Appropriating and Updating the Race

In this crazy new world of e-publishing, the rules of getting published and making a living at writing are shifting.  As anyone reading this blog at all will know, I’m a huge follower of Heinlein’s Rules for Writers.  But where does putting my own stuff up without going to an editor who can pay me fall in the mix of those five rules?  I’m not sure.

But e-stuff sells.  I’m selling handfuls of copies of two literary short stories a month, stories I’ve done basically no marketing for at all.  How much better will novels sell? Novels I intend to push in front of people and do as much marketing for as I can handle?  Does that count as “keeping it in the mail until it sells”?  Maybe.

Dean Wesley Smith came up with a points system called the Race back in the years when I was a wee little girl.  The gist is that you get one point for each story in the mail, three points for each novel proposal (only for each novel, not for each editor you send it to), and eight points for each full novel out (again, only counts once per book).  Dean explains in his blog here and here much better than I can.

But if I put a story up on Kindle… I lose the point in the Race.  I’m sure that Dean will come up with a new Race point system to account for that, but in the meantime, fellow writer Amanda McCarter and I decided on a rough new plan, which we’re calling the E-pub Race (different from the Trad-pub Race).  It works like this:  (and this is probably way more complicated than it needs to be, but hey… games are fun!)

1 point for each short story.  If you bundle shorts, this counts as 1 point up to 4 shorts bundled.

3 points for each short story collection (5+ shorts minimum, repeats allowed with shorts on their own).

5 points for each novel. (Novels bundled in Omnibus form count separately unless they are repeated, in which case you only get the points once).

No points count until you’ve sold at least five copies (the original race has you losing points after getting paid, so we figured the E-pub race should have something opposite of that).  Copies you buy yourself don’t count of course.  Editions don’t count as separate (so if you do a POD version, you still only get points for that novel once).

Ok. Hopefully that isn’t too complicated.  Suggestions and comments are welcome, of course.

Whew, Back to Work!

Got home from my trip to find two rejections waiting for me.  The one in my mailbox was a nice fat envelope from Analog, but alas, it faked me out.  It was fat because they’d folded up a couple pages of my story to send back, along with the longest form letter rejection I’ve ever seen.  Two single-spaced pages outlining guidelines and with check boxes next to things (none of which were checked…).  Oh well.  That story has space squid and FTL travel, so I figured it was a long shot story for that market anyway.  But in the name of not making decisions for editors, I sent it anyway.

Both stories are back out, one to a brand new market I’d never heard of (they aren’t that new, just my knowing about them).    I also managed to get two more stories out, one is new, one is the story I sold that has reverted to me, so I figured why not try to sell it again?  This brings me up to 22 stories out to markets.  Not quite up to 80 yet, am I? Oh well, there’s plenty of time left in the year to get there.

I’ve been doing a bunch of targeted reading lately as well.  If I’m going to get 80 stories out, they can’t all be spec fic.  I have 4 “literary” stories out at the moment and an idea for another one.  I went to the bookstore and got some mystery and thriller short story collections to pick through and dissect.  So far I’m really enjoying reading the stories, so hopefully that means I’ll enjoy writing some as well.  Meanwhile I’m trying to decide which novels of the ones I’ve read lately I want to reverse outline.  I’ve read about 15 books in the last couple weeks, hence the needing to decide which to focus on picking apart to see how they work.   The best part about this stretching and trying new genres is that I’m discovering authors and stories I’d never even heard of before (though I’m reading and re-reading some best-sellers, too).  I’ve been trying to focus on books by authors who have a long track record, since I figure if they’ve sold 10 or 30 or more books that something in all those books has to be working.

Once again, Dean Wesley Smith has a great post up about writers and practicing.  His comment about knowing what you are focusing on and working on with each piece of writing really hit home for me.  Sometimes I remember to figure that out, but lately I’ve been working on so many things I hadn’t really given it a ton of thought.  So I sat down and looked at my various projects and decided what I was going to work on for each.  So, because lists are so much fun, here they are:

Menagerie- not researching, ie just making shit up.  It’s fantasy and supposed to be fun and weird.

Hunting Delilah- pacing.

The City is Still Hungry- setting and noir pacing/feel.

To Honor and Obey- sex scenes, writing to a particular historical feel and tone.

The Weapons Master- sex scenes, not censoring myself.

And that’s just the novels.  Each short story I’m working on has its own practice goal as well. I’ve got about five lined up that need to get done in the next few weeks, one of which is about an hour from done… still. Sigh.  Need to stop poking at it and just get it done.  I think my practice failed with this one because man is it being stubborn about getting written, but oh well, I’ll keep the idea and re-do it at some point if I want.  Meanwhile, the story can go out into the wide world and get off my desk, so to speak.

Well, back to work.  Between family obligations, trips, and car issues, I’m feeling quite broke.  Need to write more, because no one can pay me for work I don’t do.

Evolution of a Blog (and a writer)

It’s funny.  When I started this blog, I had little idea of what I wanted to put here.  Then I ran across an article in one of the Writer’s Market books.  In it, the author was talking about “how do you know when to quit?”.  He proposed that a person might be best served by writing a novel a year for ten years, and at the end of each year sending the finished novel out and moving to the next one.  If, after ten novels and ten years, you are unpublished, he suggested that then you might consider quitting.  Looking back, I’m not sure he, and I say he, because I recall the author being a he, but I’ve donated that book now, so I don’t have it to reference.  If I’m wrong, I apologize!, anyway, he probably knew that by the time a person got a few years and books in, they would likely never think of quitting.  When I first read the article, however, I thought “okay, I can do that.  And then I’ll know if I’m no good at all.”

