Ways to Trash Your Writing Career: Surrender, Dorothy!

Some years ago I attended the Fall for the Book Festival at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA.  I was doing a reading and other things, but there were intervals to peruse the used book tables and what we may term the dealers’ room.  This latter space was mainly manned by local arts organizations, but there was one woman sitting with stacks and stacks of one book — her own.  I have done some work with Ann Crispin and SFWA‘s Writer Beware effort, so naturally I investigated.  It was a fat fantasy novel with the Publish America imprint, but in spite of this it looked quite tolerable.  I asked her, “How did you come to select PA?”  She said that she had submitted it to a major New York City house, but it had languished for a long time, so she had given up and taken it to PA.   I said, “Which New York publisher was that?”  Oh, she said, it was Tor.

Now, dear reader, Tor was at that time my publisher, because How Like A God and Doors of Death and Life were recently out.  I know how Tor’s process works.  With a thrill of horror I asked, “And how long had it been in submission at Tor?”

A couple months, she said.  Aaaa!  Like an idiot I blurted, “My god, you were on your way!  If they were going to reject it, they would have bounced it back to you in a week, a month tops!  I have friends who were rejected by return mail!  If it was there for months, it was working its way up the decision chain, sitting in in boxes, getting considered!”

Everybody knows that the traditional publication process is beyond glacial.  But if this is your goal you have no choice but to stick with it. You cannot give up! My first novel spent one solid year in the slush pile at DAW Books before being bought, and that was by no means unusual.

Robert Heinlein’s rules for new writers are known by all, right?

1. You must write.
2. You must finish what you write.
3. You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
4. You must put the work on the market.
5. You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.

Do you see what this unlucky PA author did?  She violated rule 5. Through ignorance of the industry,  she gave up too soon. I can only hope that she dismissed my Monday morning quarterbacking as random nuttery, otherwise what a bummer it would be!  And the lesson for us all is to give a work its full chance.  If traditional publishers are seized with an impulse to shower you with hundred-dollar bills, be generous!  Allow them that opportunity!



About Brenda Clough

Brenda W. Clough spent much of her childhood overseas, courtesy of the U.S. government. Her first fantasy novel, The Crystal Crown, was published by DAW in 1984. She has also written The Dragon of Mishbil (1985), The Realm Beneath (1986), and The Name of the Sun (1988). Her children’s novel, An Impossumble Summer (1992), is set in her own house in Virginia, where she lives in a cottage at the edge of a forest. Her novel How Like a God, available from BVC, was published by Tor Books in 1997, and a sequel, Doors of Death and Life, was published in May 2000. Her latest novels from Book View Cafe include Revise the World (2009) and Speak to Our Desires. Her novel A Most Dangerous Woman is being serialized by Serial Box. Her novel The River Twice is newly available from BVC.


Ways to Trash Your Writing Career: Surrender, Dorothy! — 2 Comments

  1. Having had a bit of recent pro success with short fiction publishing, I’ll be sending out two books this year, all to the dreaded NYC publishers that indie authors despise. I do this because even in the libertine e-book age of low-cost and no-cost self-publishing, the NYC route is still my best bet in terms of exposure, money, and distribution. Maybe when I’ve got a bona fide audience I can play with e-pub, but I’m sticking with the Old Model for now.

    Also, there is legitemacy via the Old Model that I find desireable. Yes, the “funnel” is dysfunctional and it’s easy to throw up your hands and declare the Old Model to be hopelessly broken, but I’ve seen enough compatriots — people just a little ways down the track from where I am — have success with the Old Model, that it seems worth it to me to invest the time and, yes, the waiting and the rejection(s.)

    I beat the odds in the short fiction world a couple of times, and plan to capitalize accordingly in that realm. Seems to me it can be done in the book world too.

    Anyway, great anecdote, and a reminder to me to just stick with it and not get distracted by the Shiny of self-pub and vanity pub.

  2. The industry is in such flux (see other posts in this blog!) that it is hard to say what will happen. We may hope that the brave new world of e-publishing will save us all. But at least if you attempt the Traditional Ascent of Pelion, give it a fair shot! And it is worth remembering that every published author was unpublished at one point. Somehow they got over that divide. So can you.