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.

# # #

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.

Pimpin’ Sunday

friends_cast_004aIt’s been a while since I’ve pimped my friends. I’m feeling spicy. I’m reading their blogs and playing catch-up and think you should do the same (read, not play). So here are some interesting blogs my friends have posted lately that you should check out. And then you should bookmark them, friend them, mark it as like, retweet it, or do whatever it is you do to revisit a place and pass it along to others. Ready? Let’s go travel the worldwideweird…

Nate Southard. Every girl needs a boy in her posse that makes her try harder just to keep up—this is mine. I hate him. I love him. And his blog is just as varied as those emotions. This particular blog sings to the writers out there, whether professional or wannabe. Read it. Love it. Share it. Hurry, Wait, Hurry, Wait

Alethea Kontis. The princess. Because every wicked witch should have an adversary that they actually love and adore and play scrabble with and giggle next to on a mini trampoline—this is mine. And sometimes, even a princess can get angry. This one is for the tech-heads out there. Own an iphone do you? Ever had some form of technology go obsolete before you were ready for it to? This particular post if for you. Read. Love. Share. Rotten Apples.

Bob Ford. The hippie. Before we dated and long after he’s done with me, he will be the Coop of our generation. He writes beautiful words with an ease that makes me want to kill him, but instead I adore him and just plot to take him out in some fiction at some point. He sucks at blogging. No really, he does. But he’s trying. He’s doing blogs twice a week now—memories and questions. And if we don’t play along with his questions he’s stop blogging again. So think over this and give him an answer… Read. Love. Share. The Lure of Passion.

Maurice Broaddus. Mo. I love the hell out of him, and want to slap him on a regular basis. His blog is poignant and/or professional, depending on the mood and whether or not he’s been to church in the last 24 hours. Sometimes, he forgets the internet is forever and goes a little deeper than he should. But we love him for it anyway. This one will make you think, no matter who you are, where you’re at, and should be read, loved and shared. Addicted to (Self-)Love.

Wrath James White. The only friend I have without a nickname, hmmmm I’m going to have to fix that. Intelligent, deep, thoughtful, brutal, abrasive and wonderful. His blogs are worth reading even if they make you ache, especially if they make you ache. This one will make you fear… after you read his and think about your own. Read. Love. Share. This I Fear.

Need more? There’s a whole list on the right of my page there. See it? They’re all on blogs and livejournal and myspace, and have facebook or twitter or everything. Click through them. You’ll find mentors, big brothers, sisters, inspiration and aspiration, writers, readers and well, friends… old to me, maybe new to you. Read them. Love them. Share them.

ps. and Happy Birthday to two of my cancers…

Knee… Elbow…

swearingMaurice let me do some crazy things with panels at Mo’Con this year, and we giggled through the panel on sex and fiction. One of the points we were making was when it’s appropriate to call sex organs by vernaculars and other silly names.

Revisiting the topic after hearing a word for penis I was unfamiliar with, I went Googling.

I know better than to go Googling.

I do.

But it’s a disease and I’ll never learn.

So, as I travel across the states and try and survive the long trek through Michigan, yet again, I’m setting this bad boy on auto-blog. Here’s your silly to end the week…

2062 names for the penis

Oddly, there are only 172 nick names for female genitalia, and only 129 synonyms for breasts

Now then… while you giggle your way down the lists, guess which ones you should never use in your writing!

When hope and frustration collide…

…or, how struggling writers talk to each other on the phone about the state of things and how to survive change:

Do you see them all jumping ship for other genres? Do you?! Those names we dream of being like, those above us we strive to equal…

Just means we don’t have to compete up, only sideways and downward—better chances to get our foot in the door.

But the genre door is shutting.  Those with their feet in will get bruised but still be able to push through for cookies and coffee, while we’re out here on the stoop worrying about wiping the mud off our feet.

Yes, but it’s a screen door.  Even though it closes with a bang on a regular basis as people run in and out of it, it has no lock. 

