Sunday, September 27, 2009

What are the options?

Every time I think about submitting a story, no matter what the length, I always go through my options in the back of my mind. No, I'm not talking about what magazine or ezine or publisher to send it to; that's something for the front of my mind to decide. No, the options I consider are even more basic than that.

· The one I seldom give much thought to these days, but which exists none-the-less – is to take pleasure in what I've written, and then file it away, for me to take out and reread from time to time. That's where I started, many years ago, before I had any confidence in my writing.

· Another one I have mostly 'out-grown' is to take pleasure in what I've written, and pass it around among my friends and family so that they might also enjoy it. I don't often consider this one as the conclusion for my efforts. If I have enough confidence to pass it around that far, why not shoot for a larger audience yet?

· Send it to the big boys, one of the publishers with a house-hold 'Brand' name. This one's scary, since I've never been published. But still, they tend to pay the best, and my writing skill is pretty comparable to what they publish, so why not? If it's accepted, this will get my work out for the entire world to see. Of course, it will be up to me to try and get the world to notice it. Even the big boys do little to publicize the work of new authors.

· Send it to a smaller market, a small press publisher or not-so-big magazine. Sounds safer. Probably isn't. How many starting authors decide to start here? On the other hand, my writing skill is better than some of the authors they already publish. And it will still be up to me to try and get the world to notice it. It might be a good place to send my stuff if the big boys turn it down. Because if a not-so-big company finds me acceptable this time, maybe the big boys will look on me more favorably next time.

· Use a vanity press. This one is costly and risky. I have to pay to get the book produced, plus a hefty fee to the company for doing it, and I wind up with a basement full of books to sell. I would have to do all my own editing, because that's not part of the package with a vanity press. All my own publicity, and without the ability to get it into the big chain stores. Plus, when it comes to my next book, having gone vanity will NOT impress the big boys.

· Self publish. Sounds really safe. Isn't. Have to do all my own editing, plus proofing, set up and 'type-set', arrange for the cover design, hire a printer, pay for all those copies that wind up in my basement. Then publicize, fulfill orders, and – again – without the ability to get my book into the big chain stores. Do I have the money? Or the time? Not to mention the ability. This one probably ranks slightly above using a vanity press when it comes impressing big boys into accepting my next book.

Every writer has to make his/her own decisions about these options. And then – probably – second-guess themself every time they have a piece of work to send out. Once you decide you ARE going to send it out, then you have to get all the brain involved and decide where. And that involves another set of worries.

See ya next week. Trudy

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Ups and Downs of Writing

When you're an author, there are joys as well as trials to the process of writing. These may all be different depending on the author, but this is the way I see them.

Outline – Mostly I use these for novels, but even short stories get a few cursory thoughts about where the story will start, and how it will progress. I used to think a formal outline was something along the lines of a 'necessary evil', but I realize now that they are a guideline, easily abandoned if something better comes along. Or I could meander away from it for a time and return later. So, it's not my favorite part, but it forces me to think things out. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being great fun, outlining is probably a 3.5.

Rough draft – For me, this is almost total 'creating'. Great fun. Give it a 4.9.

Research – Some do this before anything else, but for me, it tends to get done as needed. So maybe during outlining, probably during rough draft, possibly even during later drafts. And I can't really assign it a 'score', because it depends on the subject matter being researched.

More drafts – For each piece of work, the more of these I do, the less fun they are. Creativity gets bogged down by mechanics and rules.

Market research – Trying to find a home for what I've written is truly a necessary evil. Maybe it will get better as I become known and develop relationships with editors and agents, but right now, this is a real downer. 1.9. Maybe lower.

Waiting – This is the worst chore I've found in this process. After I've taken the leap and sent out a piece, time seems to come to a complete halt as I wait to hear something – ANYthing! – from that market. One a scale of 1 to 5, this has got to be a -25.

Every weekend I pause to wonder what's happening to the stories I've sent out. They haven't come home yet. Does that mean I dare to hope? The not knowing is a killer. I'm pretty sure most writers will agree with me on that.

