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bear by san

March 2017



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ace the wonder dog

and his sister's weird. she drives a lorry.

The morning at Volunteer Park (my run was more of an amble, really) I met a rangy natural-eared black-born gray Briard named Buddha. Huzzah!

In unrelated news, apparently it has come around again on the guitar, and it's time to talk about How One Gets Published. Which, honestly, is maybe not the best way to put it, because the object, after all, is not so much Getting Published as Building A Career As A Writer.

However, one step along that path is breaking into print, which is a major milestone in any writer's life, whether we're talking first nationally published short story or first novel, or both. For the purposes of this essay, we're going to talk about novels, with short stories being recognized as a category under that.

And the problem is that I can't give you an easy set of steps to follow to break into print as a novelist, because everybody's path is different. There is still no magic get-published button. But I can give you a series of strategies which either worked for me, or for friends.

1) Write better.

ccfinlay once said to me, "There is always room for excellence," and I think it's one of the best pieces of advice I've ever gotten. Whatever level you're at as a writer, don't assume it's good enough. I've adopted, as my personal artist's motto, two phrases. One of them is There is no such thing as good enough.

2) Develop a voice and a vision.

Art is not about following the rules. (The second part of my motto is, There are no rules. There are only techniques which work or do not work. ) Have something to say, and say it in a manner that is clearly and uniquely your own.

This takes time and practice. Garage bands all sound the same, but I can pick out an unfamiliar Pete Townshend lick in about half a bar.

The infamous million words of shit, and the equally infamous ten-year writer's apprenticeship (mine was closer to twenty, but I've always been slow), are the process by which we develop this voice. Visual artists call it confidence of line; we call it narrative authority. Only practice earns it.

Whenever they tell me children want this sort of book and children need this sort of writing, I am going to smile politely and shut my earlids. I am a writer, not a caterer. There are plenty of caterers. But what children most want and need is what we and they don't know they want and don't think they need, and only writers can offer it to them.
         --Ursula K. Le Guin

3) Write, edit, submit.

We all know this part, right? Write stories. Revise them. Submit them to paying short fiction markets or to non-shyster agents (or to those few legitemate novel publishers who still take slush) in a manner consistent with the guidelines of those markets and the generally accepted practices of publishing. (Most markets will have their guidelines online. SFWA also has a page where they discuss the business of writing and proper manuscript format.)

It is not necessary to build a career as a short story writer to sell novels, but a few nice short story sales never hurt. On the other hand, my novel sales really drove my short story career into the major markets: before my first novel sale, almost all my short fiction sales were to teeny tiny indie magazines. (I love teeny tiny indy magazines. I still read slush for one.)

4) Build a peer group.

Find some like-minded writers who are on their way up and stick with them. Learn the ins and outs of the business from them. Share what you learn with them. Compare notes, share experiences, talk about editors and markets.

You need each other: trust me on this. Good places to look are serious online writer's forums (Absolute Write, Baen, Forward Motion) and online workshops (Critters, the OWW). Be aware, however, that there's a lot of misinformation out there. Check what people tell you.

Also, this is the most effective form of networking. No, really. As you become a more accomplished writer, you will find your peer group expanding kind of naturalistically. Knowing people as people is far more effective than trying to insinuate yourself into their circle for business purposes. (They can generally tell if that's what you are after.)

5) Get stubborn.

I first submitted a story to Asimov's when I was a sophomore in high school. I finally sold them one when I was 35. My first published novel was my fourth finished novel--and not the first version of that foruth novel either--and there had been many, many false starts before.

Persistence is vital.


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I also tend to feel "There is no good enough," but that always leaves me with one nagging question, and perhaps you have an answer.

How do you know when a story is done?
When you're changing it, but not actually making it any better. Or, for me, when I can't look at it any more without getting the shakes.
#2 is really important. It connects to the obsession with writing the perfect query letter, too--which can lead to getting overfocused and forgetting that no matter how perfect your query is, it won't land you the gig. Only your best work, which is preeminently yours, will do that.
I do some of these well and the others...I...look, a pigeon!

I just changed my icon to the Barney 'Suit Up' one. Seems to be the motto for the year. Seems to fit this useful, cogent reality check pretty well too:) Thanks for this.

