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Once, I tried to write a book. How hard could it be? I thought. After all, there are thousands written every year… Oh, the lessons I was to learn. This was how it all went down (and by “down,” I mean careened downhill without brakes).

I started by setting up a writing schedule on my calendar, but I learned my days were numbered.

I tried to outline a plot, but I couldn’t get it write.

So I tried to finish the story in one go but I kept getting a draft.

When I finally finished, I contacted my editor by radio, but he couldn’t read me.

I put my idea to an agent, but she said the concept was too novel.

Then I tried to self-publish, but I wouldn’t make book on my chances.

Every time I tried to format them, the pages took a header.

I thought to publish a custom hard-bound copy so I started to learn bookbinding, but I didn’t have the spine.

And when it was time to hire an artist, I didn’t have enough to cover.

Maybe I should have gone into graphic novels. I could picture that.

#SFWApro

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This is not a controversy with which I was planning to get involved. I have little personal experience with the subject of the controversy, and what little I ever had was decades ago, but I believe knowledge is power, and beginning writers need all the power they can get. I was the victim of a scam agent once long ago, and I am sensitive to situations where writers may be taken advantage of, so here I am.*

Some finalists and winners of the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest, and attendees of the associated workshop, have recently published their experiences therewith. These largely concern the workshop, which the contest offers winners and finalists once a year, featuring several well-known authors who have acted as contest judges. They have grown, however, to encompass potentially unseemly practices surrounding the contest itself. Some finalists have consequently withdrawn from the current contest.

Summarily speaking, the problems (as alleged), come down to these:

  1. The contest is run by the Church of Scientology. Although the Church’s connection has never been a secret (see the name), it has always been advertised that the Church had nothing to do with the contest itself, working only through separate affiliates. According to some winners’ experiences, this appears not to be true.
  2. Aside from the religious affiliation itself, the personnel working on the contest and the workshop may be victims of unfair working conditions.
  3. The sales figures for the Writers of the Future annual anthology may be inflated, in that the Church may be buying up large numbers of copies for itself, or coercing its members to buy.

In addition to the above, some writers, editors, and fans could take a dim view of those who have participated in the contest and accepted prize money. You have to balance the potential benefits with the potential hazards.

It’s hard enough entering this field. Should a submit to a market whose publisher may have different political views than mine? How do I know a good contract from bad? Should I stick to short stories, write a novel, self-publish…?

Make your own choices. But know the choices you’re making.

*I do not know if the allegations made are true. My own opinion of their veracity is irrelevant. But I think people should know they’ve been raised.

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Every so often, it pops up: The case against reading fees. I mentioned it myself not long ago. But still, reading fees keep raising their ugly head, and recently I saw them arise in another context: Writing contests.

I got an email advertising a contest, from a publishing industry publication, focusing on unpublished or self-published novels. It offers a cash prize to one winner, but each and every entrant receives a personalized mini-critique, which I can tell you from past experience is the hook upon which a lot of fish will be caught. Unpublished and self-published authors pine for feedback of any kind, and this kind, with blurbs from award-winning authors and editors offered to semi-finalists and above, is certain to lure the desperate and unsophisticated by the hundreds. I myself was attracted enough to read further.

That’s when I got to the catch: a $99 entry fee per manuscript. I closed the window on my computer and deleted the email.

Now, I’m not saying that this contest is phony, or rigged, or that it doesn’t provide exactly what it says. I’m sure it does. But is what it offers worth $99?

Hell, no.

One entrant will win a nice cash prize. Others will be mentioned in a blurb in the magazine, and all will receive a critique, which judging from the samples helpfully offered, runs about a hundred words. That’s a dollar a word. I have belonged to a lot of critique groups where members can review each other’s works and give 500- to 1000-word critiques for free. Actually, it’s better than that, because they expect you to reciprocate, and there is no better way to see the faults in your own writing than to critique someone else’s.

And what’s more, there are a lot of contests out there that don’t require any entry fee at all: Writers of the Future, Minotaur Books First Crime Novel, Jim Baen Memorial Short Story Award… Nor does that include publishers who have occasionally held open calls for unagented manuscripts, like Angry Robot and Harper Voyager.

