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Author Topic: Publishing success is only for other people?
Brad R Torgersen
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I've had the night to sleep on it, and I wanted to draw out the core conceit which has been bothering me, from the other thread.

And that's the notion that publishing success is somehow only for other people. People with the connections. People with the luck. People who sacrifice their lives and get maniacal. The 'special' people who somehow catch the breaks. And that all of this is mostly beyond our control.

Folks, I just want to go on record as saying this concept is bunk.

Having personally discussed these issues with several dozen professional fiction writers, thus being able to contrast all of the different gauges for "success" as well as the different attitudes and opinions, it's become obvious to me that all of these professionals share the following in common:

1) They all started off struggling. Nobody I know who is a working professional fiction writer, or even a bestseller, had that success handed to them right out of the box. Most of them spent many years as unpublished writers, struggling like all of us do. Working to figure out a) what they wanted to do with their writing and b) what it would take to become self-supporting in the business. All of them got rejected, sometimes hundreds of times. And all of them had day jobs and families and lots of important concerns crowding their lives.

2) They all, at some point, made a crucial decision: to set aside the hobbyist mentality. This meant setting aside the notion that they would only write when it was fun, or convenient. Bottom line. They taught themselves to write when they were tired, when they were overworked, when they were too busy, when they did not feel like it, and when they could just as easily have been working on 10 different other things, all equally important. They simply decided to put the writing up front. Not at the expense of all else. But they found ways to make sure writing was one of their top three objectives on any given day.

3) In conjunction with the last point, all of them developed discipline. There is no working professional I know who hasn't taught him or herself to be regimented and disciplined. Discipline is the single key difference between hobbyists and professionals. Not fame nor money, but discipline. Setting goals. Keeping a schedule. Making sure the writing gets done despite outside demands, pressures, and the fickle flittings of the muse. Ergo, they stopped making excuses. They put their butts in front of the keyboard and they did this as part of their routine.

4) They all made a point of getting outside their comfort zones, mainly by going to symposiums, conferences, workshops, or other public events where they could a) talk to people further up the ladder from themselves and b) interact with other want-to-be professionals. All of them have more or less continued this practice to this day. Because there is always something new to learn, and almost nobody ever becomes successful by sitting in a lonely cabin in the woods. Even the very introverted have learned the value of networking, and networking is invaluable, both for the doors it will open but also because it's crucial to keeping myths and other destructive notions from creeping into a writer's daily mindset.

Talent? It's not really a factor. That's right. I said talent isn't really a factor. I've often heard people lament, "How come that person is a bestseller? His writing is crap!" It didn't matter. He got the essential 4 elements nailed down, and the rest took care of itself. If you can work through the struggle, get disciplined, do the work, and get out and meet professional people, things will start happening for you. I've experienced this, and the more I experience it the more obvious it is to me that talent is the least important factor in becoming a professional.

Granted, the artistes of the world have a colossal problem with this, and it's one of the key reasons why there is a huge chasm between professional commercial fiction and literary or academic fiction. If you're an artiste then you've just waisted your time because nothing I've written here is aimed at the artiste mindset. I don't pretend to be part of that group, nor do I aspire to be part of it. There are hundreds of thousands of artist-type writers quietly scribbling in obscurity in America, and I long ago decided that quietly scribbling in obscurity was a massive waste of time. I wanted to make money, and if you want to make money, talent and art aren't that important. These things can help, and many bestsellers do find ways to balance professionalism and beautiful craft. It's not an either/or equation.

But the professionals always, always, always find it within themselves to put the work forward, before the art.


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Meredith
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Thanks for that, Brad.


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Brad R Torgersen
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No problem. This stuff is important to me.

I'd like to also add that all of the professionals I know have wholly imbibed the concept of eternal learning: whatever level they are at, no matter how successful they have become, they all spend time talking to other writers and examining their works-in-progress with an eye to getting better. Either as a function of craft, or as a function of market audience appeal, or both.

I think a lot of aspiring writers get "stuck" in thinking that it's beyond them or -- more head-shakingly -- beneath them to change what they're doing. Or how they're doing it. People who refuse to change or try new things will almost always get marooned at the lower levels because adaptation, learning, and growth are central to professional success. This is screamingly apparent once you begin talking to the bestsellers and you start to grasp how they go about their business.


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Crystal Stevens
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Thank you so much for the shot-in-the-arm, Brad. I think this is what so many aspiring writers need too; someone like you who is just like us still in the trenches but has managed to take that first step toward professionalism... just begining to learn from those who do write for a living. I guess what I'm trying to say is that you are someone we know who will tell it to us straight and not pull punches. Totally different from reading it in a "how to" book by someone we've never heard of. Well... most of the time.

My average day starts with taking care of my horses. If you want to talk about disapline, get yourself a horse. It doesn't matter if there's a blizzard going on outside or if the temps are 20 below or 110 above farenheit,or if there's the grand daddy of all thunderstorms going on. The horses still have to be cared for. And that includes whether you're bone tired or sick. They still have to be fed and the stalls picked out. Everyday without out fail.

Sorry for getting long winded, but after the animals are cared for, I get online, check my emails and my two favorite forums, and then I dive into my latest writing project. I do this until it's time for me to go to work on 2nd shift. Then I come home, relax with a good book, and go to bed.

There's my basic day. I just wish I had more time to write. It seems like my projects take forever to finish the way I want them. But at least I write... something... everyday. And I'm going to do that now.

We need more pep talks like yours, Brad, and my best to you for a bright and promising writing career.


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EVOC
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I would just like to say that I think your advice applies to all who wish to get published regardless of the desire to make money. Of course, we all want to make money but writing for the sake of making money is not my main reason for writing. I write in the hopes to reach a wider audience that will enjoy what I write. The money will be a bonus.

I would like to point out that I believed I would never have what it takes to get published, I had read an authors website about writing. The summary was "You will never be as good as me, so stop trying."

However, I then ran across several other authors websites that were the opposite. They outlined things realistically (with similar points as the 4 you made). I then exchanged emails with one of them in particular. He was down to Earth and it made me realize there is little difference between he and I. So if he could make it, why not me?

