In the Future, Tense

May 27, 2010

Finishing — Part 2: The Fear of Failure

One of the great contradictions of professional writing is that it attracts control freaks, and then removes almost all control from them.  You’ve got very little control over what will sell, or if, or how.  Once it does sell you’ve got very little say in anything related to production, publicity or package.

The one thing we do have control over is the story itself, and that’s the important part, right?  So it’s okay to obsess over it.  In fact, it’s vital to obsess over it.  Every word must be carefully chosen and placed, and it must be rewritten and rewritten until it is perfect, no matter how long it takes.  Right?

Ummm…right.  Up to a point.  At some point you just have to declare it done.  It’ll never be perfect.  Perfection doesn’t exist, especially not for the author because you know where all the seams are and the location of each and every buried body.  The more you rewrite the more seams and buried bodies there are going to be.  You just have to dig deep and say it’s good enough, and let it go.

The inability to stop rewriting is one of the manifestations of the great writing fear; fear of failure.



May 17, 2010

Be a Hoarder

Dear CL:

Whatever happened to that Deep Water Whale romance you sent me awhile ago?  I was having lunch today with T. Editor, and he’s actively looking for whale-themed romance

Yr. Agent.

Okay, this is not the actual email my agent sent.  But it is close, and I got it just a week ago.  My response:

Erm…nothing happened to it.  Do you need a fresh copy of the proposal?

She said yes, I went back to my files and it turned out I had not just a proposal, but a completed mss.  Wow.  When had I written that?  Thinking back, I remembered I’d written it at the request of an editor who subsequently rejected it.  V. upsetting.  But I didn’t throw out the offending mss.  I put it in a file, and I kept it.  Because I knew the odds were decent that something like the above would be coming in eventually.

This was something else I learned early on.  Never EVER throw anything out.  Keep the scraps, keep the snippets, and above all, if you’ve finished a project, keep it.  Even if it never sold.  Especially if it never sold.

Back in the day when I was strictly a denizen of the short story zone, I wrote a deal-with-the-devil story set in the old west.  I have an unhealthy fascination with deals-with-the-devil, and I’d just read a good book on old west gamblers and nature took its course.*

It was only after I started sending it around that I found out fantasy editors did not share my fascination.  It must have gone to 20 publications, and gathered an equal number of rejections.  So, with many a gentle tear, my masterpiece went into the drawer (yes, this was back in the days when the submission process was still mostly paper.  Thank G*D those days are done), and it stayed there for two solid years.  Until…I got word a new magazine, REALMS OF FANTASY was opening, and actively buying.  My story came out of the drawer and went into the envelope.   This time, it sold, for a decent rate per word too.

Since then, I’ve saved just about everything.  Even if a market doesn’t appear for the work in its current form, I do flip through the archives from time to time and see what still strikes my imagination.  Ideas and storylines are malleable things and can be reworked.  I (G*d willing!) improve at my craft, and can make improvements, or a good ending to an idea that wasn’t quite there a year, or two, or five ago.   Or, a new market has appeared suddenly (see above), and I have something I was toying around with that might now have a shot.

A metaphoric attic full of mss. and ideas is one of the greatest resources a writer has.  It means you don’t constantly have to start from scratch, and when a new chance comes, you can be one of the first in line to take advantage of it.  So keep them, all of them.  You never know when they’ll come in handy.

*If you want to read the story, “The Redemption of Silky Bill” you can for free under my Sarah Zettel page Book View Cafe.

May 7, 2009


Filed under: CL Anderson — carolynanderson09 @ 3:04 pm
Tags: , , ,

img_0014I got rejected yesterday.

I’ve been told that a working writer should never blog about their rejections, because editors and agents also surf the web.  But this is supposed to be a blog about the writing life, and getting rejected is most definitely part of the writing life.  It is also one with which I am waaay more familiar than I want to be.

I started getting rejected by professional venues when I was still in high school.  Young Miss was the first publication to turn me down, although they did it with the words “lovely story,” scrawled in the margin of the form letter (this was back in the Jurassic, when all this was done through the mail).  That note, incidently, sealed my doom.  A Real Live Editor had read my story!  And liked it!!  I was rejected and over the moon at the same time, and more determined than ever to become a pro.

The tenth anniversary of that first rejection, I threw a party.  For decorations, I took all my saved rejection slips and taped them together as a banner and hung it up in the living room.  One of my roommates measured the thing and it came in at 55 1/2 feet, almost 5 and 1/2 feet of rejection per year.  I was actually incredibly proud of myself.  I still have that banner, rolled up.  I unroll it for writing workshops to show the students what they’re in for.  If they don’t run screaming, I figure they’ve got a better than even chance of making it as writers.

But somehow, this time, I’m having a harder time bouncing back, let alone recovering my sense of humor.  Maybe it has something to do with getting an e-mail a few hours after The Rejection informing me that an old friend had just made the New York Times Bestseller list.

Congratulations.  No, I mean it.  My eyes have always been this shade of green.  Really.

But then it comes down to the brutal truth.  If I lie down under the disappointment, it’s over.  And then what?  I don’t have a back up career.  Since I was 13 all I ever wanted to be was a writer.  I went through college with that one goal in mind.  When I was single, I paid the rent as a tech writer.  After marriage, when I lost the tech-writing contract (cut-backs in the auto industry, ain’t it always the way?), I went full time freelancing and fictioneering (ooo, new word.  How bad can things be?).

