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>The Young Man and The Sea

>I have a lot of memories of my father and I fishing. Now there is one important thing to note about this – we never, ever caught anything.

My father used to fish with his father, and my Dad had a some sentimental notion of how nice it was to sit and fish. The difference was my Grandad was actually someone who knew how to fish, and no doubt took Dad to his own secret spots at exactly the right time to catch something.

So when my Dad retired, he went and brought himself some fishing gear and together we went to the closest patch of water and threw in a line. Something wrong with this picture?

Well for a start there were no fish. Nothing wrong with that. The thing is we sat there, for hours and hours – with nothing biting or the bait being taken. Discouraging to say the least – and not all that inspiring to confidence either.

Its taken me all the decades between then and now to actually have the experience of getting a fish on the line. Thanks to my visit to Flinders Island and the experienced fishing guide Dave Freer. It’s a hell of buzz to get something, then reel that sucker in!

What has this to do with publishing? Well – I feel like my early fishing experience has kind of given me a bloody-mindedness that makes me slog away at something when I should be packing up the writing tackle and moving to another fishing spot! I have worked and re-worked material or sub and re-subbed to various markets that I should have just written off long ago.

If there is one thing I learned fishing – its that if the fish are not biting Move On!

So how do you decide where to sub material and when to give up on a market? When to give up on a project? Or better yet – how do you pick a likely fishing spot!

>Process and the Writer

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Like pretty much anyone who works in just about any kind of paid job, I get a lot of stuff about process, methodology, and of course “best practices”. At the same time, the posts here illustrate that for a writer, these concepts just flat don’t apply. It’s not that hard to understand: writing lives very firmly with the arts, and each piece a writer does is unique. The only place for process, methodology and best practices is with the middlemen who do the job of turning that work of art into a whole lot of identical widgets (i.e. books) by the magic of file copy and possibly the printing press.

Or is it?

Fiction tends to fit one of a very small number of templates (depending on who you ask, anything from three to twenty), so there’s a structure. Writers tend to fall into three broad camps – the plotters, the pantsers, and the plantsers. Each camp has similarities in how they work, and there are also similarities across the whole field: the general dictum that you have to plant butt in chair and write, the notion of setting targets for wordage, be they “something” or “five thousand words” or anywhere in between. (Would someone please pick up the fellow in the back? I think he fainted.) Writing routines are popular, too.

So is there a set of writing processes and practices that can help?

Actually, there’s probably several per writer – because while they can fit into some broad categories, they’re still going to change around a lot with each project. Or maybe not. Take two of mine (Please. I’ll say really nice things about you if you give me lots of money for them). Impaler had plot and structure on it imposed by the history I was working with. The piece I’m working on at the moment, Wether Fakawi Blues, is completely different in tone, structure and may be different enough to need a different name on the cover.

Both of them started with minimal outlining: I had about three to four pages for Impaler, and for Fakawi I had a previous piece (unsold) that’s getting ripped off and mostly recast, so the basic plot is more or less the same but a lot of the motivations, minor characters and so forth are changing around, and the final sequence is going to be nothing like the original. Both of them got “research on the fly” – which for Impaler was a heck of a lot more intense as I broke off what I was writing to go digging through my biographies of Vlad Draculea, Googling for old maps of eastern Europe and Turkey, and so forth – and both got written in the gaps between the rest of my life when I had a bit of brain to spare.

And both, as I got closer to any given scene, would get talked over with my first readers. I torment them with snippets, email them chapters as they’re done (Yes, they get to suffer through my raw, unedited first drafts. You see why I value them?), and discuss the next scene or next chapter with them. And that is my process, such as it is. It works for me. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone else.

What are your writing processes? Is there a common thread to how you work through a book and get your plots sorted out, or does each book impose its own patterns on you?

>Taking It To the Streets

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Dave talked about how to promote ourselves. Well, my blog tour seems to have helped with my current books, at least looking at Amazon numbers, for what that is worth.

But I’m looking for ideas. I always am. When you’re a midlist writer in this economy, you have to do what you can and sometimes what you can’t.

So, I’m going to float some ideas and you guys can tell me what you’d like to see or not, and other ideas you might have.

Things that are right out – I’m NOT giving away my cats for promotion. I’m not giving away my kids for promotion. No naked pictures and no bikini pictures unless and until I lose another forty pounds.

Things I can do and have done:

Blog posts

Contests

Blogs for my characters

Give away stories/books

Have comics drawn for my books — like this one: http://fatallybored.deviantart.com/gallery/#Draw-One-in-the-Dark

The problem is that sooner or later my blog posts will offend everyone. It’s the type of opinions I have. Contests – there’s only so much I can give away. Blogs for my characters… that one is a doozy. I simply don’t know what they should write about. Particularly Athena. What the heck would you like her to write about?
For give away stories and books my problem is time to write them in addition to the paying properties. Oh, yeah, and printing the comics and distributing them gets expensive.

Other things I’ve considered:

Live chats/either typed or voice/with camera/not. Possibly with my fellow mad geniuses, and other special guests. “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad Chat” type of thing. And “Mad, Mad, Mad readings.” But also café klatches of sorts. Prime Crime has these with their authors the month before their books comes out – typed chat in chat room, only, but with interaction with readers and other writers.

Would anyone be interested in that sort of thing? It might be tricksy what with our antipodean members, but fun too.

