There are worse fates than being unpublished

It frustrates me to see people I know, people who can write, publish so poorly. This isn’t another rant directed at those folks still butthurt over my last rant about self-publishing. There are legitimate times one might consider self-publishing (one of which I’ll mention later).

I’ve checked out several writer’s websites, some friends, some “big talking” folks on message boards or MySpace (you know the ones: “the greatest horror writer of all time”, taking the genre to new heights-types). Your hundreds of stories and poems given away aren’t impressing anyone and aren’t generating the kind of audience momentum you think it might. The promise of exposure is a lie. If a site can’t afford to pay you, the content provider that drives the site, they probably don’t have the money to seriously drum up eyes to the site. (And I question how much the “for the love” sites/markets actually “love” the artists, considering they can usually find the money to pay their host fees, or printers, but not the writers).

The process of being rejected and persevering provides its own lessons. Don’t let your hundreds of credits delude you into believing you’re something that you aren’t. In the rush to be “a writer”, with the accompanying desire for your work to see the light of day as soon as possible, you may have placed it in poor hands. Essentially, you have gone through the pains of childbirth only to give your child to abusive parents. But because you have works available, your ego become puffed up.

In fact, such credits can be detrimental. If you’re building a resume, you pretty much want to put your relevant credits on it. When editors see only a string of crap markets, they can’t help but think you must only write at a crap level. They probably aren’t going to assume that you didn’t know any better than to submit to the worse markets because you bought into the idea of working your way up. Or that you simply lacked faith in your own ability, thus ended up only submitting to bottom rung markets. No, they’re going to guess your relative ability by the types of markets you’ve been in.

Poor publishing includes having your friends publish you or a micropress publish you. It doesn’t matter if a friend publishes you, your wife, or an unproven editor/publisher … it’s all pretty much the same. You get lost in the noise of small press publishing. At this point, if you are determined to go this route, you might as well self-publish. It’s like the thinking begins on the right track: I don’t want to publish myself. I want an editor to validate my writing by accepting it. And then things get derailed and you go with “whoever” accepts you. At least then you get to keep all the proceeds minus your costs.

(My other beef with SOME self-published folks came out recently. On a panel discussion, it was quite evident that the self-published writer involved short circuited his own learning about the business/industry of writing and thus was doling out bad advice.)

Maybe what you’ve written isn’t ready.

And once you work is ready, if you want to build an audience, write well and get published where people will read it.

I have no delusions about where I am in the greater schemes of the writing professional ranks. I’m a complete nobody. Why listen to me? The only thing I’ve tried to do is study how people who I do consider successful have handled their careers and model myself after them (and learn from their mistakes as best I can).

Look, people have the right to sell or give away their stories as they please. No one is infringing on that right. Keep banging your head into a wall, it’s no concern to me. But if you come to me asking what’s the best way for you to climb the ladder of publishing success, I’d say publish well, don’t just publish. Be seen in the right company. Your resume is a reflection of you. I don’t write that many stories and can’t afford to just give them away any old place. You don’t have to be in such a rush to be published that you settle for anywhere. There are worse things in the world than being unpublished. And, frankly, I’d rather be unpublished than published poorly.

I’m an active member of the Horror Writer Association. Still a nobody, it only means that I’ve made at least three professional sales. Bob Weinberg gives this bit of advice to HWA members:

1) If you ask for advice in writing, look carefully at who is giving you advice — i.e. if you are an affiliate member, don’t take advice from affiliate members.

If the sink in your kitchen breaks, you hire a plumber to fix it. You don’t ask your neighbor how to fix it. If you do, you’ll most likely have water all over your floor. Sure, maybe once in years it will turn out that the neighbor knows something about plumbing, but not often. The same is true for writing. If you are not selling stuff, don’t ask for advice how to sell stories from someone who has not sold anything either. Sure, they might be able to write pages and pages of advice how to improve your writing, but if they can’t sell their own work, don’t count on them selling yours. Too often, the people giving the most advice are those who are least qualified to do so.

2. If you want to write a story for an anthology that pays $25 per story, or only pays in royalties, that’s okay. But realize that you are wasting your time because such books will not make your reputation, will not add to your reputation, and will definitely not help your career in any way. If you are an affiliate, you definitely should not be spending any of your time writing for such markets.

simply put, your time is valuable. As a writer, you need to concentrate on writing fiction for the markets that pay well. If you spend most of your time writing for the markets that pay next to nothing (or nothing) you are wasting valuable time you should be writing (or rewriting) stories for the better paying markets.

3. your reputation as a writer depends entirely on what you write. It does not depend on who else is in an anthology.

4. if you are writing and writing and not selling anything, the market is not wrong, the editors are not all wrong. You need to change what you are writing. Good writing sells. Bad writing does not. Simple but true.

There are worse fates that being unpublished. I’d rather have no stories out there than bad ones or good ones buried where no one will see them. Simple but true.

If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say “hi”, feel free to stop by my message board. We always welcome new voices to the conversation.

Why I Haven’t Self-Published

Whenever a writer talks about writing at any length, eventually the topic of whether or not to self-publish comes up. It doesn’t matter how gingerly how one talks about the subject, once it rears its head, it can become fairly divisive. Accusations of being elitist, a shill for the establishment/Old Boys Network; of belittling those who challenge the way things have been done, the comments come quick and furious as people justify their career choices. And that’s what it boils down to – a career decision each writer must make for themselves.

[Continued on Blogging in Black]

Make with the clicky clicky, but excuse me while I head to my bomb shelter to duck the incoming slings.

Edited to add:

If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say “hi”, feel free to stop by my message board. We always welcome new voices to the conversation.