I'm thinking back on a conversation I had with Kelly (one of my core beta readers) many moons ago. To be fair, it's a conversation I've had with a number of people over the years, outlining various stages of how I do what I do - but I don't think I've ever outlined it in full.
What does happen more often is that people will ask me what I'm working on. It used to be the case that they'd ask, 'are you working on anything?' - to which the answer is usually 'yes.' So now they ask the better question: the 'what am I working on?' And even then, the answer seems to stagger a number of people. Eyes wide, jaws dropping. Words of disbelief.
As is, I'm working on a number of novellas at various stages, along with a couple of novelettes, also at various stages, ideally, all of which will be tied off by the end of 2019. Which then leaves me free to write the new novel in early 2020 - and which I plan to start outlining in December 2019.
Anyhow. This is where I talk game: how I do what I do. There's an American phrase, 'your mileage may vary', as my approach might not work for you. It's just my approach. So. Welcome to Game, 101.
Hangtime at FantasyCon 2019 with Kit Power. This good man is an author, essayist, reviewer, friend - and also one of my trusted beta readers.
1. WRITE. I cannot stress this point enough, because this is the bottom line, this is the alpha-omega - this is what makes it all possible. And it's so deceptively simple on paper that this is arguably what some people will miss. You ever hear sayings such as 'everyone starts somewhere'? Or 'the longest journey starts with a single step'? Etc. etc. etc.
i) Start writing something.
ii) Finish writing something.
This is the bread-and-butter of it all. This is how you not only produce a story, but stories. As an author, your job is to write. This is how I do. I could go into depth just on the writing itself. I've had this conversation with Kelly before, in terms of levels of game.
a) First of all you need a level of game to write a story. It's no mean feat.
b) The next level of game is to actually finish a story - and this is arguably where a lot of people will fail: from novices to more seasoned writers. Again, it's deceptively simple on paper (ha!).
c) Once you actually finish a story, the next level is to polish it to a degree of quality that you and a paying audience will be happy with, which means...
2. EDIT & POLISH YOUR WORK. Chances are that your first draft of a story isn't as good as you can make it. To spend so long writing a piece of fiction means that you may be too close to the work to see any flaws in it. How then do you catch those errors? Those flaws and inconsistencies? Again, here's what I do (and your mileage may vary):
i) Distance yourself from the work. Once a story's written, I take time away from it, usually at least a couple of weeks (so I can go back to it with fresh eyes). Time to do anything but look at that particular story. What do I do in the meantime? Possibly write something else. But once I'm ready to clean up the work...
ii) Clean up the grammar/typo slips. Because I type at speed in order to finish the draft ASAP, my first draft will be sloppy with typos. Rife with them. But I don't care. Why? Because at least I have a finished draft. I also read the draft aloud. What this does is not only help you catch those grammar/spelling slips, but also illustrate how your narrative sounds. Where your pauses and inflection should go. Which helps you polish the work even further. Which leads me to:
iii) Beta readers. These are the readers who will read the draft once the author is done writing it. They can look for any and everything in the draft beyond typos and grammar slips. What works. What doesn't. Plot holes. Character arcs. Etc. Note when I'm between writing projects, I offer to beta work for other authors. This is for a number of reasons:
a) It helps other authors.
b) It keeps my critical eye sharp for my own work
c) It means when I need a beta read for my work, other authors are more likely to assist.
To a degree, a beta read may be a matter of opinion. What works for one reader might not work for another. You as an author need honesty and conviction to take on board a reader's critique: whether that's parts of it, all of it, none of it. What matters is that you use that critique where possible to bring out the best in your work. Over the years, I've built a beta team that consistently deliver. Not only for honest constructive critique but those who also appreciate the vision I have for where my stories take the reader. And as such, I'll happily do beta work for them - and others.
3. GET YOUR WORK PUBLISHED. Easier said than done, right? For many things, I maintain it might not be easy - but it sure as hell isn't impossible. If at any point you think you can't, chances are good that you won't. Writing isn't for everyone. But you won't know if it's for you until you try. Yes, some people have a natural ability for something. But I guarantee that no one will become world-class at anything without working at it. The barometers of quality I use are
a. would I proudly put my name on it?
b. would I buy it?
