FAQ: How did you get published?

February 6, 2008

 

I broke into publishing the old-fashioned way. Which is to say, exactly how all the “How to get published” books tell you how to get published. I wrote for a long time. I wrote badly for a long time. When I was 16 I started sending stories to magazines like Analog and Asimov’s (because this was back when I thought I was going to be a Big Idea hard SF writer. Dr. Schmidt and Mr. Dozois, at this time I would like to formally apologize for sending you my really bad “big game hunters from Alpha Centauri killed off the dinosaurs and environmentalists from Alpha Centauri are getting ready to reintroduce them into their natural habitat” stories). I kept writing. I kept sending out stories. I had a few successes in college with the literary magazine and contests. I kept writing. I wrote my first novel in 1995-6. I liked it. I still do. I sent it to publishers. It didn’t sell. I kept writing. I wrote two more novels that will never see the light of day. In 1998 I went to Odyssey, a 6 week long summer writing workshop. I had a chance to do nothing but write for a good stretch of time, and I learned a lot. I learned how to revise, which turned out to be the big hurdle I’d been trying to get over. I write crappy first drafts. I’d been sending out my first drafts all this time. I write much better second drafts. I sold a short story to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword and Sorceress anthology in 1999.

 

I sold some more short stories. I didn’t sell a lot of short stories. I wrote two more novels, both fantasy. I sent them out. They didn’t sell. Then I wrote Kitty and The Midnight Hour. I got an agent, via someone I know. I left the agent. I got another agent, via a one-page query letter. This was now 2004, about 15 years after I made my first short story submissions. In August 2004, my agent sold Kitty to Warner Books. In 2006, I finally sold a story to Asimov’s.

 

From what I can gather, my numbers are about normal. Ten years to sell a short story, four tries to sell a novel. Maybe a little more than some, but I think that was a function of starting very young and being quite naïve and stupid about it all for a longer than average stretch of time. But that shows you how I did it. BTW, I advocate starting young and stupid because by the time you figure out how hard this gig really is, the actions — writing every day, sending stuff out — have become habit and you’re less likely to talk yourself out of it like you might if you’re old and wise.

 

I’m going to be catty for just a minute: I have gotten a few questions along the lines of “What’s the secret handshake so I can get my book published too?” There is no secret handshake. There are guidelines such as never give money to anyone up front (see Yog’s Law). But what it all comes down to is hard work and sticking with it. Write better.

Write better — this is one thing I don’t think people say enough. Being persistent isn’t enough. You have to be constantly working at your writing, challenging yourself, getting better. If you persist in writing the same drecky Mary Sue fantasy novel over and over again, or your short stories all show the same problems with plotting and point of view, you’re probably not going to break in no matter how long you try. One great way to improve is by reading other people’s work, and analyzing the hell out of it. What did you like? What didn’t you like? You hated that novel so much you couldn’t finish it — why? Were the characters wooden? The plot unbelievable? Why? You can apply that to your own writing. This is why my Masters is in English lit rather than creative writing. Analyzing works of literature makes me a better writer.

 

One of these days I’m going to post that big game hunters from Alpha Centauri story so you can see that it is possible to become a better writer than the one you start out as.

 

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7 Responses to “FAQ: How did you get published?”

  1. Mom Says:

    I still think the big game hunters from Alpha Centauri was a good idea!

  2. Anthony Says:

    Heehee, any chance we might see your first attempts in a special edition of one of your Kitty novels or something like that? I’m rather curious to read about this Alpha Centauri novel. 🙂

  3. periskyye Says:

    Thanks for writing about getting published – I found it interesting!

    I, too, am curious about the early works…

  4. Nicholas Jackson Says:

    It amuses me that the Wikipedia article on Mary Sue has a banner saying it’s not up to the required quality and needs to be rewritten. It seems apt, somehow.

  5. deb Says:

    Hi Carrie! Have read all the Kitty books, and anxiously await MORE! That being said, I am also an aspiring writer. What is your revision/rewrite process? I’ve only recently had the lightbulb moment, where I allow myself to write a crappy first draft. Once that’s done…then what. I’m afraid I have no idea how to revise. I have a novel, which I think is pretty good, but needs a lot of work. I’m afraid to dive back into it because I don’t want to “mess it up”. Any kind words would be appreciated. Even not-so-kind ones.

  6. carriev Says:

    Hi Deb: the crappy first draft stage is very important. Congratulations for finishing! You can’t revise until you have something to work with, right?

    Anyway, revision is tough. Do you have a critique partner? Someone with a fresh set of eyes who can give you an honest opinion as to what works and what doesn’t? That makes it easier. Then you can take those comments and figure out what in the book doesn’t work the way you want it to, and then fix it so it does. (easier said than done, I know.)

    A couple more quick things: fixing plot holes. If you find yourself saying, “But no one will notice that little inconsistency,” you need to fix it, because people will. Also, make sure you’re looking at what you’ve actually written, rather than what you think you’ve written. Make sure your characters act like real people.

    Keep a picture in your head of what you want the book/story to be, and then see if what you have on the page matches that vision. Or as close as you can get it.

    Remember, we live in the computer age, so you can make multiple copies. Save a copy of the novel as is, then make your revisions on another copy. I really doubt you’ll “mess it up,” but if you do, you can always go back to an earlier draft.

    Hope this helps…

  7. Slater Says:

    I get the impression you kept writing, and then you kept writing, and then you kept writing. All I can say to that, is I hope you keep on writing. Keeps me entertained…


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