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To Sub or Not to Sub

I went back and did a survey of my sales by year, and I found that they really gained traction about five years ago. Before that they’d been hit and miss for several years, some years not recording any sales at all. I’d always heard that if one keeps hacking away at writing, eventually you will reach a point where everything you write (more or less) will sell, and that’s when you’ve made it. I haven’t reached that point by any means, but I am doing better. So, I ask myself, why is that?

Apart from the obvious reason that I’ve finally learned something about writing, I think the greatest reason is the market. When I started way, way back, there were three SF/fantasy markets that I was aware of. This number varied a little, but not much. It was like television before cable came along. Now there are hundreds of markets available, and most of them pay money. It is a boom time, balanced by the fact that there are so many talented writers out there, which is why it is still hard to publish at professional rates.

There’s also the fact that I have more stories to offer now. (Ironically, the more I sell the fewer I have to offer.) But keeping all of these plates in the air is a constant juggling act, because each one of those hundreds of markets has different needs, editorial viewpoints, length requirements, payment rates, and submission windows. Do they take multiple or simultaneous submissionsDo they take reprints? If they do, how old must the reprint be? Can it be available elsewhere? If it’s a podcast, do I still own the audio rights? If the story has only been podcast, will another magazine pay for first print rights?

Whew.

For the most part, this is simply a matter of keeping an updated spreadsheet. My is date-ordered, with a growing number of colors indicating current submissions, sales, simultaneous submissions, potential submissions… In addition I keep a separate list of stories current on submission as a back-up. Accidentally sim-subbing to a market that doesn’t accept simultaneous submissions are very embarrassing (and we’ve all done it). But scheduling is easy. The hard part is determining which of your stories is suitable for which of the markets you’re looking at.

And oddly enough, I’ve noticed that part of my success has been in selling to markets that  I really didn’t think were looking for that story. Every market has its preferences, sometimes laid out in great detail, sometimes set forth with maddening vagueness. You have to try to figure out what should go where, because there’s no faster road to rejection than, say, sending sword-and-sorcery to Analog. It’s a waste of everyone’s time.

And yet, most of them will tell you that if a story even remotely fits their guidelines, you should send it in, because you never know what an editor needs at that moment. Sometimes they will even bend (or break!) their own rules for a story they love. This is why so many times a writer can sell a story that has been rejected 30 times. I can tell you from personal experience this is true, and it is one of the reasons for my recent successes, because I have become less shy about pushing the envelope. I have learned that, “Hey, it might work…” is a good enough reason to try. Sometimes it doesn’t work–more than sometimes. But occasionally you hit paydirt where you weren’t expecting to, and it’s even more satisfying than the usual sale, because you know that the editor must have loved your work to bend his own rules.

Don’t get me wrong, I will always try the places I think are the best fit first. But SF and fantasy are the literature that thinks outside the box, and ofttimes you have to think that way too, just to get it to your readers at all.

#SFWApro

Introducing a new feature at GotWoT: “News of the Day,” inspired solely by the fact that I have news today. The beauty of this new feature is that it saves me the trouble of coming up with new headers all the time.

First, my story “Like a Cat,” is available for immediate sale today in the anthology Coppice & Brake, from Crone Girls Press. Horror is rather a departure for me, but I like to think that a good writer isn’t confined to a single genre, so I shouldn’t be, either. If you buy the book and like the stories, please consider leaving a review on your favorite review site.

Second, I just signed a contract for a new story, “One Out of Three Ain’t Dead,” to appear in a future issue of the new magazine, Hybrid Fiction. This isn’t horror–unless  you’re the protagonist, who’s having a horrible time dealing with the memories of his ex-girlfriend which are literally haunting him. All he wants is a nice massage to help him forget his troubles; he wasn’t expecting to witness a murder, or what happened next…

So, how are you spending your time at home?

Time on Our Hands

In the joint spirit of irony I have to point out that my latest published story was in an anthology entitled Alternative Apocalypse, which came out late last year. They say “art imitates life,” but in this case, unfortunately, science fiction seems to have fulfilled its function of predicting the future..

What’s truly unfortunate is that SF didn’t predict what comes next. We’re all sheltering in place, wondering where to buy groceries (or even if it’s safe to do so), uncertain when we can reconnect with our friends and families. Many of us don’t know if we’ll have a job when this is all over, or even if our place of business will still exist.

I’m lucky; I can work from home, which at least gives me something to do for eight hours a day. And you’d think, since I’m stuck at home, I could spend a lot more time writing. In fact, you’d think that all of your favorite authors could spend a lot more time writing. What a time to be a reader! In a few months, there will be more books out there than anyone anticipated.

Or not. If you’re a writer, you may be thinking this same thing. This enforced isolation could be just the thing to make you bear down and produce. Maybe that 5-year novel project can be compressed to four years. After all, what have you got but time on your hands?

The problem is that writer aren’t automatons. (It would make things easier.) We take the outside world and put it down on the page, but that doesn’t mean it simply flows in one ear and out through our fingers. It affects writers as much as anyone. While they will have more time to work on our stories, that doesn’t mean that they will, or even that they can. They have to worry about buying groceries and losing day jobs (if they aren’t already full-time writers) just like their neighbors.

So, yes, we can hope that we’ll see an uptick in new fiction in a few months (just as we’ll see an uptick in births in nine months), but if we don’t, don’t blame your favorite author. Maybe he’s spending all his time stuffing envelopes from home, or maybe she’s spending all her time caring for her 86-year-old parents.

But it will happen. The books will be written; we’ll get out of the house. Everything will work out.

It just needs time.

