Category Archives: Markets

Turtle Steps Add Up To a Long Distance Over a Year

Turtle steps add up to a long distance over a year.

But we all know that maxim already. But there are days that I have to remind myself of this truth. It’s gets hard to remember it when the rabbits are racing by (or at least bragging that they’re racing through things).

Many of us have jobs and family obligations that demand a lot of our time.  And there’s a temptation to take an “all or nothing” stance to writing.  That attitude that either we need to be writing thirty manuscript pages a day, or else quit.  Yet, writing just one page a day adds up to a 365-page manuscript over a year–a good length for a novel.

Finding the time to write thirty pages a day may be impossible.  Finding the time to write one page a day is not.  Even if you’re a slow typist and writer, we’re talking about finding 15-60 minutes of time–the time can even be broken down into increments of 10 minutes if needed. Most writers I know need only about 15-30 minutes to write that one page (about 250 words).

It’s like people’s attitude towards losing weight–the “shock and awe” approach.  Many go after the extreme weight loss over a two month time period by starvation-type dieting, instead of the steady permanent loss over two years by small changes each week in lifestyle.

I’ve learned from trial and error that tiny steady changes over a year can lead to more extreme results than a “shock and awe” approach to a goal. And when the time frame goes to three to five years for turtle steps, the changes seen can be stunning.

Part of it has to do with the fact that the “shock and awe” approach is often unsustainable over a long time frame.  Sooner or later a crisis happens, or one’s health collapses from overwork, or when one doesn’t meet the outrageous goal for the month, one quits trying at all since there’s that “all or nothing” mindset. For example, being on a strict diet and going off the wagon to eat half a pizza at a party, and then saying, “I failed, so there’s no point in going on” and continuing the eating binge for weeks.

Slowly I am learning not to compare myself to the rabbits bounding by, and to instead keep my mind focused on the next small step as I move along in my turtle-like way. The rabbit path is not feasible right now, but it’s not the only way to get where I want to go.

Or to quote Benjamin Franklin:

It is true, there is much to be done, and, perhaps, you are weak-handed; but stick to it steadily, and you will see great effects; for ‘Constant dropping wears away stones; and by diligence and patience the mouse ate in two the cable; and little strokes fell great oaks.

The Craving for Validation Can Really Screw Things Up

Writers–especially new writers–crave validation the way a cat craves catnip. I’ve seen the craving result in a few writers doing some incredibly destructive things from a business perspective. I myself did quite a few stupid things business-wise due to the validation crapola in my head until I learned from much more experienced writers that the crapola was there and that I needed to get rid of it.

Validation is NOT asking “Is this piece of writing any good?”  Validation is all about saying stuff like:

When thus-and-so happens, then will I be a REAL writer.

It’s the part about “then I will be a real writer” that messes writers up in the head. Badly.

Several wise old pros told me, “a real writer is someone who writes, day in and day out,” and I used to be inexperienced and stupid enough to scoff at that saying.  Surely there had to be more to being a “real” writer.

I don’t scoff anymore, because I’ve learned the hard way that there’s a core seed of truth to what those writers said.

A writer writes.

A painter paints.

A singer sings.

A coder codes.

Whenever someone quits doing the action (code, sing, write, etc.) that is the core of their dream, everything grinds to halt in a matter of time. Writers who stop writing will eventually become the topic of “What ever happened to so and so?” among readers.

Also, validation is NOT about setting goals.  It’s fine to have goals.

What I’m talking about here is having a mindset where a writer is totally dependent on a particular thing happening to feel like a “real” writer. This dependency results in neediness that can be manipulated by scammers, and a frantic urgency that results in bad business decisions that can postpone (or even wreck) the ability to make a living as a writer.

For quite a number of writers, “thus-and-so” is “published with a NYC publishing house.” The problem is the “When I am published by a NYC publishing house, then I will be real writer” mindset leads to a neediness that makes it hard for a writer to do the negotiating that needs to be done to get a decent contract.

