Writing for Publication

Writing Ennui and the Finished Novel

 

Siege

Fiction writing, as has been mentioned nearly everywhere, is not a particularly happy profession.  It almost seems like the writers who aren’t busy actually killing themselves are writing about it constantly.

Yes, there are undoubted perks.  Having a story accepted for publication by a traditional publisher–one with a slushpile and gatekeeper editors–is an incredible feeling, one that I’ve not found anywhere else.  When a random reader you’ve never met enjoys the story and comments or writes a review–or drops you a note–is another beautiful sensation.  Most important, perhaps is the ability to reach strangers with your ideas.

Unfortunately, the highs are offset by a number of lows.  The first and perhaps most clichéd, is rejection.  All writers get rejections except for those whose name sells by itself.  If a publication rejects something sent to them by Stephen King, all of the accountants will immediately resign.  Some established writers get few rejections… but most writers get lots and lots of them, all the time.

Timeless

But that’s not all.  So your story or novel ran the gauntlet, convinced an editor and a publisher and saw the light… the reviews might not be as good as you hoped for: the words ‘imbecilic’, ‘moronic’ and ‘stupid’ are bandied around quite lightly in the Amazon review areas.  So is the term ‘semi-literate’.  Worse, sometimes the reviewer really doesn’t like it.

And then there’s the feeling that your novel has launched to widespread indifference…  They don’t like it. They don’t hate it.  Hell, did anyone even buy this thing?

Worst of all is the fact that these things don’t come in neat packets.  They arrive in bunches.  I can virtually guarantee that just when you’re sitting in a bar drowning the unhappiness of a particularly vitriolic review in Publisher’s Weekly under a few gallons of alcohol, you will glance at your phone to find a rejection of your very best story, the one you’d pinned all your hopes on, sitting in your inbox.

And did we mention writer’s block and stories with endings that don’t come together and deadlines and watching others get publishing contracts that you’d cheerfully kill for?  It can become a bit of a grind.

Malakiad-Gustavo-Bondoni-Cover

Nevertheless, most writers will tell you they love writing.  Hell, I’ll do it for them: I love writing.  I do.  Maybe not the rejections or the nutso reviewers with an ax to grind, but telling stories is one of the greatest activities you can be a part of.

In my own case, I’m fine with most of the above.  Rejections are a part of the game… everyone and his kid brother wants to be a writer.  A lot of them are sending stories out.  Slushpiles everywhere are overrun.

So what?  I’m selling regularly, so I know that a rejection only means that story is one step closer to finding a home.  Good to get it out of the way.  Rejections hurt, but then I get to send the story back out, and depression is replaced by renewed hope.

 

And bad reviews?  In my mind, they mean that my stuff is getting read a little more widely than just my close circle (they never give bad reviews because they know that a bad review will mean that I will visit them in the middle of the night and throw tarantulas on them while they sleep).  It’s a good thing – and you can often learn from a good shellacking.

There’s one thing, though, that really gets to me: finishing a novel.

Writing ‘The End’ is a moment that should be cause for celebration.  And yes, there’s a sense of accomplishment but… it’s not the same kind of happy dance that accompanies a sale, more of a ‘whew, glad that’s done’ kind of moment.  Writing a novel is not a light-hearted lark.  It’s hard work and you feel a lot of relief when it’s done.

And if you’re like me, you are burdened with the awful knowledge that editing a novel is as fun as being hit by a train.

Outside

For whatever reason, after a novel gets done, I fall into a few weeks of utter ennui, in which hitting wordcounts is a struggle and every rejection hurts more than it should.  It’s the only time when I find myself seriously asking myself… is it worth it?  Why do I even try?  There are a bazillion writers out there, and only a handful will ever become critical and commercial successes.  It would be a better use of my time to play the lottery.

It’s this time when one seriously considers things like going back to work for a corporation–it’s both less stressful and less publicly humiliating–, robbing a bank–how hard or dangerous can that be, really?–or moving to some underdeveloped island nation and putting a marijuana kiosk on the beach.

It’s a sense of ennui that I don’t have when I finish short stories.  There’s always another short project to attack, another deadline coming up.  But novels?  Every.  Single. Time.

Perhaps, to steal the oldest, most hackneyed metaphor ever, writing a novel is exactly like running a marathon.  It takes so much out of you that you need a certain amount of time to recover, and while you do, you feel about as frisky as a squirrel who just got flattened by an eighteen-wheeler.

