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Posts Tagged ‘getting published’

Heard somewhere or other recently: “There are two kinds of people in the world. Writers, and those who are never heard from.”

Well, I thought first, that seems kind of pretentious. And mean. Then I thought, and it’s wrong, first because there aren’t only two kinds of people no matter how you divide them, and second because it’s just wrong. Writers aren’t the only people you ever hear from.

Painters, dancers, photographers…you hear from all of them, if not in words. And it’s not just artists you hear from, it can be anybody. Especially today, when shouting out to the world is just a matter of typing on your keyboard–case in point: “Hello.”

So what is it about writers that they have to be heard? I mean, if you ask any writer, the real reason he writes is because he can’t not write.* (I suspect painters and dancers and such feel the same way, but I can only speak to writers.) And why is that? I mean, for writers it’s not a matter of, “Hey, I can post on Facebook and everybody can read it and I really am here!” For writers, it’s a need to express their ideas (whether deeply philosophical or highly entertaining) –and to do it over and over again. Preferably for pay.

Maybe that’s it. Do writers go through years, sometimes decades, of constant, crushing rejection and criticism (neither of which ever ends), just because they want to get paid for what other people put on Facebook and Twitter for free?

Only if they’re complete idiots. The chances of ever making even $100 a year writing are about 1-in-1,000.  And given the chances of making any real money?  Please. Writers may be masochists, but they aren’t stupid. They aren’t in it for the money.

So why do they do it? Why do I do it?

Same answer. Because I can’t not do it. I guess it’s because we’re readers first, and we grew up wanting to emulate the people who created such wonderful worlds for us to play in. I started writing in grade school. I don’t even remember why, what sparked it. But I must have liked it, because I didn’t stop, and somewhere along the line it became the thing that defined me.

Which may explain why writers are nuts. We are defined by what we cannot do: We cannot stop writing. We can’t stop when we can’t sell anything, then we can’t stop when we do start selling. If anything, it’s harder when you actually taste some success. (Must be all that money…)

If someone were to figure out why we do this, and write a self-help book, he’d probably sell a copy to every writer on the planet. But until then, maybe there are two kinds of people in the world:

Those who like to write things, and those who just can’t stop.

*Or “she,” obviously.

#SFWApro

 

 

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There is a lot about writing that is not peaches-and-cream. There, I said it. Writing is not only difficult, because it all comes from inside you, and there are no rules, and nobody can really tell you when you’re doing it right (but boy, can they tell when you’re doing it wrong), but it’s frustrating. It’s frustrating to try to write a story when the ideas won’t come, or the words won’t materialize, or you have the ideas and the words but you just don’t have the time. It’s frustrating to wait–wait for that last draft to cool on your windowsill, or for your beta readers to get back to you, or for an editor to answer your submission. (Murphy’s Law of Submissions says the editorial staff will take an extended vacation the day after you submit your story.) And it’s the Most Frustrating of All when you have finally written a story that even you are satisfied with, and your reading group (which includes Real Writers) tells you this is one time you’ve nailed it–and you can’t sell the darn thing at a discount with a bonus goodie bag.

Self-serving example: in 2010, I published a story, “Grinpa,” in Daily Science Fiction. Diabolical Plots listed it as one of the top 10 stories DSF published that year, which, considering DSF publishes about 250 stories a year, is pretty good. So you would think, as I did, that when the time came, I could sell “Grinpa” as a reprint and make a little extra cash.

And you (and I) would be wrong.

And that’s the frustrating part about it. Even if you write the world’s greatest story, it has to persuade an editor (and usually a slush reader before that). And editors have particular tastes. They have specific needs, in terms of tone, length, subject matter. More than once I have had a story rejected because it was just too similar to something the editor had just bought, or run in a recent issue. How many times an editor has liked a story but sent back because it was the wrong length, or too “niche,” is impossible to know. Sometimes they tell you; usually they don’t.

And it can make you crazy, especially if you really like the story. But in the end, there’s nothing to be done. Nothing, of course, but hope the next editor will have the right space available. And will like your story. And didn’t run a similar story by Robert Clarke Asimov the month before.

Yeah, writing is frustrating. But at the same time, new markets open up all the time. These days, you often have to debate whether to sub a story to a market that pays 3 cents a word, or wait a few months to see if a new pro-rate market opens up (which they seem to do regularly). And every new editor is a chance to hit that lottery number, with a story that has the right opening, and the right tone, and maybe even pays decent money. And if he’s not, there’s always another down the line.

One of my favorite stories received 35 rejections over two decades before it sold. But it sold, and for good money. Was the end result worth the frustration of all those rejections? No. But did it feel good to know I had weathered all that frustration and never gave up?

Oh, yeah.