Another thing is having virtual chat/signing, in which, after it’s done, we collect addresses and send off signed bookplates. (Of course, small bookstore owners encouraged to participate.)

Yet another thing is doing a webcomic about the writing life. I can draw enough for that, and it occurs to me it could be very funny.

Ideas? Comments? Suggestions? Remember we’re all more or less broke and overworked. But we’re willing. Very willing. 🙂

UPDATE: Just put up a free electronic collection of all my Elizabethan Era short stories, which include alternate history, mysteries, fantasy and… sigh… vampires. (yes, I am very sorry. You may kill me afterwards. http://tinyurl.com/2847dge)

>Teachers who inspire us!

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In Australia last weekend was a long weekend. I spent the Saturday at my daughter’s school (she’s a student teacher) helping her clean her classroom/office. She is a specialist music teacher so she gets a little office to teach her students in. It’s a lovely room, in that it has air conditioning and a new view of the oval. But it is boring with standard carpet, standard desk, standard windows and standard pale green painted walls.

So, once we’d cleaned it, we went to Spotlight (material and craft store) to do up the room. We bought pale blue chiffon for the windows. Rainbow chiffon to make a fabric rainbow, sparkly butterflies to put on the walls and curtains, stickers of birds and flowers for the walls and stick-on little green frogs to hide in corners and give the boy students a thrill. She rang me this evening to say that the kids loved the class room!

All this is leading up to how important teachers are. They can turn a fascinating subject into a chore or they can inspire us. When I was in school, every Friday afternoon we had to write a composition (essay). The teacher would give us a topic and we would write a story. I LOVED this and looked forward to Friday afternoons. No matter how staid and boring the topic, I always found a way to turn it into something interesting. Aliens taking over the world? Sure, why not? Kidnapped by a space ship? Sure, I can do that.

And every Monday I would get my marks back. Not one word about the story, just an irritated admonishment to spell the words correctly or I would never get anywhere in life, with a list of spelling words I had to write out ten times.

Contrary to my teachers’ warning, I went on to write and be published!

So did you have any teachers who inspired you to be creative?

>Favorite bookshops

>I remeber all to vividly that allure… that sheer voluptuous abundance, that could just never be mine. Oh how I desired it. Lusted for it… I am talking about a bookshop of course – as 21 year old South African staring into the wonder that was Forbidden Planet in London. There were more sf/fantasy books in that one store than in all of South Africa’s shops put together (at that time – back when your parents rode to work on their dinosaurs and businesses were pretty spiffy if they had a fax machine – half a shelf of sf books was a lot). And not only did they have books by all my favorite authors, but they had OLD books of theirs. And they had shop assistants who loved and knew SF. I was going climbing for 6 weeks in a small one man tent with my girlfriend Barbara. We had about as much spare space as there is in a church-mouse’s cheeks and were roughly as well-off as same church mouse (some things are a natural state of being, I guess). I still came out with 5 books – 3 of which I still have (movies have almost no retention time compared to books. The influence sphere of books goes on and on.) And they got wet and battered and re-read… and re-read.

I dreamed of going back there – It’s gone bust, been sold and retail isn’t what it used to be. Soulless chains full of other non-book garbage, shop assistants who can’t read, let alone have read my kind of books, or, possibly worse are English literature students at the local Uni scared of being tainted by ‘enjoyment’ in books. Backlist? What? Order? huh?. And out of this a chaos the internet bookstore was born – which has some positives but has played havoc with the independents. But there are still are some – Here’s an article a few in the UK http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/7598617/Britains-best-independent-bookshops.html

Which brings me to what I was going write about, as a sort of follow on to Dan’s post. Because at the end of the day we need some way of matching readers with writers… because basically, all of them from Jeff Bezos to Steve Jobs to the CEO of McMillian are wrong. It’s actually not about price – or only minorly. It’s about volume. And volume only works when you match customer and product. And it’s no use having a book stashed somewhere in case the customer asks for it. The customer doesn’t know he wants that specific item – the customer actually has to make contact, pick it off the shelf, and like what he reads. There are what? 400 million? English first language speakers out there. And for at least half (the other half need ipods that say “breathe in-breath out” or they’d drop dead from suffocation) of them there is a book they will love, and hunt for anything else like it or written by the same author IF they find it. So… how come the entire publishing edifice is being maintained by maybe a million book a week or more regular readers? With the runaway bestsellers being maintained by the book a year people… who still at best are maybe 10-20 million. So it’s an industry that simply fails to serve 90% percent of its possible customer base at all, and in fact is only working in any semblance of ‘properly’ for about 0.5% of its capacity. At full volume, prices of books could reflect a tiny margin per book and still be profitable. Which loops back round to bookshops and how writers interface with readers… because without that interface the system becomes even more inefficient (hard to believe). We can do without publishers… but not without that interface. Now, the logical answer to making more money out of books, is not the agency model, or even gypping authors out of more of the tiny piece of cover price they get now. It’s increasing volume. And logically, the internet should make it possible. But it’s a vast sea and getting the right readers to FIND the right writers for them is very very difficult. At the moment, as I see it we’re reliant on bookstores (for the pick up and browse factor) and Amazon for the I know more-or-less what I am looking for match. Apple have come white-knighting to make sure publishers continue to dominate the access to retail.

