October 8th, 2008


Side Note as I Work

It's Wednesday, and Raven is ensconced in my lap. He came running because I was singing along to "Dear Prudence" and for some reason, he loves it more than anything else in the world when I sing. What a weird cat.

One of the things I've been poking at over the past week is a suggested ToC for the collection, and it got me to thinking about career strategies. Because from my perspective, we neo-pros get told a number of different things.

Here's the thing: one starts writing and trying to break into the field.  This happens in several ways:
  • One writes a novel and sends it off to the Endless Pit of Consideration. We've all heard the horror stories of halls lined with unread manuscripts, writers sending birthday cards to their manuscripts, and on and on. The best and most determined send that novel off and start on another immediately. Go them. This is slow stuff, and career highlights occur at a glacial pace.
  • One writes stories and sends them off. Researching the field consists of catch-as-catch-can stuff, wisdom garnered from reading the multiplicity of writing blogs and books. Through persistence and a dogged willingness to keep sending stuff out, publications begin to accrue. There's a bit more encouragement here, because stories get accepted/published faster (usually) and then sometimes you get nice reviews or notes from people.
  • One starts writing, either a novel or short stories, and goes through one of the processing mills of f&sf, a workshop like Odyssey, Clarion, Clarion West, Clarion Moonbase Alpha, etc. Here a well-meaning pro or series of pros will tell you short stories is the way to go or else that novels are the way to go. Sometimes they will tell you both at the same time. These folks have a slight edge over the folks in groups one and two, because they do learn something about the publishing industry in a crash course that also helps them make contacts. A condensed version of this are writing workshops at cons. 
The more you learn, the more you work at writing, in terms of both one's own writing and learning about the industry, the better your chances. At Norwescon one year, Bill Dietz said that persistence, talent, and likeability are all factors. You can get by on two.  You probably cannot get by on just one.

But I digress.

At any rate, some people say short stories are the way to break into the field.  They don't usually give you the second part of that, which is that it's not enough to have a scattering of stories in lower-tier magazines. You need some grade-A stories of the sort that get awards, and a luminous, evocative, knock-your-socks-off talent of the sort manifested by Ted Chiang or Paolo Bacigalupi.
Good luck with that part -- I haven't managed it, but one can always aspire.

Short stories can get you noticed, I think, because editors read magazines and anthologies, and people do look to see who is apearing regularly in Year's Best collections.  But then there comes a what then? sort of moment
, a hitch in the step where you don't really know where your energy should be going. Pushing an editor to try and get a collection out? Finish a novel and start it circulating? Grabbing for the brass ring of YA-fueled multimillions? (Ha.)

So...there's people on all sides of the question reading this, (or so I hope). Are short stories really a good career strategy? What do you do after you've had a few published? Are there things new writers should be doing at this point -- for example, researching how Year's Best anthologies are put together and how to make sure their work gets considered for it?

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