Breaking In (Part 5): My Plan

I hope you’ve enjoyed my little analysis of what I think it takes to get published.  I can’t stress enough, though, that everything I’ve written on the subject comes from the point of view of someone who has yet to be published.  But I’ve read a lot on the subject, including much from writers who already are published, though I realize you’ve got to take it all with a grain of salt.

I wanted to wrap this miniseries up by sharing my own personal plans for Breaking In.  There’s no guarantee my plan will work, or that I know what I’m talking about.  But this is roughly how I plan to pursue my goal of getting published.

The first part of my plan is what I’m not going to do.  Realistically, I don’t have the free time or the money to take part in many writer’s conferences, seminars or workshops.  There is a big, annual Fantasy and Science Fiction convention held in my city which I may attend next year, in 2011, but which I more than likely will not be attending this year – not with a new baby and with MBA career-planning in coming into full swing.  It’s not that I discount the value of being able to mingle with other writers or having the opportunity to attend panel discussions with published writers and editors or to chat with editors and start spreading your name or building your network.  I think those things are potentially very valuable, and I encourage other aspiring writers to attend those where possible.  But for me, it’s just not feasible.  I’m still knee deep in my MBA, I’ll soon have a new baby, and my day-job isn’t getting any easier.  With all of those factors, I can afford neither the time nor the money.  So, I’ll have to do this a different way.

So, I’m hopeful both that I was right about short story markets being one place acquiring editors for novel publishers look for new talent and that I’m good enough to break into the short story market.  You’ll note that I only wrote one article on breaking into short stories; I realize there’s a lot I probably don’t know.  But, my intent is to try to get a few short stories published over the next few years (and accelerate my rate of publication over time).  During this time, I’ll be working on the side on a novel project as well.  That novel project may not be the long-gestating project I occasionally blather about (a quick usage note: whenever you see me use the word “blather”, I”m almost always talking about the same novel project… it’s a quirk, I guess).  Realistically, though, even if I choose to start developing, writing, and shopping a different project first, I’ll always still be working on my original novel project on the side as well.  (I’ve read that successful writers have to be ruthless and able to kill their babies – no, not their human babies; their writing babies – but my particular baby has evolved so much over the course of its “life” that it can hardly be said to be the same juvenile thing I started with.  I suspect, though this is as yet unproven of course, that writers can also be successful if they’re willing to evolve and improve their babies rather than giving up on them.)

So, stage one of breaking in to the novel market involves breaking in to the short story market.  Keep in mind, again, that in both instances I mean the Fantasy & Science Fiction genre equivalent of those markets.  Personally I have very little interest in most mainstream fiction that doesn’t have some element of fantasy or sci-fi, with a few exceptions.  Still, I suspect the process is largely the same in mainstream markets.

To break into the Short Story market, therefore, I will be following a few guidelines as well.  First: I will write my best.  That’s a given, perhaps, but it’s imperative.  That means letting my stories rest and get away from them for a little while so I can review them with fresher eyes later.  That means hopefully getting critical feedback from a number of different readers.  The quantity and quality of that feedback are somewhat out of my control, and I’m reluctant to foist my work upon close friends not with the expectation that they enjoy it but that they will do a little work for me for free by giving me that feedback.  Here’s where writer’s groups come in handy – if participants are all engaged in this tit-for-tat process it feels less like getting free work out of someone and instead becomes like for like.  Therefore, at some point, most like after I’ve finished my MBA, I’ll put in a real effort to either locate and join an existing writer’s group or to start up one that works as an ongoing basis.

In the mean time, as soon as I’ve polished a story as much as I possibly can, I’ll begin submitting it to appropriate markets.  How I’ll choose markets will begin first by filtering for genre and tone.  More science-fictional stories will go to markets that publish more science fiction.  More fantastic stories will go to markets that publish more fantasy.  I’ll be starting near the top (based, admittedly, on my own criteria for what constitutes the top) and working my way down.  I’ll be taking into consideration the pay that a market offers as well as my own beliefs about the prestige of a given market.  (There are echoes of my Decision Modeling class here; I’ll have to develop a rigorous approach to how I evaluate “prestige”; I like the approach suggested in this post (and linked word doc) by Tobias Buckell in which he mentions he built a spreadsheet model to rank order which markets he’d submit to, first.)  Tomorrow, I’ll go into more detail about why you should start at the top (or more to the point, and more accurately, why I believe I should start at the top, and why I will be).

So, that’s my plan.  I’m going to try to get some short stories published.  I’m starting with the one I’ve been working on recently.  I have a few more I want to write and a few more that are waiting a new, revised treatment.  Once I start submitting – choosing higher-tiered markets first – I wait for the acceptance or rejection (and start working on the next story, of course).  If I get accepted, Congratulations-to-me, I’ve achieved stage one of my plan.  If not, then I move on to the next market.  At some point during this process, I join and actively participate in a writer’s group.  I repeat this process as often as necessary until I have a dozen or more short stories in pro markets to my name.  At that point, just maybe, I’ll be far enough in my career to start shopping a novel around.  So the goal then will be to finish a novel.

Hope you’ve enjoyed following me on this little journey.  Happy writing!

Back to Part 4: What’s in a Name?

Continue to Part 6 (the final installment): From the Top