A writer writes…

Well, that’s not rocket science, but I think a writer needs reminding every now and then.

A writer makes new sales through writing new stories. It is more effective to send stories out than to keep tinkering with them until they’re ‘perfect’. Once a story works, send it out and write something new. If an editor rejects the story, it is more likely to do with the premise or storyline or general feel of the story than with the writing. No amount of tinkering will fix the premise.

If a writer has material on ebook sites, the best way to increase sales is to put up a new work. Yes, reviews are important, and yes, they need to be promoted, but readers who enjoyed your work are looking for more of the same. Give it to them.

If you’re marketing to publishers or agents, it’s more likely they reject your work based on the premise, character or idea than the minute details of the plotting. Writing something else will do more for your chances than trying to sell an existing, multi-rejected-almost-accepted novel. Put that novel aside and write something new.

A writer writes. A writer doesn’t complain on the internet how hard it is to sell, or get reviews, or… Only through writing new stuff can a writer prove that he or she is really a writer.

I rest my case.

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30 comments on “A writer writes…

  1. Ah, good old Heinlein’s 3rd rule 🙂

    “If an editor rejects the story, it is more likely to do with the premise or storyline or general feel of the story than with the writing.” If I may, I’d like to play devil’s advocate with this statement. Sometimes, a story is just crap and we’re almost always too close to it to realise at first (I definitely plead guilty to this!). And I’d also argue that the bulk of what editors reject from 1st round slush is due solely to technical writing issues. Premise, storyline or general feel of things may of course zap a story further on down the track, but wow there’s a lot of bad writing being subbed (says the scarred ASIM-and-others slusher of many years).

    Production is good, but I’d argue that quality control is better. Of course your qualifier “once a story works get it out there” covers this, but again, we’re almost always too close to know this for certain. I’ve always believed Heinlein’s 3rd rule is somewhat of a fallacy for this reason, if a story keeps getting bounced, it sometimes pays to put it up on the blocks and have a brief tinker with the workings (esp if one receives feedback).

    I also think everyone should get at least a few “whinge on the internet” moments, within reason. At times it’s a rough slog, disheartening etc, and it’s helpful to get the sympathy/motivational arse-bootings of the like-minded. The key is not actually giving up, despite said whinge 🙂

    • Once you have done the drafts, finished the story and polished it as best as you can, you should stop fiddling with it and send it out.

      Too much feedback can be damaging at this stage. No story will ever fail to attract ‘I didn’t like this’ comments from readers. Let it go and write something else.

    • And also, yeah, OK, whinge a bit if that helps (and it does, in moderation), but don’t get caught up in it to the extent that you forget to write.

  2. I’m with Jason on this one. of course you can make a story better by tinkering with it, especially with editorial or crit group feedback. Only the most arrogant, insulated writer would declare something as good as it can be and leave it at that. I’ve often sold stories that were rejected several times that I’ve then gone on to rework, polish, tidy up, etc. And that includes polishing the writing itself.

    And I’ve continued to write new stuff as well. Writing should be a constant process of self-improvement.

      • I couldn’t agree LESS! A story can always be improved. You can critique the hell out of it and then it doesn’t sell, so you have a look, rework it, figure out the good bits, change some thing around and send it out again. I’ve sold work this way on several occasions and you know what? It’s still writing!

        If you just keep writing new things you’ll never get inside your craft and storytelling deep enough to really improve. If you’re happy being an average writer then I suppose that’s fine. I’m not.

      • No. You can definitely edit the life out of a story. The trouble is that you can’t see it.

        A few edits, one or two rounds of readers, then let it go. Write something else, because it will inspire you in different ways. I’ve seen many a writer’s heartache over revising the same novel over and over and over again and never getting anywhere. You are much, much better off writing something new.

      • That said, there are always two sides of every process. There are definitely writers who don’t edit enough. This post was not about them 😉

  3. Boring writing is a major factor in the Cosmos stories I reject. The storyline might well be worthy but I don’t read far enough to ever find that out if I’m completely unengaged by page 2 or 3.

