Archive for 'expectations'

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009 by Carrie Vaughn
First Sales

It took me ten years to make my first short story sale, “The Haunting of Princess Elizabeth,” to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword and Sorceress  Vol. 17.  I’ve never counted how many rejections I collected before then — too scary.  Part of the reason it took me ten years to sell a story is I started submitting them when I was 16, and I wasn’t a very good writer.  Very few people are good writers at age 16.  I took a long time just learning how to write, and am a poster child for persistence. I actually recommend starting young — I was naive and thought it would be easy.  By the time I realized how hard selling a story was going to be, the motions — writing, sending out stories, collecting rejections — was habit and I just kept doing it.

I didn’t sell the first novel I wrote.  Or the second, or the third.  In retrospect, I think I could have if I had tried a little harder, but a funny thing happened:  by the time I started getting rejections on the first novel, I’d written the second, and it was a lot better.  So I stopped sending around the first one and started sending the second.  Then it happened again — the third novel was much better than the second.  I also wrote two novels that I didn’t bother sending out.  But I was learning a ton about how to write novels.

Then I wrote Kitty and The Midnight Hour.  I’d spent five years writing “practice” novels at that point, and the Kitty idea had been brewing for several years as well.  This preparation converged with excellent timing in the market.  (So yes, there was some luck involved in this whole process.)  My previous novels were all traditional fantasy, the usual fighters and thieves and magicians in a pseudo-medieval world.  But Kitty was urban fantasy, and it started making the rounds right at the moment that every publisher and their brother’s dog were looking for urban fantasy.  I never could have predicted the boom in that particular genre when I started submitting Kitty in 2003.

Still, the road to that point wasn’t exactly smooth.  I fired my first agent.  That’s a long story that I’d rather not go into, even though this blog is supposed to be talking openly about such things.  It was traumatic, because getting an agent is such a big deal, and when I realized it wasn’t working out I felt like I’d lost a year of my career.  A year of my life.  I went to the World Fantasy Convention that fall, met lots of magazine editors and such, and realized I didn’t have a single short story on any of their desks.  I didn’t have anything in the mail at all.  I hadn’t sold a short story in something like year.  It was the lowest point in my career, and the closest I came to quitting.  But I came home from the convention and put a bunch of stuff in the mail — queries, stories, everything.  Then in December, I got a positive response to a couple of my agent queries:  send the manuscript.  Those are magic words.  In February 2004, I signed with my current agency.  In August, I got the offer from Warner Books (now Grand Central Publishing) for the first two Kitty books.

From what I gather listening to other writers, my numbers — ten years to sell a short story, four tries to sell a novel — are about normal.  In fact, this seems to fit right in with Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours of practice idea making the rounds.

I tell people I got published the old-fashioned way:  I wrote a lot of stuff, I sent out a lot of stuff, and eventually I made a sale.  And after the first sale, I just had to do it all over again.

Thursday, January 29th, 2009 by Sasha White
Our Book.

“The work never matches the dream of perfection the artist has to start with.”

– William Faulkner

What do you do when you’re going over the galley’s of your soon to be released book, and you’re seeing all sorts of mistakes? And not just any mistakes, but rookie mistakes. Things like repeated words, or stilted sentences – things you know you could fix easily, if only you’d noticed them earlier. Or if you were allowed to fix them now.

By ‘allowed to’, I mean just that.

If you think that when you first write The End, that you’re done writing your book, then you are kidding yourself. If you think you’re done after you’re done any revisions you get, you’re mistaken. If you think you’re done after you go over the line edits…. well, you get the idea.

This is something no one prepared me for. I’m pretty darn new to this publishing gig. I started writing 7 years ago, and while I was lucky enough to have starting selling what I wrote 6.5 years ago, I’m still a babe making rookie mistakes. My publisher is very strict about the fact that when I get my galley’s this is for MINOR CHANGES ONLY. Ones that are only absolutely necessary. But just because *I* think they’re absolutely necessary, will they? Because they reserve the right to ignore my corrections. And sometimes, they do.

You’d think that by the time I’m looking at galley’s that I’d have been over it enough to have it perfect..right? Uhmm No. Why not? Because I’m constantly striving to make things better, and the more I write, the more I learn. And the more I learn, the more mistakes I see in what I’ve written in the past. And when writing for a New York print publisher, the galleys tend to come anywhere from 6 months to a year after I’ve finished the first draft of the novel. So, I’ve learned things since then..or at least I think I have. LOL

However, there does come a time when it becomes clear that the book is no longer just MY book, but it has become OUR book. Sure, my name goes on it. And when there are grammar mistakes and typos still in it, I’m the one who gets the reader /reviewer emails saying “what’s up with that?” But, contrary to popular belief, I, the author, do not always get the last word on what gets fixed/tweaked. Which is probably a good thing, because I’m sure editors have learned that without deadlines, or limits, we would just keep tweaking and rewriting every story, because a good author is always striving to make things better…(and that can lead to the problem of over-editing, which is a whole ‘nother post) And while I may have birthed the characters and written their story, I’m no longer the only person who’s put work into it.

This was a hard lesson for me. No one ever warned me that there would be a time when my corrections/wishes could get ignored. And as someone who DID take other authors advice of not reading my books again once they were in print, it took me a while to realize it. So I’m telling you now. Focus on your edits when you have the chance, and get them right. Double check your line edits from the copy editor, and when the galleys come…be sure to go over them with a fine-tooth comb. But most of all… accept that you will almost always find things you want to correct, and that’s okay, because a perfect story is not always a good story, and a good story is not always perfect.

