The Conspiracy Against New Writers
• I’ve got a book signing 12/17 at 7:00 at Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor. Just in case any of you A2 folks need Christmas gift ideas 🙂 The last time I did an Ann Arbor signing, we got one of the nastiest blizzards I can remember. I’m hoping this doesn’t become a pattern.
• Dragovianknight made this wonderful Christmas LJ icon from the cover of Mermaid. I love it!
• For those of you who read electronically, Fictionwise is running a pretty nice sale. Looks like 40% off of short fiction, and 50% rebates on e-books. (Including my own stuff.)
Came across a post responding to the pay rate discussion and protesting how the snobby pros are pulling up the ladder, trying to keep new writers out. I know a fair number of successful authors these days, and the idea that pro writers are scared of the newbies and spending all this time and energy working to exclude them … is kind of dumb.
Of all the things I worry about, of all the things that can hurt my career, new writers don’t even make the footnotes. Many pro authors go out of their way to try to help new writers, and to repay the help we received. Most either celebrate the success of the new folks, or else simply don’t have the time or the interest to notice them. But nobody’s trying to keep the newbies down (no matter how much Publish America and their ilk try to convince you otherwise while they take your money).
How can I put this delicately? The biggest reason it’s so hard for new writers to break in is because most of us suck when we’re new. Myself included. I wrote hundreds of thousands of words of utter crap while learning how to do this. Sure, I was discouraged by all the rejection. I felt shut out. I had my days where I felt like a martyr and a victim.
But believe me, it had nothing to do with pros being scared of me as a newbie, or conspiring to keep the good markets all to themselves. It had nothing to do with editors only buying work from Big Names. It had to do with the fact that my work wasn’t good enough yet.[1. Ann Leckie wrote a very good post deconstructing the “write better” advice, including some of the assumptions and flaws with that advice. Worth reading. http://ann-leckie.livejournal.com/141905.html]
If you disagree with what folks are saying, that’s one thing. Sometimes the pros are wrong. Do your research and make your own decisions. But if you’re going to argue, please try to come up with something better than The Grand Conspiracy Against New Writers?
December 10, 2009 @ 10:15 am
Hi Jim 🙂
Thank you for the great post. I don’t understand how aspiring authors could think such a ridiculous thing. But I don’t understand the whole creationism not evolution thing either.
Thank you for sharing,
December 10, 2009 @ 11:32 am
Interesting post (which I found linked to from Twitter). I’ve been helped tremendously by the published authors in my writing circle. They’ve been encouraging, generous with their knowledge and contacts and listen to newbie questions with patience and understanding. I guess I still suck (a bit – lol) but I can’t blame them, certainly not, on my lack of a big fat NY contract.
December 10, 2009 @ 12:00 pm
Absolutely! Rejection is hard, very much so but there is no conspiracy. My stuff was rightly rejected when I first sent it out. Hopefully, I’m much improved after a year of practice in Iraq, but if not, it’s not a conspiracy, I’m just not ready. Great post!!!
December 10, 2009 @ 12:36 pm
I came into the discussion late, so I think I misunderstood part of the where the discussion had been going. What I read, and thought the author of the post meant, was that new authors were finding avenues to pro-publishing cut off from them. The context being that slush piles were sneered at and anything from an unpublished author wouldn’t even be glanced at. So the low-rate press was at least an outlet of sorts for newbies who could find any other avenues. But after reading the comments from the pro authors, I see that’s a very simplistic outlook and that pro-authors are simply trying to let new authors know that they’re spinning their wheels by going that route.
Writer pay rates « Nick’s Musings
December 10, 2009 @ 12:54 pm
[…] Jim C. Hines notes, “most of us suck when we’re new”. Rejection can be horrible, but it’s also a […]
Jim C. Hines
December 10, 2009 @ 1:02 pm
I received an awful lot of help from more established writers too. Heck, I’m *still* getting help from folks who are further along in their careers. Without a lot of that support and advice, there’s no way I would have gotten this far.
Jim C. Hines
December 10, 2009 @ 1:06 pm
I know it can be discouraging as hell to keep getting rejected. I remember being so frustrated, and I couldn’t see the difference between my own stuff and the stories that kept selling. I can see that difference *now*, years later, but at the time I couldn’t, and that was very hard. Hard to understand, and hard to trust that if I kept at it, I might eventually get somewhere. But most every author I’ve spoken to has been there.
Best of luck with your writing!
Jim C. Hines
December 10, 2009 @ 1:13 pm
Hi sqt! I saw your comments over at SF Signal. Thanks for stopping by!
From talking to editors and slush readers, they *want* to find great stories in the slush. They want to buy new authors. Heck, how awesome would it be to be able to say you were the editor who first discovered and published someone like Heinlein or Asimov or Butler?
As I understand it, most of the stories that come into the slush pile … aren’t there yet. But why would all of these editors wade through hundreds of stories every month if they didn’t want to find something new and wonderful they could buy?
As has been pointed out, there’s a range of markets in the semi-pro and 4-the-luv categories. Some are well-respected and receive a lot of good critical attention. Looking at the lists, I think those are in the minority, but they’re certainly out there. That said, the author needs to do the research and decide what they want to accomplish and which markets will help them get there.
In my case, the smaller markets I sold to in the beginning weren’t getting me where I wanted to be.
