Posts Tagged ‘pre-published’

I caught myself tonight thinking, “I really hope I get a sale soon!” Because it’s been, you know, four weeks.

Really, self? This is what’s it’s come to? You went (mumbledy-mumbledy) years before you sold a story, then it was every couple of years, and now you get withdrawal symptoms if you don’t sell one every month?

Gee, you’d think you were trying to make a living at this or something. I’ve figured out the problem: Writing stories is compulsive, but selling stories is addictive.

I’m not trying to toot my own horn here. I’m not bragging because I sell half a dozen stories in a year (okay, last year it was ten). There are a lot of people out there who sell a lot more than I do and to better-paying markets, as well. (And I’m not even terribly jealous of all of them. Some of them are my friends. Them I’m only a little jealous of.) It’s just that I find it amusing how quickly one can go from, “Lord, please let me sell one story before I die,” to “For heaven’s sake, I haven’t had one sale since last month!”

So if you’re a pre-published author, let me make two points: (1) I feel you. I remember what it was like, and I hope that you don’t have to work as long as I did to start selling; and (2) Don’t think once you sell it’s all wine and roses. You just trade your problems for new problems. Nicer problems, I’ll grant you…

…but there still isn’t a Hugo on my mantelpiece. And I haven’t made a single sale since I started writing this post.



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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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When you’re pre-published, all you can think about is that first sale. You look at the books on the shelves, and the authors sitting in the front of the room on con panels, and you wistfully imagine how wonderful it will be to join their company as a published author. And it is wonderful. There’s nothing I’d rather be. (Well, maybe a superhero.) But nothing’s perfect; in this case…
… when you get there, all you can think about is that next sale. The pressure is the same, only different. You are glad you’re now a “real” author, but it doesn’t make life easier. In fact, it makes life harder, and particularly in one critical area. In that one context, life is better when you’re not yet published.
Because, ironically, the more you write, the less you read. And reading’s necessary. Not only is it the reason you got into this gig in the first place (assuming you could read before you could write), but it’s how you re-charge your batteries, and how you see where the field is going. It also supports the publishers whom you want to publish you.
I read less than I used to, and partly it’s because I write more than I used to. Now I’m making an effort to balance the two. You should, too. It’s good for you, and it’s good for the field. If you want, you can call it research.

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I was at a con over the weekend, Left Coast Crime in Phoenix, and I sat in on a couple of panels in which writers talked about writing (because LCC is a mystery convention, and the short story market there is less developed than I’m used to, so I was looking for clues, if you’ll pardon the expression). And even though I was for many years an aspiring writer myself, it still amazes me how, in every panel on writing, someone always asks: “What is your writing day like? How do you work?”

Honestly, I understand the impulse. At these panels, everyone who is not already a writer (usually there to heckle their friends on the panel) wants to be one. And everyone is looking for the key to making it and getting published. And no matter how many times writers say, “The only way to make it as a writer is to write,” they are still asked that question. (And yes, I used to wonder the same thing; I just never asked.)

Well, in an effort to short-circuit the process and perhaps provide some useful information, here’s the story (again, if you’ll pardon the expression): The only way to become a writer is to write. It does not matter if you write in the morning or at night, at your desk or at your Starbuck’s, on paper or notebook or laptop or in crayon. None of that matters. There are as many writers’ styles as there are writing styles. Some writers outline first. Some navigate “by the seat of their pants.” These latter are called “pantsers.” Whether non-pantsers actually write without pants is another question I have never asked (but doubtless someone has.) Choose your style. Then write. And write, and write. And after you’ve written, submit it to a market and write something else. It’s simple. It’s harder than hell, but it’s simple.

The real “secret” is something no one asks about. Becoming a writer merely means you write with the goal of publication. So you write and submit what you write. Sell or don’t, you’re still a writer, you’re just “pre-published” (a state which is treated much more kindly by mystery writers than by SFF writers, though I don’t know why). The real “secret” is not how to become a writer, but how to survive as a writer.

This is vitally important because you will almost certainly spend years “pre-published,” and that’s a good time to develop the necessary skill. (Do not make the mistake of thinking that this skill will no longer be necessary after you’ve begun to publish. You will need it even more.) The skill you have to develop, the one that may be even harder than learning to write well?

I’m not going to tell you. Not until my next post. But I will leave you with a hint: You have to wait until my next post.

Yes, really, that’s a hint. And it probably doesn’t mean what you think it does. In the meantime, go write something.



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