Month: February 2011

Mondays.

You can hate me if you like.

Ever since I started freelancing, Sunday nights have not gotten any better; I still dislike them.  They’re all about not doing something, and instead getting ready for Monday.

But I like Mondays now.  It’s this chance to reassess where I am, freelancing, and kind of start all over again.

–The sad part about this comes from how I feel about weekends now.  I have trouble balancing the need to get work done and the need to spend time with my family or just plain screw around.  I always set too many goals for my week, and when I hit the weekend, I spend days going, “Should I spend more time with Lee and Ray, or should I work my ass off to try to get this all done?”

But Monday?  Monday’s the day when I get to make those goals.  “Wouldn’t it be nice if I finished editing my novel this week?  And write 40K on the work-for-hire project?  And write a short story?  And work on the murder mystery game idea that’s been giving me fits for months?”

How to Fail, Part 6: How to Submit

So I’ve talked you into it.  You’re committed to writing those 10 million new words (or however many you have left, give or take a million).  You’re committed to sending your submissions out.

But, if you’re like I was, you’re not really sure how to go about it.

How do you get a ton of submissions out?  How do you find out who to send them to?  What if there aren’t any instructions on what to submit?  Are there any ways you can stand out, or at least not make yourself look like an idiot?

And, once you start submitting more than one thing at a time, how do you keep track of it all?

This is going to vary, based on what you’re writing:

  • Short fiction
  • Novels
  • Poetry
  • Screenplays
  • Magazine articles
  • Long nonfiction

There are many other types of writing, like copywriting, blogging, other content for websites, ghost writing, sales writing, academic writing, technical writing, resume writing, writing manuals, press releases, reports, newsletters, grants, speeches, translation…you don’t have to be a “creative” writer to succeed at writing.  However, I’m focusing on the main types of “creative” writing here, in which you’re going to submit your work (or a proposal for your work) to someone before it’s purchased.  Most of the other types of work, you get hired to do the job before you put any words down on paper, and the process is different.

No matter what you write, please read through the short fiction section, because I’ll refer back to it.

Short Fiction

You’re not going to send out just one story.  You’re going to send out a lot of stories.  So get a system in place, and stick to it 100% of the time.  When you have twenty or thirty or fifty stories in the mail at one time, you don’t want to spend any more time than you have to wondering whether you’ve sent out the correct version.

If you don’t like my system, that’s fine–but make sure you’re dealing with all the issues I mention, or it’ll come back to bite you on the butt.

Format

First, set up a folder containing two templates.  One is for a short story in standard manuscript format, and one is for a cover letter.  Call this folder “Short_Story_Templates” or something similar.

The best reference for standard manuscript short story formatting is at William Shunn’s website, at http://www.shunn.net/format/story.html.  You will also see links to this website at many of your short story markets.

However, I have a few modifications I want you to use:

  • In the address block, add your website (your blog, if you have one).
  • Under the word count (you can use the exact word count from your word processor, if you like, or round up or down to the nearest hundred, unless the word count has to be exact per the market guidelines), add “Disposable manuscript.”

And some notes:

  • There are only 12 lines of story on that first page.  Either you hook someone in those 12 lines (in the first paragraph, even), or you don’t sell your story, period.
  • Use Times New Roman or Courier on your template.
  • Turn off any extra spaces before or after paragraphs.
  • Turn off widows and orphans.
  • Do not use spaces to format anything.
  • Do NOT use tabs to indent your paragraphs.  Format your paragraphs so they automatically indent.  This is vital; there will be markets that want you to submit stories in web formatting rather than standard ms. formatting, and you don’t want to be deleting tabs every time you come across one.  Also, if you ever publish the story online (before or after you publish through a market), you will have to do this.  Do NOT use spaces, either.
  • If you use a pen name, don’t use it in the address block.  Just use it in the author’s byline under the story title.

If you do not know how to do these things on your word processor, you do not know how to use your main writing tool in a sufficiently professional manner.  Take a class, read a book, look it up.  You’re auditioning for a job; you better know how to do it, and being able to use your word processor is part of that.