#SFWApro

The new dark anthology, Coppice & Brake, featuring my short story “Like a Cat,” is up for sale on Amazon!

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“Like a Cat” is about a very bad man in a place that may or may not be appropriate for him. He won’t be there very long–but time is relative when you have nine lives…

ETA: And the reviews are in! From Twitter: “Reading Coppice&Brake from @CroneGirlsPress and ‘Like a Cat’ by Brian K. Lowe just grabs you by the throat, drops you into the thick of things and makes you run to keep up.”

Writing is a business, and like any business, you either make that sale or you feel like a failure. But you shouldn’t, because there’s always a silver lining…

Spending too much time on activities that “support” your writing cut into your writing time, but the silver lining is that you receive fewer rejections.

Not having a TV deal means less fame, but the silver lining is that you won’t get so many emails complaining that you misspelled the name of Alexander the Great’s butler’s pet ferret.

It might hurt not to be nominated for a Hugo, but the silver lining is that you don’t have to go into your closet and pull out that suit that you last wore to your cousin’s wedding in 2015.

You can’t find an agent, but the silver lining is that when you self-publish your book, you won’t have to give 10% of those 37 sales to anybody!

Money and fame are all very nice, but the silver lining to being solidly mid-list is that no one is ever to going send you hate mail about how, “You don’t care about the fans!” because it’s taking you five years to write your sequel.

Movie deals are incredibly rare and you probably won’t ever get one, but the silver lining is that you can tell all of your friends that, “[Least favorite director] will never get his hands on my book!”

Maybe you haven’t been able to sell your novel and despair that you ever will, but the silver lining is that you can say, “I wrote a book!” and no one can take that away from you.

#SFWApro

Every time I get ready to start a new novel, I tell myself, “This is the one I’m going to outline. I’m going to spend a couple of weeks laying out the major plot points so that when I start writing, I can move ahead at full speed.” And when I say full speed, my best sustained speed was 2000 words per day. I wrote a 24,000 word novella in a month. And that was working off of an outline. Unfortunately, it was a work for hire and I was using an someone else’s outline. (I once wrote 6000 words in three days without an outline, and the effort exhausted me for a week.) I’ve written a 59,000 word novel in just under 60 days, but that’s only 1000 words per day (with a rough outline).

The point is, the more I prepare by creating a detailed outline, the faster I write. And the difference is dramatic. The problem is that I am terrible at outlines. Well, no, that’s wrong–I’m actually terrible at outlining.

See, here’s the deal. I’m impatient. I want to get to the story, so I start off before I’m really ready. I’m writing a novel right now, but as the same time I’m still outlining it. I keep getting new ideas that will affect the entire project. Which is great, because I’ve got some exciting ideas, but it does muddle my direction somewhat.

On the other hand, I’m what you call a “headlight” writer: I write as far ahead as I can see the road in my headlights. I can deal without knowing exactly where I’m going as long as I can see where I am, which leads me to a quandary.

I have always written in a straight line. This book is divided (in my head) into several distinct parts. Having developed difficulties in writing from front to back, I thought I could jump to one of the other sections and write it first, which would then merely require back-filling, a process that might be easier than plowing forward. But then…

Then I realized that part of the problem with the beginning of the book was that I had started it too late. The common wisdom is that you start the story as late as you can, so as to avoid boring your audience with irrelevancies right off the bat. (Who’s going to know that your last 70,000 words are utterly brilliant if your first 20,000 are excruciatingly dull?) I came to understand, however, that in this case I had not started soon enough. There are things that need to be said that I had skipped over. So I renumbered Chapter 1 and restarted the book.

Which makes outliners crazy. I started in the beginning, decided to jump to the middle, and now I’m moving the beginning to the middle. Now the first part is clearer, but the overall structure of the book is completely up in the air. My book is a jigsaw puzzle. Any place I start is as good as another. If I worked with index cards, my office would look like a snowstorm.

If I had outlined this book, I would save a lot of time. Then again, my outline would now have more hanging chads than a Florida ballot.

At least jigsaw puzzle pieces have defined edges…

#SFWApro

What You Didn’t Do

Supposedly, when you’re on your deathbed, you’ll regret the things you didn’t do more than the things you did. (How do they know?) Obviously, this depends on the things you did do… but I guess if you weren’t a completely horrible human being, it could be true.

It’s certainly true if you spent your life wanting to be a writer. How would you feel if your dream was in front of you, as close as the nearest piece of paper, and you didn’t do anything about it? Or for that matter, what if you did, but you didn’t do enough?

In that case, you’d be a writer like all the rest of us.

It is a truism that to be a writer, you must write every day. It’s also false. You can be a writer on any schedule you want, or can meet. What is true is even if you can’t write every day (and who can?), you need to want to write all the time. Writing is like love; if it isn’t with you all the time, it isn’t part of you. And if isn’t part of you, it isn’t real.

There are a lot of reasons you might not be able to write every day, not the least being burn-out. If you need a break, you need a break. We may write about robots, but we’re not. The reason you want to write every day (if you can), particularly in the beginning, is that success at writing depends on practice. Years of practice. And more important than time spent is words written, because that’s how you improve.

Which gets to the point: A writer will always regret the stories he didn’t write. Maybe he didn’t write them because he didn’t think of them until it was too late. Or maybe the idea never matured. Sad, but what can you do? On the other hand, maybe you just didn’t write enough. That’s gonna hurt.

There’s never enough time to write all the stories, novels, and blog posts. But to start? That only requires a minute.

Got a minute? Don’t wait for me to wind down. I could go on and on…

#SFWApro