December 10, 2009 @ 1:26 pm
Thanks for taking the time to reply to comment.
When I initially read the post over at SFSignal, I was reading it from the perspective of someone who has worked in newspaper and television. I’ve been watching them get hammered by the Internet, especially the news outlets, because of their unwillingness to adapt to a changing environment. So I took that preconception and added that to the discussion without realizing that that’s and entirely different subject than the one at hand.
Most people like myself who blog and do reviews have writerly aspirations and, as I’m sure you know very well, the fear of rejection is in the front of our mind pretty much all the time. So a comment, even taken out of context, that indicates the slush pile is a no-man’s-land of lost manuscripts, we tend to think we might as well submit work to any outlet that will publish our work if for no other reason than it gets out there.
I get a lot of self-published authors trying to get me to read their books. Which is strange since I doubt I could do much for them. But the need to get the work out there can trump common sense.
December 10, 2009 @ 1:32 pm
I think part of this discussion is how well writers understand markets (not just the publishing markets, but the economics of markets, like where people buy things). Some fellow writers don’t understand why I blog (read other writer’s blogs), go to conventions, or don’t submit to markets like BM. It’s because I’m learning the market, I’m meeting the people in the market who can help me learn, and I’m not going to sell myself short. I’ve got quite a few stories in the trunk (some I’ve submitted, some were just for experimentation) that could probably be published in markets like BM. If all I wanted was to be published I would submit them to markets like that. However, that’s not where the careers are, nor are they likely to help me advance. Instead, many of them could weigh me down (for both credits and my own expectations). Instead I want my sales to come from pro-markets (pro paying or at least pro-edited). Hell, my first contract I signed I might get some money down the road if the antho earns out (no offense to the editor of that antho, but I don’t really expect it to). But I knew the editor would do me right, would help me look good, and would place the antho in front of other people who could do the same. So it was 4theLuv, but it definitely was done as a career move.
Most of those defending BM are the “An Author Means Published” types and are missing the whole branding and Marketing (as in selling yourself) discussions of what it takes to make it professionally. If I just wanted to be published, I could do that within a week and be done with it. Nobody but my wife and maybe my Mom would read it, but it would make me “published.” That’s not my goal.
Jim C. Hines
December 10, 2009 @ 1:44 pm
Yep, I know the fear. Heck, I still get nervous when I send something out, even if it’s an anthology I was invited into. (I’ve been rejected after an invitation before.) It’s even worse when you’re starting out.
For me, the key was learning to look beyond the immediate goal of “published”. Getting published is fairly easy. Heck, anything I babble about in the blog qualifies as published, technically speaking. When I finally figured out I wanted to be published and widely read, it helped me to go back and eliminate a lot of markets from my list, targeting those that could best help me reach that goal.
Jim C. Hines
December 10, 2009 @ 2:56 pm
I’ve occasionally seen business cards, web sites, and such for So-and-so, Published Author.
Published is easy. Publish America will get you that credit, and give you a dollar as a bonus. (I assume they’re still paying their $1 advance.) There’s more to it, and like you said, there’s a wide range in the markets.
December 10, 2009 @ 3:52 pm
The “the pros are trying to keep the new kids out” argument is one I don’t really understand, mainly because my experience in the field has been the complete opposite. The pro writers I know have been incredibly supportive and helpful as I’ve tried to find my feet in the area (you included – thank you). I’ve never once been made to feel like people were rooting against me, or trying to keep me down. And more importantly, I’m never going to get any better if all I do is complain about how other people don’t want me to succeed.
Jim C. Hines
December 10, 2009 @ 4:03 pm
It hasn’t been my experience either. There are always jerks, and I’ve encountered a few authors I’d prefer not to encounter a second time. But even they weren’t actively trying to keep new writers out; they were just jerks. And most of the SF/F authors I’ve met have been wonderfully supportive.
December 13, 2009 @ 3:56 am
Now seriously, I am so weirded out, when newbies like me start talking about this conspiracy. I mean, it’s more logical to assume you can’t be the next anything with your first submission unless you are a kid member of the Mensa since age 2 and now you are 16 and after 10-15 dissertations have decided to take up fiction. It takes practice. The fast one gets it the better. 🙂
Glenn Lewis Gillette
December 13, 2009 @ 11:53 am
Writing’s my 3rd career (if you don’t count childhood & high school). Every career, industry, avocation, whatever, has newbies with special names for them. My time in U.S.A.F. (’64>’73), they were called JEEPs (Just Entering Educational Pipeline). Some Oldies discriminate against Newbies, some don’t, with varying percentages in each clique. Complaining about it never gets you better. Getting better, however, gets you past those reasons for complaining & on to others.
December 14, 2009 @ 1:20 pm
Mike Maasa of Voice Coaches gave an interesting lecture on any business where the product is talent. He said ‘Your competition is everywhere. They will do anything to keep you down. They know your weaknesses. They know every trick to keep you from success. If you want a good look at your competition get a mirror.”
Jim C. Hines
December 14, 2009 @ 1:32 pm
“It takes practice.”
I think that’s key. There’s a myth that anyone can just sit down and write a publishable story. But it’s like any other skill — it takes time to practice and learn how to do it well. Some of us need more practice than others, but very few (if any) people just sit down and produce great fiction right off the bat.