So: favorite bookshops – what do they do right? And how do we match the reader writer. And what are the best options for alternative retail shop-windows?

>Sunday Round-Up

>I love this time of year. The trees are green. The grass is starting to grow. Wild flowers line the roadways. It’s not so hot the kids in the neighborhood have taken refuge inside with their video games. However, there is a downside to it as well. My allergies are running rampant and that means my brain has taken a vacation and left my body behind. So, no serious blog this morning. Instead, let’s take a quick trip across the blog-o-sphere and see what’s been going on.

If anyone doubts that e-books and e-readers such as the Kindle and iPad aren’t here to stay, this week should have convinced you otherwise. First, the Kindle showed up in the Crankshaft comic strip. Beginning on the 25th and running for several days, it showed the resident curmudgeon receiving and learning to use — and enjoy — his Kindle. The Kindle also shows up in the movie Date Night. Then there is this post from agent Kristen Nelson where she decides the tipping point for ebooks is very near, if not already here:

When I’ve got an older grandmother expressing unabashed enthusiasm in owning an eReader, I can’t help but think the tipping point is near—even if current electronic sales only equal about 2% of the market right now (statistic via a recent PW article). I think a lot of us assumed the older generation would be the luddites where this new technology is concerned but through my anecdotal experiences, I’m not finding that to be true…

So, what do you think? Are we reaching the tipping point? I have to think Agent Kristen is probably right and we are based on the interest I get whenever I have my Kindle out in public as well as the number of “sightings in the wild” of e-readers of all shapes and sizes and makes and models.

At Bookends, agent Jessica Faust posted that — gasp — agents want to represent books that will make money. “I’m in the business of selling books for my clients to make us all money. I agent because it’s my career. Sure, it has the added bonus of being something I love, but I also need to feed myself and keep a roof over my head. So criticize all you want, but the truth is that good agents will only represent books they think will make them money. That’s called a job.” You’d think that would be a given and be understood by everyone, especially writers. But no, all too often she — and other agents as well — receive responses to their rejections, accusing the agent of being in the business only to make money. My question is this, would you really want an agent who is in the business of representing authors who write books that will never sell, either to a publisher or to the buying public?

Caveat here: In the current market, agents are in as big a state of flux as writers are. Because no one knows what is going to happen in the industry over the next few years, fewer and fewer agents are taking on new projects. That includes projects being sent from current clients. As a result, it is even harder than it used to be to get an agent. That doesn’t necessarily mean your project is no good and won’t sell — and I keep telling myself this on a daily basis. What it means is that, right now, agents are taking fewer risks than they used to. If you doubt it, look at the number of agencies that have cut staff and the number of small agencies that have closed their doors the last two years.

Caveat #2: Just to show there are agents out there with a great attitude despite the gloom of the industry, check out this post from Lucienne Diver: [M] my process with this new work I’m so excited about went something like this:

“Darn, it’s really good. The writing is fabulous. Maybe just a few pages more.”

“I mean really, really good. Love the concept, love the characters. So intriguing.”

“Well, crap, I’m more than halfway though, I might as well finish. Yes, yes, I have a policy of not taking manuscripts with me on vacation, but I HAVE to finish this one.”

“What, the ending’s brilliant too? Okay, I’m screwed.” . . . I present this, in all its absolute honesty to say that no matter what gloom and doom you hear about the industry (and there’s been a lot within the past year or more), this is what happens when we love something. Oh, sure, some of us you don’t have to drag kicking and screaming to the alter. But when we really love something, there’s just no talking ourselves out of it. There will always be room for fantastic works.

What does that mean? Simple, if you get a rejection, look at what you sent and see if you made any glaring errors. See if there is something you need to do to make it that something special an agent is looking for. Then send it out again. Just because one agent, editor, whomever, didn’t like it, it doesn’t mean every one will. We’re writers. Rejection is part of the job. That’s why we have to be stubborn, persistent and always working to hone our craft.

Finally, here’s an interesting article about four danger signs to search for before sending out your manuscript. Go take a look and let me know what you think. The post is similar to others we’ve discussed in the past. What rules do you try to keep in mind when writing? Or, more importantly, what do you keep an eye out for in the editing process?

>Publishers On Notice

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The only time I’ve ever been involved in a car accident that left a car totalled, I was asleep. A drunk in a Corvette managed to slam into the back of my full-time 4WD Jeep Wagoneer while it was parked on the street at 3:00 AM, pushing it forward about twenty feet. As anyone with a full-time 4WD vehicle knows, this is no easy feat. One of my neighbors witnessed the whole thing, including our arrival on the scene in our bathrobes, and called the police, who arrived to find this drunk guy swearing up and down first that my car had backed into his car, then — when it became obvious even from cursory examination of the evidence that my car was parked at the time — that someone else had forced him off the road. My neighbor reported to the police that there was no other traffic at the time, and the police noted that the guy’s blood alcohol level was well beyond the legal limit, so I didn’t think there would be any problem.

Two weeks later, I got a call from the guy’s insurance agent, telling me they were no longer going to pay for my rental car. I pointed out that they still hadn’t paid me for my totalled car, and that my return of the rental car was dependent on that payment. They informed me that there was “still some question about whose insurance company would be liable for the payment,” as there was “still some question about the possibility of another vehicle that may have caused the collision.”

