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How Tolkien´s Taters Earned My First Sale
by Steff Green
For many years I've dabbled in science fiction and fantasy short stories. In 2006 I decided to attempt to sell my creations, and I began the laborious submission/rejection process. A year went by and I made no sales.
In the midst of the Lord of the Rings movie madness, I joined the New Zealand J.R.R. Tolkien society. The society published an annual journal of writings about Tolkien and his work. Inspired by a university paper I'd taken – the Archaeology of Food – I wrote an essay for this journal about Tolkien's descriptions of the food eaten by hobbits; where this food came from and what Tolkien's descriptions revealed about his themes and characters. I had great fun with the essay, re-reading The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings and noting every mention of food or beer. I researched the history of potatoes, soup and Coney, and looked at Tolkien's ideas of the hobbits as nostalgic English yeoman.
I submitted the article to the magazine and it was accepted. Unfortunately, Lord of the Rings madness faded and the society cancelled publication of the journal. My lovely hobbit food article languished on my hard drive.
In 2007 I resumed my pursuit of publication. More short stories returned to my inbox, unwanted and unloved. I remembered the hobbit article, and wondered if any publication would consider it.
I researched essay markets, literature magazines, food publications, Tolkien publications and other random markets. I sent out my queries, and the rejections came in –"it's too academic," "it's not academic enough," "too long," "too short," "not enough about food," "not enough about Tolkien." I didn't think I'd ever sell it.
Suddenly, a lightbulb went off in my head. What about readers of Science Fiction and Fantasy? They love anything Tolkien – maybe they'd enjoy this article. I dragged out my list of SFF pro markets; sure enough, many accepted non-fiction essays. I sent off another round of queries, certain this time I had the right idea.
Within a month my first round returned with rejections, although many with positive comments. Strange Horizons magazine didn't reply at all. I checked their website for response times and queried again, thinking it couldn't hurt to ask if they'd received the article.
They hadn't. Something had happened to my email. Not to worry, they took another look, and within a week I had a contract for the article. The editor loved my ideas and thought his readers would get a kick out of them, too. They paid me $50 and published "Well-Stocked Larders: The Food and Diet of Hobbits" in their webzine on 11 February, 2008. You can see that article here: http://www.strangehorizons.com/2008/20080211/green-a.shtml
Strange Horizons is a SFF pro-market, widely recognised in SFF circles for their quality fiction and non-fiction. Having a credit from Strange Horizons opened doors for me at other publications, and at last I sold a couple of short stories. I even sold a second article to Strange Horizons, and I'm writing my third at the moment.
You can never predict where your work will end up. Don't be afraid to submit outside the box – if it wasn't for my offbeat thinking I never would have made this first sale.
© Copyright 2008, Steff Green
Steff Green is a freelance writer and braille producer living in New Zealand. Her work appears in Abilities Magazine, Writing World, Vision, Funds For Writers, Writer Within, Nocturne Magazine, Breath and Shadow and Mindflights, among others. You can view her website at http://steffgreen.com
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