There are a lot of us on the stoop…

True, but some will get sick of waiting and slip in the back door, while others will use the garage entry.  The owners pay more attention to those who are polite enough to ring the doorbell.  Now wipe your feet and get up here.

Did you see who snuck in the window over there? You can hear them, laughing and having fun inside, but they didn’t come in the front, so why do they get the attention?

Oh come on, you know this party game.  Everyone smiles and nods but they don’t really know who it is, they just figure they should so they pretend they do… or worse, they wait until he wanders off to another circle and then point and laugh at the trail of mud he leaves behind him because he didn’t use the mat.

Did I get all the mud off? Were we supposed to bring a dish to pass?

Yes you did, and no, we weren’t.  We are only expected to bring a recipe for now.  Once we’re inside and we understand who likes what and who’s allergic to what, then we’ll make a dish. 

Ok then, let’s ring the doorbell already!!

Over the Rainbow…

Have you been to the message boards lately?  I have.  And you’ll notice, I haven’t said a word on many [ok, most] of them for quite a while.  The state of the genre is “off.”  Message boards that used to be great places to keep up on business and news and guidelines and such, have become playgrounds for the idiots among us.

This isn’t new.  We’ve known this for a while.  But I’ve been thinking, and realized that it isn’t new to us, but to the newbies out there, those just now finding the internet and the genre on a whole, it’s what they’re introduced to as “normal.”  To them I’d like to say, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!!”

Instead, watch what the main cast members say and how they act. Ignore the munchkin picking his nose because he thinks he’s off camera, and absolutely stay clear of the ones that know they’re on camera and do it anyway.  You want to move up the ladder?  Then you need to watch those above you on the ladder—not below you—and only those that are parallel to you if they’re also watching those above.  Follow Dorothy and the Tin Man and get where you need to go.  Leave the flying monkeys alone, and forget about those damn poppies.

This isn’t empty advice or even a rant, just an observation.  What’s happening in the genre is something akin to watching the Wizard of Oz, except instead of following the yellow brick road, all the new residents in Oz are just wandering through the woods trying to figure out why they haven’t been invited to the Emerald City.  The directors [board owners] are not yelling “Cut!” and leading anyone back to the path.  Rather, they’re handing them rotten apples and sending them into the fray to battle grumpy trees.  Of course, then our poor wanderers can’t figure out why everyone’s mad at them… well duh!  Read the script. There is a path to take, obstacles along the way, and a very clear road to follow that eventually leads to a runaway hot air balloon.

Wait, where was I going before this metaphor took over?  Oh yeah.  The genre is not Oz.  It has its up and downs, peaks and valleys, and right now we’re in the dank, scary cave at the bottom of the valley where, if you’re not careful, you can hit your head on the ceiling and end up thinking your house has flown over the rainbow to a new land where there are no rules and the little people with the loud squeaky voices are in charge.  They aren’t, and this isn’t Oz.  I promise.  It’s just a bad dream.  And eventually, everyone will wake up and realize that.  Then they’ll look around and proclaim the insanity of the land they visited and say you were there… and you were there… and you were there.  Do you really want to be one of the poor farmhands that is pointed out as being in la-la land?

To the newbies out there, follow the lead cast members and get your asses to the storm cellar.  It’s the best way to avoid being one of those that is forever smudged with the black mark of “newbie thinking this is normal goes batshit on boards… news at eleven!”  Sure, entertainment can be fun for a moment, but the net is forever, and the people you’re entertaining have memories and screen captures and notebooks.  Your antics will not be forgotten and you’ll have to work hard to even attain the status of forgiven.  To the munchkins picking their noses, well… Kleenex is an option, but I see you’ve already used your shirt sleeve.

This post brought to you by Dueling Blogs, a sick and twisted pastime of Maury’s and mine that involves long phone calls that usually end with “We should blog about that!” 

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