Save this template in your story template folder, then make an archive folder inside the template folder and save another copy there, in case you write over your original template (same thing with the cover letter template).  You don’t have to save it as a template file, if you know what I mean.  Just don’t write over it.

Then make your short story cover letter template–you might find it valuable to make two versions, one for submitting online or via email, and one for mailing through snail mail.

Use this format or similar:

Name
Address
Address
Phone
email@email.com
www.blog.website.com

Month xx, 2011

Editor Name, Title
Magazine Title
Address and/or e-mail
Address
Address

Dear Mr./Ms. xxxx,

Attached is my short story, “Title,” about XXXX words.

2-3 sentence bio containing 1) 1-5 recent credits, 2) relevant qualifications, 3) your job and location (optional).

Thanks for your time,

Name
encl: story, SASE

Notes:

  • This is the online version.  For a print version, changed “attached” to “enclosed” and add two more spaces between “Thanks for your time” and your name, so you can sign it.
  • Remember to sign all print versions.
  • You shouldn’t describe your story in the cover letter on short stories like you would for a novel; most editors ignore it or hate it.  If the guidelines specifically ask for a short description, provide it.
  • Type up your short bio and save it in the template.  Whenever you get published, consider updating your bio.
  • FIND OUT THE EDITOR’S NAME.  If it isn’t on the website, look up the market somewhere else and find out the editor’s name.  Your cover letter is the first few seconds of your job interview.  Just as you would never think of calling your interviewer “Interviewer,” you shouldn’t call your editor “Editor” or “To Whom It May Concern.”  Find out.  If your story doesn’t get read for months and the editor changes before then, that’s okay.

Files and backups.

Here are tips for handling your files and backups:

  • Create a folder for short stories on submission (“Stories_Out_For_Subs” or something similar).
  • Create a folder for each short story (“Name_Of_Story”).
  • Inside each folder, take a copy of the short story template and the cover letter template and save them in the folder before you even open them, to keep from overwriting your templates.
  • Inside each folder, create an Archive folder.  The second you create a new version, move the old version to the Archive folder.
  • Rename the short story file like this:  “Short_Story_Name.1” and the cover letter file like this:  “Short_Story_Name_Cover.1.xxx” As you send the story out to different markets, you will change the xxx at the end of the cover letter file name to the name of the market, as in “Undead_Dreams_Cover.1.Weird_Tales”
  • Now you can start writing the story.  Do NOT write the story in another format and paste it into the template.  You’re writing 10 million words – you need a system that you can’t easily screw up, and messing around with format wastes time.  You will get used to writing in standard ms. format.  It may not look fancy, but it’s supposed to be about the words, not the font.
  • When you are done with the story, save it, then save it again as revision 2, “Short_Story_Name.2” and move revision 1 to the Archive folder.  That way, no matter what you screw up in your story, you have a backup.
  • Have at least three locations where you’re saving your story every day:  on your hard drive, to a thumb drive, and online (email it to yourself).  Do this every day.
  • Every week, burn a CD with your entire fiction archives on it and put it somewhere that is not in your house in case of fire, flood, tornado, divorce, etc.  Keep at least a month’s worth of CDs, in case several of them fail.

Okay, I’m out of time, so I’ll cover the rest of short story submissions next time, with how to find markets, how to submit to markets, and how to track your submissions.

    Hitchhiker’s–No, FREELANCER’S Guide Review

    I finally finished reading my second pass through Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s Freelancer’s Survival Guide.  You can also read the book for free on the author’s website, but I wanted to put it on my Nook so I didn’t have to sit in front of the computer for 200K.

    It’s a long one.  It could probably be trimmed to make it less chatty and more professional sounding, but I kind of liked it the way it is, a bit rambly.  It’s a long book (almost 200K words), and the rambly bits help move you along, strangely.

    So the deal is, this is supposed to be a book of essays related to freelancing for any field.  Practically speaking, however, most of the examples tend to be about writing, because it’s where she has most of her experience.  If I’d been a plumber reading this stuff, I would have found about a quarter of it more or less useless.  However, as a writer, I found it the bee’s knees, even the second time through.  I originally read this before I started freelancing in mid-May last year.

