Posts Tagged ‘business of writing’


I was very happy to (with the invaluable assistance of my better half) procure business cards before Worldcon. After all, I reasoned, if one is going to have business cards, and if the primary reason one has business cards is because people have asked for them at cons, then it makes sense to have business cards before one embarks for the biggest science fiction con one is going to attend all year.* And for one brief, shining moment, my logic (which only rarely matches with Spock’s), seemed sound.

Silly me. (And for that matter, silly Spock.)

Because I gave away three business cards the entire time I was in Kansas City, and only one did I give away at the con.

The first was to a friend, the second to a docent at the National World War I Museum, which we were visiting because I am planning a novel at some point which takes place during the Great War,** and the third on the plane home, to a stranger with whom we struck up a conversation when the subject of my writing came up.

Now, I think I deserve props for getting my card out to people whom one would not normally consider prime candidates, but when you consider that I did not give one out to any of the thousands of (unknown) SF fans at the con itself, I don’t think overall my marketing skills are yet up to snuff.***

But hey, it’s a start.

“Excuse me, buddy, would you like a business card?”

ETA: I am reminded that I did pass out one card to a fellow author at the con (and took hers in return). So now I am apparently so good at this I can’t keep my successes straight. Progress?


*Or, as it turns out, next year, too, because Helsinki is not a likely destination.

**Not to mention that The Invisible City starts in WWI, and I took a picture of a map showing where my hero was when that book began.

***To be fair to myself, I did intend to give one to an editor I was supposed to meet, but it didn’t work out.



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Writing is a lot like a romantic relationship. As I was talking about with a friend, a writer can take you places you would not normally go, if he or she establishes trust first. For example, we all know that in Star Wars, the spaceships and explosions make sound–in space. And we all know that can’t happen; space is a vacuum, “no one can hear you scream,” right?

But by the same token, we don’t care. We don’t care because George Lucas created such an entertaining universe that we’re willing to let him have his little idiosyncrasies. Somehow,  he established our trust in him almost immediately (for me, it was the scrolling letters that always remained in focus. That was the mark of a man who cared.)

A writer can establish trust by his canon of work. You know he will tie the story together, no matter how weird it gets, because he’s done it before. But a new writer doesn’t have that luxury. He has to earn your trust by laying that groundwork in front of you. And if he fails, he may fail to have a career. In romantic terms, he may never have a relationship.

So maybe take a chance on a new writer once in a while. After all, he can’t rest on his laurels; he has to prove himself every time. I’m not saying that high-selling authors don’t try any more, but that new writer, he might just be trying a little harder.

And who doesn’t want a partner who’s willing to go the extra mile to impress you?


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Whenever you go to one of those new author panels at cons, it seems pre-published authors are always caught up in the “hows,” that is, “How do you write? In the morning or afternoon?” “How many things do you work on at a time?” “Are you an outliner or a seat-of-the-pantser?” They ask these questions over and over again, as if they’re assembling a dataset from which they can extrapolate how one becomes a publisher writer, when they should be asking, “How do I show instead of tell?” “What makes a compelling character?” “What does it mean when people say your setting is a character in the story?”

The trouble with the first part of this is that every writer (including the questioner) is different, so the answers are completely irrelevant. The problem with the second part of this is that no one really knows the answers. Certainly I don’t. (Especially that last one.) So I’m not even going to try. I’m just going to tell you what I do know.

What I know is that not long ago, I asked for advice about whether to lay aside my novel-in-progress to pursue a new project. Everyone seemed to think I should, and I did, and it worked out better than I’d hoped. The only unexpected thing was that I haven’t gone back to the novel. (I will.) But with pot that safely on the back burner, I’ve been concentrating on other things, to good effect.

I currently have 18 submissions out (possibly a record, although seven are agent subs for one novel); I have three stories awaiting markets that have not yet opened, and I’m working on a new short story. This is all very good, and it leads me to the one piece of advice I can give pre-published (or published) authors:

Writing is important, but submitting is imperative.

Now get to work.


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I finally got around (with a healthy nudge from my much better half) to printing up some business cards. It makes sense, since business cards are the mark of a professional, and I am now a professional writer, if extremely part-time.

But after being at conventions where other writers have asked for my card, and I didn’t have one (other than my mundane business card, which not only is awkward to use, but doesn’t really perform the same function), I thought it was time. I never thought about it before; now I’ve gone from thinking to doing (which is a step up from my usual procedure, in which the “thinking” is remarkable by its absence).

So if you meet me at a con, and ask for my business card, don’t be surprised when I actually have one to give you…



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The secret to being a writer is simple. It’s just not easy. One of the ways you know you are a writer is when someone (usually someone close to you) comes up and says, “I have this great idea for a story. Why don’t you write it and we’ll split the profits?” I don’t know of a single writer who has ever said, “Sure, let’s do that,” and I doubt I ever will. Why? Because ideas are a dime a dozen. We all have notebooks full of them. (I have at least three.) How do you think we got to be writers in the first place–by not having ideas? Believe me, this gig doesn’t pay as it is; if we had to split every check with a co-writer, the cemeteries would be full of authors who starved to death.

