Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Aspirations, Tolerances, and Strategies

I was just looking at Duotrope, and it has an option to sort potential markets by acceptance ratio. It got me thinking about a friend I'd had back home who had that as her main criteria- she was starting out and she was more afraid of rejection than she was emphatic about high end publications. I had another friend who looked first and foremost at a market's turn around time. With some exceptions (reprints, solicited work, venues I personally love), I submit to pro markets, and I aim most ardently for the ones that publish fiction I really like. My acceptance ratio's pretty low, but when I do make a sale, I feel like the biggest rock star there ever was. I have another friend who's told me he writes principally for the money- it's work and he expects payment.

I think it's important, as you go on, to know what you want from your writing. Not necessarily an end game, but certainly a direction.

Here are some questions to help you think about what you want:

1. What is your pipe dream scenario? (pick just one)

Mine, for example, is to write genre stories so awesome they come up with a brand new award for awesome stories and they name it after me, and for another full century, the Wilder is an honor that commands respect.

Yours might be something like, write a book or series so commercially successful it gets made into blockbuster movies, games, toys, theme parks, etc, and you are able to have more money than god. It might be getting the clout or reputation to be put in charge of your favorite existing property, or given all the resources to create a new one. It might be to write something so insightful and timely that it's taught in schools for a hundred years after. It might be to be so prolific and influential within a genre that your name becomes a byword for that type of fiction. Nobel prize for literature. Bringing down a government.

Go crazy. You don't have to achieve this one, it's just there as a platonic ideal of your career, to set your compass by but very likely never actually reach.

2. What are your fail conditions? (as many as you like)

Under what circumstances would you turn away from writing and not come back? When does it stop being worth it?

For example (and again, it doesn't matter if someone else thinks these are good standards. They're for you personally):

  • You go five years without selling anything
  • You are never able to crack the pro market
  • Your fiction skill plateaus below your expectations
  • You are selling as well as you reasonably can, and still below $20,000 a year
  • Your books meet with consistently poor reviews
  • The stress of writing makes you more unhappy than happy
  • You no longer have enough time for your other interests
  • You are no longer in a position to write the things you want
  • Your mother disapproves of your fiction
  • You are never able to obtain a traditional publisher
  • You are rejected and dismissed by the people who you were writing for
  • A religious leader puts a bounty on your life (also conceivably a pipe dream for some)
You can keep going with your own. If you can look at an idea and go "well, in that case I'd just _____ and keep writing" it's not a fail condition for you. 

You have fail conditions, even if you don't want to admit you do. Writing is like anything else, there will be times when it is not the healthy choice, and you need to know when those are for you. 

For me it's a skill plateau (assuming training, exercises, whatever I could think of had been exhausted), or writing ceasing to make me more happy than unhappy. 

3. What is the most you're willing to write/publish? What is the least?

James Patterson had a year where his name was on the byline of thirteen novels. Ted Chiang produced 12 short stories in 15 years. How fast can you write? What is the relationship between speed and quality in your work? Would you be satisfied writing two or three novels a year? Would you be willing to forego publishing anything for a year or two to make sure you got one thing just the way you wanted it? Five? Ten?

4. What are you willing or unwilling to write for money?

You have your interests and personal passions. What about everything else? Other genres? Apolitical work? Work for different audiences? Non-fiction? Children's books? Pornography? Something pretensious and academic? Something broad and lowest common denominator? Where is your line? Where is the place where if someone came to you with a suitcase of money you would say "no, I don't do that sort of thing"?

Pushing your boundaries is important, but knowing where your boundaries actually are is the base of that.

5. Ideally, how much of your time does writing occupy? What is the most time you're comfortable with it taking up?

It's okay to do this as a hobby. That doesn't make you less a person. But if your goal is to put out Steven King level amounts of work, you're going to need to give it 12+ hours a day. Can you do that? Can you do that without alienating everyone you've ever loved? Remember you only get one life, and your kids only get one childhood.

Think about it, and recognize that your answers don't have to satisfy anyone else. These are questions just for you.

Good luck, and have fun. 

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