Alien being made in the TL under its original working title, Starbeast, and (as could easily have happened) being just a throwaway monster movie. Giger didn't participate in making the (much less memorable) monster because he was too busy designing the interior of a bizarre Atlantic City casino[1].

[1]One of my Smithtown concepts was setting the thriller inside such a weird casino, and I still want to use that location for something. How could you not?
Only partially related but I see the original draft of Alien being set in a universe where Eric Varley or Peter Shore becomes Prime Minister and after leaving the EEC a trade deal between Britain and Japan eventually leads to the merger of Leyland and Toyota.
 

Coiler

Connoisseur of the Miscellaneous
Published by SLP
Location
Nu Yawk
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A weird sports example of "how the pop-culture Great Man Decision comes apart when the more complex truth involving wider economic factors is shown" comes from the sale of Babe Ruth. The story of "Frazee wanted to do a play, so he tossed Ruth to the Yankees, cue mega-title drought[1]" is misleading. As this article shows, the owner had legitimate money problems and Ruth wasn't the only player he sold/traded off in that way. The bulk of the first Yankees championship team in 1923 was made up of ex-Red Sox.


[1]Of course, that narrative would also have been stopped if the Red Sox had actually won any of their four World Series that went the distance..
 

Gary Oswald

Old and Foolish now
Sea Lion Press staff
Published by SLP
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Re-reading the (only slightly AH) essay in What If? about the Kokoda Trail campaign, I was reminded of this work, and was wondering if anyone had recommendations for or against it, as well as on any other works dealing with Australia/Oceania in WWII or in general.
I mean, I would remiss at this point to not point you to Sea Lion Press's anthology of AH stories about Australia, though the only story set in wwII is set in europe.
 
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