I was livid. I pointed out that the police report — the OFFICIAL source of information in this case — held no such question, as a reliable, impartial witness said there was no other traffic, and drunk, extremely partial drivers such as their client, were not typically well regarded for their veracity. I went on to tell them that it didn’t matter to me, in any case. Any way you looked at it, I was owed the totalled cost of my vehicle and it would be their company that paid me, regardless of what company ultimately bore the cost. If the insurance companies wanted to play “place the blame” and sue each other
for the costs, how did that concern me?

The drunk driver’s insurance company paid up.

The ongoing battle between publishers and retailers — notably Amazon, recently — reminds me of that insurance company. They seem to have lost sight of the fact that authors still need to get paid a fair amount.

Some time ago, it dawned on me that there’s a disconnect between authors and publishers regarding our words. We authors view the words we put down on paper to be the novel. Judging by the rapidly growing popularity of e-books, readers do, too. One would think that publishers would understand this, yet they seem to view the finished book as their product, one that includes only a minor contribution from the author. That product could be considered the sum of the following parts and services:

  • Words on the page (provided by the author)
  • Cover art (provided by an artist)
  • Saleable quotes (usually on the covers)
  • Excerpts (usually on the back or dust jacket flaps)
  • Author bio (optional; usually only for hardcovers)
  • Author picture (optional; usually on hardcovers of bestsellers)
  • Cover design (to ensure the artwork is pleasing to the consumer)
  • Editing (to ensure the author’s words are pleasing to the consumer)
  • Marketing (to help sales staff and retailers to sell the product to the consumer)
  • Distribution (to ensure the product is available to sell the product to the consumer)
  • Sales (to ensure the product is physically available for the consumer to buy

As you can see, those little words on the page are only a small part of the whole package, which is why publishers feel justified in generously granting a mere 6-8% of the revenue to the author of a mass market paperback novel.

To be fair, the way the system works is that an author gets paid an advance against royalties before the novel ever gets to the marketplace, available for consumers to buy. And the reality is that few authors these days (except mega-bestsellers) ever see a dime beyond that advance. Once upon a time, when publishers and retailers were on the same page, books remained on the shelves for a lot longer, which kept an author’s backlist of previously-released novels in print and available to the consumer. Sadly, it rarely works that way any more.

So, given that the author’s advance is realistically the only payment, the effective royalty rate is dependent on the number of sales. With e-books, that number is straightforward, since e-book sales are non-returnable. With print publishing, the product can be returned, so publishers try to account for that by holding back payment for a projected number of returns, which they call “reserves against returns.” What this means to the author is that it’s impossible to determine the actual number of copies sold until ALL copies are either sold or returned, the book goes out of print and there’s a final accounting. Until that happens, we can only estimate.

Last year, a New York Times bestselling author, Lynn Viehl, posted her royalty statements. I couldn’t find her third statement, for the period ending Nov 2009 (which is understandable, as they’re just now reaching authors), but the bottom line for her first two statements shows her estimated actual sales copies will be between 44K (net units shipped) and 65K (net units plus reserve, assuming no more returns). She earned $50K up front, and she doesn’t seem to expect any additional royalties beyond that (and her statements support that, which — at the risk of sounding conspiratorial — seems a bit suspicious) . If she’s right, her effective royalty rate on her $8 mass market paperback will be between roughly 10% ($50K/65K/$8) and 14% ($50K/44K/$8).

Compare this to Amazon’s current 35% effective royalty rate. If an author with Lynn’s numbers were to sell her new e-book at $5, she would only have to sell about 29K to earn $50K. With Amazon’s new 70% option, starting at the end of June, the author would need to sell less than 15K copies to earn $50K. That’s roughly 1/4 to 1/3 of the paperback audience. Is it reasonable to expect the author to reach that audience and entice them to buy her new e-book? For an established author, it’s possible, and the fact that there’s no time limit for offering the e-book makes it extremely likely.

Which brings us to the midlist author, a species which has gone by the wayside under the current print publishing model. Advances I’ve read about recently for a solid midlist author are more like $15K, with net sales of 15K — about a third of Lynn’s numbers, which means established midlist authors only need to sell 5K e-books under the new Amazon model to earn as much as from a traditional print publisher, and they can offer the e-book to the consumer for less.

Remember that list of the parts and services going into a novel? For a midlist author these days, the publisher has been asking (and sometimes requiring
in the contract) that the author provide or perform nearly every item on that list, excepting only the cover art and design and distribution. What added value does the print publisher offer, then? Cover art? For an established author, is that really worth the difference in royalty rates?

Think about it. As an author, which is more attractive: 5K sales to net $15K, or 15K sales to net $15K? As a reader, which is more attractive: $5 for an e-book, or $8 for an e-book?

Publishers, consider yourself on notice. Shape up or ship out. It’s your choice. And stop drinking behind the wheel of your Corvette.

>Idea of the Month Club

> One of the things that non-writers find it hardest to grasp is that ideas are not the problem. Its worse when you come head to head with someone who perhaps doesn’t read all that much, or does not read in the speculative fiction area. You start rabbiting on about your book, and ten minutes after you should have stopped (about the time that glazed look appeared), they stop and ask ‘But where do you get your ideas from?’ or ‘And you make all that up?’

