Why We Published…Susan Forest’s Immunity to Strange Tales

From the Desk of Robert Runte

I try to keep on top of developments in the Canadian SF community, and had noticed that Susan Forest was being published in the major short story markets: Analog, Tesseracts, AE Science Fiction Review and so on. Then she won first place in The Galaxy Project a major contest judged by Robert Silverberg, David Drake and Barry Malzberg. That certainly got my attention. Even though I hadn’t had a chance to read her work myself, that was enough to suggest she might be someone we would be interested in approaching.

Susan Forest

The difficulty, of course, is finding the time to read anything that isn’t already sitting in my “in” basket. I am not about to make an offer on a book I haven’t read, so had to find some way of sitting down and assessing whether I actually liked Susan’s writing. I was therefore delighted to discover that she was scheduled to read from her work at the first When Words Collide conference (Calgary, Alberta). Here was my chance to hear first hand whether Susan Forest was an author I wanted for Five Rivers.

After hearing her read her latest story (which was brilliant: funny and clever), I knew that she was. She also presented well, which is important because publishers are looking for authors who can interview well, who can be counted on to act professionally, and so on. In other words, someone we could work with. I approached her immediately after her reading to ask if she’d consider a collection of her short stories.

She was, I think, somewhat taken aback because she knew (everybody knows) short story collections don’t sell. But at Five Rivers we take a longer view, and knew that when Susan finally finished her novel, readers would want to read more by her, and having a conveniently packaged collection available would be more attractive than tracking down individual stories in back issues of various magazines. And we believe in developing writers, so identifying and promoting authors before they become huge is part of what we do. (Of course, we hope that they will choose to become huge with us.)

So the moral of this story is: do not hesitate to do public readings if you have published stories to read. There were, I recall, fewer than half a dozen others in attendance at Susan’s reading, but quality, not quantity is what’s important in an audience: you never know who is listening and who might be an editor, an agent, a publisher, a reviewer, or just someone who has the ear of one of those.

Or, alternatively, the moral is that you sell your novel by building your reputation in short story markets.