So I have proceeded whole hardily with your step 4. I think it is important one. As a one time business owner I know that you need networking to succeed in business. And writing is a business.

[This message has been edited by EVOC (edited March 02, 2011).]


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genevive42
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Good topic Brad. Thank you.
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Grayson Morris
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I think Brad makes excellent points and delivers a very cogent, very powerful reality check for those looking to make a paying career out of writing science fiction and fantasy.

I also think I must be an artiste, then. I don't write for money (hey, I'm happy for money to come my way, but it isn't why I write). I write to express the images and tales that form themselves when I'm daydreaming or brainstorming or just thinking out loud. I write and write and write and read and learn and write so I can learn to write them well: always improving my ability to move the reader, to express a nuance, to create something worth experiencing that wasn't there before.

That doesn't make me a professional, breadwinning writer, to be sure. But if it doesn't make me a serious writer, well, then, there are no serious writers.


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Wordcaster
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My sister in law is a young film editor in hollywood and I see the effort she puts in to be successful: cold calling people, networking in social venues, teaching, taking up side editing projects, working and improving her demo reel. Yes, she is talented, but it is not the main reason why she is starting to be successful and will be even more in the future (not "might" be, but will be).

I've read Brad's bio in WOTF and see the hours he's dedicated to his craft. He networks with other strong and professional writers, goes to conferences and meets editors, continues to produce, and the list goes on.

I work at a large engineering/manufacturing company and see individuals who take on the secondary assignments, look for opportunities to display leadership, take opportunities to present to leadership, network and seek executive mentorship (in fact, a friend was recently promoted because he went and sought mentorship).

I can take a back seat and complain it's a long shot or that it's not worth my time or make excuses that you have to be good AND lucky. Some people are lucky, but a majority of those achieving success do so because they form their own niche. If a door closes, they open another one, then another one, and then still another one.

Very few will be the next Stephanie Meyer or Dan Brown or JK Rowling, but reaching a satisfactory level of success is well within many of our grasps. I need to figure out what I want to achieve and move toward that path. Sitting at home and sending in manuscripts probably is not enough.

Good post, Brad.


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History
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Excellent points!
And great advice for those who wish to be "professional" in anything.

But I'm the odd writer out here--at least for now.
I've been a "professional" nearly all my adult life, and perhaps at my age I only have enough energy to be a "professional" in one discipline at a time.

For me writing may be a challenge but I write for fun.
I write to write.
Getting published is a bonus.
O.k. It's a big bonus.

And I much rather read a story from a talented author writing from his or her cabin in the woods.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob


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Robert Nowall
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"Ask of me anything except time." ---attributed to Napoleon. It might be nice to spend hour after hour writing, but I just don't have the time to spare. Jobs, family, paying the bills, unwinding from all that...maybe those things aren't important to a would-be successful writer, but they certainly are to me.

Also even if I had the time, I don't know if I'd turn out any more than I do. By the time I've pushed out five hundred original words, I'm pretty burned out, and it's hard to put those last ones down. Doubling the time wouldn't mean doubling the output.

*****

I know of several successful SF writers who held down "day jobs," so to speak, for the bulk of their writing careers. Maybe they networked with other writers, maybe not...I can say for certainty about some but not all.

But I could say they didn't devote all their time to their writing, and were successful nonetheless.

*****

Also, we've bandied about the word "success." Define "success."


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History
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How about: Success is contentment with goals achieved.

For most writers, I surmise, "success" may be defined as:
* being published,
* being published with major distribution,
* writing a "bestseller",
* being able to write for a living,
* winning a literary award

Too often "success" is defined as money and/or fame.
I still prefer my definition in italics above.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob


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shimiqua
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I don't think authors are real people. In my mind they are just one more character, this one with their name on the cover.

I think that those years struggling are important. I think that is when the homework gets done, and the would be author discovers who they are as an writer, and what books they will be writing. I think when someone treats writing as a hobby, then it gives them freedom to play around and be creative. Hopefully figure out what kind of writer they want to be.

Now Brad when your wife pointed at you and said "Are you going to be a writer or not?", you had already had fifteen years of figuring out who you were going to be as a writer, and three years on this forum.

I'm sure you wished you got serious earlier on, but those years weren't wasted.

I don't know, I recently reread one of my first novels, and oh boy was I embarrassed. If I had written that first novel, then went to workshops, and queried it, and did everything I could to get that thing published, then I think THEN I would have wasted time and probably would have got so discouraged I would have quit.

Now I'm only saying this because there are people on this forum right now who are exactly where I was five years ago. I think there needs to be a voice here that gives those newbies permission to play around, to be a hobbyist, and have permission to dream. Now if they are a writer, they won't give up, and if they aren't they will and move on to the next hobby, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Hobbyists buy books. Hobbyist read books. Hobbyists even read short stories, and anthologies. In fact, I bet every reader you have outside of your mom, is a hobbyist. Hurray for hobbyists! They are the ones who give you money.

I think the attitude that hobbyist aren't really writers is detrimental to ALL writers. Maybe they just aren't writers yet. Maybe they aren't ready yet.

That said, I think once a writer is ready to go full time, then all those suggestions are brilliant and exactly correct.

Personally, I write every day except Saturday and Sunday. I write three hours in the morning, and two hours in the afternoon. I treat it as a job, and I submit and research markets.

And yet I'm still at the struggling stage. I'm still at the rejection stage, and the only way for me to survive that, is by having fun in my writing.

There is nothing wrong with writing for fun. There is nothing wrong with writing as art, as a way of expressing yourself. There is nothing wrong with writing for more than just the money, and giving yourself time to achieve your goal.

Even if it's fifteen years.
~Sheena


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snapper
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quote:
For most writers, I surmise, "success" may be defined as:
* being published,
* being published with major distribution,
* writing a "bestseller",
* being able to write for a living,
* winning a literary award

I am one fifth of the way there. Woo-Hoo!

I would like to echo Shimiqua's sentiments.