    I read it this time with different eyes, looking at the mistakes and saying, “Yep, I did that, I did that…”  In retrospect, I would have been wiser to stay at my day job for another year before I left, to save up more money and do more research, but there are some mistakes you have to make or you stop being completely yourself.  I have made a beeline for those mistakes in the past, and this time was no different.  If I  had it to do it all over again, I would do it the same…or maybe even earlier.  There’s a part at the end of the book that helped me come to grips with that:  there are some goals and dreams that you have to start by a certain point in your life if you’re going to have time to achieve them, and it’ll probably take me another 10 years to get to the point where I’m a successful freelance fiction writer.  I’m not ready to wait until I’m 65 to make that start happening.

    If you’re considering freelancing, especially in the writing field, you should read this book. If you’re already a freelancer, you should read this book on a regular basis.  It’s thorough enough that you’ll have to think about most aspects of your business and whether it’s still working, whether you need to reassess how you feel about what you’re doing, and help you identify areas where you need tweaks.

    This time through, I’ve been thinking I need to:

    • Get my will done, finally, dammit.
    • Set up emergency plans and a chain of CYA.
    • Learn more about accounting.
    • Get more hustling done.
    • Work on building my self-confidence so I don’t choke up when I ask for money.
    • Set up a ghosting page on my website to explain what it is and how they can hire me to do it.

    Kris notes that most freelancers fail at their first business.  I know that if Lee weren’t supporting me, I’d be back to a day job already.  So I’m frantically trying to learn faster, learn more, and get rid of stupidity.  The essays in the book make for a good way to clarify that, instead of winding up into a ball of doom.

    Writer Group

    I had people over for writer’s group last night.

    Jalen got lost on the way to the house, and I had to talk her down on the phone.  Because Lee normally makes the coffee, I ended up making coffee for the first time in maybe a year and a half and forgot to put the filter in, ran grounds all over the kitchen floor.  There was oil still on the table from the cooking party, and it soaked through the last page of my comments for Richard.  The cat greeted everyone.  Rachael greeted everyone so politely I had to laugh.  I made banana bread and saved the best loaf for me and Ray.

    And we talked and talked and talked.  I said too much and kept everyone too late when I promised I would be brief.

    And it was good.

    Mousecatching

    You know, I always feel self-conscious about talking about the mice in our house, as though people are outraged that I have mice in my house.  Yet they aren’t.

    I think we’re moving into an endgame.  I hope.

    The fight against the mice is hampered by the necessity to not actually kill them; killing them upsets my husband and daughter.  I do a little cheer and a little dance every time the cat catches one.  (My daughter’s the type who gets upset whenever I pull weeds.  “They have flowers, too.”  I think Lee is on the side of the mice.)  I bought a covered trash and gave up on the homebrew mousetrap we had set up – I bought prebuilt humane mice traps instead.

    The mice can climb anything, apparently.  I have seen them climb the WALLS (granted, it was one of the walls in the main room, with rough wood paneling).  I have seen them scale electrical cords faster than Jackie Chan.  They can, when it comes to getting into eighteen-in-high trash cans with sloping sides, apparently fly.

    I caught one yesterday and two this morning.  I let the one go right outside the door yesterday; he beelined for a dark spot on the outside wall of the great room that turned out to be a hole.  Nice.  I have to say, I just love the people who did all the custom work on our place.  It’s so inspirationally half-assed.  But that’s home ownership:  just when you think you have it under control, you find another problem.

    So the two from last night are in a covered plastic tote so I can haul them out to a field away from the house.  I’m glad I put them in there; one of them just escaped from his trap and is now wandering directly inside the tote, to the frustration of the cat.  I can’t tell from here whether it managed to lift one of the door of whether it chewed its way out; from the sounds last night, it sounds like they tried.

    And so, later this morning, Ray and I will drive out to a field near someone else’s home and release the mice.  Fly free, little mice!  I hope you’re swiftly eaten by something with a large beak.