My Dad was as black and white as they come. He was a policeman for more than forty years and imagination was not his strong point. Time and again he would fix me with a perplexed look, the frown of concentration would appear and he would say, ‘And you make it all up?’ Ahh, yes Dad. ‘But where do you get all the ideas from?’ He could just not concieve that I could do it.

As most writers know – the ideas are not the problem. Its the craft, the packaging into a vehicle for them i.e. a story. The problem tends to be TOO MANY ideas – pocket books overflowing, scraps of paper with tiny scrawls etc.

After too much frustration with this response I started telling people that I subscribed to the Idea of the Month Club. Yes, there was this woman in Sydney who would send out a newsletter packed with ideas for a modest fee. I thought it would be amusing when they got the joke – but the sad thing is these people actually believed it! Then I felt terrible misleading them. Sigh.

But the other thing writers know is that the flow of ideas has its own rhythm, and can sometimes be very lean indeed. The whole creative font seems to run to its own strange designs. I know that getting inspired by books and film really tends to get my creative juices going. Reading books on topical science really gets the SF ideas flowing.

What ways do you use to get inspire the flow of ideas?

>Doing Battle With Demons

>Much as I would like this to be about writing actual warfare with demonic entities, it is alas rather more metaphorical. The demons in question are things that I live with on a day to day basis.

Everyone has their personal demons. For some it’s all things alcoholic, for others their health. Life – or perhaps Someone – appears to have gifted creative people with a disproportionate share of personal demons. There’s certainly no shortage of musicians, artists or authors with tragic life stories and the kind of self-destructive behavior that usually goes with losing to one’s demons.

Mine have been… loud lately. It happens. I can go months, even years, with the medication cocktail keeping everything under control. Then something shifts, shakes my balance a bit, and they’re back, whispering their perverse little notions into my mind and trying to convince me that the world would be a better place without me in it.

It’s not that bad yet. I’ve gotten better at recognizing the early warning signs and doing something about it. One of the somethings is – surprise! – splatting to everyone I consider half-way friendly about what’s going on, on the grounds that the more I talk it out, the more chance there is something someone says will be the right trigger to chase them off. This time.

I even know what’s causing this outbreak – it’s work-related. I’m mentally and emotionally worn out. Unfortunately, I’m also not getting any kind of time away until September when I’m going to be exhausting myself visiting Australia. Since the layoffs were announced at the start of the year, there’s been no letup in the constant grind of too much to do, not enough time to do it, and everything is more critical than everything else. Add in project scope blowout and a whole bunch of other work stress factors, big and little, and I’ve run out of me.

The real problem with this, at least as far as the Mad Genius Club is concerned, is that it plays havoc with my writing when this sort of thing hits. I can go weeks without writing anything when an episode hits – or worse, everything I write turns darker-than-dark.

How do you get past these crashes? What – if anything – helps you to dig out of the hole and get back on the level again?

Oh, and self-pity doesn’t work. Chocolate does, at least until the pounds start piling up.

>Should I Look Older Just To Be Put On Your Shelf?

>(Doctor John Lambshead has chosen to step down from the blog because he is overcommitted. I can’t say how sorry I am to see him go and hope he comes back often to post as a guest blogger. We do understand, though, that his health is more important and the last thing we ever intended was to cause him additional stress. Without John, we judged it best to use Saturdays for a “Saturday Morning Post” in which we hope to bring you interesting guests and sometimes just one of our team posting something. And so, I’m back on Wednesdays.)


Due to the extraordinary interest in my “the road to publication” post for Darkship Thieves, I thought I’d do a quick “how they got sold or didn’t” post for books.

Why you ask? Because I’m an exhibitionist masochist. I want you to see my pain.

No, seriously, the reason I want to do it is because when I was just breaking in all this was a mystery to me. I had a vague idea books got bought, but I had no idea why or how. For all I knew, the sky opened, a flock of angels came out and anointed the chosen one.

I know what you read in the books. Forget what you read in the books. Actually forget what I tell you too, as far as a model for your own career goes. I broke in ten years ago. It is not that I can’t give you useful advice, it’s that my advice might be so outdated as to be counterproductive.

Take e-publishing for instance (seems like everyone is, one way or another.) For years now, I’ve told my fledglings not to go that route. I told them it’s a waste to throw away their first publication on that. Ditto for self published, small press, etc. But lately I find the books that sell to the big houses with a big budget and plenty of promotion ARE the one whose authors first established a name in one of those venues.

It was like when I was starting out and all the older professionals AND most how to books told you not to look for an agent till you’d sold two or three books, to show you were a “going concern.” Realistic in the seventies when most houses kept and read a slush pile. Not so much in the nineties when the only way into most houses was through an agent, any agent. And that, even I figured out after perusing the writers’ market.

The only alternative I know to having an agent submit for you is to attend a lot of cons and workshops where editors are and pitch directly to them. Of course, if they say they want to see it, you can send it in. It’s no longer unsolicited. I don’t know. I’ve yet to see an elevator pitch work. Even when editors give a writer an opening, it’s so hard to sum up a book in two lines that if you manage it it often has nothing to do with the actual work, and that gets rejected. Seriously, I know buys from elevator pitches happen, but I don’t personally know of any.

The technology and business policy change and things change with them so fast that any experience in this field is only passed on in the default. In fact, if you try to replicate my experiences, it is sort of like preparing perfectly to fight the last war.

