As I had mentioned last week, today I was going to address when it makes sense to write for “free” and what the returns are. Today, though, I’m going to take a bit of a different turn and get back to basics. In the midst of getting some questions answered from literary agents for an upcoming article series, a writer was kind enough to shoot me a personal email. Here’s what struck me (Thanks so much to Thomas for letting me quote you!):
“I always wanted to know how one goes about getting published or pitching their works to creditable sources to see if they are of value or maybe it’s best I stick to business writing only.” –Thomas Cristel for Bed & Breakfast La Torretta Bianca in Italy
After I read his email, I sat back in my chair and hit my head. You see, I interpreted his question as a multi-layered one, that had several meanings. First, Thomas (who professionally writes white papers, articles, etc.) reminded me of the many writers out there who might stop themselves from submitting a different style of writing because they’re unclear of what their writing is worth. Second, he wanted to know what the process was for submitting work was and if it was worth the trouble.
Folks, this is a tricky question to respond to, because whether or not any writer gets published has absolutely nothing to do with how “good” the writing is. Ab-so-lute-ly nothing. Before you shake your head in bewilderment, let’s take a look at why this might be. Pick any magazine and read every article all the way through. Tell me how many of those articles you liked, disliked, loved or hated. Recently, in my copy of Self Magazine, I read an article that I couldn’t believe was published because it had no cited references or resources–yet it was talking about a topic that warranted it. I thought it was so bad I couldn’t even finish reading it. (Protecting the writer here, folks, so no names.) However, the article made it past an editor, so somebody thought it was excellent.
I challenge anyone to tell me what the hard and fast rule to determining “good” writing is. “Good” fiction is even more arbitrary because, unlike articles, it really is a lot like artwork. Fiction is often based on a mixture of personal opinion and that dollars and cents factor—sales (or potential sales). Sometimes, agents and editors are looking for what sells, which isn’t the same thing as what’s “good.” I review books through Penguin, Tor and Daw on occasion, and I’ll often check the blogosphere to take a pulse of the buzz or what other readers are thinking. You’d be surprised how many readers complain about the quality of a book but go out and buy every single book in a series because they are hoping the next one will be better than the last. This might send a confusing message back to the publisher because they’re seeing the book sell. To them, the book was a “hit” because it sold copies even though the readers didn’t like it.
When you put the thoughts in your head that your writing might not be “good enough,” you are doing something that comes naturally to each and every writer out there. Writers are, by our very nature, our own harshest critics. This, more than anything, is the reason why you have arrogant authors, shy writers who don’t make public appearances and everything else in between. We don’t know what the “standard” is, because writing is a creative art judged by arbitrary standards. So please, let me be clear: if a publisher ever rejects your work, it may not be because your work sucks. There are 10,000 reasons why an editor might reject a submission and it might not have anything to do with you. Don’t take rejections personally. This doesn’t mean you should have blinders on, though; ensuring that your fiction is top-notch is a bit of a balancing act.
So Thomas, first things first. I would strongly encourage you (and any other writer) to take your best shot. I would not, at any point, give up your day job to write fiction unless you can afford it. Next week, I’ll also be covering the ins and outs of submitting your work and how to determine what your return-on-investment (ROI) is. Afterward, I hope you’ll feel confident to venture out on your own. In the interest of helping you get started, I’d like to close today’s post with a few, brief tips on how you can help yourself get ready to submit your work.
Getting Yourself Ready for the Fiction Submission Process
- Decide What you Want to Write based on What you Enjoy Writing: This may sound like a pretty simple thing, but it’s really not. Writing fiction isn’t as easy as people might think because there’s this whole marketing thing that you have to think about. So let’s make it really simple. If you like science fiction–write sci fi. If you like romance novels, try your hand at writing passionate short stories. Try not to write something that you don’t enjoy because guess what? If you’re successful, you don’t want to be caught writing stories you hate.
Experiment First by Writing a Short Story and a Novella: Here’s something that’s not self-evident. Some writers are more talented when they write a novel than a short story because the writing techniques are not as similar as you might think. Even if you’ve never written a piece of fiction before, I highly encourage you to play around with the mediums a bit and find your niche. You’ll be more likely to continue writing if the work comes naturally to you.
Join a Writer’s Group: Here’s another strong recommendation that I have. Please, please, please talk to other writers. Please. One way to do that is to join a writer’s group (either face-to-face or online). There are several online writer’s groups that are either focused on a niche (like the PIT writer’s group at Permuted Press which is a horror small press publisher) or open to a wide range of topics like Critters.org. A writer’s group is invaluable because you’ll get real people reading your work and critiquing it. What better way to get your story ready for publication than to have that invaluable insight?
Give Yourself a Break: I’ve talked a lot about goals on this blog and, most recently, what it means to value your work. When you’re just starting out, give yourself a healthy buffer of time before you call it quits or decide to move on to something else. You’ll have to figure out how dedicated you’ll be to writing, editing and submitting fiction because it can add a lot of time to your day. The less dedicated you are to the craft, the more time you’ll have to allow for that imaginary “stop-this-isn’t-worth-it” sign.
Research the Publications you Want to be Published In: Before you even make the decision that you want to be published in a particular publication, you’ll need to do your homework. Read as much as you possibly can on the topic/type of story that you’re writing. When something sounds good to you, buy the book or magazine and stick it in a box. Once you’ve collected enough, you can use them to figure out what kind of stories you’re interested in writing or publishing and to understand what the editor might be looking for. Nine times out of ten–if you’re not familiar with a publication? Your chances of getting published are greatly decreased.
Thank you so much to everyone who commented on my blog this week and I appreciate you sticking with me. If you have a question or have suggestions for features in an upcoming post, feel free to contact me. Have a fantastic weekend! I’m off to Wizard World Chicago where I’ll be shooting photos, networking, and geeking out.
Happy scribing! And DON’T give up on your dreams!