It took Baen over 18 months to decide they didn’t want one of my fantasy novels. During that time the manuscript was mostly frozen because I didn’t want to change something about it they might like. In that time I learned things about marketability and had ideas for changes. The story itself is solid, so the changes I had in mind were mostly superficial. It took me a couple hours but I revamped the parts I wanted to change and sent it out to yet another publisher. It’s not my novel that I can report as a forthcoming publication, yet.
<— yonder I have links to my published works. It’s a short list. I comfort myself by remembering that the vast majority of people have no list of published work. While it’s not exactly a fair comparison in that most people are not trying to get published, I don’t care.
I was at a party last month when the subject of NaNoWriMo came up somehow. A group of about 8 people, none of whom I’d met prior to the party, all said they were going to participate. So I asked if they were all writers. A silly question, given that they obviously were. But the question was really if they considered themselves writers. They all did. When I asked which of them were published, I felt a bit like an ass when I was the only one who could claim they’d been published. I don’t want to be the guy who tramples other people’s egos. It is certainly a boost to mine to be published among a group of wannabe’s. But I wasn’t trying to make myself the authority figure in the conversation on writing.
The problem with talking with unpublished writers is that they may or may not know what they’re doing in the writing department. There is something to be said for unbridled creativity. Putting pen to paper and dashing out sentence after sentence is an accomplishment in its own right. Like painting, writing well is an art. Anyone can paint. Few can create a work of art. It usually takes training and practice, just like writing.
I used to participate heavily in online writing communities. When I started, there were a couple among the group who’d been published in non-paying markets. Working together, we refined our craft, learned the expectations of the publishing world, and adapted to make our work marketable. Not just particular works, but our craft in general. I think about 70% of the 130 or so writers in one of the communities are now published in paying markets. I think one has become a full time writer. I think I know what I’m talking about when I discuss the craft of writing. I know which “rules” of writing are valid and which are bogus.
For example, first person is a narrative style that is usually shunned by many markets. It’s too easy to write and too hard to write well. Some markets even have a hard rule: Do not submit first person work. But a good writer can overcome this. “Aurora’s Smile” which I wrote a couple years back was published last January. It’s not only first person, but it’s present tense. It was actually me trying to do several of the things that the consensus of publishers say are bad to do. The style is comically noir in a cybertech future.
Many aspiring writers make two major mistakes: They don’t read to know the market and they don’t maintain a constant Point of View. In my writing community, which I am still a part of(though less active than when I was green), we get new members constantly. We almost always have to explain why it’s better to limit the point of view to include the inner thoughts of only one person for each narrative segment. The simple explanation is that readers immerse better into a story if they are connecting to one person at a time. If we can see inside every character’s head, we, as readers, tend to stay emotionally unattached to any of them. Maintaining the single point of view is difficult in that sometimes we need to convey what other characters may be thinking. We must do this by how the main character observes that other character.
Those are just some examples of what makes a writer adept at their craft. When talking to unpublished writers, I can’t know whether they know these basic premises to the craft so I don’t know where to start. At a party, I certainly don’t want to start a symposium where I’m leading a class. So we usually talk about the plots of our stories; that’s fine. It only gets bad when it becomes obvious that a character is not steering the story but along for the ride. I can’t really tell someone I don’t know that they can’t have a story without character development. And no, getting shot does not constitute a character change though it may be a catalyst for change.
So the bottom line is that unpublished writers possess an unknown variable in their skill level. Are they really writers or just people who write? I’m pretty much of the belief that if you posses the skills of a writer, you can get published. The trick is finding the markets that fit your works. That’s not to say that you can make a living at it. If all you write is novels, you may never find the markets that fit your work due entirely to the amount of work going into novel writing and the turnaround time for rejections in the novel markets. Even the low paying markets take months to review a novel. The problem with being purely a novelist is that until you are published, you possess the unknown skill variable. Even to yourself, you’re unsure of your abilities until someone pays you for your work.
I would recommend to all “Novelists” out there that have yet to be published: Write a few short stories. Find markets for them and vindicate your belief in your abilities as a writer. Not only will it make you feel better about yourself, but the publishing credits may get your novel manuscripts a jump past the first slush pile readers whose only purpose is to identify if you know the basic skills of how to write.
Oh, back to my original reason for this post: I have two stories that will be published in the next few months. “Heir to the Eighth” will be in Bards and Sages Quarterly and “Kythira” will be in Eternal Haunted Summer in the Spring Issue.
I chose Bards and Sages Quarterly for “Heir to the Eighth” because they bought something from me in the past. They don’t buy everything I send their way, but this makes two. “Heir” is about a son choosing whether or not to follow in his dead father’s footsteps.
I chose Eternal Haunted Summer because it’s a Pagan themed market. I actually went searching for a Pagan fiction market to sell “Kythira” to because it is so overtly Pagan that it may bother portions of a religiously diverse audience. “Kythira” is about a man’s encounter with Aphrodite.