However, while particular tactics and weapons can’t be taught, the feel of it can. And it is the feel I find it harder to instill in my fledgelings, as I stick them in their little biplanes and tell them to take off in the face of a storm of rejections.

I hate to sound like an old timer, but I am one, and war stories do serve a purpose. The business might change in the details, but the facts of what it takes to make a career in this field remain central, short of a wholesale collapse. (And I’m not that pessimistic. Yet.)

First, a disappointing, sobering fact – ninety percent of careers in this field last ten years or less. And always have, as far as I can figure out. I can tell you why or at least give you half a dozen good guesses.

The field is too demanding and yet you get no respect – try explaining to your barber, your minister, your mother (MY mother!) that you labor in a skilled trade. “But anyone can write” is likely to be your reward, closely followed by “I have this great idea for a book.” Done properly the field eats your life. You breathe, eat, read and experience in order to write. It’s somewhat like a marriage without the sex, like a vocation without the religion. It isolates you from friends you’ve had for years and who simply don’t “get” it. In the end you find that, like sufferers of some dread disease, the only people you can truly talk to are other people who share your condition. You have “dinner” and “movie” and heaven knows what parties, but all you do is talk. About what you’re working on, what the conditions of the field are and how it’s changing.

Oh, yeah, and top this off with the fact that once the product leaves your hands it is totally out of your control. The cover, the placement, the push behind the book account – easily – for 80% of a book’s success. Your twenty percent is still vital. When someone picks up that book, you have one chance to hook them, so it better be your best work. Even if most people will never see it on a shelf or know it exists.

Children, the sane people never GET into this field. The ones who can sort of see sanity if they squint leave within ten years. Me, you, the rest of us… we charge giggling past that sign that says “Abandon all hope.” So, listen to my tale about the sudden fires and the rodents of unusual size. Oh, yeah, and bring over your tankard. It’s hard to cry in your beer without it.

I started, lo mumble years ago, on a bright sunny day. It’s all my husband’s fault. I’d always said I liked to write, and sometimes even called myself a writer, kind of like you might call yourself a genius, but never, ever, ever have to prove it.

And then – mumble, mumble mumble – I married this evil man who one day told me “I don’t believe you’re a writer. Writers write every day. “

Well, you know, you can’t tell a woman stuff like this. I had to either give up that writer name – and I worked really hard for it too. Sometimes I wrote ten pages a year – or put my typing fingers where my mouth was.

We’ve already determined I am not sane, so in I marched, flags flying and cannons blazing. Into a brick wall. You see, it’s sort of like being in a strange country (say, Portugal to me at this point) and being told “go buy a toothbrush” (would you believe in some places in Portugal the logical establishment to acquire said object is… the pharmacy? No, neither did I.)

So, I bought the Writers’ Digest magazine and the Writers’ Market and anything else that had WRITER on the cover. (Still don’t know how to assemble the genuine WRITER perpetual motion machine!) And I read.

Children, I was SO green that for a time I finished my stories with a “30″ because some book told me to.

But I wrote. Sometimes a whole three shorts and a novel a year. And I … Well, I sent the short stories out. To the magazines listed in Writers’ Digest as publishing science fiction and fantasy. Which is how I got my first rejection.

I was twenty three – please remember this, and promise not to hurt me, if you should find me in a dark alley – and I wrote my first – I THOUGHT – publishable short story. My husband told me it was good and a guy who read Gor hated it. So I figured, winner.

Out it went. And… back it came. But it came back with a handwritten letter from the editor. Yes, handwritten. Telling me that the story was good, but not at all what they published. So he… – PLEASE don’t HURT ME – sent me a free copy of his magazine. From Great Britain. At his expense. And asked me to submit again.

I was twenty three! I didn’t know! I thought “Umph. If my story were good, they would have bought it ANYWAY.” And the story and the magazine went into the drawer.

And then I wrote a novel. No. I wrote six novels in quick succession. All in the same universe. I learned a lot on these novels. Or at least I like to tell myself that, because they are – all of them, collectively – unpublishable. No, not only unpublishable. They are unpublishable with bells on and a hand outstretched and a little voice calling “unclean, unclean.” And it’s not even that I wasn’t reading what was being published at the time. When we were first married books – and particularly sf/f books – were a huge part of our budget. Plus I visited the library twice a week. It’s just that I separated what I wrote and what I read. I didn’t think they should touch. After all, writing was all pure inspiration and what I wanted to do, right? And if it was good enough they would buy it.

Seven years of this, on through the swamp. I learned about POV and how to make my characters likeable, and that you can’t have twenty voice characters in a novel that’s only two hundred pages long. I learned misdirection, indirection and things that put readers off. All on a series whose concept makes most people run screaming into the night. Fortunately, much of the time, I couldn’t afford to send these novels out, anyway. So I wrote everyday, obsessively, including when I had full time jobs, and then I put the manuscripts in a drawer.