See ya next weekend. Maybe I'll have news to share. Trudy

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Submission Guesses

I was doing some research yesterday on the internet. Everybody talks about how easy that is, but sometimes it isn't. Either the exact information you're looking for isn't where you think it should be, or you get distracted by other interesting information you weren't actually looking for. Both happened to me yesterday.

It can be a good thing, to get distracted. You learn things you didn't know, have your mind set or imagination challenged. Yesterday, I wound up on the SFWA website, and – unable to find the statistics I wanted – I got distracted by some blogs, including one by Elizabeth Moon.

Moon described a common transition many authors go through, starting with the desire to be an author, moving through the dream of being an author until they actually knuckle down and start doing the work necessary to become a published author. It's a transition I'm familiar with; I'm still going through it myself.

I've made a lot of progress over the years, but there are times when uncertainty gets the better of me. Even at that time, I keep writing, re-writing and polishing, but I get stuck at sending out submissions. I'm not even sure it's fear of rejection; I just figure that story didn't fit their needs at that moment and keep going. It's more an uncertainty that I'm not 'shooting myself in the foot'. Is this story a good fit for that market? If this agent or editor says s/he likes fantasy, does that mean dragons and elves or something more like Conan? Or something else entirely?

Submission guidelines help. At least I don't send my fantasy novel to an agent who has no interest in fantasy. But guidelines have no choice but to be rather open. If an agent doesn't like fantasy, s/he don't want everybody sending stories about elves and dragons. However, dragons in space, or a western where the cattle rustlers turn out to be a dragon just might grab their enthusiasm. So, as an author, I have to balance what they say they want/don't want against what I've got to offer. And there's always the chance I've guessed wrong. Since I don't personally know that editor or agent, there's a really good chance I've guess wrong.

So, every once in a while I start floundering, wondering if all my guesses are wrong. I don't know what I could do differently, and so – for a time – I wind up doing nothing, so far as submissions are concerned. But that doesn't get me anywhere, so eventually, I have to push my uncertainties way down inside and send out submissions again. All I can do is give it my best guess.

See ya next week. Trudy

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A Saga of my Confusion

A year or so ago, I took Dr James Gunn’s science fiction writing class on the internet. I went into it nervous, and came out of it hemorrhaging confusion.

I am still confused by his teachings.

The first major point of confusion was brought on by his statement that real science fiction involved the ultimate survival of all mankind. I guess I’ve been reading an awful lot of fake science fiction all my life, or else I’m unable to recognize plots that endanger all of mankind, and not just the shipful or planetful of characters immediately involved in the story.

How many plots would potentially involve all of mankind, and especially the survival of mankind? Well, before men colonize other places, that would involve war, alien invasion (a type of war), plague, famine, living space. Have I forgotten anything? After mankind spreads to other planets, other systems, it becomes even harder to threaten all of it. War and possibly plague, if they don’t get the illness isolated fast enough. To my thinking, that’s an awful lot of possible plots that can’t be explored and still be real science fiction.

For instance, I tend to like stories about people who are starting a new colony. You know, the problems they encounter and how they deal with them. Apparently, these are not real science fiction, because if these colonists don’t make it, there’s a whole planet of people back home who could try again, either at this place or someplace else.

So, if what I’ve been reading all these years isn’t science fiction, what genre is it? Space westerns? Space pioneers? Space operas? I suppose we could split them up into multi-genres like that, but where does it end? If people keep insisting on strict guidelines for any particular genre, then it seems like we would soon be coining a new genre for each book, or at least, each series of books.

One of the students in our class wrote one of those colonization stories. The colony had just experienced its first death, under suspicious circumstances. Eventually, the character charged with solving the death arrived at the conclusion that a series of unfortunate accidents resulted in this man’s death. Underneath, he was thinking that mankind had abused the Earth, and had come here and started abusing this place, all in the name of making it more ‘hospitable’, and in the end, nature had found a way to strike back, just as Earth had started to do. Now, to me, that at least implies a risk to all of mankind. Dr Gunn wasn’t sure he agreed that this story was true science fiction. Hence my confusion.

This was originally written several months ago, and is still true today. See you next week.