Writing & successfully finding your audience
I’ve been evaluating eslush (unsolicited manuscripts sent via the internet) for Baen and the manuscripts can range from exciting (rare gems) to middling (about 1/3) to “needs a lot of work” (most).
Two of the last come immediately to mind; the first managed to utilize every single fantasy cliche in the first sentence– something I still haven’t figured out how the author managed to do!. The other had the protagonist explaining to a vampire why he goes around killing vampires for a chapter and a half. My response was “please tell this author it would be better for her to remain a screenwriter” because it read more as a screenplay than an urban paranormal novel.
Avoiding cliches is important because it means an author hasn’t found their own voice and is sliding into the “easy” solution to writing their story. Readers want something different yet slightly familiar that will pull them into a new world; Larry Correia took all of the supernatural creatures that threaten mankind and then added hunters with a larger armamentarium that outstrips any war in existence in his Monster Hunter International series.
For authors interested in military sf/fantasy, I recommend reading as many books published by Baen as possible; they have an incredible selection of authors who spent time in the various branches of the military. I would also like to suggest reading them but doing separate research so the aspiring author has a greater understanding of how both the military works as well as knowing the artillery and each weapon works within the laws of physics.David Weber’s Hell Hath No Fury is an example of how military works versus magical weapons, and his ability to create a seamless tapestry that melds them together.
Research is important so a story has its facts correct when based in Earth history, especially when writing alternative history so the facts kept are correct. But the author needs to make sure the story is woven properly for the discerning reader (like me; my degree is in History), yet the science fiction/fantasy parts pull the reader into the world and keep the reader’s attention.
It’s your story, and your world and finding ways to pulling readers into what you write is a large task, but knowing the steps to make your story more real requires research and putting life into the parts that are pure fantasy to catch the reader’s attention. Just remember that when your baby finds its way into the editorial process, keep your mind open and understand that the job of an editor is to find what sells and to help polish your gem until it shines.