    Update: The two mice from this morning escaped, probably while I was typing the original entry.  It’s a whole ‘nother story, but there was a tiny HOLE in the lid of the tote, and when I went to check on them, they were both gone.  I caught another one (or maybe one of the two that escaped) and immediately took it down the street.  It ran across the street, then ran back and forth against the opposite curb for a few laps, chittering loudly, before jumping the curb and making  a beeline for someone else’s house.

    A Tale of 100-year-old Scotch

    I published my first story on Smashwords* yesterday.  Woo hoo!  There are some things I wanted to note about the story and the process, but I figured most people wouldn’t want to hear me blah blah about them.  Where do you blah when you must blah and you have no other blah blah?**  On your blahg.

    The story’s called A Fly in Amber. You can get it for free if you get it before March 1, using this code:  QN26W

    It was triggered by a flash fiction challenge by Chuck Wendig to write about Shackleton’s Scotch, the whiskey left behind over 100 years ago when explorer Ernest Shackleton tried to reach the South Pole and missed by less than 100 miles.

    Because I typed up the explanation in the beginning of the story, I’ll just insert it here to save wear and tear on my fingers, because you know I like to be terse:

    In 1909, explorer Ernest Shackleton tried to reach the South Pole but failed. Oh, his expedition made it the furthest south of any expedition at the time, but they had to abandon the trek due to lack of food and other supplies, and Roald Amundson took the prize instead in 1912. On the reason why he gave up, Shackleton told his wife, “I thought you’d rather have a live donkey than a dead lion.”

    In abandoning the expedition, Shackleton and his crew left behind Scotch (five crates) and brandy (two crates) under the floorboards in a small hut in the Antarctic. The Scotch was made by Mackinlay and Co., a distillery founded in Leith, now a borough of Edinburgh.

    Shackleton, an Irishman, had asked Mackinlay to provide the Scotch necessary for the expedition, and the company kindly obliged. The crates were discovered in 2006 but couldn’t be removed due to being frozen in ice. It wasn’t until 2011 that three bottles of Rare Old Highland Malt Whiskey had been delivered back to the current owners of Mackinlay & Co., distillers Whyte & Mackay.

    Whyte & Mackay decided to try to analyze the blend and try to recreate the Scotch as a publicity stunt–the original recipe had been lost. It wasn’t just a bottle of Scotch, see, it was the chance to prove that even the Irish liked the spirits of the Scotch better than their own stuff. Of course Whyte & Mackay had to do it.

    Because of the bad record-keeping at the time, they had no idea what kind of whiskey it would turn out to be, light or heavy or smokey or even blended. The stuff was shipped up to Invergordon, where the company’s laboratories were.

    That much is true, at least, it’s as true as I could find out.  Whyte & Mackay have a great website; there will probably be updates on the real story at the Master Blender Blog link.  There’s a video up of the master blender, Richard Patterson, holding one of the bottles and telling the story of bringing it back.  There’s a lot of interesting information about the real story that didn’t make it into the fictional one.  It was a hoot to research.

    It wasn’t the type of story that I normally write, but when I did the research, it was the one that I had to write:  what does the damned stuff taste like?  I read the rest of the entries at that point on tenterhooks that someone else had arrived at what seemed to me the only logical story to write.  One other fellow came close, but went in a different direction (phew).

    I don’t want to blow the ending, so I won’t dither on about how I came up with that (in a time-stopping flash of inspiration, actually), but I started to think about how they might possibly recreate Scotch chemically, without a recipe–aha! It was the drinking man’s Jurassic Park.  But I threw out the dinosaur idea, and this other idea came along, but I liked the idea so much that I kept it in the title.

    The main character’s name is Beckett, but it never did come up.

    I decided I liked the story too much to just post it on my blog, as instructed, and I’ve been wanting to put something up on Smashwords, so there you go.  I think I need to put it up separately on Amazon if I want it to show up there, which I do, or at least I think I do.

