Friday, November 21, 2008

Taking My Lumps, Learning the Game

I've made some mistakes in my fledgling writing career. Feels a little silly to call it a career, really. More on those mistakes later.

Sometimes, while wandering the interwebTM, I find a thread worth reading--advice from a pro about the writing world. Brian Keene has posted a number of excellent snippets on his site of late. There's a great bit about Freebie Markets on Paul G. Tremblay's Livejournal, including a rather heated exchange in the comments. Keene, along with a number of other authors, etc. recommend paying markets only, especially pro-paying. If you haven't seen Harlan Ellison's rant on paying the author, here you go:

But how do you start? Really start as a writer? Many recommend listening to the feedback you receive. If you are trying to become a better writer, the pro paying markets aren't going to give you constructive feedback. I've had work bounced by pro paying markets with nothing short of a photo-copied form letter. I felt good about my last reject from Cemetery Dance 'cause it came with a tiny, hand-scribbled note. I felt good having a rejection letter signed by Gordon Van Gelder at Fantasy and Science Fiction. Did either provide constructive feedback, anything that would make me a better writer? Not really. With hundreds of unsolicited subs a month, who could expect anything different?

So what does one do? Send to smaller markets, of course, while continuing to send to the pro markets. I've received much more feedback from small markets rejections--nice little mags like Necrotic Tissue and Shimmer. But I want those pro sales, and will continue working toward that goal.

I've grown as a writer in the last year. I've made mistakes, too--submitting work to fly-by-night 4theluv pubs that weren't worth the postage. But I've been happy with the presentation in some non-paying publications--some are real class acts. No, they aren't paying the writer, but every writer needs some positive feedback to continue and grow. No human will continue doing something as difficult and punishing as writing without some reward. Not indefinitely, anyway.

What am I going to do? Keep writing. Sub to those pro markets. Keep writing. Revise. Do some more writing. Sub to quality publications, and continue writing. Revise some more.

Have a great weekend.


Jamie Eyberg said...

ten years (or more) I received a handwritten note from Gordon VanGelder. It was the hi-lite of my writing for many years. I have gotten great feedback from Doorways magazine and Shroud as well. I know what you mean though. It is hard to get started if no one will give you a start.

Jeremy D Brooks said...

I read Paul's rant earlier this week...he really brutalized SNM's eds, and it got worse when SNM showed up to defend themselves with grammatical errors and run-on sentences...wrong crowd for that mistake. Funny vid, too ("you go buy the DVD, mother f**ker!"). Awesome...

I do agree with your thesis (as well as Paul's, for the most part)...FTL markets are great for honing your skills, but staying tethered to them for too long tends to cheapen what we do overall, I think. There is a place for them, though...otherwise hacks like me may never see the light of day long enough to get feedback and be able to live long enough to be able to submit to semi- or pro with any confidence at all.

Aaron Polson said...

I think we need a professional hack-writer's organization. ;)

As long as we keep working, good things will happen.

katey said...

I think we need a professional hack-writer's organization

Where do I apply? ;)

Awesome video, thanks for that!

Robert said...

Like I told Paul regarding his blog post, I think there should be more of an official criteria for magazines being considered "pro."

Take SNM for example -- if they paid five cents a word, they would considered pro even if they kept up with the awful web design and everything else ... and even though they paid so well, I still couldn't see myself submitting to them.

Anyway, I wouldn't get too discouraged, Aaron. Getting personal notes from E-i-Cs are a big thing, even if they don't give constructive feedback.

What you need to do (what all writers need to do if they're serious about making a career out of writing) is don't look at the short-term but the long-term ... ask yourself, How will this help my career in the long run?

(Keep in mind I've placed stories in magazines I won't even consider sending anything to today ... do I regret it? No. Placing those stories there made me the writer I am today.)

(Another aside: I remember back when I helped edit Flesh & Blood a writer wrote in his cover letter how he refused to submit to any other magazines except ours and F&SF and CD, that he would not "lower himself" to the small press ... we never ended up taking one of his stories, and I haven't seen his name around since. Makes you think.)

Catherine J Gardner said...

That video is fantastic and it makes you think. :)

Aaron Polson said...

Robert - thanks for stopping by...good points, too.

Cate - Ellison is always entertaining.

K.C. Shaw said...

My personal policy is not to sub to non-paying markets, but I've made a few exceptions. For the most part, though, I say just write the best you can, listen to feedback, and sub to good markets that seem to be a good fit for the story in question.

And I loved that vid. I saw it somewhere else a few months ago and loved it then too.

Carrie Harris said...

I love Ellison. I'd like to be his flunky.

And I still remember how excited I was to get my first truly personalized rejection. Everyone thought I was nuts, because of course it's a rejection; I think it takes another writer to understand how big personalization is.

Barry Napier said...

Brilliant video. And while I agree, I agree with not as much enthusiasm. I personally don't sub to non-paying markets. I'm even a bit hesitant about subbing to markets where your pay is only a copy of said publication.

(I really don't feel qualified to give my opinion since I have no problem selling a 5,000 word short story to a publication that only paid a flate fee of $5.00. While this IS a sale, it's like working for sweat shop wages).

It truly is the equivalent of working for nothing, in the end. And while I understand the need to "get your name out there" and thus rationalizing a sub to a non-paying market, I think your self-worth and sense of achievment needs to come before, as Ellison put it, the "Cool, they're gonna notice me" mentality.

Just my 2 cents.

Aaron Polson said...

I guess it does come down to one's purpose for writing. Do I think I'll be able to quit my day job and write full time? No--not fiction anyway. If I had the desire, I could start cranking out educational materials and hit the lecture circuit. My wife would love that.

I want to "pen" quality stories that people want to read. I'll keep at it until they pry the keyboard from under my cold, dead fingers.

Thanks, all, for the input.