You are likely correct that it will take a great effort and a major attitude change to achieve 3 or 4 of History's definitions of success. The professional writers recommendation on what it takes sounds like work, and a lot of it. Nothing wrong with that, however there is a danger of burning out a lot of authors enthuisiam.

I myself am a hobbyist. I can't afford the time, or the money (i.e. Clarion workshops and such) to make it anything else. Nudging out my hobby into something like a second profession sounds like a job. Job's suck. they become a chore, and chores people avoid. Hobbies though...

People will commit to a worth while hobby. They become passionate about them and devoted to better themselves; not because it is a requirement to keeping a 'job' but because they want to be better at it. Most golfers pick up the sport for fun, as do bowlers. They'll strive to get better because they find it enjoyable, an outlet to relieve the stresses of life. Same goes for crafters. My wife has filled our basement with a ton of crafting supplies, stamps, and machines that I have no idea what their function is. She's spent a decent penny on them but I don't complain. It keeps her happy and is crucial of detoxicing her soul. Seeing her satisfaction of creating something that was inside of her makes it all worth it in my eyes.

I certainly understand why you feel this need to go all out with your desire to become a professional writer, Brad. You've made some decent sales and have a nice award sitting on a shelf at home. What you are suggesting to us is the equivilant of telling a garage band that they should quit their jobs and hit the road if they ever hope to hit the big time.

You once posted a question on why anyone would be willing to submit to a non-pro paying publication. For the same reason why amatuers join golf and bowling leagues, why
softball players will commit a couple of nights a week for a meaningless trophy, and why someone would enter a quilt they worked on for a very longtime for a 4-H fair ribbon. There are far more losers than winners in these contests. It isn't about winning. It's about love for a passion.

[This message has been edited by snapper (edited March 02, 2011).]


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History
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A minor correcton to snapper's post.

MY definition is "Success is when one is content with the goals one achieves."

The list I provided is what I surmise is the definition for most writers. It is just not my list, at this time.

One's goals may vary.
Even among writers.
At present, writing is more important to me than publishing.
When I currently submit my work, even posting 13 lines here or sharing chapters with fellow Hatrack members, my goal is to get feedback on what works and what doesn't and where I need to improve.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

[This message has been edited by History (edited March 02, 2011).]


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shimiqua
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I just want to add that sometimes writers write just for fun, or to express themselves creatively because that's all they have gotten out of it.

Now I would love to be payed for my writing, and am doing everything I can to get there, but there is nothing I can do to make an editor write me a check. I write for fun, because that is all I can see possible in getting out of it. I wonder, Brad, if you are past the stage now where hope is a strangling thing.

I think every published author's path to publication is like a three act play. In Act One, the author discovers their love for writing, and plays around and starts submitting. Act Two is the author being beat over the head with rejections and you aren't good enoughs, and Act Three is when the yes's finally start coming. The play ends with a nice personal phone call from a publishing company.

Now Brad, you are in Act Three, congratulations. But some of us aren't there yet. I think the reason I'm feeling so defensive about this, is because I'm knee deep in Act Two, and I feel like you are saying "Hey, I just don't get why you guys aren't in Act Three yet", or worse yet, "Anyone who isn't in Act Three isn't a freaking play."

We're working on it. We are here because we are working on it. Every play has their own pace, and struggles, and villain's. We each want that happy ending, and not all of us are going to get it. What is wrong with enjoying the journey, anyway?

What we need from those who are in Act Three, is support. We need people saying "You can do it, your work has promise, stop doing this wrong." Not condemnation that we aren't trying hard enough, or aren't serious enough, or aren't neglecting our children enough.

Because I'm neglecting my children plenty, thank you very much.
~Sheena


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izanobu
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Writing for a living *is* a job. Publishing is a BUSINESS. I know that many people hate to think about such Earthly things as money and taxes and deductions and paying attention to what is coming in and where it is going out, but that's one reason why writers are so easily scammed. We often want someone to take care of us so we can hide in a cave and write. That makes it easy for us to give away our work and not actually act like business people.

I've held a lot of jobs over the years. Writing is by far and away the best of them. Yes, sometimes it sucks. I make myself write through the times when the words all seem like **** and nothing is fun and I hate what I'm doing. And later, looking at the page, I can't tell where those days end and the awesome "holy crud I get paid to make stuff up?" days begin. The awesome days happen a lot more frequently than the bad days, but I write through them all. And I pay attention to the business side of things also, because I'm running a business also with my writing.

It's still the coolest job ever. Seriously. And getting even cooler now that the e-publishing thing is taking off (I get direct deposits monthly into my bank account... like a paycheck! Crazy )

Everyone's definitions of success are different. Mine involves being the next Stephen King, yours might not. That's fine. Just make sure you know what your definition is and that you are satisfied with it. Don't make up excuses like "I can't" and "It isn't possible" to feel better about settling for less than what you want. If you want to make a living writing, don't let someone else tell you it isn't possible. Buckle down, figure out what you need to do, prioritize, do the work, and get it done.

As Brad says, success isn't just for "that other guy". If you want to make a living writing, do it. It really is that simple (not easy, but simple. Time and effort will pay off).

Saying "oh, I don't care about the money, though it would be nice" is just fooling yourself, I'm sorry. "Would be nice"? Yeah. It is nice. Go after it. You can write awesome stories and make money, they aren't exclusive (in fact, try making money without writing awesome stories, I think you'll find it very difficult).
I have a business goal (make 6+ figures a year with my writing)AND a writing goal (write stories people can't put down). I figure if I nail down the writing goal, the business goal will follow. And the writing goal is entirely in my control (as in, only I can improve my craft and do what it takes to be the best writer I can be).

If you tell yourself it isn't possible, it won't be. Sorry.

*P.S. Sheena- there isn't actually an end at Act III (or even really an Act III at all, at the "selling stuff" level it's mostly Act II with a little Act III thrown in). It never ends. You just trade up for problems. Most long-term professional writers have had at least 3-4 career crashes (times when they couldn't sell anything or even quit writing for a while etc). There is no magical moment when you have "made it". The work never stops. The worry never stops. I'm sure that Brad has moments where he wonders if the best writing is behind him, or if he's lost it somehow. Most writers do. It's natural. The long-term professionals, the people making a living at this? They are the ones who get up off the floor. It never ends.

