get paid

So you want to be a writer…

nunIn light of the recent controversy, and as promised in the Writers Beware blog (because I hate seeing newbies learn the hard way), I thought I’d throw out a little life preserver (read as beating stick) to tell new writers a few rules and help their learning curve…  Mandy DeGeit has been at my house for several days now (visit planned before the Calvacade of Bullshit happened) and after some lecturing and learning, she said it would be helpful to have something like this… So here it is. Or here is the start maybe. I was debating a semi-regular thing with this, and apparently I’m leaning that way, as I made a category just for these: 101.

Rules are something the nuns back in Catholic school had, to go with their rulers. This is not that. This is more like guidelines… since writers are much closer to pirates than they are nuns, and no writing career or experience is ever exactly like anybody else’s. I think maybe we’ll start with a basic list and expand. If I get long winded, I guess I’ll have to make it a serial blog and cover the others later (read as, “Hello?! Have you met me? Of course I’m going to be long winded… expect a serial.”)

1. RULE NUMBER ONE. This one is NOT a guideline. This is, without a doubt, and with Sister Hank’s ruler to back it up, a rule: Money flows to the writer. aka, Get Paid. aka, Real Money. I don’t care if you want to forgo guideline #3 and only get $5.00, get something. Anything. Seriously. Because if they have to pay you, they tend to give a crap about where their money is going. I have tried to beat this into the thick skulls of several newer writers who refuse to listen in the light of the vile word “exposure” and in the miasma of excitement that comes with the idea of being published. After the recent whirlwind, a couple are suddenly listening. Mandy took an “ouch” to learn and another received a very nasty phone call where Bob and I channeled everyone above us on the ladder who had yelled at us about the exact same thing once upon a time. Get Paid. Non-negotiable.

If you’re not willing to go to your dayjob and tell them at the end of the day, “no no, don’t pay me. knowing you appreciate me (read as “exposure”) is enough” don’t do it with your writing. It took time and effort, skill, thought, sweat and, if you did it right, blood to do… why the HELL would you just hand that away for nothing? WHY?! So don’t. And here’s your one warning… If I know you saw this blog entry and I ever, and I do mean ever, hear you bitching about a publication or even excited about one that didn’t pay you, I will come down on your head like the wrath of gods that have been dead for so long their pent up anger makes Coop look like the Dalai Lama. Kapeesh? Paid. Period. The End.

Questions on that one? No? Good. Let’s move on…

2. Do your research. This is a multi-parter, so pay attention. (a) There are several good websites to find publishers and publications looking for submissions. I’ve always been partial to Duotrope. It’s got a happy little search engine you can fine tune. Check it out. (b) After you’ve found a place you think is home for your story/novella/whatever, check them out! Look at the website. Are there typos? Grammatical errors? Glaring red flags of bullshit that you wouldn’t buy in a book so why would you want your work associated with it? And check out the publisher, both the company on a whole and those running it. Ask friends. Ask other writers. Look at who else they publish. Watch how they behave online. Do they belittle writers? Start flamewars? Act in a way you want to claim association with? Because you will, whether you want to or not.

Little tidbit: when I was just starting out with short stories, I had a hitlist of authors I admired, who’d been around the block and knew what the hell they were doing. If THEY published somewhere then I would submit there. It wasn’t “really” stalking, so much as trusting without having to ask. P.S. if you haven’t read the Writers Beware blog, stop now and go read it. Then you’ll understand the importance of researching your market and the person you hand your baby over to.

3. Start at the top. You don’t apply at McDonald’s after you get your degree, you apply somewhere appropriate to your training, education, etc. Think the same way here. You don’t start with non-paying markets. Hell, if you read number one, you shouldn’t even be submitting to them… ever. You start with those paying pro-rates. Newsflash: “pro-rate” is not a contributor copy or flat rate, unless the flat rate works with the math. Pro-rate is five cents a word or better. Two things here. (a) Yes, that’s what Poe was getting paid. Everyone else in the world has gotten a raise except writers. Why? Because there are enough who will accept less so publishing never had to adjust. (b) There is such a thing as better than five cents. If you use Duotrope (or other avenues) you’ll find them, because I’m not going to tell you everything…

Now you can choose to ignore this in particular situations. Say you have a vampire vs ghost story and the two open markets are a pro-rate general market and a vampire vs ghost anthology at semi-pro. I can completely understand wanting to go with the antho. (adjust this example as you need, to further understand that “sometimes” the “guideline” of “start at the top” can be altered…but it should never be ignored for the bottom feeders. Ever.) And one last thought on this section… no, we’ll make it a different section. We’ll call it #4.

4. Accept the trunk. To be a writer you need a few qualities. Thick skin and reason are essential. Be able to take the rejections, but also be able to honestly look at criticism and take from it what you can. Not all rejections are form letters. Some include ideas for improvement or other suggestions. Read them. Absorb them. Decide and take action—or do nothing, your call—but have the ability to both handle it and recognize when it’s valid. On the heels of that, know when enough is enough. Accept the trunk.

So you had this story that was awesome. You edited it to death and everyone who read it loved it. You started at the top of the submissions list and worked your way through pro-rates, semi-pro and even dabbled in a few desperate token pay markets. You may have gotten some feedback and made changes, you may not have. But at this point, you need to stop before you do something stupid (like give it away for free—see rule number one). You need to “trunk” the story. You never know. You may see an antho it’s perfect for in six months. You may re-read it in a year and know exactly how to fix it and resubmit (starting at the top) and find it a home.

Fun tidbit: a story of mine went through all that. It came dangerously close to getting into a magazine I really want to get in to before I die. It got a little feedback but I didn’t want to change the size to chop stuff or add stuff. I really liked it as it was. I trunked it, and now it’s one of the most popular stories in my collection Black Bubbles. Just sayin’…

5. Never say die. I don’t care if you haven’t sold anything for a while. We all have dry spells. I sold a bunch of stuff, had a REALLY sucktacular dry spell that lasted almost enough to make me climb a tower with a rifle, and then suddenly my world exploded. I didn’t give up. I didn’t quit writing. I didn’t quit submitting. And I didn’t self-publish because mommy said it was good but no real publisher would touch it.

Yes, self-publishing rules have changed a bit since I first formed my opinion about them, but this portion of my opinion stays. If you’re self-publishing because you’ve been rejected by “everyone and their brother,” stop and think about that. If they ALL agreed to reject it, you probably need to look at it a little harder. Be a little more honest with yourself. Your answer should be to trunk it, come back later, move forward. Your response should not be “screw them” and self-publish. God forbid they were right and it sucks. Now it’s out there forever. Better to sit back, hone your craft, and do it the right way. (Of course, there are plenty of times when self-publishing is okay. So long as it’s not attached to a list of rejections.) One more time, for the people in the back… never quit. Keep writing. Keep reading. Keep trying.

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Now then, there are the basic guidelines. There are plenty more—including “contracts” and “submission guidelines” but those are bigger and deserve their own blogs… damn it, this is going to be a serial thing—but these are the basics. This is enough to steer you down the right path. And as a reward for sitting there and reading this whole thing, now I’m going to pull out my ruler and wave it around like a pissed off nun. Why? Because you’re still sitting here. Go. Write. No, really… go. Get the hell out of here! I have a novel to finish.

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