    • That is a craft issue, and one of two things may be going on. Either the writer is as yet incapable of writing more interestingly, or the particular style doesn’t do anything for you.

  4. The best writing advice I ever got? “There’s a silent re- in front of writing”.

    I think that flooding the market with as many stories as you can write is great, if you want to make lots of semi-pro/token sales. Nothing wrong with that, at a certain point in your career, and there’s worse ways to get started. But I’m finding that, as I turn into a grumpy old sod, the Ted Chiang approach is much more appealing ie lowish output, intended to be of quality and resonance, polished to the point of boneheadedness. Which means that each rejection is slightly more painful, given the time invested, lower number of overall lines in the water, and the fact these particular lines are baited for Marlin and not Tommy Ruffs (yay, fishing metaphors for the win!).

    I don’t want to move units, I want to make art, otherwise what’s the point! But what do I know, I’m still figuring it all out of course 🙂

    Who do you want to be? The person who sells 500 short stories to Honest Bob’s Fiction Barn every year, or Ted Chiang with 12 highly decorated stories, which is his entire career since 1990? Cause honestly, no-one gives a crap about Honest Bob. Just saying 🙂

    • I think most writers find that as they move up in the submission dance, their output slows.

      I dislike it when people tell others that their output ‘should’ be one or the other. Some writers are perfectly happy producing only one new story per year. For others, this is hell and doesn’t work.

      • True enough on both counts 🙂 it’s all just opinions anyway, there’s more than one way to the top (if you wanna rock and roll). Personally, I’ve reached the point where I’m looking at *why* I’m writing short stories now, and what I’m hoping to achieve with such a high-work/low-reward medium. But that’s my journey, not necessarily anyone elses. Thanks for letting me rabbit on!

  5. “A few edits, one or two rounds of readers, then let it go. Write something else, because it will inspire you in different ways. I’ve seen many a writer’s heartache over revising the same novel over and over and over again and never getting anywhere. You are much, much better off writing something new.”

    I completely disagree. And making older work better doesn’t preclude you from writing new stuff too. It’s not an either/or option.

      • yep, and doens’t faff about on the internet, or doesn’t agonise over rejections or over why something doesn’t get accepted. Just put it aside (unless you get THE IDEA that will fix it all) and write something else.

      • And in this respect, this post is a reminder to myself as well.

        The characteristic of a writer is that you write. New stuff. And submit it. And not agonise too much over why stories get rejected.

  6. “I don’t want to move units, I want to make art”

    And this attitude is what makes your efforts stand out from the rest of the McSlush, Jason

  7. There’s no reply option on the comments above. Anyway:

    “The characteristic of a writer is that you write. New stuff. And submit it. And not agonise too much over why stories get rejected.”

    If you don’t agonise over why stories get rejected you will only ever be an average writer at best. Personally, I want to create better and better stories, that resonate with a wide audience. I want to constantly improve my craft. I’m not so arrogant to think that I can’t learn from an editor’s opinion.

    • >Personally, I want to create better and better stories, that resonate with a wide audience. I want to constantly improve my craft.

      I think this is her point. You can’t create better and better stories if it’s the same story in multiple incarnations.

      • I know what her point is, but I disagree with it. I think you need to explore why stories are rejected and work on improving them as well as writing new things. Otherwise you’re always going to write to the same standards.

      • There is not always a why. In fact, often there isn’t. And I dare say, Alan, you’ve reached that stage. Once a story is of a certain standard (I mean–isn’t clunky, poorly written or incompletely plotted), it’s a matter of editorial preference, or of what an editor needs. In this case, sales and improvement comes from trying a lot of different stories. If I get a rejection from F &SF, as I did recently, that tells me ‘I’m looking forward to your next story’, I want to make sure I haven’t thrown all my eggs into the story I’ve just sent them, but I want to have another story to send them, and I don’t want to feel totally devastated because I spent hours and hours and hours navelgazing on that one story that was certainly going to sell.

        It’s about writing competently, but it’s also about moving on. I already know you are doing that, but I know there are writers who are not, and who are spending years staring themselves blind trying to perfect the same old novel (usually).

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