[This message has been edited by izanobu (edited March 02, 2011).]

[This message has been edited by izanobu (edited March 02, 2011).]


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Brad R Torgersen
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Because I want this conversation to be constructive, I will pick and choose my words carefully.

However, I am afraid I have to bring up something else that's been bothering me about some of these replies.

Snapper talks about passion, and shimiqua talks about support. In my own experience the best support I ever got was from perhaps the most passionate writer I've ever met: Dean Wesley Smith. The man is die-hard passionate about fiction and fiction writing, and so is his wife Kristine Kathryn Rusch. They have poured their lives and their careers into teaching and helping new writers. They walk every last centimeter of their talk, and it shows in their independent lifestyle, doing what they love.

And the best thing Dean has ever done for me is to give me a hard, uncomfortable shove out of my dilettante mindset.

Back when I was in shimiqua's Act 2 I was circling the drain. I'd gotten over 100 rejections and had hundreds of thousands of unpublished words. There were many times when I wondered if I wasn't just fooling myself. My production had slowed to a trickle, and I was doing a lot of moping and complaining about my lack of success.

Well, along with my wife slapping a hockey stick upside my complacency, there was Dean Smith and his hard-nosed zeal for the enterprise of writing. Dean took me to the wood shed on some of the myths I'd been carting around with me for about a dozen years. In terms of craft. In terms of how to improve. In terms of getting serious and establishing a bona fide professional attitude. Ergo, walking the talk.

Dean never told me to quit my job, nor neglect my kids. I don't know why people read a sentence like, "You should get disciplined and establish and keep goals," and translate it to quitting jobs and neglecting families. Dean never said that to me, and I am not saying that to any of you. There are priorities that come first. Bills must get paid. Kids must be tended to.

But for every thousand wives or mothers who think they can't possibly write regularly or with discipline, because to do so means they have to put their kids and family on the back burner, there is someone like Michele Lang. She was a new face in Lincoln City last weekend, and you know what she did when she had her first baby? One of three total? She realized time was wasting, it was her moment to get serious, and now she's got 4 novels in print, and is under contract for 3 more through TOR.

Likewise, for every thousand men trapped in time-consuming corporate jobs, or even run-of-the-mill blue collar vocations, putting in 40, or 50, or 60 hours a week, there is a guy like Howard Tayler. You all may know him? He's Brandon Sanderson's friend from Writing Excuses. Howard was pulling 70 hours a week doing a day job, when he created the Schlock Mercenary web comic. What makes Howard different from all the work-a-day joes who also dream of doing a web comic? Howard, like Michele, simply decided to put in the effort. And he managed to keep his sanity and his family intact along the way. Now he does Schlock Mercenary full-time, and I don't think he ever thinks twice about it having been the right decision.

And Howard won't tell anyone to wreck their lives either. Just as Dean never told me to wreck my life. And I am not telling anyone here to wreck their lives.

You don't have to wreck your life to set goals and keep them. 100 words a day, 300 words a day, 500 words a day, five or six days a week, or maybe 1,000 words every other day? You alone know what your best pace is. But if you're going to keep finding ways to let everything else in your life deflect you from making those modest word-count goals, I'm not sure what good it is to keep calling yourself a writer?

As Dean Smith says: writers write.

Six years ago, I was a pretender. I talked about it and thought about it, and I never did it. And I never got outside my comfort zone. Because I gave myself excuses. Once I stopped giving myself excuses and let myself be uncomfortable and let pros like Dean thwap me on my complacent attitude, life started to change. I graduated to Act 3, and I continue to seek ways to improve on my time usage, my discipline, my craft, and my dedication to what is, for me, a life-time project.

I am sure I could console myself with all kinds of excuses as to why I don't have to take my writing seriously. I used to live in that place, and it was stupidly awful for me.

I would spare the want-to-be-serious writers who are reading this the same delays and frustrations I experienced, because I too kept telling myself that writing just wasn't that important or that I could always put it off or that nobody ever really makes money at writing or that nobody besides a lucky few ever get to quit their day jobs.

To quote Obi Wan: there's no such thing as luck!


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Brad R Torgersen
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izanobu is 100% correct. Act 3 is just Act 2 with occasional "yes" letters leavening the heap of "no" letters. Last year I got 4 sales and something like 75 rejections? Rejection never stops. There is no golden point called, "made it," where suddenly it's wine and roses. This is one of the big myths that still circulates among unpublished and dilettante writers: that it's easy being Act 3 because when you're Act 3 it's a cakewalk. It's not. It's more work. You reach the top of the mountain, and you see an entire Himalayan range ahead of you, that needs to be climbed.
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Elan
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Hurrah for Brad! This is spot-on advice, and if it makes you squirm in discomfort it's because there's something your inner radar is pinging, saying, "Here's truth."

Published authors, successful authors, best-selling authors have something in common with each and every one of us. They have 24 hours in their day, just like we do. They have to breathe, sleep, eat, deal with bills and family issues, just like we do.

So, given that the "successful" authors are cut from the same cloth, what is the difference between them and a struggling writer? Therein lies the answer to success.

[This message has been edited by Elan (edited March 02, 2011).]


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Tiergan
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After much debate, I have decided I am semi-pro.

What does that mean? It means that I take this writing thing more seriously than a hobby. I have my goals:
1)2 novels this year, 1 is done in the first draft and should be polished over the next 2 months, which puts me 1 month ahead of schedule.
2)Submit my last novel to agents until there are none left to submit to. Going a little slower than planned, but getting ready to send another batch out.
3)Keep my short stories going around the market as well. Always have at least something out, whether its a short story, or query.

Now, why doesn't that make me professional. I still don't take as much time as needed to truly break into the market. My thoughts are, make this year better than the year before regarding time spent and quality. I am taking the steps to find more time, and more importantly make my time better spent and more effective.