I’m technically two years into that plan.  I’ve learned a ton (not the least of which was that hey, I can write a novel).  And the plan no longer works for me.  This blog was originally my ‘ten in ten’ record.  Now it has evolved to something else.  It’s just about me, as a writer and my plans to make a living (and a good one, hopefully) at writing fiction.

I had some funny realizations at the Dean Wesley Smith workshops I went to, things I have spent the last few weeks processing.  One was that even a year ago, I wouldn’t have been able to get all I got out of that experience.  It would have terrified me, froze me up.  Not because a year ago I felt that differently than I do now (I still feel like a rank amateur and imposter).  I’m not even sure why or what changed.  Somewhere I got serious about this.  And even I hadn’t realized that until the end of the week when a bunch of us at the workshop were sitting around and Dean asked if anyone was actually following completely Heinlein’s writing rules.

That is the moment it hit me, the moment I’ve been thinking about and using to put everything else about myself as a writer into context.

I am. I am following all of the rules now, almost completely by accident.  And I think this is what feels different.  A year ago, I wasn’t following the rules.  I had a lot of issues making myself mail things out.  I mailed some things but not others.  I was slow to get stuff back out.  I rewrote over and over and over on a few stories, worried that they were “bad” and “not perfect”.    I started a few things and had trouble finishing them (the novel currently out on submission, for example).  And then somehow I started following the rules.  I started pushing myself to finish things, even if they felt “wrong” or “bad”.  I gave myself permission to suck.  To fail.

And I finished a novel.  And I sold a story.

Ever since about October, I’ve been following the rules.  Stories that come back go right back out.  My novel is out to people who can pay me for it if they so choose (ie editors, not agents).  I’m working on five more novels and a bunch of short stories.  I finish something, it goes out after a clean up pass.  No multiple drafts, no crazy rewriting and agonizing because it isn’t “perfect”.

And that’s how I managed to survive a week surrounded by “real” pros as a complete impostor who sucks (so says the evil voice in my head), and still learned things.  I was ready to hear what they all had to say because I’m really doing this.  Having a name for it (Heinlein’s Rules), helps.  But in the end, it just is a way for me to see that I’m truly working at something and going for what I really want. And that feels really really good.

It’s easy to get discouraged.  The downside of having a lot of stuff in the mail is that sometimes I get two or three rejections in a day.  It is easy for me to get frustrated and feel like I have no control over anything.  That’s why I like rules.  I think it is what attracted me to the article about ten novels in ten years.  That in a way was someone else saying “do this! see what happens”.  Heinlein’s rules are the same way, but without an end date.

I can write and finish what I write.  I can rewrite only to editorial order (and only if I agree).  I can send what I write out to someone who can pay me for it and keep it out until it sells.  I have control over these things.  That’s a job description I can live with.

I’m not exactly sure what I’m trying to say in this post is coming across, but basically I’m ditching (have already ditched) the ten in ten idea.  I’m going with the unending plan of writing, finishing, mailing.  That’s what this blog will be about (and has really been about for a while, even though I was too wrapped up in the process to tell).  I’m following a simple set of rules, and I’ve never felt so free.  Which isn’t to say there won’t be hiccups, because fear gets me all the time.  I imagine that if I start selling more I’ll likely face a whole new set of fears since success has always been one for me (that’s another post for another time, for sure).

So yeah. That’s where I am right now.  Now, back to my job.  *grin*

Mind: Blown

Went to Orycon this weekend, spent too much money on art (damn you awesome artists at conventions, why do you tempt me?), and attended some panels where I learned some things, had other things I already knew drilled deeper into my head, and generally had a decent time.  The insomnia issue meant I had a very short energy buffer for dealing with people, but I adjusted (and spent Friday night sitting in a hotel room playing Magic the Gathering).

Also had lunch with an author/friend who was very reassuring even if yet another story of 10+ years of toil= overnight success is somewhat daunting.  But after 10 months of trying to be a working writer, I suppose I shouldn’t complain yet.

Came home to yet another ‘nice’ rejection and felt like tearing my hair out and giving it all up for the ghost, but decided to haunt the internets instead.  On a suggestion from aforementioned writer friend, I signed up for Dean Welsey Smith’s novel workshop in Feb.  I Hopefully that’ll get me on a good path to selling this thing.  As prep I decided to read all of his blog last night.  Mind blown.  Seriously.  There is some fairly tough to hear information contained in his posts, and I’m not sure all of it would work for me, but there are things I think I should give a shot.

What especially called to me was the publishing as numbers game.  I agree wholeheartedly that writing is practice, and rewriting/editing isn’t really practice, though I do think some things can benefit from a pass or two.  But the only way to get better that I’ve found is to write new things taking what I’m learned worked or didn’t work from the stuff that came before.  I also was floored by the whole goals side of things on Dean’s blog.  I like the idea of having a sort of shoot for the moon longer term goal and then shorter term goals entirely within your power.  I started this blog to record my journey to write ten novels in ten years, but really, wouldn’t it be cooler to publish ten novels in ten years?  According to Dean, that means I should write 3 novels a year.

At first, that number looks crazy daunting.  But really, is it?  At the pace I write novels, I can get 100k word novel done in about 2 months.  Then take a month off to let my readers weigh in and have a month to revise/clean up.  Send it out, rinse, repeat.  Really, not that bad.  And I could use the month off between edits and writing to work on short stories.  I aim to have 30 shorts making the rounds by next year, I’ve got 10 now, with two more that will be sent out in about a week as soon as I take another pass at them to catch the last (hopefully) typos and such.

So that’s where I am.  Going to revise Chwedl this month, write a couple new stories, get something in for 1st quarter WotF, and get started on this new novel.  Hello December.