The reason this model doesn’t work is because non-writers do not understand the difference between “ideas” and “inspiration.” Writing is like dating. There are millions of potential dates out there, only a fraction of which are available to you. You put these few down in your little black book. These are ideas. You might date a few of these; you might date a lot of them. But only a select number will suit you at all, and only one (typically) will be right at any given time. This is the girl you keep going back to, the one you call at odd hours of the morning just to hear her voice. (And with luck, this is the girl who doesn’t scream, “It’s 3AM! Are you insane? I have to work tomorrow!”) This is inspiration.

It’s possible to be inspired by someone else’s idea, but it’s rare, and usually results in an equal collaboration. In general, however, you are only inspired by your own ideas. This is where fledgling writers can get it wrong: they are so enamored with the idea, they think it’s inspiration. But it’s like being infatuated as opposed to being in love. You need to go deeper. An idea is a start. An inspiration is what speaks to you so much that you take that idea and develop it into a story, a tale about people and how that idea affects them. This is what readers want, to see that other people have the same feelings they do, to be validated because the people in your story act the way they do, or the way they want to act. Readers want to be inspired.

And how can you inspire readers if you’re not inspired yourself? That’s why other people’s ideas won’t work for me. They don’t inspire me. And that’s why, if you have that idea that inspires you so much that you think someone could make a story out of it? That’s why that someone should be you.

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Recently, I talked about how writers are forever doubting themselves, always comparing themselves to their own future potential successes rather than concrete accomplishments, creating a permanent class of (neurotic) fantasists, in more ways than one.* Just to prove my point, I also want to talk a little about how writers can believe in their work (if not themselves) to a degree that normal human beings would see as highly narcissistic, but which we know as a mere survival skill. Everyone knows that to make it as a writer you have to develop a thick skin; fewer know that you further need to develop the patience of Job at the end of a really bad week.

After you write a story, you submit it to a magazine (or a novel to a publisher). And then you wait. Nowadays, there are sites (like the Submission Grinder) which allow you to see average response times, so you have something to fret about when your story out is an hour past that point. (Kind of like teenagers.) This is a vast improvement over pre-email times, when you didn’t even know if your sub had been received, let alone when it might come back. But 95% of the time, you do get a response (which may well be much later than statistics would indicate, but that’s another topic). And 95% of the time, that response will be a “No, thanks.”

As you progress, that number improves, but we’re talking about stories that come back. And go out. And come back. What do you do with those? After a few “no’s” you re-read it. You tinker. You re-sub. It comes back.

Eventually, you have a choice: Keep subbing, or “trunk” it. Every writer has a “trunk” where stories go into deep storage. (Occasionally, one is brought out again years later and re-tooled.) If you truly believe in the story, you keep subbing. And this is where you need patience, because if you love your story that much, and no one else does, then you need to find it in yourself to keep pushing it. And you may keep pushing that story for years. Or decades. I have one story that sold only after collecting 35 rejections over 25 years. But I loved it, and I believed in it, and in the end I was right.

How can someone whose professional self-worth is built on tomorrow’s successes keep so much faith with yesterday’s (let’s be honest) failures? Beats the hell out of me. Maybe we’re just so obsessed with a better tomorrow that we’re willing to change yesterday to get it.

Or maybe we’re just that into ourselves.

*I also talked about how I had carved an additional 12% off a story that I had previously cut, I thought, to the bone. That story came back a few days later with a polite note expressing to me the reader’s belief that the story was too long. You can’t please everyone.

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So you’d think the hardest part about being a writer is the writing. Or maybe editing. Or maybe finding an agent. Or publicity. And of course you’d be wrong. (If you weren’t, I wouldn’t have a topic, here, so just let me run with it.)

No, the hardest part about being a writer is the waiting. Back in the Old Days, before this “Internet” contraption and its “emails” made everything so quick and free and less Post Office-y, you had to put paper submissions into an envelope and mail them to a magazine or a publisher. (Yes, Virginia, there is a mailman.) This meant days to reach the magazine, and weeks of uncertainty while waiting for the reply–if there was a reply, because half of the uncertainty rested on the fact that you had no way of knowing if your submission even reached its destination. “Why is this taking so long?” “Is my story being considered?” Who knew? Mail could be slow, mail could be lost, it was hard even to know a magazine’s typical response time because no one kept the statistics.

Writers now have it easy. You don’t have to wonder how long an email takes to get to its destination. A lot of magazines now send automated responses to let you know the manuscript has arrived. Some even provide a tracking number. A tracking number? That’s like having UPS monitor the submission inside the editor’s office! Even without that their are websites devoted to tracking response data, like The Submission Grinder.

This being said, mistakes do still happen, and things get lost in spam filters or data drops. The uncertainty remains. Recently a magazine sent out a call for subs and gave each a queue number that you could track on line. A bunch of us got together (virtually) to track the editor’s progress, because he told everyone when he was going to be reading. For two weeks we were a collective wreck, watching the ball drop, as it were, reporting our findings whenever a rejection came in, and where in the queue it occurred. In the end, a fraction of the submitters had good news to report, the rest…only another R on the scoreboard after a nerve-wracking wait.

It was the best time. We can’t wait to do it again.

Because even watching the pendulum drop was better than not knowing where it was. Writers. Call us weird. We can take it.

We just can’t take the waiting.

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