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Ethereon
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Brad I think you've outlined some excellent advice for people who intend to become professional writers.

The thing is, not all of us intend to become professionals or make a living at writing.

I agree that it's important to develop dicipline and have goals for improvement, even if writing is a hobby. I started writing as a hobby in May. My goals were a)write stories b)sell a story, c)sell a story for 5 cents a word or more. I have met these goals, so now I will set new ones, but for me they will not be steps toward a career in writing. Meeting these goals is purely for my own satisfaction.


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snapper
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Don't get me wrong, Brad. I am not saying you're wrong. I would like to take note that 'successful' people will often advise to not give up, put your nose to the grindstone, and work harder. The implication is you are destined to succeed if you just try hard enough. Going back to my golfing analogy, no matter how hard I try and practice, there is no way I'm going to be joining Tiger Woods at St Andrews on a Sunday in the middle of summer.

Let's be honest. If everybody here used every last minute available on their schedule, spent every penny they could spare in their wallet, took advantage of every piece of advise given to them, most wouldn't make enough money to pay a months worth of their mortgage as a writer in a year. The result would be a lot of talented writers would burn right out. Their passions would be spent, and that would be a shame.

I've read plenty of material over the past three years. Some published (I reviewed quite a bit for four different publications during that time) and a bunch of unpublished stuff, most of it for my fellow colleagues here. I am going to say that in the grand scheme of collective works, I enjoyed reading the unpublished material more than the published. Nevertheless the odds of any one of those homeless works I favored getting published is against them. Fact of life. There is just too much competetion to make a promise that they will regardless how much shopping around. The biggest reason why they don't get published and the stuff I wasn't thrilled about did is name recognition.

Admit it. If your a publisher and you have to make a choice between a short story written by Cat Rambo and one by Sheena Bookweg, you're taking the person who has a deep resume and a few awards nomination behind their name. It might not be fair but that doesn't necessarily make it not right. It's a business decision, not a personal one. That being said I would hate for Ms Bookweg to be discouraged by that reality. I have read an equal number of each authors works. I like their writing equally and would place their skill on the same level, imagination, and style on the same pedestal. The difference is everything I've read of Ms Rambo's has been in publication I would loved to be included in, while Ms Bookweg's has yet to find a home for hers. I am not sure what motivates Ms Rambo's desire but I'm pretty sure what keeps Sheena on, a passion to bare her soul for people like me. In a sense, that makes her stuff far more special. I would hate for the fire to die out in her because she couldn't find a publisher to take her stuff as easily as Cat does. That would be a true shame.

You keep at it Brad. You're far ahead of the game than most of us here but I'm going to warn you. You're success so far does not guarantee you a career for your passion. If your goal is to be a novelist whose works grace the shelves of our favorite bookstores the odds are against you my friend. Even if you worked feverishly, produced the perfect novel, and had the approval and praise of all your first readers, you may not be able to sell a one copy of your book. After all, if I was a publisher why would I take a chance on virtual unknown Brad R Torgensen when proven commodity Dean Wesley Smith has a 80,000 word novel ready to go? I may not even read it to give him a contract. I'll sell enough for me to break even, I'm sure of that.

[This message has been edited by snapper (edited March 02, 2011).]

[This message has been edited by snapper (edited March 02, 2011).]


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BenM
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I dunno, snapper. I see what you're getting at, but: Tiger woods isn't the only person making a living from golf. And there are a lot of publishers wanting material, and only one Dean Wesley Smith...

I believe it is true that some people will never be professionally published to a large market, no matter how hard they try. We've all been around long enough to have met recalcitrants who refuse to learn or broaden their perspectives.

But for anyone committed to a course of constant improvement, I see the career prospects being no worse than any other industry. And remember, there's more to writing than just 'being published' - some golfers do more than just 'play golf', they might run the golf shop, keep the grounds and tutor young hopefuls as well.


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izanobu
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Snapper- I don't even know where to begin with your post. I feel truly sorry for you, because you are buried deep in a lot of myths about publishing.

It's not impossible. Cat Rambo was Nobody Jones before she became Cat Rambo. No one was anybody pretty much before they got published. They didn't give up and they kept going and good things started to happen for them. Does Cat Rambo still get rejections? You bet (I follow her on FB, I've seen the posts about it). Rejection never ends. Sales never end. The only way to fail is to give up. Period.

(also, you can have a nice career in golf without being Tiger Woods. I bet there are hundreds of golf professionals that have zero name recognition outside the die-hard fans of golf...)

Can you do it in a year? Probably not. A career takes longer than that to build. (You can't become a doctor or a lawyer or a professional musician after only one year of practice and study either...) When I started getting serious about my writing as a job, I planned on it taking 10 years to build it up to the point where I'm earning a living. It might not take that long (thank you e-publishing world!), but it might. And I might have career crashes along the way. That's okay. It's normal. I'll dust myself off and keep writing.

It's not a crap shoot. Nobody today doesn't mean Nobody tomorrow (or a year from now or two years from now etc).

I hope that for Snapper (or anyone reading this), if your goal is to be a professional writer, that you'll keep on, because it DOES happen. Two years ago I hadn't sold a single story. In the last year I've sold four (okay, and gotten hundreds of rejections), two of those to markets that also bought stories by Cat Rambo (among other, far more published authors). Two years ago I hadn't even submitted a novel for consideration, in the last year I've had two full requests and a bunch of nice, detailed rejections from major publishers.

A career in writing fiction is built over time and with lots of work. Just like any other career.

[This message has been edited by izanobu (edited March 02, 2011).]


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snapper
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I agree Ben, but I'm betting Brad isn't willing to run the pro shop at this point. He wants to be on the course in front of the cameras. He may get there yet.
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Wordcaster
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I worked with an engineer with average skills at best, but man he had a passion for the job and would put in several hours of unpaid overtime. No matter how hard he tried, he wasn't going to be leading a team of engineers. Unfortunately, he got laid off a feww years back when we were going through cuts.

