Practical Meerkat’s 52 Bits of Useful Info for Young (and Old) Writers, week 28

by Laura Anne Gilman

Practical Meerkat has a deeply Romantic side.  She totally buys into the trappings of this life, the traditions and the legends that grow up among Famous Writers, and even the darker side of the traditions of less-successful careers, even when she knows they’re maybe not so smart. How else do you explain why she considers procrastination such a fine art?  But there are limits….

Writers are a solitary lot, and while there’s a lot of camaraderie in the bars and the chatrooms, once we start to work – and once we start to get published – that hail-writer-well-met attitude comes to an abrupt halt.  Especially when it comes to the matter of What’s in Your Contract.  We are jealous of our advances, protective of our terms, and always worried that someone else is Doing Better.

That’s the myth, anyway.

It may, in fact, once have been true; I don’t know.  And I’m sure that even today there are people who guard the details of their career, projecting an aura of unflappable and unchangeable success, hoping that nobody will see through to the cracks and pits that are inevitable in any career lasting more than six months.

They’re idiots.

This is a crazy business, and everyone – even the most successful of us – will have downs to match our ups.  More, we each face situations that could be made better, more ‘up’ if we only had…. What?  Something new?  Something better?  Something more?

More information.

Smart writers talk to each other.  Not about craft, although there’s that, too, but business. Really smart writers – and by that I mean, writers who treat this job as a job, the business as a business, who survive the bad times and thrive when things are good – open up the door of their personal caves and gather in the common space, offering up what tidbits they know and listening to what is offered, putting together a larger, more detailed picture of the situation.

And I don’t mean just listening at the feet of an older writer, getting Wisdom Received.  I mean an active pooling of knowledge in real-time.  So when a publisher changes terms for one writer – the rest of us know, and can take advantage.  Or when another publisher is having significant problems – payments late, or editors quitting in droves, or a steady run of mistakes being made – then we are able to protect ourselves, rather than discovering a problem farther down the road (also known as “helping your agent help you”).

Sometimes this happens in person, during scheduled meetings.  Often, today, it’s happening in impromptu video chat (Google+ is already proving itself useful in that regard).  But most often it’s the old-school mailing list that allows us to circle our troops and create a unified wall, to share the ammo rather than shooting at each other, to hang together so we don’t all hang separately, choose your preferred metaphor and run with it.

However it happens, whatever form you choose, the important thing is to be part of it, not left standing outside.  Why?

Because when you get that image in mind of the writer as a solitary beast, keyboard-plonking away in her garret and called back to the real world only reluctantly, ask  yourself – is that oh-so-Romantic image benefiting you?  Or the publisher?

Coming up in Week 29:  practical meerkat answers the mail (reader’s choice)

Laura Anne Gilman is a former editor with Penguin/Putnam, and the author of more than a dozen novels, most recently the urban fantasy PACK OF LIES, and WEIGHT OF STONE, Book 2 of the Nebula-nominated Vineart War trilogy.  Her SF collection, DRAGON VIRUS, which SF Signal called “amazingly evocative….a potent ride through a changing future, was published by Fairwood Press in June 2011.  For more info check her website, her BookView Cafe bookshelf, or follow her on Twitter (@LAGilman)  And yes, her nickname really is meerkat.

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About Laura Anne Gilman

Laura Anne is a recovering editor-turned-novelist, with an Endeavor Award, a Nebula nomination, another Endeavor award nomination and a Washington State Book Award nomination under her belt. Her most recent series is the award-winning "Devil's West" trilogy, starting with SILVER ON THE ROAD, and her same-universe story collection, WEST WINDS' FOOL, AND OTHER STORIES OF THE DEVIL'S WEST. The novella GABRIEL'S ROAD was published by Book View Cafe on April 30th, 2019. Her Patreon, featuring original fiction, writing advice, and original Rants, is at https://www.patreon.com/LAGilman Learn more at www.lauraannegilman.net, where you can sign up for her quarterly newsletter.

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Practical Meerkat’s 52 Bits of Useful Info for Young (and Old) Writers, week 28 — 6 Comments

  1. This community — which I wasn’t expecting at all when I was published — is the best bit, I find. It was surprising and generous and warming and very, very helpful.

  2. And the internet makes finding a community very easy. Book View is a small cove in a very wide sea. You can join official groups (SFWA, RWA, MWA) or you can just hang out on blogs, web sites, newsgroups, Facebook, LinkedIn and so on. Online life now means that anything that happens anywhere spreads instantly, so if you are tapped in anyplace mildly current you will eventually hear everything you need to know. We may tell ourselves we are eremitical, but we’re all really swapping cool YouTube links and gossiping.

  3. Brenda – I would add the warning that all bits of information are not created equal and “hearing it online” is not the same as “this was my experience specifically….”

  4. I used to wonder about this mentality at my first full-time job, where it was made clear to me that it was unprofessional to talk about the terms of our contracts, and specifically how much we were paid. Uh, why? Who benefits from that, except for out bosses? And yet all the employees were quick to toe that line. They’d so totally bought into somebody else’s definition of professionalism.

    It’s interesting to see that this happens in the publishing world as well.

  5. I had the ugly first job experience, too, when the manager told me not to tell all my friends and fellow workers that I’d been given a whole entire nickel an hour raise. Even at the age of 18, I understood they were protecting themselves.

    I was lost at sea my first few years as a writer, in the years before internet, living in a rural area with no fellow writers to advise me. But the moment I found writers’ groups and began exchanging information, my career advanced by leaps and bounds. All it takes is learning someone on the same career path is making four times what you’re earning to fire an agent and hunt a new one!

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