Here’s something to think about.  These NYC publishing contracts are between a writer and a corporation.  We aren’t talking about two individuals working out a joint partnership here. Those people you meet from the corporation can be really really nice, but at the end of the day it’s the corporation the writer signs with. Editors and CEOs can be fired.

The craving for validation from corporations based in NYC can be used against a writer in contract negotiations. It’s just the nature of business–the writer’s book is a profit-and-loss statement for the corporation. If a writer wants to play doormat, that’s the writer’s problem as far as the corporate entity is concerned. Sometimes an editor will warn a writer if the writer acts too much like a pathetic wuss in negotiations, but for the most part the writer is on his or her own.

The other nasty part of this “NYC publishing house” requirement for being a “real” writer is that all the great middle-sized publishing companies get ignored because one is chasing after a narrow definition of being “real.”  There are some terrific small and middle-sized publishing houses out there, ones that are going to be big publishing houses 15 years from now.

Lastly, the whole mindset of  “when thus-and-so happens, then I’ll be a real writer” also makes it harder to keep morale up. Several old pros have pointed out to me that writing is disheartening enough as it is due to the rejection process; there’s no need to pile more anguish on by setting absurd goals for what is “real” as a writer.

A real writer writes, day in and day out.

Everything else is just a goal to aim for.

Dealing With the Shock of All Those “No”s

Fiction writers and salespeople have more in common than they realize. Just like doing cold-calling in sales, the journey to the first sale by a fiction writer goes like this:

“No, no, no, no, no, no, …” (typically this part in parenthesis has about 40 to 500 entries of No) “…, no, yes, no, …”  (more “No”s) “…, no, yes,  no, …” and on and on and on until the writer either 1) stops submitting work to editors, 2) quits, or 3) dies.

Every once in a while, fiction writers will encounter another writer who got a “Yes” the first time a story was ever submitted to an editor.  Rare, but it happens.  For a few seconds there’s a strong temptation by everyone else to hurl their pens at that person.  However, the profession of fiction writing is so rough and tumble that at some point that writer will get a long streak of “No”s that will balance out that easy “Yes” earlier on.

In last week’s blog post on “Fiction Writers and Learned Helplessness,” I did a thought experiment where I compared the submissions process to sticking your hand into a box where one of three things happened: 1) you got an electric shock for “No,” 2) nothing happened for the situation of no response, or 3) you got injected with an opiate for “Yes.”

I mentioned some of the mind games–such as setting up a scoring points system for submissions, or having a friendly competition with other writers to gather the most rejections–that fiction writers play to keep writing and submitting despite the frustration of getting a heavy flow of “No”s.

In this post, I want to explore some of the mental techniques that can be used to keep going.   These techniques are based on ones covered in Dr. Martin E.P. Seligman’s book Learned Optimism that were developed by studying groups that had to deal with a high flow of “No”s, like salespeople.

A writer who has a pessimistic mindset that sees each rejection as permanent (“I’ll never sell a story”), personal (“My writing always sucks”), and pervasive (“I’m a loser”) is going to have a hard time of it on the journey to that first “yes” from an editor.  I ought to know, since I’m a pessimist by nature, and had to teach myself not to talk to myself constantly in a defeatist manner.

The good news is, one can change how one reacts to rejection.  Let’s take the above three thoughts in order and explore how to do that.

Seeing rejection as permanent (i.e. “I’ll never sell a story.”)

Whenever the word “never” or “always” shows up in a negative thought, consider it a red flag.  Sure, the negative thought might be accurate, but the operative word is “might,” not “is.”  Too often, negative self-talk turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If I’m constantly telling myself “I’ll never sell a story,” I’ll lose the motivation to keep writing and submitting my stories, and this negative thought will in time become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Also, another fallacy in this negative thought is the assumption that one’s writing cannot improve.  When I had doubts about my craft, one of the best decisions I ever made was to find teachers whose writing I admired and go study with them as a student.

Seeing rejection as personal (“My writing always sucks.”)

