Writer Beware

Posted on February 27, 2010. Filed under: Musings, Publishing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

Okay, I’ll admit the title of this post is a gratuitous stealing of the title of a blog put together by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America as well as the Mystery Writers of America. Of course, the blog isn’t the only thing they do, but it’s what I first saw, so that’s why I write that it’s stealing from the blog.

After my post yesterday, I went back to the same thread from NaNo that I’d been reading and saw a number of my fellow writers were concerned with this girl’s lack of knowledge on the subject of the Christian Manuscript Submission and other companies designed to take your nominal fee (read: almost $100) to offer you a slim chance at publication. Quite a few of the NaNo-ers commented that she needed to be careful not to get taken in by a vanity press and other so-called publishers of the same ilk.

I’ll admit: I have no real idea what a vanity press is. And I’m not even very sure what makes it different from self-publishing sites like Lulu or CreateSpace. Granted, I have no intention of self-publishing. If I ever get published, I want to do it in the traditional way: find an agent, have said agent market my work to publishers, and eventually sign that gleaming contract that speaks of royalties and other odds and ends I still haven’t researched thoroughly.

This is a little pre-emptive considering I wouldn’t even begin to query agents with the manuscript I have now. I don’t want to start the process too early and risk getting a bad deal, obviously, and I honestly want to edit my manuscript a good three or four times before I let some proofreaders come in and rip it to shreds for me.

But I thought I’d write a little about this particular blog and the thread again because I think it’s a good idea. One of the big aspects of NaNoWriMo that I enjoy is the sense of community. I’ve been referred to other writer forums where people have found similar communities to enjoy, but with NaNo, the pressure isn’t as high to edit, get an agent, and get published.

If you do, that’s great! They’ll add you to their list of published authors, and you can throw that out in your forum signature and use the shameless promotions and self-marketing threads to get your name out there. If you don’t get published, that’s fine, too. How many of the people on NaNo are published anyway? Not that many.

I was thinking about it, though, and I’d add a caveat after having read through so many forums. A lot of the people who participate in NaNo have researched the publishing process quite a bit more than I have. I’m new at all this, and I’m piggy-backing off others who have the know how I don’t yet. But I think there’s something anyone on NaNo or other similar forums should be aware of.

Just because someone’s done the research and read the agents’ blogs and fielded massive FAQs from publishers doesn’t mean they’re an expert. Offering advice is a good idea, but there’s something to be said for doing your own research, querying agents on your own, and getting those rejection letters. You get experience doing that, and there’s nothing that can replace good experience in my mind.

Again, I’m not saying I’ve done any of that. I’ve just been reading the forums and surfing the web with an eye to the publishers and agents that I come across. I don’t want to get into vanity publishing, I’m not planning to self-publish, and I don’t have an agent. I barely have a finished manuscript at this point. But it’s going to be self-edited, which is one of the first steps of experience I have to go through. And while I’ll most likely whine and complain about how difficult it is to edit my own writing and how much I like how this or that sounds but know it should be changed, I can appreciate the experience.

This much I’ve learned: being a writer requires putting all your effort into it. If you’re not willing to make the necessary sacrifices, you’re not going to make it.

So eventually I’ll put together the end results of all my work into the form of a manuscript. I’ll bravely search out those agents that might be interested and work through their submission guidelines. I’ll draft and redraft a query (or two) to send out, and I’ll begin saving those rejections I get. I’m not overly optimistic. In fact, technically I’m a pessimist, but I do believe I’ve got talent. And that talent is in writing. It’ll take time to iron out the kinks, get the agent, and secure a contract, and that might not happen till I’m 40, but I want to try for it.

Besides, I go by what my father taught me when I was in high school. In my senior year, I wanted to quit working as editor-in-chief of the school newspaper. It was a class all its own, and you were required to sign up for the entire year, and by the end of the first semester, I was ready to do battle with the principal for my right to quit.

My father sat down with me when I was frustrated and angry with my teacher and the rest of the class. I can still remember telling him all my problems, and he listened patiently. It seems silly now, but he knew, and I know now, that the advice he would give would follow me for years to come.

“You can try to get out of the class,” he told me, nodding his head, “but you know it won’t be easy. Or you can stick it out.” I started to argue, and he ignored me. “If you stick it out, you can learn something from this experience.”

“What can I learn?” I asked him. It’s really annoying to admit your parents are right, but it’s always a good lesson to learn.

“You can learn something from every experience you have,” he said. “You just have to look for it. Sometimes you’ll learn how to be, and other times you’ll learn how not to be. This is a good example of how not to be.”

He was right, of course. And I’ve applied his advice to various experiences since then, and it holds true. So in this particular instance, I’m going to hold up his advice, and while I work on editing, when I’m frustrated that a scene isn’t going well, as I talk about plot holes with Desteni and others, I’ll have to remember this piece of advice: I can learn something from every experience.

Anyway, this has turned into a teaching post, which is weird for me. I don’t usually offer up stuff like that. So I apologize if it was boring, but it’s worthwhile advice in my opinion. Anyone else have some good advice for the writer? I’d love to hear what pieces of advice you hold onto as you’re trying to accomplish your goals.


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