Monday, January 26th, 2009 by Alison Kent
R-E-S-P-E-C-T Redux

One of the things all writers face, whether writing genre fiction or not, is deadlines. I’m facing a February 2nd one now, so am cramming on this post. As promised last Monday, I’m continuing to look at the subject of respect as it relates to a genre author.

Previously, I addressed respecting our creative process, whatever it may be, however we find it, through trial and error, intuition, workshopping, pharmaceuticals *g*, etc. Today I’m going to cover (or skate over anyway!) other areas deserving equal consideration.

Some of this may sound stern. Do this. Don’t do that. Yes, I put down my thoughts in a hurry, and for that terseness, I apologize. For the rest . . . mmm, not so much. Here’s the deal. I wish published pros had said these things to me years ago, stern, terse, or not. I bear scars, and still limp from running into some of these things sans shin guards. *g*

Respect the Story & Characters

You wear a red shirt in Star Trek? You’re going to die. You wear a black hat in a western? You’re the bad guy. Every genre has similar character shortcuts, cliches, stereotypes. Avoid them. Or if you use them, make them your own. Don’t rely on them as lazy attempts to convince your audience that your characters are genre authentic.

Plot points, character actions, interactions, reactions. Make them logical, believable, not contrived. If you can’t tell that your story’s flowing true, ask. A critique partner, a beta reader. Your mom. Don’t leave plot threads hanging. Don’t wave a magic deus ex machina wand to rescue your people from the hand from the grave. Make them, and the hand, work for it.

If you’re writing a feisty romance heroine, she does not have to have red hair, or see stars when she flies into orgasm. Your alpha hero does not have to be a bitter orphan named Brick Hawk. Neither does he have to hate all women because he was once done wrong – and the woman who done him wrong does not have to be a bitch with stilettos and red fingernails.

Be respectful of your story and your characters. Make them unique. Make them real and true.

Respect the Genre

In a mystery, the puzzle will be solved. In a thriller, the killer brought to justice. In an inspirational, protagonists will also have a relationship with God. In science fiction, there will be science. In fantasy, intricate worldbuilding. In a romance, the boy will get the girl. Simple, yes, but those are genre expectations. Don’t mess with genre expectations. If you can’t write within the constraints, write elsewhere. A reader who picks up a mass market paperback with “romance” on the spine expects – and rightfully deserves – a happy ending. That’s why s/he is buying the book. Genre expectations. Learn them. Live them. Respect them.

Respect the Publishing Process

From day one of the call, work with your agent, editor and publishing house to set reasonable deadlines. Don’t promise what you can’t deliver. If you find yourself unable to turn in a manuscript by the expected date, let your editor know ASAP. There is usually room for forgiveness and flexibility, but do not abuse the process. Do not take advantage. Do not assume each time you ask for an extension that it’s no big deal. In fact, assume the opposite. Better yet, respect your contractual obligations and get your book in on time. (I learned this lesson the hard way, and that’s all I’m gonna say about that (tm Forrest Gump).

Unless you and your editor have already established such a working relationship (as in, s/he wants to see your work in progress and give input ::shudder::), do not turn in drafts. Polish and edit and revise until your fingers fall off, and then use your toes and start over. Proofread. Verify word meanings. Use correct punctuation. The easier you make your editor’s job, the easier your own. That said, your editor is not your friend. Neither is s/he your critique partner.

S/he has dozens of other authors s/he works with. The squeaky wheel may get the grease, but eventually, the editor gets rid of the one that’s high maintenance and buys a replacement model. You don’t want to be replaced in your editor’s garage by an author who turns in perfect prose, so respect your editor and turn in your bestest BESTEST work every time.

Respect the Readers

A reader who picks up a novel with “romance” on the spine wants a happy ending. S/he wants hope and happiness. S/he wants to turn the last page and know that after all the pain and suffering, the characters with whom s/he’s spent hours, did indeed find true love.

Research is your friend. Readers will KNOW if your cop is carrying the wrong gun, if your Earl can indeed be called Sir Dude (that shows what I know about titles). Readers will call you on it if your baker is wearing a ponytail but not a required hairnet, if your peace officer works for a department that doesn’t exist in the state where you’ve set your book (saw that one recently). Yes, it’s fiction. But if your fiction is representative of real life (as opposed to those things which we don’t know are real), readers want to find and recognize the familiar.

Assume your readers are smart. They usually are. Often smarter than you. Don’t dumb down your prose. Don’t cheat. Don’t info dump to make sure they get it. Don’t beat them over the head to make sure they don’t forget. They get it. They don’t forget. Neither do they forgive if you treat them wrongly. A reader fan can give you publicity you can’t pay for, and many do so daily on their blogs. Word of mouth is the only proven-to-be-successful promotional tool.

Respect Yourself

Creativity can be glorious. It can also be grueling. Eat right, move more than your fingers, sleep many many hours. You don’t want to work yourself to death, and not be around to enjoy the fruit of all that labor. When the words dry up, fill the creative well. Take a walk in the park. Visit a museum. Go to the zoo. Plant flowers. Watch waves foam on the sand (my fave).

When the noise of industry news, publishing gossip, author bickering, bragging, and speculating interferes, back away from the blogs, loops, the email and IMs. You can’t exist on a steady diet of crap and expect to produce good work. Garbage in, garbage out, and all that.

Lastly, don’t ever forget your non-writing friends and family. They are your rocks, your anchors; when you spend hours a day in a fictional world, that real life touchstone is vital. They love you. Be there for them. Lean on them. Never let work get in the way of that precious gift.