If you want to spend money on your book, self-publish. It’s okay to spend money on editing, and a cover, and some advertising, and your chances of success are probably as good as any contest you enter. At least you’ll know where your money’s going.

If you want to be a writer, you have to pay your dues. But you don’t have to pay reading fees.

#SFWApro

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I’ve been wanting to write, honestly I have. It’s just that I’ve been too busy writing. As you know, The Killing Scar is drafted, but that was only the beginning of the work. First I had to edit it, which means I had to re-read it, not an easy task when I just wrote it. It sounds like a lousy pitch for your book that it’s the last thing in the world you want to read, but it’s true. But that’s done now. As soon as I get the cover, I’ll preview it. Then, if the beta readers don’t threaten to turn my ms. over to the police as evidence of a literary crime, I’ll publish. That’s a big “if.”

In the meantime, I have to start outlining Marauders from the Moon (due out in June, and when am I going to start it?). And at the same time I’m re-reading The Choking Rain, because one of the problems with maintaining a series is that you can’t always remember the details from one book to the next, and I don’t want that problem. Yes, I could create a bible (which I probably will if this goes on), but I don’t have one and I don’t have time to write one. (See paragraph above.) It’s been a while since I wrote Rain, but it took a long time to finish, so re-visiting it isn’t a picnic, either. (Honestly, these are good books, you just wouldn’t know it to listen to me.)

Anyhow, I didn’t want more time to go by without touching base. The government might shut down, but my publisher has a schedule to keep, and believe me, he does not like it when I slack off. It may be a while before I get back here.

–Okay, okay, boss! I’m going back to work… Sheesh, what a grouch.

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Somebody sideswiped my car in a parking lot recently. Not a lot of damage, but a lot of stress. Now you get to share.

It’s funny how writing can be compared to so many other things in life, baseball, commuting, sexice cream … and now car accidents. I guess this is because fiction deals with all aspects of life. (More likely it’s because writing is an endeavor so fraught with problems that everyone can relate.)

  1. You never know when something’s going to hit you. It might be a phrase, an idea, or an SUV. You never know.
  2. Once it happens, the results are unimaginable. Which is strange, because writing is imagination. But will it become a story? Will it sell? Will your insurance go up?
  3. Your fate is in the hands of others. You send the story to an editor. You send your car to the shop. When will they return? Who knows?
  4. You have no idea who’s going to pay whom. Will the editor pay you? Will your insurance pay you? Or was all of this some expensive mistake?
  5. Where it all ends up is a mystery. Maybe the editor will publish you. Maybe the editor will reject you. Maybe you’ll get your car back. Maybe it will be totaled. See item nos. 2 and 3.
  6. You will wonder if it’s all worth it. Should you give it up? Should you take the bus?
  7. It will give you an idea. Maybe you should write about a man who has an accident. Maybe you should write about a man who decides to take the bus. Maybe you should write about a man who becomes a bus driver!
  8. You realize that this random event has given you an idea that  you weren’t expecting. You re-read item no. 1.
  9. You realize there is no escape. Accidents will happen. Editors will reject you.
  10. You resolve to do better next time. You will watch the cross-traffic. You will observe the traffic lights. You will avoid the omniscient viewpoint and the present tense.

Bonus: Having an accident and writing a story have this in common: You will never forget what it felt like.

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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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Netgalley is a site to join where readers who review can go to find new books and recommend them to their friends, followers, and the world at large through Amazon reviews, blogs, Twitter, and whatever the new app-of-the-day is today. It is free and easy to join. And among its thousands of offerings by traditional and independent publishers, you can find The Invisible City.

Reviews are the lifeblood of book-selling. The way things are today, it’s not enough to go down to Barnes & Noble or your local independent bookseller (yeah, right) and scan the shelves. This is particularly true of independent publishers whose works aren’t on the shelves. Nowadays, many people find the best way to choose books is to hunt down reviews on Amazon. And without reviews, authors (especially new ones) can’t get traction.

So if you didn’t know about Netgalley, give it a try. You don’t have to look at my book (although you can at least vote on the new cover), but there are thousands of authors in dozens of categories who are begging for your attention.

Read and review. It’s the thing to do!

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