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Stargate Monuments


Martha Wells

My Flying Lizard Circus

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Information is Your Friend

Scott Lynch is being wise about the process of becoming a professional writer here: Being good can be a shortcut. There is no shortcut to being good.

Most of the publication-hungry folks I've ever met have struck me as honest, receptive, and realistic, but there’s always a tiny minority I can spot by the nature of the questions they ask and the statements they fixate on. They’re not interested in hearing about hard work, study, or self-improvement. Their eyes glaze over when I talk about concepts like effort or practice. They want nothing to do with developing actual skills, and in a few cases they don't even want a damn thing to do with me or my work. They just want me to tell them how to duck under that imaginary velvet rope.

There are a lot of bits I want to quote but I'm going to stop with just one more:

Look, read this next bit very carefully: Famous useless idiots get book contracts all the time. Let us assume that we are not famous useless idiots, you and I. Therefore their situation is not germane to ours. Terrible, terrible writers also get book contracts all the time; this is because there’s no accounting for taste and because there is no accounting for taste and because, if you dig, there is no fucking accounting for taste. I can’t teach you how to get hit by a meteorite; I can only tell you about the "actively try to not be a terrible writer" approach, because it's how me and most of my peers end up on the shelf at Barnes & Noble. This situation, which is my situation and, not to put too fine a point on it, YOUR situation if you’re unpublished and want to kill that 'un-,' is defined by the following equation:

Hard work + self-awareness + perseverance = MAYBE

What he said. And you can also look at Jim Hines' First Novel Survey, which collected data about how writers sold their first novel, how long it took them, and dealt with myths about the process.

And I wanted to add this:

One of the things I liked about the DFW Writers Conference I went to in May was how many of the attendees already seemed to get these points. The goal of the conference for most people is to sign up for pitch sessions with the attending agents or consultations with the editors there. But while all this is going on, the pro writers, agents, and editors are teaching classes and giving seminars, and there are opportunities to ask questions and get information on not only the craft of writing (one of the classes I taught was Dialogue Basics, the other was worldbuilding) but also the publishing process and how the industry works.

Once you put in the ten years give or take of hard work to develop your writing skills, knowing how the industry works is kind of important. Scott touches on this in his post, but if you knew someone who said they wanted to be a doctor, but they didn't know they had to go to medical school first, that would be weird, right? Or if they knew being a doctor involved curing people, but they didn't know what the process was for doing that? Or if they rented an office and got a stethoscope and a lab coat, and thought that was all they needed? That wouldn't be rational. Especially as all the information about the process for becoming a doctor is readily available online. It's kind of like that for publishing.

If you want to be a pro writer, knowing as much as you can about publishing is important. Really important. And it's more important now to stay up to date, since the publishing industry is going through so many fast changes. And in a lot of ways, I think it's even more vital for people who are committed to self-publishing. If you're self-publishing, there's no agent to explain contracts or tell you what a distributor is and how distribution works (yeah, it's important to know that), no editor or editor's assistant to answer questions or explain what things mean, and to tell you what you need to do and what you don't. You're on your own, and there's a whole cottage industry out there who make a lot of money off people who want to self-publish, by selling them things they don't actually need and telling them stuff that isn't true.

If you want to sell your writing, you have to approach it like a job, because it is a job. You have to work on refining your craft and your abilities in the way that works best for you. You have to research how the industry works and what to expect. You have to stay up to date on that information. You should behave like a professional, whether you're selling work to publishers or self-publishing.

(Seriously, if you save your professional behavior for your day job, and behave like a giant entitled badly-raised baby in the writing world, it doesn't say good things about your commitment to your career. Would you want to work with someone at a day job who was a giant entitled badly-raised baby? No, people who work in publishing don't want to do that either.)

(I think about this when I watch Top Chef or Project Runway, and see people who are clearly making life a miserable hell for the other contestants and the production staff and treating the clients like dirt and skirting as close to the edge of cheating as they can without getting caught, and then somehow think this won't effect the way future employers perceive them.)

Anyway, information is your friend. I have a list of links on my web site Publishing Information for Beginning Writers which I hope is a good starting point.

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Oh cool, I'm glad it's helpful!

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