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Monday, March 31, 2008

Business Future Shock

No markets today. I'd rather talk about writing mechanics vs. business acumen.

About three years ago, I got it in my head that there was a short story in me and set about writing it out. I had heard about that humungous Writer's Market contest and entered it. Out of 18K entries, it was a finalist. So it got me to wondering, what if I had had some help in tweaking it. Would it have won?

I found Critters and then OWW. I like both. Critters has a system in place for finding dedicated readers for novels, but OWW is better for getting to know reviewers and their reviewing styles, so I ended up staying with OWW. Both had excellent reviewers though. For me, it was just easier to track reviewers with OWW's system.

I kind of bumbled along, learning the ropes and familiarizing myself with the writing community. But around year two it occurred to me I was not moving forward. Yes, there was camaraderie and I was learning, but I wasn't getting published. Why not, I asked myself.

I realized, despite the good company, that most of the crowd I was with were running in place just like I was. Not a single person in my group was pro-paid published, so it was a little like the blind leading the blind. I realized then I needed a mentor.

Mentors don't just fall out of the sky and many aren't willing to help you unless they know you, so it was time to make that scary jump outside my comfort zone and find a well-published author who could shed some light. I found several.

I started first by attending a week-long live workshop where I was skewered from top to bottom. I listened to people far smarter than myself who didn't tell me how to fix the story--but rather, how to identify problems. Remember the parable about teaching a man to fish rather than giving him a fish dinner? Same thing.

I was adrift for a couple of months after the workshop because I'd been armed with weapons but I wasn't quite sure how to use them yet. I experimented and wrote a flash piece that immediately received a startling response. My peers at the time didn't like it. A few hated it. I had struck a nerve and it made them uneasy. But what was surprising was that for the first time it elicited a response from people outside my peer group, well-published authors whose respect meant a lot to me. With one little piece of fiction I discovered I had climbed to the next level of competence. I had been recognized and accepted by a new set of peers.

I started lurking on loops and going to cons. I started reading different authors, different genres. I started taking online classes to polish what I was just beginning to learn. And then I started talking to authors who understood the publishing business. That was when I turned the corner professionally.

My peers counseled me into entering contests, not haphazardly, but very specific contests that put my work in front of people who could make a difference in my career. They taught me to keep my blog professional, to post only on certain forums, and to volunteer whenever possible. Probably the most important lesson of all, is that they taught me to be flexible. The publishing industry was changing--and it's still morphing.

Business Week announced that e-book sales were up 59% in 2007 from 2006. 59 percent! That's an incredible rise in revenue. And where there's money, there's a big corporation looking to corner the market. Amazon, anyone? If you haven't heard the news about Amazon, go here and here.

Understanding my limitations, I needed to sit at the feet of people who knew the business. News flash: People who know how to write are not necessarily the people who know how to get published. I think this is where more new writers get stuck than anywhere else.

Adding to this rat maze, read JA Konrath's post on money. The people who get a huge advance are not necessarily the best writers. Don't make the mistake of equating money with talent. Chances are very good they were just lucky. As Konrath noted so eloquently, you aren't entitled to anything. Get used to it. By the way, Konrath didn't split any hairs. If you don't like hearing hard truths, don't read his post.

If getting published isn't already hard enough, to make things doubly difficult the publishing industry is in enormous flux. And I'm afraid it's bigger than most people want to believe.

I've mentioned it before on this blog and I'm more convinced than ever that e-publishing will become the norm within the next few years. This is why we had the writers' strike. This is why traditional publishers are adding some very disquieting (and specific) language about e-publishing in their contracts for what at one time were strictly print books. This is why Amazon has developed such an enormous appetite. To me, it feels like a layer of magma slowly forcing its way to the top. We don't see it and we feel only the barest of rumblings, but it's there and it's growing.

I've no intention of changing anyone's perception of e-publishing. I think the market will vindicate me in due time. But I do urge people to be very attentive to what is happening in the publishing world. Pay attention to the ripples in the fabric of our business.

Learning the mechanics on what makes a good read is a piece of cake compared to the giant monster that is industry. If you're writing for love, it won't matter. They'll give you your six-pence, pat you on the butt and let you wither on the vine of ego. But if you're in this game for the long haul, cut back on the chumming at the social internet clubs and pay attention to the rumbling. It might help you decide where to stand when the mantle bursts open.

Wednesday: My business plan