ETA: For some reason I always hear the GRD's 'Hi there' on that icon as Peter Gabriel at the opening of 'Big Time'. Just seems to fit:)

Edited at 2009-07-05 09:46 pm (UTC)

>Garage bands all sound the same, but I can pick out an unfamiliar Pete Townshend lick in about half a bar.

sums up "voice" just perfectly.
Most Briards (like the GRD, and LRD, for instance) have cropped ears. Bear talked about this a while back in comments in a post about the GRD, I think, which is the only reason I know their ears get cropped at all.

See, Bear, one learns things by reading your LJ!
These are good words, to which my experience tempts me to suggest: if your peer group is telling you what a genius you are, it's time to move on, and second, if you find yourself writing to please the peer group, again it's time to move on. Two natural human tendencies (to glory in praise, and to do that which garners praise) but those can seriously hold one back.
I was thinking more a group of writer buddies than a crit circle, but caveated that one is talking about a crit circle, yes, indeed.
I love hearing people's stories, but I also always fall victim to numerology and magical thinking. "It was her fourth novel that got published--I'm on my fourth novel! So... this one of mine will get published!!"

--fortunately, sane-brain can tell magical-thinking-brain that that's not the way it works :-P

Unfortunately, I think it's about getting lucky. Remember J.K. Rowling and her long path to getting published. And then compare it with silly 27-year old me, who is getting her first novel published this spring, which really is my first novel ever. Been working on it for 10 years yes, but it's definately still got that feel to it that it was made up by a teenage girl. I got lucky. I don't expect it to go anywhere, but it's a start right? I often wish every aspiring writer would get as lucky as me.
Now that I have finally got my book together, I guess I need to work on the latter parts of this... I would have to do my research on markets first, 'cause I'm not certain how many major publishers actually do poetry...

In the immediate future, I'm working on #4... I know a few writers, but not nearly enough. lol I get so jealous whenever Eve talks aboot her monthly meeting of her writer's reading group... So right now I guess I'm just gonna throw my tawdry little manuscript at friends and see if anyone has anything helpful to say...
Livejournal is a good place to find peers too, right? ^.^
Hmmm..... How like-minded? I'm really getting a kick out of being part of a circle of people who do not read SFF, have never read SFF, and do not care to read SFF.

What's fun is the completely different approaches. However, there is a certain supportive constant between us, and an interest in the right word in the right place. And humor. Writing without a sense of humor about yourself must be one of the Dantean damnations.
They may do great things for your writing as a crit group, but they're not going to help you understand the SFF inside baseball.

I'm not talking about crit groups. That's a different post.
Volunteer Park? Didn't realize you were going to be quite so much in my old stomping grounds... I grew up less than a block from the northeast corner of the park. And I stay just off Broadway when I'm in town these days... If fact this morning I made a date to get together with one of my Chen students / gongfu brothers and spar in the park mornings when we're both in town. Which almost certainly means it will be another trip of late nights with the hackers and early morning beatings in Seattle...

Someone has told you about Espresso Vivace, yes?

(And my sister works at Izilla toys - fabulous progressive toy store on 14th and pine. Kids toys. For not kids toys go to Toys in Babeland...)
In fact, I had a cappuccino there on Thursday. Lovely.
*g* Next time you see me in a hotel bar come up and introduce yourself. How's that?
I was thinking about it. No wonder there are so few successful writers, since first you have to be at least competent at both the writing part (I mean, handling the English language) and the telling stories part, and those are each large sets of many subsidiary skills (e.g. plotting, pacing, developing characters) and a lot better than competent at least at one of the two. I don't think the two sets are even necessarily related. For instance, I can do the writing part with reasonable competence, but I mostly don't have the stories to tell. So I'm not a fiction writer. (I suspect the writing can be learned but the story-telling can only be improved.)

And then there's all the business skills and perseverance to get published, another unrelated set of skills.... no wonder the apprenticeship is long.

ETA: not trying to tell you your trade and I hope it doesn't sound like that; just offering an outsider perspective.

Edited at 2009-07-06 01:48 am (UTC)
I think you're right. *g*
Hopefully not all of those are necessary. Because I fear that #4 may be impossible for an asshole like me. :)
This genre is full of assholes. *g* But it's true, one does have an uphill battle under those circumstances.

I would suggest writing even better in that case.


I rather needed that kick in the ass.

Thanks for this! I really appreciate this sort of advice. :)

ps when I have your LJ open, the tab in my browser shows the title shortened to 'throw another bear...', to which my Aussie brain always adds 'on the barbie'. :P

Edited at 2009-07-06 09:10 am (UTC)
Mmm. Bear.

oh, look, I misspelled legitimate. Good thing I'm not a writer.
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