Of course not everyone can be multi-published novelists no matter how hard they try. I think most of us are able to assess our own abilities and make judgments from there. I know I don't have it in me to be a professional golfer, no matter how much effort I put into it. First of all, my mental game is weak. Secondly, I just am not as coordinated as some others. I wouldn't try to quit my job to be a golfer, but I do enjoy going out with a few buds 5 or 6 times a year.

There is nothing wrong with having writing as a hobby just like my golf game (or lack thereof). It's a wonderful thing to enjoy doing. Most of my friends haven't even put a bad story on paper. But without setting goals and making commitments, I think one loses his right to complain that he hasn't made it in the business. I know I haven't earned that right.



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izanobu
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True, Wordcaster. Nothing wrong with saying "I don't want to make a living with my writing". Where I get annoyed is at those who say "I can't make a living" and especially those who then extrapolate that to "No one can make a living".

Also, Snapper, FYI- Brad has sold 3 stories to Analog this last year. That's a market that DWS has never cracked :P Name doesn't count for squat if you don't write a story the editor wants. NAMES get bounced all the time from professional markets. They still gotta write

It never ends. If you want to make a living with writing, put in the time, put in the learning, and keep submitting your work (or posting it online for sale, also a valid thing to do these days). Can't succeed if you don't even try.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I'm worried that people are talking past each other here.

Let's agree that not all writers have the same goals, okay?

Let's also acknowledge that those who have the same goals as Brad has would do well to examine how they are going about fulfilling those goals and compare their approaches to what Brad recommends.

And let's not have people who don't have the same goals as other people arguing with each other about goals.

I think all of the points with respect to the many different kinds of goals have now been made. Good advice and encouragement has been offered for these different goals.

Let those with their various goals pay attention to the advice that applies to their respective goals, and let's leave it at that.

Thank you.


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snapper
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I don't think I'm making myself clear.

I am not disagreeing with Brad or anyone else that to be successful requires commitment and hard work. What I am saying is no matter how hard you try it may not make a hill of beans. I don't say this to discourage anyone but just the opposite. I contend it shouldn't a desire to get published that is your driving force, but the need to express yourself and create that does. I've read a lot of unpublished stuff that I have found beautiful. They may just fit my tastes, but it didn't make them any less special to me.

And just so Sheena knows, I think you'll get published as a pro yet (if you haven't already).

*edited to add*

Sorry KD, not trying to step on anyones toes. Only trying to be encouraging to my fellow wannabe's

For all those who are trying for the big time, publication is not the cake of creation, it's the icing.

[This message has been edited by snapper (edited March 02, 2011).]


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Foste
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Just asking but...

What about us folks who can't go to conventions? Overseas? I know nothing replaces hard work but I don't have access to workshops or convention without a visa and... money. Luckily I can submit electronically.

Edited for clarification:

I mean additional tips like networking savvy and so forth.

[This message has been edited by Foste (edited March 02, 2011).]


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Natej11
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This topic brings to mind the old Chinese curse whose authenticity is widely disputed: May you live in interesting times; May you attract the notice of those in power; May you obtain what you seek.

Mostly that third one, may you obtain what you seek. I read the blogs of successful authors who talk about the full time job of just promoting their work, on top of the actual writing. Book tours, interviews, panels, signings, blogs, etc. As a total introvert who hates any sort of attention, the thought of any of these things terrifies me. Something like a book tour strikes me as a complete nightmare.

I love my writing, and I would love to see it get published and get out there, but I wonder if I'm the only one who's as afraid of the consequences of success as I am of the consequences of failure.


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izanobu
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Natej11- you don't have to do tours or signings or anything to be a success. Plenty of writers are introverts and do just fine. Promotion is another one of those myths. Work on the writing and let the worry about success go. There are many paths.
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snapper
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In the time between my last post and this one, I received a rejection from a SFWA publication. Doh!
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KayTi
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quote:
Everyone's definitions of success are different. Mine involves being the next Stephen King, yours might not.

So funny, izan, because mine involves becoming so famous from my writing that we have to move because my fans have found out where we live and are camping out on the front lawn. It's not really the unsightly tents that does us in, in this elaborate vision, but the lack of portapotties...

Meanwhile, Amanda Hocking, indie publishing phenom, links to this awesome video that perfectly illustrates one key point i hear people making in this thread. There is no Magic Hand. No magic hand to reach in and lift you from unpublished nobody to internet phenom or the next stephen king or ...whoever you aspire to be (me? JK Rowling but with technology as the magic and space as the Hogwarts. Oh, and cash. Loads and loads and loads of cash.)

The key soundbyte of the video comes at 1:25 -
Play music that you love
Play it for anybody that will listen to you (*I add a corollary here - anybody that will pay you for it)
Work your rear off

Translate that to writing:

Write what you love
Write for anybody that will pay you (alternative phrasing: put your writing out in the world where someone who has money has the opportunity to pay you for it - either publish it yourself or submit to editors who can buy your work)
Work your bottom off (per previous comments of mine, this is not the same for every person - I am not a daily writer, unless you count blogs and posts like this...but I write in bursts and that fuels the writing engine just fine for me. Life will take a different turn in the future and my writing pattern may differ, I'm fine with that.)


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MartinV
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quote:
I've read Brad's bio in WOTF and see the hours he's dedicated to his craft. He networks with other strong and professional writers, goes to conferences and meets editors, continues to produce, and the list goes on.

If only I could do that. I guess I will have to leave this SFF-backwater homeland of mine and go someplace I can actually meet other writers. Because I'm being suffocated here for the lack of interaction. The only writers and writers-to-be that I'm talking to are you people.

I actually contacted a local writer but he made it clear that he's not interested in talking to me (unless addressing a person politely was somehow offensive for him). From what he said it seems he gets e-mailed by writers-to-be all the time. Why on Earth can't I find any of those?


quote:
For most writers, I surmise, "success" may be defined as:
* being published,
* being published with major distribution,
* writing a "bestseller",
* being able to write for a living,
* winning a literary award

I don't give a damn about fame. I just want to live from something I love to do. Writing happens to be that thing.

[This message has been edited by MartinV (edited March 03, 2011).]