    Here are my time guesstimates:

    • Writing story – 1/2 hour (before research).
    • Researching story – 2 hours.
    • Rewriting intro – 1/2 hour.
    • Edits after reviewer comments – 15 minutes.
    • Researching Smashwords – 2 hours.
    • Applying formatting updates – 15 minutes (I’m good at MSWord).
    • Building cover (including taking photo of Lee’s new decanter.  Thanks, Kate!) – 1 hour.
    • Posting story, realizing cover ended up lopsided in story, reposting, etc. – 1 hour.
    • Dithering – 4 hours.

    Total, less dithering – 7.5 hours.

    Three free copies have been downloaded so far.  At this rate, I’ll be a millionaire!

    I found myself much pickier with this story–less willing to take risks, too–than on the stories that I submit to magazines.  After all, they have editors who will just reject my story if it’s too stupid for words and will tell me if I have boo boos, right?  I’m thinking I’m going to have to start approaching stories as though I have no idea whether I’m going to publish them online or not until the last minute, so I can both take chances and put together something that I have to know someone will like.  Easy, right?

    I’ll let you know how it goes.
    *I keep typing it Shamswords.  It must be the whiskey I drank for research, right?

    **New story idea: I Have No Blahg and I Must Blah. Hm. Nahhhh.

    How to Fail, Part 5: Rejections, Rejections, Rejections

    I’ve talked about why failing so hard, why we aren’t failing enough, talent vs. hard work, and success.

    Not that I get a huge number of comments on a post or anything, but I got a lot fewer comments on the success post than I did on anything else.  People like to talk smack about their least favorite writers.  I did.  I’ve been thinking about it lately, though, and I’m starting to see it as an ugly thing.  Honest assessment and criticism are one thing, but making fun of someone who can’t fight back is another, and I’m trying to do be done with it.  I hope I got some other people thinking about it, anyway.  You don’t create success in your own work by being jealous of someone else’s.

    But on to rejections!

    I hope it’s pretty obvious where I’m leading here:  send out your work and get it rejected already.

    The benefits of being accepted are pretty obvious.  There are pitfalls to being accepted, too, like signing a bad contract, but those pitfalls are outside of the scope of what I want to talk about here.  Just know that success leads to money, and there are always problems with money, and you should take those as seriously as a newlywed couple should but so rarely do take their money problems.

    But let’s say you get rejected.

    I mean, what are the chances?

    I could guesstimate here, but I’m not going to:  I’m going to direct you to the excellent website Duotrope’s Digest.  It’s a website that helps authors–especially short fiction and poetry authors–track different markets, that is, places to get your stuff published.  It tells you what markets apply to your genre of work, what the pay rates are, whether the markets are taking submissions, how long your submission has been at a given market, and a lot of other data, like each market’s acceptance rate.

    For example, I’m looking at an online market for science fiction that pays pro rates, that is, over five cents a word.  It’s called Lightspeed.  As of today, their acceptance rate is .18%.

    That means the average writer would have to send at least 500 stories to Lightspeed before getting accepted.

    Before I send you running for the tequila, keep in mind that’s still a lot better than your chances at winning a major prize at the lottery, and getting published in a pro-level market is a major prize.

    On the other hand, there’s another online market listed for science fiction called Spectra Magazine.  They don’t pay anything.  As of today, their acceptance rate is 10%.  The average writer would have to send ten stories before getting accepted.

    Again, a lot better than the lottery.

    Two things to note here:

    1)  Even non-paying markets don’t take most of the work that is sent to them.  Even if you’re only sending work to non-paying markets, you better have ten pieces out in the mail if you want to  succeed at all.  If you’re a new writer, you should probably bump that up by at least 20%, to twelve or so for markets with the same acceptance rate as Spectra–and if you’re going to hit the pro markets, I recommend having a lot more pieces out than that.

    2)  It’s probably a good idea to become a better-than-average writer.

    How do you do that?

    Rejections.

    How on earth do rejections make you a better-than-average writer?

    Remember that discussion we had about talent vs. hard work?  That’s right.  If pure talent isn’t going to take you where you want to go, it has to be something else.  You’ll be doing the writing–steadily working toward your 10 million words–but you also need to learn a few other things.

