The Rocky Road

It’s Friday! Which means a Friday writing post, but before we get into that, a quick recap of the Jealousy signing at the Beaverton Powell’s last night.

Short story: it was fantastic.

Slightly longer story: I arrived after traffic that seemed designed to test the temper of a saint, had to check twice to make sure I’d brought the chapter I was going to read a bit of, and saw people waiting in the event area. I was only prevented from fleeing by the fact that I was in heels and couldn’t run very fast without wrenching a muscle or three, and I was already in the bookstore anyway.

It’s not that fans are scary. It’s that public speaking surpasses Zombie Apocalypse on the list of Things I Fear Most. I know the Zombie Apocalypse is not likely to happen, but public speaking? That will be with us, lo unto the ending of the world.

ANYWAY. There were familiar faces in the audience, like Jay (Kimberly, that hug should have reached you uncrumpled!) and Marne O., as well as the Martian Mooncrab and her Sister Creature, and the fabulous Suzanne Young, whose smile I recognized. Must Love Books and the Novel Novice were also there (hi, guys!) so every time I glanced up, there were encouraging smiles and friendly faces.

I ended up reading a whole chapter of Defiance, book 4 of Strange Angels that comes out next spring. I stopped a couple times, certain that everyone was bored beyond belief, but was pressed very politely and firmly to continue. I also gave out a few spoilers, but not many. Most of them concerned who would and would not die in Certain Books. For some reason I have a reputation for killing characters. *evil grin* I gave as much hope as I could.

Everyone was very patient, waiting in line for the signing portion. Thank you all! I had a great time once I got over the fear of standing in front of everyone and talking. I’m always certain I sound like a complete idiot in front of a group of people.

And now, onward to the Friday post!

The Dames this week have been talking about their paths to publication. Dame Devon, Dame Jackie, Dame Rachel, and Dame Keri have all weighed in on different aspects of their experiences; next week, more Dames will share.

…I just sat here for a good ten minutes staring at the screen, noodling, trying to think of what to say about getting published. The thing is, I never really saw not getting published as an option. The kids had to eat, I had to bring in some work and money somehow, and so it was just a question of what I could write or how I could work in publishing to make some of that happen. I figured that if I did what I could and learned enough, someone somewhere would want something I could write, and I’d figure out the rest later.

All too often, I see aspiring or “new” writers who have just this One Special Thing that they’re determined to see in print or die trying. The trouble with this is, they keep flogging this One Special Thing like a dead horse on their front lawn. If you do that long enough, pretty soon even the tourists will stop staring.

It’s all right to have that One Special Thing, that book you love, the thing you really want to sell, the thing you feel you were born to write. This is perfectly okay. Unfortunately, that One Special Thing might not be sellable, for a variety of reasons. You may have to wait until the market improves. You may have to learn more craft before you can revise the Thing enough to make it publishable-quality. It may be so outre and strange (that’s not a bad thing!) that you need a platform of reliability built up before someone will risk publishing this weird thing you’ve got.

I’ve been told before that I shouldn’t give writing advice because I’m not a Real Writer. Instead of being a Real Writer, I’m told, I am a filthy hack. I expect to get paid, therefore I am not a real artist and I should shut my mouth and live in the genre ghetto. (You already know what I think of this.) I suppose it’s catty of me to point out that writing for money requires careful attention to craft and to one’s audience, as well as utter commitment. I happen to believe that people will pay for the truth in the form of stories I write as best as I know how to. It never occurred to me to spend ten years polishing every word in a single manuscript, because my kids needed to eat a little sooner than that.

So I was flexible. I took a couple editing jobs, I pitched in reading slush submissions, and I kept my ears open. I tried my hand at writing serials, short stories, a couple novel-length attempts. The serials taught me about structure and gave me contacts. The rejections from the novel-length works got better and better, until I finally got one that said, “We can’t use this. It’s got adultery, illegal drug use, and too much gore. Do you have anything else?”

(I should note here that my hallmarks and preferences, so to say, apparently started early.)

By then I had a much better idea of how to write to genre, and the result was Dark Watcher. While that was in the submissions queue for a small press, I wrote the third in the series–Fire Watcher. I thought very seriously about the structure of both books. By then I knew much more about the romance genre, paranormal romance in particular, and I was fairly sure I’d turned in a book that had at least a shot.

The most important interaction in my fledgling career came when I got a letter from the small press I’d submitted to, saying “Can you do these revisions?” There followed a good three pages or so of things that needed to be fine-tuned and tightened.

I had a choice here. I could be a Special Snowflake and stamp away. (“No! Of course I will not revise my deathless prose! Isn’t it good enough that I sweated this out for you?”) Or I could be an adult. (“Yes. These changes I can do, these others I have even better ideas for, this one I’m not sure about for these reasons but I’m open to discussion.”)

I chose the latter half, and was offered a four-book contract. Dark Watcher wasn’t perfect (it still isn’t, my God, believe me, I know!) but my willingness to work hard and be reasonable opened the door. The Watcher books taught me a lot, and that entry into small-press publishing paved the way for other things down the line–opportunities I was ready for because I’d already started building good habits and a good reputation.

If you don’t want to write for money, that’s your right. If you want to flog just that One Special Thing, that’s all right too. Just be warned that the odds are not in your favor. As far as I’ve figured out, even taking into account that everyone’s path is different and unique, the odds favor writers who have more than one arrow in their quiver, writers who are open to revision and tight with deadlines. You have a fighting chance to seize opportunity by the throat and make that bitch start paying attention if you’ve put in some time preparing the ground and gathering those arrows and that willingness to revise.

It is indeed a rocky road, whichever way you try for publication. But there’s also some chewy marshmallows and crunchy nuts, as well as some damn fine chocolate moments, to be had along the way.

Huh. Now I want ice cream.

Good luck out there.

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