Tuesday, 30 June 2015

At what point can a writer consider themselves 'successful'?

First up, I think the simplest answer is probably the only correct one: it depends on your goals, and whether you achieve those goals. Though most writers I know (and me) move the goalposts forward, some are content to write one book and quit while they're ahead. Personally, as a full-time writer (part-time pay, mind) the goal isn't just one book, but to make a living. The making a living part is secondary, but I need to eat. I don't believe in giving away work for free - though I've felt I had to do it at some points. But more on that later.

I thought I'd write this post because I cleaned out a ton of old 'submission' files today, and it got me thinking about just how long it's taken me to get anywhere. I'm sharing those thoughts (and some of the rejections and acceptances) here - mostly in the hope of giving what little inspiration I can to those just starting out. I've been writing for ten years by the way, and I'm just starting out, too.

The old submissions file was a thousand e-mails-strong...here are a few:

Here's my very first rejection, from Clocktower Fiction. It's sad to see just how many of the magazines (and novel publishers, too) have gone under in the last ten years, and terrifying for me how quickly things move on.

Good luck and thanks for thinking of me. 

Thank you for submitting this story to Far Sector SFFH (formerly Deep Outside SFFH).

Despite its strong points, your story doesn’t quite fit into this publishing program at this time. This is a purely subjective view on my part and in no way reflects on the strong qualities of you or your story. I wish you the best in placing your story elsewhere.

Please note an important change. Deep Outside SFFH has become Far Sector SFFH, a newer and slightly different variation of its former self. 

That was from 2003, and one of probably hundreds of 'form' rejections.

The next three years I spent being mental, which is why the one after this is 2006...my first paying short came not long after, with Albedo One. John Kenny sent this letter, which I'm pretty sure I'll always keep:

I'm just getting back to you regarding your submissions to Albedo One. 

I believe Frank Ludlow has already replied to you regarding 'The Dancing Car' (although I read it also and quite liked it). 

The good news is we are accepting 'Grass Can Be Weeds, Too' for publication in a future issue of Albedo One. When we select it from the inventory for a particular issue, I'll let you know and ask for a brief bio (150 to 200 words). 

By the way, we changed our payment policy, effective from issue 33 (coming out probably in February or March - issue 32 comes out in December). We've scrapped the Best of Issue payment and replaced it with payment to all contributors. Payment is 3 euros per 1,000 words, so in your case payment will be 9 euros plus a contributor's copy of the mag (a paltry sum I know, but better than nothing and we hope to increase it over time). Let me know if you're agreeable to the new policy.

Kind regards

John

PS: Feel free to send us other stories whenever you wish. You don't have to wait until 'Grass' is published.

Three years later, John wrote back and asked if he could have 'The Dancing Car' for an anthology 'Box of Delights'. So I got paid for that one, too...eventually.

In between times, I've given away plenty. I won't put them here, but 'for the love' publications were my haunting ground, largely, for three or fours years. I've been rejected by Andrew Hook, Brett Alexander Savory, Jason Sizemore, Weird Tales (before and after the change), Clarkesworld, Stephen Theaker, Shock Totem. Asimovs, Necrotic Tissue, Peter Giglio, Jeremy Shipp, Tor.Com, John Joseph Adams. Some of these people I know now. I like them well enough. Maybe not so much at the time, but I've been developing thick skin over the last ten years or so. One thing I've noticed is that the editors and magazines that tend to stick around are not just the better ones, but the professional ones, and even then 90% of those I've ever had dealings with have been polite, thoughtful, and helpful. The horror community is pretty great.

Later, I realised shorts didn't pay an awful lot. I love them...but I wanted to make money. For the love got me a publishing history if nothing else (which was why I did it, if I'm honest). But I didn't want to write for free. I started writing novellas and novels, and submitting those. Shane Staley rejected me when Delirium Books was going. He since accepted my work, and I signed a three-year/three-book deal with DarkFuse. Rain, my first published novel, was accepted, but in the wrong place for me. I managed to place that story (and others) with Adam Millard's Crowded Quarantine Publications, a great outfit, too. Rain, that first novel, was accepted in 2010. Seven years after I wrote my first short story. I cried quite a bit. I thought, 'I've done it'. Happiest writing day until that point, for sure.

But, of course, I haven't done it. For me, there are no goal posts - the coffin, maybe, or insensibility. No other reason to quit.

I don't write as many short stories now, though the last few I sold at 'pro' rates, which is very cool. I've been accepted by some amazing editors and publications, had novels reprinted, rights revert to some, self-published others. Publishing's evolving at such a rate I can't keep up with the changes - so I just write. That's why I started and, like I said, I think that's where I'll end. Sure, I want to make money, but I'm pretty simple in my needs. As long as I'm working, I'm happy enough.

As I said earlier, on 'free' stories - I gave away short stories (and even novels, too) to get a publication history. Some others might not have to do that, but I felt the sacrifice was worth the gain. I've been paying my dues a long time. I don't think you ever get to stop paying those dues...it's a hard gig. Best I've ever had though.

I keep a copy of every story I have in print. I've got them on 'The Shelf of Boasting'. The rejections would take up far too much room. I'm happy enough to set those aside.

As for other writers - I've had some brilliant endorsements, and other writers in my genre are just as wonderful as the editors and publishers I've spoken with. My favourite, though, is being turned down for an endorsement by Graham Masterton. He suggested I try writing poetry.

I still love him - he's very cool - and so are you. Love you x