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axeminister
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Natej11,

If you get to the point you have a novel out, then you will want to promote it any way you can.

My wife spent tons of hours with myspace, facebook, twitter, a blog, school visits, speaking at conferences, and signings. Visibility is a must.
She hand-sold books. I know, I carted the boxes around. Each sale had the potential of a new fan and new sales through word of mouth. Sales could multiply...

She hated every minute of it.

But as she waned off those things, sales started to dwindle. Now, she's not Stephanie Meyer, so her books don't sell themselves in the same way, but 98% of authors pound the pavement in some fashion or another.

I met Terry Brooks in the Albany (NY) Mall at a book signing. His book was already on the best seller list. There he sat at a little table with a bunch of people lined up with their $24.95 copy of the latest Shannara in hand. You can choose to do that, or not, but he made a mint that day and his tour schedule was booked solid.

Consider even the most famous of movie stars does the late night talk show route. Why? To promote their movie. To remind you it's out there, to get you to see it, to keep their name in your mind and the public eye.

As a successful writer you have to be ready to become a brand name. Your name is the brand, and you are the product. (Why do the most famous of authors simply have their picture on the back cover?)

You can make a living writing and not promoting, yes, but you will not make nearly the same money, and you may eventually fade.

Axe


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Crystal Stevens
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I hope nobody minds me stepping in and making a comment that may be just a tad off topic. But the comment about wanting to be the next Stephen King really bothers me. There are several authors out there that I greatly admire, but do I want to be the next them? No. I'd rather have people recognize me as me and nobody else. My writing might remind someone of a well known author, but in all reality, I hope not. I'd like them to see my work as mine. To me, that's the greatest compliment a writer can have.

Okay, you folks can continue your conversation that I am truly enjoying and learning a great deal from those much more in the know than me .


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izanobu
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Crystal- when I say "next Stephen King", I don't mean HIM exactly :P That would be impossible... I mean that level of name recognition/writing craft/earning potential. That's all. Hope that clears that up for you...
(I use King because of his long career and his amazing ability to write giant books that I can't put down. Writing books people can't put down is my number one writing goal)

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Crystal Stevens
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Yeah, I figured that out after I made that post. Wouldn't it be great if someone said their goal was to be the next me or you? Now that would be the ultimate compliment .
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Robert Nowall
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I'm thinking that anybody is free to lay down rules of conduct for the notion of success as a professional writer---but no one else, and certainly not me, is bound to follow them.

I'm also thinking that publication (with or without payment) is a goal, and not success in and of itself.

And I'm also thinking that I had more fun writing Internet Fan Fiction than writing and attempting to get published. And that not only weighs heavy on my mind, it influences my opinions of success as a writer. I don't need the entry-level money (which isn't great), and I'm not sure I want the hassles.


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Robert Nowall
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Somehow the comments about "the next insert writer's name here" didn't connect until I was rereading it.

Can't say I ever fell into that with my writing...near as I can remember, I was influenced by Heinlein and Asimov and Clarke when I started---not that it showed much---and I was influenced by a lot of writers after starting up---but the idea of being "the next" one of them never occurred to me.

You could also call someone "the new insert writer's name here"...be wary of that, 'cause it can be the kiss of death. (It's said that, in rock music circles, being proclaimed "the new Bob Dylan" effectively ends a career.)


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Grayson Morris
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I don't think Brad and izanobu and others are arguing that everyone should be a professional writer and put writing in their top three priorities, and anyone who doesn't isn't a Real Writer. Rather, I think they're saying that people who say that's what they want to do, but then complain about why it isn't working, are missing some vital information and/or need an attitude rethink.

So there's no argument on what makes someone a successful writer -- just advice from those walking the walk to debunk some myths about what it takes to make a professional living as a writer.

(Unless I'm wrong, which has been known to happen. ;-) )


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Robert Nowall
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quote:
I don't think Brad and izanobu and others are arguing that everyone should be a professional writer and put writing in their top three priorities, and anyone who doesn't isn't a Real Writer.

To a certain extent, I take it that way...


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Brad R Torgersen
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Grayson Morris has it exactly. ***ALL*** of my comments have been directed towards those who seek to write commercial fiction professionally. Thank you, Grayson.

Those not seeking professional status or pay can play by their own rules. I am speaking Martian to the Venusians on that one.

But if you want to become a true professional, there are some tough basics that come with the territory, and nobody I know who is a true full-time professional has managed to sneak around them. So yes, for those who say they want to be pro, but complain about not having any progress, I think it's worth it to take a hard look at a few realities. Lord knows that's what helped me.


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Tiergan
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Well, I took this thread as: If you are complaining that you arent published, look at how you are going about it and see if you are putting in the appropriate effort.

I for one like this thread. Good insights and sometimes truth hurts. Hence the reason, right now, I am semi-pro. We will see in the future if I desire it enough to step up to the professional ranks.



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izanobu
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Yep, what Brad (who owes me a second story? Brad?) and Grayson said exactly.

If you don't want to become a professional writer or make a living at this, my comments aren't directed at you at all. I'm only talking from my own perspective here, that of someone who is going pro.

There's nothing wrong with having a hobby. I'm a hobbyest at a lot of things (horse back riding, rock climbing, all kinds of things). I don't ever expect to make a living doing those things because I don't expect to ever put in the time and effort needed to do so (Okay, confession, I *used* to ride and train horses for a living, but I'm happier being a hobby person).

My comments here are aimed only at those who want to be a professional, paid writer making a living at it someday. If that isn't you, then that's okay. I'm only trying to share my thoughts and experiences and knowledge, which doesn't apply if you aren't trying to talk the same path I'm trying to walk. That's cool

here, Kris Rusch has said it all so much better than I ever could:
http://kriswrites.com/2011/02/16/the-business-rusch-modern-writer-survival-skills-changing-times-part-18/
then
http://kriswrites.com/2011/02/23/the-business-rusch-more-modern-writer-survival-skills-changing-times-part-19/
and then
http://kriswrites.com/2011/03/02/the-business-rusch-even-more-writer-survival-skills-changing-times-part-20/

[This message has been edited by izanobu (edited March 03, 2011).]