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The story is that the pyramids were never really finished until the pharaoh died, and then they had to be finished in a hurry. The difference with a story is that if you die, nobody’s going to finish it for you. (Unless you’re already famous, but then this post isn’t for you.)

So you need to finish that story, because the perfect story doesn’t exist–ergo, it’s never finished, and it never gets subbed, and it never gets published. That’s why perfect writers never get published. Of course, the question then is: How do I know when it’s good enough? And as with so many of life’s questions, the answer is another question: How long is a piece of string?

Okay, that’s cheating. The answer is that you probably don’t know. You need someone with perspective to help you out. Preferably another writer, one whose life/job/happiness doesn’t depend on you. But happily, as you mature as a writer, you need less of this help, at least in the early draft stages. You learn to recognize what’s good and what’s not, especially if you have offered (and I can’t recommend this enough) to help some other writer hone his work. There’s no better way to see your own flaws than in someone else’s work. (It also does wonders for your diplomatic skills.)

And as you mature, you will recognize your limits. Maybe this isn’t your best work. (After all, there is only one “best work,” like there’s only One Ring.) But that’s okay. Your “good” stories may be good enough. The secret is to make them the best you can, but be prepared to let them go. Kind of like raising kids, but cheaper and with fewer temper tantrums (at least on their part). And by “good enough,” I don’t mean good enough to sell, but good enough that you’re not ashamed to let them out into the world.

Because like I said, they’re your kids. And they may not be perfect, but they’re yours, and it’s time you let everyone know how proud of them you are.

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In my day job, I work for a law office. We deal mostly in securities issues (not security, we’re not an NSA front), but problems with stockbrokers. It is amazing how many people have money in the stock market and aren’t really aware of it, because their money is in an IRA or a company pension plan and they don’t know what it’s doing. What’s more amazing is how many people consciously invest their money–often their entire retirement fund–and don’t have a clue how the market works, or how much power their brokers have over their money. I mean, you don’t know how your doctor will perform your heart bypass, but at least you know that sometimes you need to get a second opinion before he does it.

The same thing goes in the writing business. I visit various sites and boards where writers of varying levels of experience hang out, and I keep seeing the same questions and misconceptions popping up. Some are about writing itself, which can mostly be solved only by practice, but some concern the intersection between the craft of writing and the business of writing.

Some are simple: “How long should a chapter be?” Answer: “How long is a piece of string?” A chapter (or a book, or a story) should be as long as it needs to be to get the job done. Say what you want to say, and stop.

But others are less simple, and more critical: “How do I know that after I pay the publisher, he’ll give me the kind of promotion I need?” This is like asking, “After you sell me the Brooklyn Bridge, how do I know you’ll give me a receipt?” The writer is concerned about promotion (which he will never get in this case) when he should be concerned with the fact that no reputable publisher will ever ask you for money to publish your book.

And yet this question, in some form, keeps arising. But if you’re like me, and most writers, you’ve spent years and sacrificed many fun evenings to get where you are. Why risk losing it all because of your own ignorance? Good information has never been easier to find.

It’s hard enough to make it in this business without giving it all away. Take the time to learn not just the writing rules, but the business of writing rules. Then you can make enough money to lose it to your stockbroker like everyone else.

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There’s a mystique about being a writer, that it’s somehow a sacred calling, reserved for the most empathetic, the most evolved, highly-advanced meta-beings inhabiting a lofty plateau in the clouds, dispensing emotional wisdom to the masses hungry for their stories and essays and novels, who in turn reap upon these demigods and goddesses riches and accolades appropriate to their exalted standing.

This is, of course, a complete load of garbage out of my own turgid imagination. But then, that’s what writers do. We imagine. Which is why we are all writers.

You don’t need a college degree to imagine. You don’t need a fancy computer, or even a pencil and paper. And you don’t need to imagine great rollicking fantasy trilogies, you might just be dreaming of a better job. The only difference between you and the guy with the trilogy is that he wrote his imaginings down.

You might think writing a novel is hard. Yeah, it is. But you don’t have to write a novel; I’ve sold stories that were only two pages long. Even when you write a novel, it’s divided into chapters, which are sort of like short stories. (I’ve seen more than one aspiring writer ask: How long is a chapter? That’s like asking: How long is a piece of string?)

Being a writer has one requirement: You have to write. And if you can talk, you can write. Just put down on paper what you say. It’s that easy. (It helps if you know how to spell, but that can be fixed.)

Then, once you’ve made that leap, gone to that trouble, once you’ve written and submitted a story (then another and another and a few dozen more), you will know the joy that comes of having a story published. And then you will occupy that high plateau, worshipped and adored and laden with riches.

And we’ll even teach you the secret handshake.

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“Day of Reckoning,” about a superhero contemplating his involuntary “retirement,” is going to be published by the award-winning Plasma Frequency Magazine. I’m thrilled to be able to break into this new market with my 16th career sale.

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