    Here’s what you’re going to learn from rejections:

    • How to survive rejections. Your first rejections are going to just kill you. But then you’ll have days when you get two rejections in one day and it’ll just kill you–but those one-rejections days are just part of the business. (I’ve had five-rejection days; they still just kill me.)
    • The importance of professionalism. You’ll get a rejection, and it’ll just kill you, and you’ll go back and read your cover letter and opening of your story and realize that it’s formatted wrong, has a ton of typos, and you put the wrong market’s name on the cover letter…and it’ll kill you, because you realize, “No wonder they think I’m an idiot.”
    • The sky is the limit. You’ll send your work to places you’re sure you’ll get accepted at–and you won’t, and it’ll just kill you. Then you’ll send something else to the same market and get accepted, and you’ll start thinking, “What if I’d sent it somewhere tougher?” and it’ll kill you:  you can always get rejected at your dream market and then move on to other markets.
    • How to take (and treasure) criticism. You’ll get form rejections and it’ll just kill you because you just want to know what they didn’t like, okay?!? Then you’ll get a personal rejection, and it’ll kill you because they’re wrong, they’re just wrong about your and your story. Then you’ll get to the point that when people send you personal rejection, it’ll kill you because they’re right, so right. And you’ll rewrite the story and send it to the next market–and it’ll get accepted.
    • What the right markets for you are. You’ll get a rejection and it’ll kill you, because nobody appreciates your talent. And then you’ll get a rejection and it’ll kill you, because you go back and read some of the work that market publishes, and their pieces are all worse than yours. And then you’ll get another rejection and go back and read some more of the work they’re publishing so you can sneer at it, and it just kills you because you realize that that market, even though it doesn’t say so in their guidelines, would never, never publish the piece you sent them, because they are looking for a specialized subset of what they say they want in their guidelines, and you realize that you wasted their times as well as yours.
    • How to have perspective on that “perfect” story. You’ll get a rejection, and it’ll kill you, because it’s the best story you’ve ever written.  And then you’ll write another story, send it out, and it’ll get rejected, and it’ll kill you, because it’s even better than that other story.  And then you’ll keep on writing, and you’ll realize both those stories were crap, and it’ll kill you, because the stuff you’re writing now is even better, and it’s still getting rejected.  And then one of your earlier stories will get accepted, and you’ll break down in tears, because it’s just too ironic, damn it.

    Editors bitch about unprofessional submissions all the time, but you can’t, as a writer, know everything you need to know before you start submitting.  It’s just not possible–no matter how many writing books you read, no matter how much you write, no matter how closely you study the markets and guidelines, there are things you can’t really know until you’ve been rejected more than a few times.

    So make those mistakes, learn from them, and move on.

    People sometimes talk about “paying dues” with regards to writing.  I hate that.  What dues?  Who’s charging them?  Why do some people get a half-off coupon and not me?

    When you’re getting rejected, you’re not paying dues, you’re learning the business.  Writing for publication isn’t just about writing well; you also have to learn how to sell your work, or you’re going to get screwed.  Collecting rejections is a good way to start.

    I love my critique group, and I couldn’t survive without them.  They help me get better every time I see them.  I think contests are very cool, very inspiring, and a good way to get feedback.  But a critique group or a non-publishing contest (or, in fact, your mom or spouse or kids or whoever) doesn’t have the same constraints that a publisher does.  Their praise and compliments and even awards aren’t the same thing as a publisher’s acceptances, and they never will be.  Not even a published writer can really tell you for sure whether your stuff is good enough to publish and where–we all judge pieces by our own standards, and our standards aren’t the same as a publisher’s.

    If you’re a writer and you want to get published, the only way to know whether you’re making mistakes that will keep you from getting published is to try, and keep trying, to get published.  That means you’re going to get rejected more often than not–but that’s the business.  If you’re not getting rejected, you’re not really doing your job.

    Next time:  How to manage your rejections.

    How to Fail, Part 4: You Can’t Control Success

    I’ve talked about why failing is so hard and that we need to give ourselves more opportunities to fail, if we’re going to succeed.  I’ve talked about the idea that we need to be talented writers instead of hard workers and how useless it is.

    Now it’s time to talk about success.