Anyway, I finished my latest book about a month ago.  This is the first week since then that I’ve felt like life has meaning.

I should probably stick to the short stuff.

Or maybe rob a bank.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer.  His latest book, Timeless, is a modern day thriller that takes place along the beautiful Greek coast.

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A Writer’s First Sale

Typewriter Blues

I think most writers will identify, at least a little bit, with the article below, which I wrote ages ago to try to convey the wonderful feeling and circumstances of my own first sale… I give it here as a public service to those who may not have felt the joy of publication yet.  Hopefully, it will inspire you to push onwards… If I could do it, so can you!

Like most writers, I have a regular job that pays the bills.  And my first sale, in 2005 actually came on a day when I was regretting a recent job switch.

The problem was my new boss, who seemed bent on removing all self-esteem and will to live from his subordinates. With the rest of them away on business, I had been left to bear the brunt alone.  It had been the worst week of my professional life.

Jupiter SF - Issue VII - Pasiphae

Arriving from work depressed and exhausted after nine o’clock, I was handed a manila envelope, with handwritten address.  Inside was a copy of Jupiter SF, a genre magazine printed in black and white.

At first, I was unsure what to make of this.  I had sent them a story, maybe this was a strategy to get me to subscribe.  But then it occurred to me that they might have decided to print my story, and had been unable to inform me due to my change of email.  I leafed through it quickly, and there it was!  “Tenth Orbit” by Gustavo Bondoni.  The magazine in my hand was a contributor’s copy.  The first payment of any kind for my writing.

I must honestly admit that, since changing jobs, I had let my writing slide.  I hadn’t written anything at all in months, and hadn’t even bothered to send rejected stories out to new markets.  Not enough energy.

Nevertheless, at the moment I realized that I was now a published author; my other worries were forgotten.  The satisfaction I felt was not monetary (although, having submitted by email and received a magazine worth four dollars, I had, unusually, come out ahead), but because someone had thought that my story was good enough that people should hand over their hard-earned cash in order to read it.  And that, somewhere, people were doing precisely that.

My drive to write and publish was instantly rekindled.  And I felt I had achieved something truly significant.

Which was something I had really needed.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is still writing, and has since sold over 200 stories and a number of novels.  His book Outside deals with the consequences of posthumanity and transhumanism.

Contributor Copy Reading – An Eclectic Mix

I’ve decided that, since people seem interested, I’ll be making the writing roundups of contributor copies I read a regular feature of the blog.  I’ve recently gone through three contributor’s copies of books that contained my work from 3 or 4 years ago (I make no apologies for this.  If you saw my to-be-read-pile, you’d understand).

For those of you who are not writers, a quick reminder: a contributor’s copy is a magazine or book containing a writer’s work that the publisher sends the writer to keep for his own records or to show it to his friends and brag about it.  They make writers happy, unless the writer’s name is spelled wrong, in which case they make writers homicidal.

Falling Star December 2014

The first of today’s eclectic mix is a small saddle-stitched magazine (saddle-stitching is when the sheets are folded in half and then stapled – a popular magazine binding format) entitled Falling Star.  This one contained my story “A Time to Reflect” which is the sequel to the ever-popular “Dangerous Skies”.  The mag was a quick read not only because of its short length but also because the weird holiday themes were very entertaining.  Recommended.

Love, Time, Space, Magic Cover

Next up is an antho we’ve featured here before.  You may remember that Elizabeth Hirst, the editor of Love, Time, Space, Magic, was here to tell us about the unique challenges of creating an SFF / Romance antho without offending the readers of both genres simultaneously.  She paints a much more edifying picture of that antho in her note than I ever could, so I will only say she succeeded.  I almost never read romance, but this book both entertained and, occasionally, moved me.  It’s a wonderful book.  This one holds my story “Modern Love”.

Apex Book of World SF Volume 2

The third book is perhaps the most interesting of all, as The Apex Book of World SF Vloume 2 aims to showcase the best of non-anglocentric genre work (the “SF” in the title is open ended and includes fantasy and slipstream).  A book like this will always be limited by what is available in English, but the effort to locate these stories is commendable. The book does do a good job of finding good examples and most people, especially anglo-centric people, will enjoy it.

