Thursday, May 26, 2011

Just Hit Send

Submitting a story of any length - I include everything from Twit Fic to novels in the "story" category - is daunting.

In fact, sometimes it's downright frightening. But there is a "cure". It's called Just Hit Send. This is how it works.

1. Write a story.
2. Edit with a machete or any large bladed tool of choice.
3. Polish remaining lean, mean story to a mirror finish.
4. Run spell check.
5. Format according to the guidelines of the intended market.
6. Attach to an email with a polite but brief note to the editors of said market.
7. Hit send.
8. Repeat.

Step seven is the part that tends to be problematic. I've written and edited and polished stories, even written the cover email and then deleted it without sending anything off. Even when I know a story is as good as it's going to get I still waffle about submitting.

We all know the excuses.
Maybe I need another beta reader to look it over.
Maybe I should let it sit for a few more weeks, just in case I've missed something.
Maybe this isn't the right market.
Maybe the market is oversaturated with this type of story.
Maybe, maybe, maybe.

What we should really be doing is clicking the send button.
Because beta-readers are useful but in the end, only you can decide if a story is ready or not.
Because if you thought it was ready for submission last night, then it's still ready today.
Because you won't know if it's the right market or not until you send it in.
Because if your story is as good as you think it won't matter how many vampire/zombie/pirate stories they've already seen.
Because, because, because.

Doubt is just another name for procrastination.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Talent, Luck and Hard Work

I wrote a post last year some time addressing the debate over Talent vs Work. (It's an old argument. Probably even older than Outline vs Pantsing or Character vs Plot.)

Now that I'm digging back into the submission game I've a bit more to add.

There are, in my opinion, three factors that determine whether or not a story sells.

1) The talent level of the writer. Whether talent is learned or innate, some writers are better than others. Just like some athletes run faster than others. I'm not saying this as a "You suck!" argument. Simply pointing out that there is a certain skill level that is required to achieve professional publication.

2) Luck. This boils down to hitting the right market with the right story on the right day while the editor is in the right mood. Unless you're consulting a ouija board or the spirits of your ancestors there is probably not much you can do about this aside from hit every possible market as often as possible with everything you've got.

3) Hard work. I've said before that hard work will trump talent every time. I still think that. In order to nail that sale you have to work hard. Work hard at writing. Work hard at editing. Work hard at submitting what you've written and edited.

Now. Of those three factors, which do you (and I) actually have any control over? (I'll bet you see where this is going.)

That's right: Hard Work. This is the only part of the magic formula for story sales that you can actually do anything about. Because talent is A) something you have or you don't and B) only gets better with practice. And luck... well, luck is what you make of it.

My point?

Too often we get caught up in the "Am I good enough?" trap. This is the mental block where we (and by "we" I really mean "I") start doubting whether what I write is any good at all. Do I have real talent? Will I ever be successful as a writer/author/scribbler on napkins? The answer, of course, is to work until you prove the talent is there.

Usually, once I get past the previous trap I get stuck in the "I must find the perfect market" trap. This is the one where I start spending all my time trying to find that one perfect market for a specific story. The one where it will sail through the slush pile and amaze and move the editor(s). Of course, the only cure for this mental glitch is to keep writing and submitting even when there doesn't seem to be a "perfect" market. Again, hard work is the answer.

Because talent is great and luck is amazing, but the nitty gritty of actually doing the work, well, that's tangible. And that's what's important.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Lessons Learned Cutting a Tree

1. Know your structure. 
And, no. I'm not talking about writing an outline. I'm talking about being familiar with the structure of what you write. From the basic beginning, middle, end to more complex sub-plot arcs, character development and so on. Short stories are simpler than novels. Not necessarily easier, but certainly simpler. They contain fewer characters, fewer plot points. A novel is a gargantuan thing that if you start at it willy-nilly is likely to twist and break and crush you under the weight of there's-so-much-here-I-didn't-take-into-account

2. Know your limitations.
The adrenaline rush of starting a new project tends to make me jump in with both feet. And that's all well and good, but it's important to know one's limitations. Even at my most excited and fastest typing speeds, I can't write a novel in a day. I'm lucky to get a rough draft in a month. This is one reason why goals are important, they tell you where you're going and keep you from burning out by running full steam all the time. In other words, work hard, but don't work too hard.

3. Getting the big stuff down is only the beginning.
A common misunderstanding among newer writers is that the purpose of editing is simply to look for typos and maybe tighten up a few sentences here and there. We've all felt that initial rush of Thank-god-it's-done that comes when we complete a rough draft. But if you're like me, you're also beginning to realize that the rough draft is just the beginning. Then comes cutting out the dead stuff. Killing those darling that just don't fit with the rest. Filling in plot-holes. Smoothing out character arcs. And so on. The rough draft is the easy part and once that's done the real work (of revising and rewriting) begins.