    What is success?

    Every person has a different definition of success, and that definition will change over time.  It’s important to have a feel for what your definition of success is; for example, if you don’t really care about becoming a New York Times bestselling author, then it would be foolish to throw all your time and energy into becoming one.  Defining what success is for you, personally, doesn’t have to be a single mission statement; it can be a list, like this:

    • NYT bestselling author
    • Supporting self/family with writing
    • Winning a major award
    • Using writing income to buy a really nice dinner once a month
    • Getting a royalty check
    • Buying a house
    • Getting paid for your writing.  At ALL.
    • Finishing a story you can be proud of.
    • Writing a story that your best friend loves.
    • Having a local book club discuss your book.
    • Having a signing where you sell more than five copies.

    When you’re figuring out how you define success as a writer, the sky is the limit, and nothing is too petty to write down.  You don’t have to be noble about it.  There is nothing you “should” write down or not write down.  If you want to write down that you want to write sex scenes so hot that your boss worries about you running away and joining a very strange circus, well, that’s a valid measure of success.

    It’s important to know what you want, even if it isn’t reasonable or if it isn’t part of your current goals.  You need to know what motivates you, so you aren’t acting against your deepest dreams.

    But, on the other hand, you can’t let a drive for success wreck your career.

    Earlier, I implied that being a top-selling writer was like winning the lottery.  In a way, it isn’t–you can control whether you put in the work (those ten million words), but in a way it is–you can’t control how many copies of those ten million words you sell.  You can influence the numbers, but you can’t control them.

    And like playing the lottery, it can be easy to get caught up in playing the game when it comes to writing.  Let’s say you sell a book.  Is the next book you sell going to be just like the book you sold?  Are you going to try to stick to a magic formula, or are you going to write the book that you really have faith in?  Are you going to sell out, that is, do things you don’t believe in, just to try to hit better numbers?

    And what happens if you don’t succeed at things on your list right away?  Are you going to get angry at other writers who do succeed (even if it’s only pseudonymously, ghostwriting for celebrities)?  Are you going to throw down your “perfect” work in disgust, because so much “crap” is getting published?

    You can’t control success.  You can’t force people to read your work, and you really can’t force them to enjoy it, any more than you can force people to like you. You can bully, you can nag, you can bribe, you can beg…you can manipulate people into buying books, but you can’t make people like your work any more than you can make them like you.

    There are all kinds of strategies you can you to make yourself (and your writing) likable, but what the best ones come down to is:

    • Be yourself, as best you can.
    • Not everyone’s going to like you, and that’s all right.
    • But get the word out; being shy isn’t going to get you liked.

    Look at that list of top ten bestselling writers.  Do you like their writing?  All of it?  Are those your top ten favorite writers ever?

    Probably not.  Not everyone likes them, yet they sell. Conversely, your favorite authors may not be on that list, but you still like them and buy their books.

    As writers, a lot of us were (or still are) the weird kids who weren’t popular in school, and that’s a hard thing to get over.  But think about it:  as you became more skilled at being yourself, you found your niche–you found the places where you’re most comfortable, the people you most enjoy being around, and the work that you most enjoy doing and are good at.  You might not be doing it full time, but at least you know what it is.  You may not have perfected that niche, but you’re getting better at it. Life got better after high school, right?

    If you’re going to be a writer, you’re going to have to figure out your writing niche (or niches; you don’t have to limit yourself to one).  It’s 100% your responsibility, not the responsibility of an agent, editor, publisher–or even an audience–any more than it was the responsibility of your high school classmates to make you popular.  Nobody, not even your mother, is obligated to like anything you write, and the second you say something like, “You’re too stupid to understand,” you’re shooting yourself in the foot.

    People who want to read books want to read books.  So you already have that working in your favor.  So if you’re not convincing people to read your books, it’s not because they don’t want to read books; it’s because you haven’t convinced them to read your books.

    People aren’t stupid.  You just haven’t won them over.

    There are lots of strategies to winning people over, but most of them involve the following:

    • Being yourself, as best you can.
    • Not everyone’s going to like you, and that’s all right.
    • But get the word out; being shy won’t get you liked.

