From notion to publication: an easy abc primer

22 04 2010

I want to revisit the earlier themes of this blog as I’ve said I would from time to time. I was reading through the wealth of information, interviews, and advice that have been collected here and I want to offer a distillation of some of it- a gross distillation to be sure, but I think it will be helpful. I am going to avoid generalities and tell you exactly what to do, which is something I usually can’t stand for reasons that may be less about sense and more about history.

In my early writing days this wonderful Internet was still just a budding piece of publicly annexed military technology that showed up as a character in William Gibson novels. The world’s ugliest word- blog- would have only appeared in the fits of Bill the Cat. The young, isolated, budding writer of that far bygone era really had no at-a-glance resources to aid them in publishing. You had a good dictionary, a thesaurus, perhaps a computer with printer but just as likely a loudly humming baby blue IBM typewriter, and a pile of magazines you liked and wanted in. In this time there were also writing books. “Get Published!!!” and “101 Winning Book Proposals” come to mind. The only thing that these books held in common was the absolute certainty of their advice. They knew what every editor wanted, they knew everything you needed to say to get published. They had bullet pointed advice that outlined strategies that were often boldly pronounced, “Guaranteed to get you published!!!” The best part was that not a single one ever mentioned your writing.

Now perhaps they were assuming that you had a quality, polished product in hand and that all you were lacking was some sage guidance through the labyrinthine calculus of introducing yourself to the world of publishing, all hail its paramount mysteries and glory, but more likely they knew that 99.99 percent of people (the Jason Stoddard Number or JSN as I shall henceforth call it) that want to be writers are really just procrastinators that get cart in front of horse and then take said rear wheel drive horse-cart to a bookstore and buy copies of “Publish Now!” instead of copies of the Elements of Style, The MLA Guide, On Writing, and a stack of short story comps.  I have a feeling the above is verbatim what the authors of 101 Bestselling Book Proposals own book proposal looked like. It is also the longest non-academic sentence I have ever written, run-on though it be. Jut FYI.  If you’ve been following this blog for any amount of time you will have realized through my interviews with editors that very little matters outside of the writing. No letter will ever sell your work. Your work will sell your work. If a run-down restaurant called “The Poo Box” is serving the damn finest food anyones tasted then after awhile people will be lined up at the door. If the fancy new micr0-brew pub with all the brass and marble serves its customers literal shit sandwiches, the health department will close them in a few hours. That convoluted (and I’m pretty certain logically inequivalent) analogy serves, but let me distill it one more time-  write well, you’ll sell.  Or at least you’ll publish something for free, it’s a crowded market after all.


So after I decry the uselessness of “get you published” books with their enumerated checklists for getting your story sold, here is an enumerated checklist for getting your story sold:

1. Write your story- The most important part, and that’s why it’s only getting one number. Because we’re skipping over it for the most part in this checklist.

2. Edit your story- Fix your grammar. Fix your spelling. Clarify. Muddy. Sit on it. Come back to it. Give it to friends. Force it on family. Listen to comments. Ignore advice. Rewrite parts. Be happy with the final product. Start all over.

3. Figure out who needs a story like this- So you’ve finished your work; you’ve cleaned it up. You’ve written your own Ulysses. Now, barring that in some fever dream you just copied all of Ulysses, it’s time to find out who could want it. I get ideas from friends for places to publish, but in the end the best possible resource is Duotrope’s Digest. I keep it on the sideboard and I use it all the time. Search your genre or sub-genre, then start looking through submission guidelines. You wrote a story about a woman’s journey of self-realization through her relationship with a shape-shifter that allows her to explore her duel sexuality and the relationship of humanity to the environment? Fear not, there is someone who wants to read it.        …actually in this case that person would be me. That story sounds really good, or bad, just send it to me.

4. Follow the guideline brick road- Identify a market. Set up your submission per their guidelines. Send your story in. Wait. Repeat. That’s it. You get rejected, you send it somewhere else. The most important thing for you as a writer is-

What you do while your waiting…

Get back to writing, or at least editing older stuff. And of course you should always be reading, that is every bit as important as the writing.

So that’s my version of the whole “sell yer book” genre. Maybe I should write a book on how to write and sell books about how to sell your book. Post modernism writ large.

I leave you with a piece of advice one of my middle school teachers gave me:  The difference between an illiterate and an unliterate person is that an illiterate person doesn’t read because they can’t. An unliterate person doesn’t read because they won’t. That’s when I chose to be illiterate. That way no one can call me lazy.

The Science of Fiction loves you and will be here for you when nobody else cares. Come and live in the compound of the Science of Fiction with its charismatic leader R.L. Norman and its white robed eunuch devotionalists.

Next up: Technology ain’t got no face… yet.

The only thing more delicious than babies- puppies.

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