So, this is it.  No grand summing up.  No words of immpeciable wisdom or humor.  Just another day.  I will put on my big girl panties and deal, because I cannot bear to give up.

April 25, 2009

Interview with…

img_0014As part of this blog emphasis on the reading and writing life, I’m going to be including interview with people from all aspects of the publishing industry.  This will include writers, obviously, but also editors, agents, artists, musicians, and people in what I call the meta-industry, that is people who publish about publishing.

So, for our first interview today, we’ve got David Pomerico, editorial assistant at Bantam Books, and the editor for my forth-coming SF novel BITTER ANGELS.

Originally from Long Island, David graduated from Binghamton University with degrees in English and History.  Although he earned a Masters degree in Teaching from Washington University in St. Louis to get a Masters in Teaching, although I’ve yet to teach.  After a few years “knocking around” retail, both in Lancaster, PA and back on Long Island, he returned to school at NYU where he earned a second Masters, this time in the Humanities.  David says, “Somewhere between retail and NYU, I got an internship at Bantam Dell, got chosen for the Associates Program at Random House, and finally got hired as an Editorial Assistant for Spectra.”

CLA: Why did you decide to become an editor, as opposed to say, a writer?

DP:     Have you ever tried writing?  It’s really, really hard.  Like, I’m assuming, most editors, I do write when I can, but between time and talent restraints, I just don’t see it in the cards for me right now.  That said, I do want to be part of the process—I want to be physically part of making books people are going to love—and editing is a wonderful chance to do that.  Also, it beats my old job, which was running a Sports Authority warehouse.

CLA: What is the biggest challenge facing SF publishing today?

DP:     The biggest problem facing SF today is the biggest problem facing the industry as a whole: the economy.  A few years ago, great, experimental sci-fi by unknown authors was still being acquired by the major publishing houses.  Now, we’re a bit more constrained about the chances we can take, which means that, while traditional fantasy, paranormal and urban fantasy, and space operas are still doing fairly well, the more avant-garde proposals—the New Weird, the really hard sf, the more speculative fiction—are having a harder time reaching the marketplace.  That said, sci-fi is a very resilient genre, and the experimental fiction isn’t going to just stop because of a slower marketplace.  We’re just being a bit more choosey.

CLA: How do you see the ebook revolution affecting traditional publishing?

DP:     Right now, I don’t see it affecting traditional publishing as anything more than an addition to the traditional model.  For the most part, the production of e-books is almost exactly the same as the hard copy editions.  I believe this is because we want to make sure e-books are really a viable money-making venture.  As the Kindle, Sony Reader, and the iPhone improve their technology (and their user-bases), the more your going to see e-books having a stronger presence as far as the market goes.  In turn, while not abandoning the traditional publishing model (there are way too many bibliophiles out there, as my apartment can attest), I think you’ll see smaller initial “print runs,” because a large enough percentage of readers will be buying their books in electronic form.  I think the big thing publishers are waiting for are the numbers—once there’s a statistical set large enough to start making actual changes in the business models, you’ll start seeing not only more e-books and readers, but also more features in those e-books, such as hyper-links, video, games, and other interactions.  And then we’ll be talking about a new medium, which is pretty cool.

CLA: What do you see for the future of the science fiction genre?

DP:     The big thing I’m waiting to see take off is steampunk.  We’re right there—right on the cusp of that becoming a powerful genre in its own right.  Once that one book comes out—that one canonical work that blows open the marketplace (and, I won’t kid myself: a movie could pretty much do the same thing)—then I think that’s going to be the next avenue authors explore with a gusto.

The great thing about sci-fi, though, is it’s already about the future, so as long as there are imaginative people looking forward and pushing the envelope, sci-fi is going to continue to develop.

Another thing I’ve been thinking about recently is how tied into the present sci-fi is: much of what was coming from writers in the 50s and 60s was based on a Cold War mentality (and a world where space flight was still a dream); the 80s saw the Cold War heightened and Conservativism start to blossom, and sci-fi reacted in kind.  I think sci-fi has consistently been the literary watchdog of society, and as long as there are wars and politicians and scientific discovery and social upheaval—in other words, as long as there’s society, there’s going to be something new in sci-fi.

CLA: What’s the one piece of advice you would give to new writers?

DP:     Don’t try so hard.  So often I’ll see proposals where I’ll think to myself: “This is a great idea, but the execution just isn’t there.”  I think a lot of that comes from wanting to write a book, as opposed to telling a story.  Yes, the technical skills should be there, but first and foremost, you’re a story-teller.  I don’t care if you’re writing sci-fi, romance, history, or a cookbook—tell the story.

Related to that: read.  Read everything you can.  Read great writers, but also read writers your friends say are terrible.  Read them and ask yourself “why is this bad?”  There’s a reason you love the books you love—identify them and emulate them.  Play with them, until they work for your own particular voice.

Finally (sorry, realize you asked for one, but couldn’t resist):  Proofread.  When you’re done writing, but the piece in a drawer for at least a week.  A month, even.  Go back to it and read it again.  Don’t be disgusted when you realize that commas don’t go there.  Then, find a proofreader.  This person should not be a friend or family (I don’t care how objective you mother is, she’s your mom, and she’s going to say she likes your writing, and even if she does give constructive criticism, it won’t be complete).  Remember, even great writers go through drafts.  Even great books were edited.  If you keep writing, and catch a break, your book could be edited, too.

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