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posulliv
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I really liked this thread. There's a lot to think about. My favorite part is a quote from izanobu:

quote:
Nothing wrong with saying "I don't want to make a living with my writing". Where I get annoyed is at those who say "I can't make a living" and especially those who then extrapolate that to "No one can make a living".

I had my own personal list of excuses but one class with Dean and Kris hammered those out of me. It's very energizing, believing that your work stands on its own, and that anyone with a work ethic and commitment to continuous learning has a shot at a career if they want one.

Thanks, Brad, for starting the conversation.

P.S. I'm enjoying your "Emancipated Worlds" serial. Very nice.


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Brendan
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I think that this has been the most interesting and revealing discussion here in a long time. I have gained some great insights from both sides by reading it. However, I think that the thread is in danger of moving towards an agreement to disagree based on the type of goals you have, i.e. whether you are a hobbyist or want to be a professional. If these two camps become cemented, then it gives more room to start talking past each other, because we can simply say "oh, I didn't mean I was talking to you, it doesn't really apply to your camp." So I want to summarize it a little, a show where I think some dilemmas still would value further discussion, irrespective of which camp you are in.

Thread 1: What is reality?

Brad points out that you need a disciplined approach to writing - if you don't write sufficient words, you don't succeed. This is a very valid point, one that most professional writers would strongly advocate.

Snapper and others point out that it is not the only critical element for success, and as there are some elements of luck involved, don't get too down if you don't "succeed" because that part was out of your control. Effort is a prerequisite for success, not a guarantee. Note, the key message that seems to be coming from Brad is effort brings success, rather than a prerequisite. Snapper extends this to say that reality involves more than just effort.

Wordcaster points out that even if you do start to succeed, the game then changes to one of marketing (an important point that any wouldbe author should know about re the reality of the business that they are engaging in). Izanobu takes it one step further, saying that business usually has its bad and good days, and you need to be disciplined enough to push through them. Interesting point, more on this in the second thread.

Thread 2: Value of discipline vs danger in discipline

Both Brad and Izanobu are advocating pushing yourself to your goals, the disciplined approach. To them, enjoyment seems to be a consequence of reaching their goals, the forward looking approach. They point to people that have inspired them to rise above the cream. And I must say, some of what they have said has been inspirational to me, and I do not denigrate that in any way.

But snapper introduced something that has been lost in the rest of the discussion - that the disciplined approach has some dangers attached. It can cause burn out in some. It can cause the loss of fun of the journey, which for many was the original reason for starting (and that becomes a loss of purpose). I'll also add that goal orientedness can of itself become detrimental to relationships. (Note, not all goal orientedness does that, but a definite danger is the impact on others from those that have that approach to life.) So, while discipline and goal oreientedness have some real advantages, one should also weigh up (and perhaps counter) the disadvantages that come with it.


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izanobu
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Nice summation, Brendan, thanks

I wouldn't be trying to write for a living if I didn't have passion for writing, that's for sure. There are easier ways to make money and maybe (for other people) more enjoyable ways. I love writing. I can't imagine doing anything else and even if I knew with 100% certainty that I'd never sell a single thing ever, I'd still write stories. I might not write as many, however Thankfully, I'll never have to find out what happens in that alternate reality because I know I will sell stories. But yeah, without passion, without the fun of it, the discipline would suck. Since I love writing, I don't mind doing it and digging out time in my life to do more of it. I get paid to make stuff up, which is pretty freaking awesome.

Finding a pace that you are comfortable with and that allows you to reach your goals while still enjoying your job is vital. That's true in any business. Executives, doctors, lawyers, editors, clerks, programmers, anybody can get burnt out at a job. Balance is good in any profession you pursue (I have hobbies for a reason). But I think anyone who wants to be a professional in anything needs to pay attention to the line between "taking breaks and easing up to maintain fun and sanity" and "finding excuses". If you want to be a doctor but think you'll get burned out if you work more than 20 hours a week, well, maybe you aren't cut out to be a doctor. That's just reality.

And, as I said before, being a hobbyist is fine (though maybe not a doctor hobbyist... that's a whole other discussion ). Not everyone wants to put in what it takes to be a professional in lots of different professions (art, sports, writing, medicine, whatever). There's no harm in looking at yourself and your goals and deciding that you don't want to go it full time.

Again, where I get annoyed is when people say that it is impossible for anyone to go full time (and make a good living) or when they say they aren't going to do it because they can't, not because they don't want to. Nothing wrong with not wanting to.

I write tens of thousands of words a month. I haven't lost the joy or passion. In fact, the more disciplined I get and the more I write, the more fun I have. My skills develop, I can see improvement, and I get better at telling the stories I want to tell. The more words I get down, the more stories I'm able to finish. Sure, I have my days of self-doubt where I think everything sucks and I'll never be any good at all, but they are balanced out with the days where I'm deep in the story I'm telling or a character pops into my head and solves something for the story etc...
Writing is definitely an up and down ride, in my experience. But I can't imagine having any other job. This one rocks too much, even on the days it sucks

(Also, there are dangers in pursuing any profession that takes years of trial and error and practice. It's always a risk to start a business. No one is saying differently. Brad and I are talking about what it takes, not the risks. That's why going in with eyes open and knowledge of the industry etc is vital. But that's another discussion. All Brad and I are saying is that you probably won't make a living writing fiction without discipline and putting in the hours and making the time in your life. How this impacts each individual will be different, just as how much each person needs to work and what they need to do to attain their goals will be different. There are many paths to making a living with writing. All of them involve actually doing the writing. That's my point at least )

[This message has been edited by izanobu (edited March 03, 2011).]


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snapper
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Congrats to izanobu for your recent sale to Daily Science Fiction. And special congrats to Brad for his yet-to-be-revealed 5th professional sale.

AS for me *laces fingers behind his head and puts feet up on the table* I've just sold my 15th short story to a semi-pro anthology. Proof that you don't need to sell your children into slavery or subsist on 2 hours of sleep a night to get published.


Winning


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