And then I had my son and with my son some approach to sanity emerged. Not on purpose as such. I’d been “researching” Rome for seven years it was a really good excuse to buy books. Well, after three days in labor, an emergency Caeserean and a uterine infection that kept me in the hospital for a week, I woke up in my own bed, high as a kite on morphine, and with a vampire short story in my head. I hadn’t written a short story in… Eight? years, but I strapped the baby on my chest and crawled on hands and knees (morphine makes me dizzy) up the hallway and into my office. Where over the next seven hours, I typed my short story Thirst (available free as part of my collection Crawling Between Heaven And Earth at Baen Free Library: http://www.webscription.net/p-620-crawling-between-heaven-and-earth.aspx. Which ended up being the first thing I sold. But… not yet. I wrote a few other shorts then, Plaudit Cives among them.

The next two years were fraught and I didn’t send anything out. Two years later, I was living in Colorado Springs – renting a student apartment downtown – and I knew no one and had no job beyond looking after a one and a half year old. So I made it an habit of sitting down and writing when he took a nap.

Because the latest book told me to, I started writing short stories. Lots of them. And because we were slightly more flush and there was a post office RIGHT across from my door, I sent stuff out. And they came back just as fast. At this point one of the few times I’d sent the novel out caught up with me. It was three changes of addresses ago, but it found me – it was from Ginjer Buchanan at Berkley – a hand written rejection – and it said she hated my world, my characters and my premise, but she liked my writing and I had potential. She also suggested an editor at DAW (which at the time was not taking unsolicited, I think.)

During this year came my first glimmers of hope. First, I found a poster downtown – while wandering around with baby in stroller – about Imagination Celebration and actually had the nerve to send in an entry. It placed, too. Second place, admitting me to the world of other writers as a peer. No sale, but heady stuff.

Also, at work, my husband met this guy Alan Lickiss, whose wife also wrote. I already knew my friend Charles, who wrote. I’d started attending meetings of a city writers’ group, but they weren’t very good on science fiction and fantasy, so Alan’s wife, Becky, and Charles and I and a few other stragglers started our very own writers group, meeting weekly at my house.

And I got my first acceptance, for Thirst from an Australian magazine named Bloodsongs. Apparently they actually published my story, but it didn’t even come to my hands because the printrun was confiscated and destroyed. It was five years before I found out that Thirst had made it to the offices of The Year’s Best Fantasy And Horror, and got an honorable mention.

Another two years, another kid. More stories sent out. This is the period at which I tell people I often got 100 rejections by March of every year. I kept them in one of those gigantic plastic bins people store clothes in. And most of them were standard.

Thirst sold two more times. Once, it killed the mag, another the publisher. Never printed in the US until the NEXT sale.

I wrote a mumble genre novel, under the name of mumble and it won second place in mumble national contest, but it was too weird for them to publish.

So, I forged on. New house, and older kid in kindergarten, and I was – by 96 – getting personals from almost everyone, and editors signed with their first names. And then I decided to send out a story from the same vintage as Thirst. Plaudit Cives. I sent it to Absolute Magnitude. And I was SO SURE it would be a rejection that I read the acceptance through three times before it hit me that it was an acceptance. And then I screamed so loudly our babysitter came running, convinced I was having a heart attack. Six months later, I sold Thirst to Dreams of Decadence. And then I started selling, fairly regularly, a few short stories a year. And I turned to novels.

1998 was Annus Horribilis as far as novels were concerned. I submitted EVERYWHERE. And everything came back rejected very fast. I entered EIGHT entries in a contest. And none of them survived the first cut. I wrote fanfic for a while, but it lost its flavor. I wanted the real thing, dang it all.

In 1998 or 1999 (my memory is foggy) my friend Becky Lickiss more or less pushed pulled me and dragged me to the Oregon Professional Writers Workshop and I met Ginjer Buchanan who had no memory of sending me a rejection. I had two novels – one done, one almost done – ready to sell to her. Of course the one she bought was what was published as Ill Met By Moonlight, which was a workshop exercise. “Write a novel proposal overnight.” Was this something I was burning to write? Not exactly. But it was okay and I knew the subject and she thought she could sell it, so I wrote it. Gave it to my then agent – I did mention I had acquired an agent, right? – and told her to send it to Ginjer. My friend Becky also sent hers in. It was bought in a month. NOTHING on mine.

And then Kris Rusch emailed me. She’d seen Ginjer at worldcon and Ginjer wanted to know if I’d lost interest in the project. “WHAT?” Call agent. Agent tries to dissuade me from selling this novel to this house. “It won’t go anywhere. It’s not their type of thing” etc, etc. For all I know, she might have been right – who knows? BUT she wasn’t sending it anywhere else, either AND hadn’t told me she wasn’t sending it to Ginjer. And that is a fatal strike. I demanded she send it and she did. Three days later, I’d sold a novel.

Then I set about finding another agent, which involved actually going to World Fantasy for the first time in my life.

Got new agent. He sold two novels for me, which he insisted should be sequels. I’m not going to complain on that. (Shrug.) I could take the idea and make them mine. I am however going to complain about the fact that he made me rewrite my second novel to his specifications. It was the first of my novels to go out of print, and the one that sold least.

And that brings us to 9/11 and the debacle of my first novel, which sealed the series’ fate. I’ve told the story often enough. It simply wasn’t unboxed at most stores. I think people returned it who’d never even seen it.

Agent number 2 meanwhile had refused to send anything but those sequels out. And now lost interest in me completely. So, I talked to friends and got recommendations to agent number three. (If anyone is keeping score, I’ve now been with the incomparable Lucienne Diver, agent 4, for seven years. My requirements are very simple — I don’t wish to be lied to, and I want to have more say over my career than my agent does. Why did it take me till number four to find this? who know.) I’ve also told that story here. When, after two years of nothing, Baen offered me work, she said it was Baen or her. I clearly chose Baen.