In my case, the only criticism I have for this series is that it tended to focus a little too much on colonial concerns (as in how colonialism affects everyone) and not enough on the real stuff that happens in all these other wonderful countries. What most First World citizens seem to have trouble understanding is that post-colonial thought is of interest only to Americans, Europeans and certain academics or activists within the former colonies.  The rest of the people there don’t care, and aren’t interested in fiction that speaks to it.  However, as World SF which speaks to the concerns of the Americans and Europeans (its target audience, after all), this one works very well.

My story “Eyes in the Vastness of Forever” is reprinted here. It speaks to the concerns of post-colonial thinkers… because I write mainly for American and European audiences… (what, me, a hypocrite?  How can you say such a thing???).

This batch left me shaking my head at just how diverse the genre is thematically speaking.  SFF is wonderful when you stop to think about it.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an award-winning novelist and short story writer who has just launched a new comic fantasy book in the Douglas Adams / Terry Pratchett vein.  He thinks you should read it.  It’s available here.  And also on Kindle.

Books About Writing – There is At Least One You Should Read

When non-writers learn that you are a writer, the reactions are generally classified into two major groups: the ones that think you’re some kind of celebrity who bathes in champagne and is airlifted everywhere on specially modified helicopters and the ones who assume (based on the fact that they haven’t seen your books at their local bookstore window) you are an unpublished novice who needs all the help you can get.

That second group wants to assist, so they tend to give you writing books as gifts.

I’m certain that there are newbies out there who call themselves writers who genuinely need these books.  In my own case, I never told a soul about my writing until I had a number of published stories under my belt (published by other people, not self-published), so I was pretty familiar with messrs Strunk and White (even though I never read their book until much later) when my friends started giving me writing books.

Writing books, I’ve found, are mostly aimed at the writer who’s never sold a word of prose in his life (I assume there are similar tomes aimed at the aspiring poet, but I have no first-hand knowledge of these).

Still, other writers will know that writerly self-image–even those of people who have published a lot–tends to be a fragile thing, so I always read the ones that people give me.  Can’t risk having hubris make you miss the piece of advice that turns you into the next gazillion dollar bestseller.

The latest batch I read included two books.

Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark

The first was Roy Peter Clark’s Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer (since updated to 55 it seems – god, I hope that the one I need to become a gazillionaire isn’t one of hose extra 5!)  This one is one of those that I consider a standard writing guide.  My impression as that it’s a solid primer that lists the things you need to do to avoid embarassing yourself and cut down on the unnecessary rejections (as well as the unfinished projects and the badly edited work sitting in your hard drive).

Perhaps the main thing I can say about this one is that it’s a great guide to what you need to learn and an even better list of the rules you have to break once you learn them.  A friend of mine says that you need to transcend the rules, not merely break them.  For that, I guess you have to know them first.  This is, as far as I can tell, a reasonable place to start.

Published authors may want to give it a miss, though.

The second book is the one writeng book I’d recommend to absolutely everyone.  The author starts by saying that he doesn’t know s**t about what works and what doesn’t and goes from there.

Stephen King On Writing

Most of you will already have guessed that I’m talking about Stephen King’s On Writing.

I won’t pretend that I’m an expert on King.  I don’t read that much horror, so I’ve read three or four of his books at most, and find his style accessible to point of annoying me at times…  but no one who can’t tell a story extremely well will have sold as many copies of any genre as he has.  Any writer who doesn’t respect King is likely either a snob or a wet-behind-the-ears newbie with no clue what publishing looks like.  He has earned the right to make us listen.

And his writing book is marvelous.  He doesn’t try to tell us what we have to do.  He tells us what he did, and what he does.  He tells us his life story, and how he came to be a storyteller.  He tells us what it felt to make a life-altering (at least on the economc front) sale. He tells us how important it is to have a support structure in place.

Then, in the least interesting part of the book, he goes on to tell us what works and what doesn’t, contradicting himself, but giving us value for our money.  “If this is what works for Stephen King…” we say, and try to do it.  Even these bits are well written and a lot less dry than most writing books out there.  So, yeah recommended.

Anyway, if you’re just starting out, then read both of these.  The Clark first.  But if you know what you’re doing, and haven’t done so, pick up the King.  It is so much more than just a book on writing.  It’s the writing memoir you wish you could have written.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist.  If you followed a link here because you saw Stephen King’s name on the post, and are a horror fan, you might like Gustavo’s story Pacific Wind – available for Kindle at 99 cents!