    Face it:  successful books are about people being themselves and are written by people being themselves (those aren’t the only reasons for their success, admittedly).  That celebrity tell-all that you’ve been making fun of for months?  Exactly the kind of person that people like to gossip about.  That book whose cliches make you groan and lack of sophistication makes you fear for the future of mankind?  You know people like that, and people who like to hear about people like that.  Those books, no matter what you think of them, are about real things.  Maybe not uplifting things, maybe not deep things, but real things.

    But you’re being yourself and nobody wants to buy your books!  It isn’t fair!

    The only answer to that is that you’re the one who wanted to be a writer; it’s your job to convince people to buy your books.  Books not selling?  Happy learning experience.

    Part of your job, as a writer, is to learn how to be more convincing, either by writing better books, finding your audience, or getting better at getting the word out.  If nobody wants to be your agent, and nobody wants to publish your books–so what?  There are other ways you can convince people to buy your books.  Other businesspeople have been marketing their products without the benefit of the big New York publishing houses for years, and that’s what writers do–market products, either directly or by licencing the copyright to other companies to do so for you.  But that’s a whole ‘nother discussion, another one that I’m not yet qualified to lead.

    So, to sum up, you can’t control success.  You’re working on finding your niche; you’re trying to be yourself, as best you can.  You can’t control who likes you; you can’t control whether an agent or editor “thinks you can sell.”  What can you control?

    I’ll give you a hint…

    Next time:  Rejections.  Lots of Rejections.

    In Love with the Ocean

    I was talking to Lee last night and came to the conclusion that I’m having an affair with the ocean. Whenever I’m around it, it’s this magnetic presence that takes over my brain, as in, ocean ocean ocean did you know there was an ocean over there? I see the particular quality of sky that says, “there’s an ocean near by,” and part of me start singing a little ditty about the ocean and how I should go see it.

    I wondered for a while if I should try to move closer to the ocean.  I mean, it’s a long ways away from here, no matter which direction you’re travelling, and I don’t get to see it that often.  However, I like having seasons, and I like the West Coast better than the East Coast, which means not so much on the seasons.  Lots of damp, too.  I hate the way my clothes never dry out.  And a lack of sunshine would kill me; I’d be depressed all the time.  It would be pretty distracting living next to the ocean, like being on drugs all the time.

    Or maybe I have an aversion to locational happiness, but I doubt it.

    At any rate, I like living in Colorado, which has more to do with my friends here (and all the sunshine) than anything else.  I think I could stand to get out of the Springs, though.  I’m tired of the extreme pettiness people have about having nice things in this town, and I don’t like this neighborhood.  There are too damned many people, and all the houses look the same in their orderly little rows, and if I want to walk to the nearest park I have to walk on broken glass because, God knows why, the sidewalk in front of the local elementary school is the perfect place to throw used beer bottles.  Maybe there’s a good reason; Ray had day care at that school (instead of her usual school) one summer, and I hated just walking in the building, it felt so heavy and thick and jailhousy.

    And so I think I will stay a writer instead of an ocean-head and live in Colorado and travel on occasion to have a fling with the ocean.  Lee says that’s okay; he made some obscene suggestions for the consummation of my relationship that weren’t particularly titillating, so I won’t repeat them here.  I’m going to a marketing workshop for writers on the coast of Oregon at the end of March, so I’ll get to see it soon.

    January writing stats.

    Poem: Wrote “What You Call for Will Come” – 1 rejection, 1 rejection total.

    Short stories:

    Wrote:
    Blind Spot (SF)
    Creators of Small Worlds (H)
    In the Groves of Lord Satsuma (F/H)

    Published:
    The Business that Must Be Conducted in the Dark (SF/H) at Silverthought

    Rejections:
    13

    (Total submissions in last 12 months – 118, acceptances – 3, published – 2. Acceptance rate 2.17%, according to Duotrope)

    Novels:

    Wrote: No new novels written. Editing Alien Blue again.

    Rejections:
    13 (including 1 partial)

    Novels out on subs: 3

    Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén