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More What You’d Call Guidelines…

Over at Making Light, James MacDonald explains How to Get Published.

Before I go any further, let me state for the record that MacDonald knows his stuff.  He contributes good writing advice at Making Light, Absolute Write, and elsewhere.

That said, I’m gonna argue with a few of his points now, ’cause what fun would it be if we all agreed with each other? :-)

To be a writer, you must write.  Absolutely, 100%, yes!  However, MacDonald goes on to give the oft-repeated advice, “Write every day.”  Good advice, but not an iron-clad rule.  I write five days a week, but generally don’t write on weekends.  I believe writing every day is a good goal, but ultimately, it’s important to find the schedule that works for you.  The important thing is that you’re writing.

On the day you reach THE END, put the book aside for six weeks.  Let me put it this way: I wrote, revised, and started submitting Goblin Quest [B&N | Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon] over the course of six weeks, and that seems to have worked out pretty well for me.  Distance can be a very good thing, and these days I usually try to do a short story or something else between drafts/books as a palate-cleanser.  But once again, writing is like the Matrix: some “rules” can be bent, while others can be broken.1

Now find a publisher.  This is exactly what I did when I finished Goblin Quest, actually.  It’s not the path I’d follow if I had to do it all over again today.  Publishers are slow to respond (2.5 years in one case), and they ask for exclusivity.  Personally, I would go directly to querying agents, and let them submit to the publishers.  Authors have sold books both ways, as you can see in that First Book Survey someone did earlier this year.

I remember being a new author trying to break in, and assuming that Advice = Law.  If a pro said I had to sell short stories before selling a novel, then by Asimov’s Sideburns, that was what I must do!

It messed me up more than once.  So while I think it’s incredibly important to listen to authors who have this sort of knowledge and experience, it’s also important to remember that none of us have the Gospel of Getting Published.  (And I don’t believe MacDonald is trying to preach Publishing Gospel, but I know how easy it is for new writers to take things as such.)

That said, MacDonald gives some good advice, and those working to break in could do much worse than to take a few minutes to read his post.

  1. With most rules, things generally turn out better if you make sure you understand the rule before you break it.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.


( 42 comments — Leave a comment )
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Dec. 7th, 2010 03:09 pm (UTC)
Nicely written. I can't resist the phrase, "by Asimov's Sideburns!"
Dec. 7th, 2010 03:12 pm (UTC)
I liked that one too :-)
(no subject) - sargent - Dec. 7th, 2010 05:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 7th, 2010 03:46 pm (UTC)
I've been submitting to publishers for almost a year now. I dont' submit exclusively (agents don't, why should I?). So far that hasn't been an issue. If I get an offer (I've gotten so far as a couple full requests, so here's hoping someday), I'll just do what an agent would do (in fact, I'll have my lit lawyer or agent do it) and notify the other editors that there's an offer on the table. They can either then get a counter offer in or at least update their files so they don't waste time reading a book that isn't sold. Seems straightforward and professional to me.

I agree 100% with rule 1 though. I don't think that one is a guideline. You can't sell books you don't write :)
Dec. 7th, 2010 03:47 pm (UTC)
err, that should be "waste time reading a book that has already sold". Need. More. Caffeine.
(no subject) - jimhines - Dec. 7th, 2010 04:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - nobu - Dec. 7th, 2010 06:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Dec. 7th, 2010 06:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - nobu - Dec. 7th, 2010 06:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - beth_bernobich - Dec. 7th, 2010 09:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 7th, 2010 03:52 pm (UTC)
I've often recommended to my students to submit to a publisher and go agent shopping while they wait. This way, should they get the magic phone call, they can say to the publisher, "That's awesome. I need to speak to my agent. Let me have my agent call you." And then they can get on the phone to the agents that most interest them with a little leverage to actually have a conversation. Now, obviously, this is a best-case scenario. But what it does is let the author feel like she has a little more control over the process, and be a little more proactive.

Oh, and Asimov? Had muttonchops. Let us not minimize the awesomeness of the muttonchops by referring to them merely as sideburns! ;-)
Dec. 7th, 2010 04:07 pm (UTC)
This way, should they get the magic phone call, they can say to the publisher, "That's awesome. I need to speak to my agent. Let me have my agent call you."

Following that advice cost me a book deal. However, I think that was a very unusual situation, and the exception rather than the rule. (And the editor involved is no longer around.) In general though, I think it's good advice.

Not being an agent, I don't know if it would be a problem to take on a client if that client had already submitted a book to, and been rejected by, some of the major publishers.

And my bad on the muttonchops!
(no subject) - beth_bernobich - Dec. 7th, 2010 04:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 7th, 2010 04:04 pm (UTC)
"By Asimov's sideburns!"

Dec. 7th, 2010 04:04 pm (UTC)
Hey, thanks for this
I venture out of lurkdom to say that I love your blog, and that for some reason this topic has been on my mind lately. Thanks for reading my psychic vibes (it was just for me, right? Thought so).

The thing is, I KNOW that advice is not equal to law, because if I tried to take all the advice I read about writing, my head would explode. So much of it is conflicting. But it's sometimes hard to trust myself and to remember that. Thanks!

Dec. 7th, 2010 06:17 pm (UTC)
Re: Hey, thanks for this
You're welcome! And of course it was for you! I try to write something just for my lurkers from time to time, to make sure you feel appreciated ;-)

It can be really hard, especially when you're new and these people with Big, Impressive Writing Credentials start telling you What You Must Do. Ultimately though, part of learning to be a writer, is discovering the process that works best to get you from idea to finished manuscript.
Dec. 7th, 2010 04:12 pm (UTC)
Good advice in general--I've read similar from Stephen King--but, as you say, not every way works for everyone. I'm much closer in the put-the-book-aside-for-six-weeks-and-cleanse-your-palate thing (actually, I tend to do six months, though that may change now) but writing every day? Nope. If nothing else, I have strange geeky hobbies that involve running around in the woods pretending to be a wizard six weekends a year, so...no.

I try to either write *something*, even if just a lengthy LJ reply, or to do something creative and storytelling-related, just about every day. I don't know if that's a getting-published thing, but my brain tends to go twitchy and strange otherwise.

Dec. 7th, 2010 06:12 pm (UTC)
Writing something every day can be a good thing too -- helps keep the writing "muscles" in shape, even if it's not the fiction muscles, if that makes sense?

I think a lot also depends on the assumptions and the goals of the writer. Someone hoping to be a full-time commercial writer doing multiple books a year should probably plan on writing most every day; but someone with different goals may not need to do that.
(no subject) - funwithrage - Dec. 7th, 2010 07:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kellymccullough - Dec. 7th, 2010 07:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 7th, 2010 04:15 pm (UTC)
Not to mention that Doyle and MacDonald write some pretty darn good books, if people are looking for some space opera in between doses of princesses and goblins.
Dec. 7th, 2010 04:25 pm (UTC)
That 'Advice = Law' thing is such an easy mistake to make. I know I did :(
Dec. 7th, 2010 06:10 pm (UTC)
I think a lot of us do. You're definitely not alone!
Dec. 7th, 2010 04:56 pm (UTC)
Glad to see you refute the "write every day" rule! I just wrote a post on top writing rules that don't work for me (including that one) on my blog a couple days ago.
Dec. 7th, 2010 06:09 pm (UTC)
I think there's something to be said for the intertia of writing. I know that for me, the longer I go without writing, the harder it is to get back into it. But I also know that, for close to a decade now, I've worked well with the five days/week plan.
(no subject) - georgmi - Dec. 7th, 2010 06:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - midnightsmagic - Dec. 7th, 2010 07:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - midnightsmagic - Dec. 7th, 2010 07:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 7th, 2010 05:46 pm (UTC)
That "write every day" rule doesn't work for me, either, and I actually think it can be counter-productive for new writers to follow somebody else's process (like butt-in-chair) instead of figuring out their own process. FWIW, I can go for weeks without writing anything, and then binge out 5000 words, tweak them for a week, and then writing nothing for a while, and so on.

Dec. 7th, 2010 06:09 pm (UTC)
And that approach seems to be working out rather well for you :-)
(no subject) - sarah_prineas - Dec. 7th, 2010 06:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - cathschaffstump - Dec. 7th, 2010 07:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sarah_prineas - Dec. 7th, 2010 08:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 7th, 2010 09:10 pm (UTC)
The idea that we writers *must* start with short stories is a pernicious lie.

Write what you love. Or what you are driven to write. If those are all novels, ignore the idiots who say you must start with shorts. (Otoh, if you love short stories, but don't feel comfortable with them, try a workshop or two. But only then.)
(no subject) - funwithrage - Dec. 7th, 2010 09:50 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 7th, 2010 07:46 pm (UTC)
The main bit of post that I took issue with was Write straight through to THE END without stopping or fixing things. Trying to do that would pretty much kill my ability to write. I need to fix the wrong stuff as I discover it's wrong or it fractures the whole structure in my head and things start to fall apart. That said, it's still really useful advice.
Dec. 7th, 2010 07:58 pm (UTC)
I have a hard time writing all the way through too. My process is more recursive.

(no subject) - pameladean - Dec. 8th, 2010 12:10 am (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 7th, 2010 09:43 pm (UTC)
It's another reason I like your "First Book Friday" features. I like to see all the different paths people take to get to the same place. (Plus, all these stories have happy endings and I just love happy endings.)
Dec. 8th, 2010 02:32 am (UTC)
I agree with the folks who said they have to stop and edit. (Just taught a class on that very thing, actually.) If you can just go straight through, and that works for you, great--but not me.

And I start with the intention of writing every day, and manage to do it about 5 out of 7. If you can call that a process, it's mine. And I've managed to complete 5 NF books and 4 novels that way, so I guess it works for me.

Some times, like now, I have to be realistic and know I'm not likely to write every day. (It is December and I run a shop and make jewelry. I'm lucky if I EAT every day.) You do the best you can.
Dec. 8th, 2010 06:42 am (UTC)
Very useful advice.

Thank you.
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Jim C. Hines


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