This is the second of three posts of online notes for the Westercon panel
Fake it ’til you make it: a survivor’s guide for the introverted author
Okay, you’re introverted. Welcome to the club. Why else would we sit at home in front of a computer and talk to people who aren’t there.
There are actually three separate questions facing the Introverted Author — or the other kind, if there are any. How can you learn to write? How can you get published? And how can you get that published work into the hands of the right readers? Let’s tackle them one at a time.
Here is an entire lecture, given by Sinclair Lewis, supposedly when he was drunk.
“You stupid-looking sons of bitches wanna write? Well, gwan home and write!”
That wasn’t very useful, was it?
Some people have a natural talent for writing. They just write, with some degree of ease; everyone knows it, although it isn’t politically correct to say so. I have to confess to being one of those people.
I also have to say that, while it makes life pleasant to have that natural capacity, it doesn’t make writing well any easier. And it doesn’t make selling any easier. A would-be writer who has to learn to write by diligent effort, but has something to say that the public wants to hear, or who has a voice like the voice of his audience, will probably sell more and sooner.
Is there any help out there for young writers? Actually, there’s a ton. Possibly too much. There are classes and workshops galore. You can even get a college degree in writing. I suppose you could get a degree in writing, then turn around and teach writing, without ever having had a commercial publication. That seems to be the way it is done these days. It isn’t for me, but it might be for you. I seem to detect a sameness int the products of this system, but that may be prejudice.
It is certain that the writers of the 30s, 40s, and 50s, didn’t learn to write in classes or at conferences, but they did learn.
There is a certain amount of sameness in genre fiction anyway — virtually by definition. You can learn the requirements of the genre in class, or by careful reading of what has been recently published in your field. It doesn’t matter whether it is science fiction, fantasy, horror, romance, or so-called literary fiction — which is just a genre with a necktie and a superior attitude.
Whatever comes first, classes and conferences or just extensive reading in your chosen field, what comes next is putting your butt in the chair and writing.
Writing is the easy part. Getting published is harder. I wish I had some good advice to give you about that. In fact, I wish I had some good advice to give myself.
Stick with it. Persevere. Don’t give up. Never say die.
Platitudes, just platitudes.
You can say it in reverse. If you don’t keep trying, you can’t succeed. That’s true, but it doesn’t guarantee anything.
I read this advice in a fishing book — “You won’t catch a fish if you don’t keep your lure in the water.” Now that sounds like a metaphor if I’ve ever heard one. But, really, what does it mean. If you keep the wrong lure, in the wrong pond, at the wrong time of day, you’re going to go home hungry.
Now there’s a metaphor.
Here’s my own story, in brief. I started writing full time in 1975. My first book, Jandrax, came out from Del Rey in 1978. My second book came out from Pocket Books in 1981. That book sold again in German translation in 1983.
My next publication came out this year.
That makes me the poster child for perseverance, but is anyone else willing to undergo a thirty-four year dry spell? I didn’t think so.
There are a thousand books which will tell you how to write your novel, and how to get it published. Read them if you want. I’ve certainly read my share, and most of them have at least some useful things to say. Then ask yourself, “How many successful novels has the author written?” And draw your own conclusions.
I know that’s all depressing, but I’m not here to lie to you.
When I was a young writer, there were only two paths to publication. You would find an agent if you could, or you would have to go it alone. Now the number of publishers willing to look at unagented submissions has shrunk, and at the same time it seems harder than ever to get an agent.
Today, self-publication forms a third path. I cay much about it, as I haven’t yet tried it myself. I plan to listen this weekend to those who have, and form some conclusions.
So let’s assume that you are recently published. If you have a commercial publisher, he may do something to help sell your book, but not much if you are new. That is both a disaster and an opportunity — which sounds like something out of a self-help book. Okay, let’s admit that, and take a look.
Back in the seventies and eighties, success for a book, once it was published, was in the lap of the Gods. Not the lap of the publisher because they were already working on the next book in the pipeline. Not the lap of the author, because there was absolutely nothing he could do to help himself. continued tomorrow
I can speak from experience on how hard it is to get an agent! Publishing tips for new authors? Try to write some short stories or even flash fiction. Writing short fiction is very good training and it is easier to publish. Even if that ends up being for little or no pay, you’re still building a reputation.
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Publishing short fiction on the internet was not available when I was starting out. If I were starting today, I would certainly try it.