Personal Essay: WHAT HAPPENED NEXT by S. L. Huang
Hello friends! We made it to 75% this morning - HOORAY. The countdown continues, and with just 8 days left, we still need to raise another $4,038 so let's keep signal boosting to make it happen!
Today, we have a very special guest: S.L. Huang, the author of "Hunting Monsters", the very first short story we published back in 2014, talking about What Happened Next. Without further ado:
What Happened Next
I’m about as busy as it’s possible to be this month, buried in edits for my debut coming out next year with Tor -- which will become relevant down the page! -- but it was REALLY important to me to find time to write this essay. Because: (1) the Book Smugglers have made an incredible difference in my career, and (2) they’re fucking awesome.
For those who don’t know me, I self-published my first novel in 2014. It got some good reviews, but it wasn’t an instant success or anything. Later that same year, I saw the Book Smugglers’ first call for short stories.
I’ve always been a long-form writer, and I’d never written a short story in my life. But I already loved the Book Smugglers as a review site, and I thought they were such a positive voice in the SFF community. Plus, their themed call was just so cool that I thought, I have to submit.
I wrote a story that had many elements close to my heart -- queer women and immigrants and parents and children. Oh, and also women with rifles and fairy tale remixing and characters who have to make painful decisions. “Hunting Monsters” was the first short story I ever wrote, and the Book Smugglers were the first and only market I submitted to. When I got the acceptance from Ana and Thea, I think I screamed.
Little did I know that was only the beginning. There’s a refrain in SF publishing lately: short stories don’t make money. Short stories don’t help your career. But the exact opposite has been true for me.
The Book Smugglers had already paid me pro rates for “Hunting Monsters.” But then they did so much more, diving into innovation to explore the digital space of publishing. They released my short story as an ebook with the most gorgeous cover imaginable and with additional nonfiction content from me, and then they promoted the heck out of it. I was stunned. Authors I’d respected for years were reading my story and tweeting about it. I ended up on multiple people’s award recommendation lists. I got fan mail. And not only did I end up with royalties on top of what they’d already paid me -- frankly an embarrassing amount of royalties for a story that was also free online -- but my self-published novel sales also spiked with the story release, more than I’ve had happen from any other short fiction publication since.
Every month the Book Smugglers seemed to be exploring something new -- an online store selling products with the cover art, an anthology of the first season’s stories, plans for a sequel… which we published the following year to similarly good reviews (“Fighting Demons”). We’ll be wrapping up the storyline with a novella coming to you in the very near future! But that wasn’t the end of the story. Far from it.
Remember how I mentioned at the top of this essay that I’m in edits on my debut novel from Tor? Well. That’s part of this story, too. Shortly after “Hunting Monsters” was published, I got an email from a reputable agent who’d read it and wanted to see what else I might have for her (what!). She wasn’t interested in my already-self-published work, but she wanted any new novel I would write. I also got an email from a very well-known SF publisher (DOUBLE what!), also having read “Hunting Monsters,” also asking about any new work I might have going on.
OH DEAR LORD. I needed to write more books! Fast forward to this year. I had four books in my self-published series out and a few more short stories under my belt, and I was working on those mythical “new books” the interested agents (now plural!) wanted to see from me. And then, BANG -- I got some movie interest in my self-published series, emergency queried agents, and landed the most awesome agent ever who landed me the most awesome deal ever with Tor Books for my self-published novels.
And “Hunting Monsters” again came up then. Because some of those high-powered agents and editors I was talking to? Had read it and had already heard of me. Not only that, but I was able to note having been longlisted for the Campbell Award as an achievement when querying, and my Campbell eligibility came from… once again, “Hunting Monsters.”
I love working with the Book Smugglers. They’re lovely people -- super reliable, competent, and approachable with any questions I have -- and are also fantastic editors. They’re not afraid to address thorny issues in editing, either, and I’m so, so grateful for that. For instance, I made what in retrospect I realized was an error in my portrayal of genderqueer mermaids in The Little Homo Sapiens Scientist, and Ana and Thea brought it up in editing even though I’m genderqueer myself. I shudder to think if they hadn’t caught it or had been unwilling to talk to me about it. Not only do their edits always make my work better, but they have my back in making sure it’s saying exactly what I want it to.
Oh, yeah, did I mention they’ve also published my novelette The Little Homo Sapiens Scientist in a new initiative that was a limited-edition print run? They’re always experimenting, pushing out into new ways a small press can succeed. I love it.
The Book Smugglers are part of the future of SFF publishing. I don’t know how they have enough time in a day to do everything they do -- but I couldn’t be happier that they’re taking over the world. And I can’t wait to see other authors get the same boost from publishing with them that they’ve given me.
If you help them punch up to the next level with the Kickstarter, you’ll be helping make the SFF field that much more awesome.
SL Huang is an Amazon-bestselling author who justifies her MIT degree by using it to write eccentric mathematical superhero fiction. Her debut novel, Zero Sum Game, is upcoming from Tor, and her short fiction has sold to Analog, Nature, and The Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy 2016. She is also a Hollywood stuntwoman and firearms expert, with credits including “Battlestar Galactica” and “Top Shot.” Follow her online at www.slhuang.com or on Twitter as @sl_huang.