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Archive for February 4th, 2009

Paper chasing

Questions from newly minted writers tend to come in candy flavors. There’s some difference in how the questions are asked, or the actual words used, but they all tend to boil down to some basic metaquestions.

The first one often asked by fresh novelists is, “How do I get an agent?” That one is easy to answer. I have no clue. Well, yes I do, it’s the same as getting published. Write the best manuscript you can, research agents like you’re researching a market (ie. the agent you query should handle the type of work you’re sending), read the submission guidelines and follow directions, and send it off. Cross your fingers. Also in this case the general Wheaton Rule#1, “Don’t be a dick,” applies.

Fortunately at the panel on Short Stories we didn’t get this question. This is good. Because the answer for shorts stories is, “Agents, in general, don’t handle genre short stories. There isn’t enough money to make 15% worth their while.” (for some reason there’s a voice shouting in my head, “Castles don’t have phones”)

The other question did get asked. That question (which I’m going out on a limb here and say 95% of all questions about writing boil down to) is, “How do I get accepted?” My answer seemed glib, and I apologize for seeming that way, but it’s still true. My answer was, “Suck less.”

Every story is full of suck (no, really, I’m reading the Years Best and there is plenty of suck there to go around). Your story needs to be the best in the slush pile, it needs to suck less than all the others.

Your writing, if you’re doing it right, needs to suck less than your previous writing (it’s not always a linear progression, but you get what I mean). Two years ago what I wrote that year, it was IMHO brilliant and the perfect example of exemplary craft and skill. This year, re-reading those stories to figure out why they aren’t selling I’ve come to wonder just who rewrote them so full of suck while I wasn’t watching. The answer is that what I’m writing now sucks less than what I wrote last year, two years ago, and (shudders) eight years ago.

On the subject of submissions, I still send the wrong story to the wrong market sometimes. But I’ve gotten better in my selection. My submission process sucks less.

My fellow panelists, who are all made of win, BTW, with very little to no suck present (I was the token “suck” panelist) gave much more concrete answers about the slush process, joining a critique group, read a lot, etc. But it all boils down to learning the craft, learning the business, sucking less, and following Wheaton’s Rule #1 (might need to make that the Prime Directive, but I don’t think he would like that comparison), “Don’t be a dick.”

There’s also a lot to be said for being in the right place at the right time. But even that won’t work unless you have the right story, one that doesn’t suck. Also, you might have the most bestest excellent story ever, and if the market isn’t right, doesn’t have a slot open, or it’s the wrong size to fit in the holes they have, they still might reject it.

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