Here’s another case of leaping to a negative conclusion when a “No” is encountered.  Here’s the ugly truth about the slush pile–the editor may have been in a bad mood or exhausted that day, and decided to do automatic form rejections for everyone in the slush pile regardless of merit.

Beware of the usage of “my” and “I” in a negative thought about rejections.  There’s a big difference between saying, “This story sucks” vs. “My writing sucks.”  The second is much nastier in the self-inflicted attack.  The first will keep you calm enough to be able to look over your writing and learn from mistakes.

Seeing rejection as pervasive (“I’m a loser.”)

This is where the negative self-talk gets really ugly.  A writer gets a rejection, and immediately jumps to treating the rejection as a commentary on everything that the writer does (including non-writing activities) and who the writer is as a human being.   Please don’t do this–repetition of the “I am a loser” mantra will sabotage morale and motivation.  Again, it’s an attitude that turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy and makes it impossible to learn from mistakes.

So, that covers the problem of the three p’s (permanent, personal, pervasive) in dealing with rejections.  Also, finding ways to laugh at the whole submissions process helps a great deal–whether it’s writing a story that makes fun of it all, telling jokes, or throwing darts at rejection letters.  Try different tactics, and see what works.

————

I find I have more to say, and next Monday I will talk about some of our perceptions as writers of what we can and cannot control in publishing.  We often see things as “Yes or no,” “Open or shut,” and such, when the reality is more complicated than that.   There are mental techniques that can be used to brainstorm ways to try and gain more control of  a situation.

I will be on business travel, but will do my best to get internet access to post next Monday.

 

It’s Not Indie VS. Traditional, It’s Indie AND Traditional

As fiction writers, we live in an exciting era right now due to the new distribution opportunities available through Kindle, PubIt, and Smashwords. But to hear some writers talk, it’s Indie vs. Traditional, and one has to choose sides.

Well, a lot of neo-pros and old (20+ years) pros I’ve been talking to are excited about being able to do both indie publishing and traditional publishing at the same time.  Having more revenue streams as a writer makes it easier to pay the bills each month. And as long as one is careful about reading and negotiating away any excessively broad non-compete clauses in a traditional publishing book contract, doing so should not be a big deal.

Short stories still need to go to traditional markets first if you want to sell them to a place like The New Yorker.  But if you write a novelette or novella that can’t find a traditional home, it is now possible to indie publish it instead of just letting it sit around unpublished. And once the exclusive time frame on a traditionally published story expires (and if you didn’t sign an all rights contract), you can republish it as an indie reprint to generate more income.

But one thing I want to emphasize is the importance of thinking twice before giving away a royalty cut to an e-packager for an indie story.  Dean Wesley Smith and J. A. Konrath and Barry Eisler debate the pros and cons at length in a post put up today.

We’re all in for a wild run over the next few years in publishing. Since I used to work in the software industry–which makes publishing look glacial by comparison–I confess I’ve welcomed the publishing technology breakthroughs that are bringing on a faster business pace.

The Borders Bankruptcy Number Crunching

C. E. Petit is crunching the numbers over at his website right now about the Borders bankruptcy and how it may impact publishers as creditors in the Chapter 11 proceedings.  Go read his posts from yesterday (Feb. 20) and today, great stuff.

This is a wise time to learn about the financial health of any publisher you have contracts for novels with that are still in print, or if you are planning to sign a contract in the near future with a publisher.

If the publisher is part of a publicly traded conglomerate on the stock exchange (and you know the name or ticker symbol) you can easily look at the SEC filings at 
http://www.sec.gov/edgar/searchedgar/webusers.htm
The quarterly (10-Q) and annual filing with the SEC is where the good stuff can be found, like how much cash they have on hand (Cash and Cash Reserves), cash flow, and their debts. You’ll want to take your time and read back as far as the database will allow you to get a good feel for what is going on in a particular company.

As for private publishing companies, if your library has access to Hoover’s (http://www.hoovers.com/), you might be able to get some info on their finances from there.

Also, another resource to turn to for help in doing financial research on a publishing company is your nearest Reference Librarian. Librarians are a wonderful resource for this sort of research.