I’ve also told the story of Jim asking me for Draw One In The Dark. Which I sent to him. And which sold in twenty minutes. Now, the idea for Draw One In The Dark was a dream in which I was signing a pile of books and one of the women in line told me she had discovered me through my shifter series. Of course, in the dream I assumed all the books were in that series. I might have been wrong. So I read the back to see what the story was. (Same thing happened with Plaudit Cives, btw. I dreamed I was reading it in a magazine. Then I wrote it.) I have no explanation for this. I refuse to think too hard on it. That way lies madness.

And then I got sick, was looking at my old unpublished novels and found the percursor for Darkship Thieves. And rewrote it and started posting it in diner. Toni bought that.

At the same time I had this Victorian fantasy series making the rounds and I SWEAR it had been rejected everywhere, when out of the blue Lucienne called (I was frying mushrooms. Why do I remember that?) To tell me we had an offer. And Berkley couldn’t publish anymore Shakespeare but asked me for proposals for historical series. I sent three, of which they bought one – The Musketeer’s Mysteries.

Meanwhile, during the second Annus Horriblis – 2003 – when I couldn’t give my writing away, I’d been asked if I was interested in writing for hire, a novel about a wife of Henry VIII and which wife did I want? I said Anne Boleyn. I was told someone else had it. Did I want Jane Seymour?

They were offering money. I was broke. I wanted Jane Seymour. This is the book that was written after I fell and hit my head. The concussion postponed it, and I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but I wrote it in three days. A week, counting research. After I finished it, I demanded to be taken up to Denver, to a hotel, for two days – which I spent crocheting, sleeping and taking bubble baths. Who knew typing could be so tiring?

With Plain Jane I submitted a proposal for No Will But His, the story of Kathryn Howard. I heard nothing on it.

The musketeer series died. We won’t go into that. I was asked to send a contemporary mystery proposal. I sent in the proposal for Dipped, Stripped and Dead. I was also asked to put it under a “white bread” name. The suggestion of “Rye” was shot down.

Plain Jane, after being issued in mpb came out in tpb. It did well. Paid royalties. Then I got asked if I still wanted to do Kathryn Howard.

All of which brings us to yesterday — when I’m working on an historical vampire, on spec, a space opera on spec, have proposals at Baen, and have been attacked by a romance I’m trying to fob off with a proposal only — and has you scratching your head and going “So you write it, they buy it?”

Well, no. The Years Undone, my novel of the Red Baron is still unsold. As is Hell Bound, my urban fantasy. I have this fairy tale – the Rose series – which I can’t give away. Then there’s the New Age shop mysteries. Oh, yeah, and the Jane Austen/swan maiden tale. The Leonardo Da Vinci mysteries. And another half dozen projects.

So, what is the point of this long disquisition? Two points. First, there’s persistence. It seems to be the one thing to get through this war still “alive.” The second is that epublishing JUST might give me a chance to “publish” some of my darlings no one would touch. They might have no audience but… who knows? In most cases I think they’re just mismatched with the gate keepers, not the public. And it’s always worth a try.

A third point – we tend to think if we just sell the next… short, novel, series, we’ll be happy. Maybe. Perhaps.

Never happens. You sell and you trade up to bigger issues. You trade up to a knife balance of “and now how do I promote?” “What can I do if the bookstores don’t put my books on shelves?” “What if my editor has taken an unreasonable dislike to me?” etc, etc, etc. The really big bestsellers I know worry that the writing sales will dry up, because they support their families from them. I hear Stephen King keeps his teaching certification up to date.

Every time you get a rejection, rejoice. A) you’re a rejection closer to an acceptance. B) These are the GOOD old days. Once the acceptances come, your stress will only increase. Yes, the rewards too, but the stress inescapably.

You want security, buy an alarm system. You want money, buy a lottery ticket. You want to write… ah, you poor fool, welcome to the club. Put your helmet on, here’s your keyboard. Forward, march.

Be aware of what’s being published and write something publishable but not like what’s being published. Make it something you want to write, but also something you want to read and more importantly something strangers will want to read. Make sure you have first readers who tell you the truth about your writing, but who aren’t so brutal they’ll squish your drive and desire. Take advice from elder pros, but don’t believe everything they tell you. Their times and their process are/were different. Work like a fiend, but don’t let it take over the other stuff that makes you a full human being. Keep some hobbies, spend time with your family, and write ten hours a day. Oh, yeah, and keep up field reading. And remember the ludic pleasure of reading, even though it’s become work. Believe your work is vital and important and also a piece of crap you can discard if no one buys it. Learn constantly and integrate it, even as you’re writing. Keep an agent and let them make suggestions, but don’t let them run your career. Oh, and learn about advertising, epublishing, whatever in heaven’s name is going on with publishing now – but never forget you’re a writer.

And for your next trick dance – dance, you fool, you lostling, you… writer! – dance a tango on a high wire, with an invisible partner! And keep on going. The only way through is forward. There is a con bar waiting in heaven, and we have to earn our way into it.

Questions? Comments? Suicide notes?*

*your suicide notes WILL be graded.