- and I work to get my product to that standard.
Now you could go the self-publishing route. I won't - not yet, at least. I won't rule it out completely but right now, that's additional heavy lifting I won't take on. So I leave that to the publishers.
So. Imagine you've written a story. Polished it, had beta readers look at it, gotten it as tight as can be. All ready to send to the publisher of your choice. Sending a manuscript to a publisher is a submission. Some publishers are forever open to submissions. Some have a specific period of time - a submission window - in which you can send them a manuscript. While some publishers will look at submissions from an agent, let's talk open submissions - which are where you don't need an agent in order to send the publisher a manuscript. Let's assume that the publisher(s) you have in mind are a good fit for your work and are good people to do business with (which is a whole other topic).
When you send the publisher a manuscript, they won't necessarily look straight away. Not when they're getting submissions from other authors. That mountain of submissions from all those authors is known as a slush-pile. Your manuscript will be part of that slush-pile. Even if they decide to go with your particular manuscript, it will take them time to get there. Weeks. Months. Timescales that aren't unheard of. After all, to read so many stories can be time-consuming. So what can you do while you're waiting for them to get to your story? Answer - write. And if your story is rejected? Look at why. While the publisher may say it's not for them, or they don't like the pace, etc. that doesn't necessarily mean it's no good. By all means, take on board what they say. But look at your work and honestly decide if it's something you'll proudly put your name to, and something you'd buy. If not, get your work to that level. If it's there, then send that work back out to a different publisher. Rejections are part and parcel of the game. But don't take my word for it:
Let's assume that your work is now top-notch and gets sold to the publisher of your choice, and does the rounds in the market. A big assumption, given the various reasons why your work might not land with a publisher, (e.g. work from other authors is a better fit). Ideally, the audience will love your work, and come back for more of it. But writing is a time-consuming process. Reading, however, is arguably much faster to do than writing. So a story that took you some months to write (let alone edit and polish) is something that a reader can consume in a fraction of the time. Best-case scenario, how do you satisfy those readers? Answer - you keep writing. This doesn't necessarily mean you write everyday. If you can (and do), more power to you. What's more important that is you consistently keep knocking out product.
The illustration I use is that grocery stores don't do business because they have just one loaf of bread, or bottle of milk, or frozen pizza. No. They do business in part because they've got shelves of bread, fridges of milk, and cabinets of frozen pizza. That last story you wrote - even if it's the best story ever - will be just one story of many that your audience would look for from you. Let alone what they're also looking at from other authors. Which brings me back to the same bottom line as before - to keep knocking out product. In short: write. Which brings me to...
4. MANAGE YOUR WORK SCHEDULE. Again, this is how I work (so, for anyone else, 'your mileage may vary'). If I'm sending one story to one publisher, that may be easy to keep track of. But I'm 'always' writing. So I'm always sending stuff to publishers. Publishers can be great and supportive, but they're also people. As such, they can be delayed for a number of reasons in responding to you, or letting you know whether they accept your manuscript or not. Some publishers will be upfront about this, and tell you in advance to respond to a particular email address if you've not had a response on your submission by a particular date.
Since I'll do a number of submissions of different stories, I keep a schedule of:
when I sent it
where I sent it to
when I should expect a response by
whether it was accepted or rejected, or still in 'submitted' status
when to follow up by if I've not had a response
Of course, I don't sit idle waiting for a response on a submission, since I'm often writing. What it does mean is that I keep a close eye on what submissions are at what stage. Note that I don't just keep a schedule of what submissions I currently have with publishers, but also what work I need to get written. The more stories I work on and the more publishers I work with, the more I need to coordinate/schedule everything so I can get it all done. The comparison I use here is that jugglers have two hands, but juggle several balls at the same time. Similarly, I'm mindful to keep work moving. The more work I keep moving, the more likely I am to sell something sooner.
In an ideal world, those submissions are accepted, and I then work with the publisher to get the manuscript even tighter before a book sees release in print and/or e-book, whatever the case might be. Both writer and publisher want the best product possible to hit the market, so we work together to make that happen. That might mean compromise along with diplomacy, tact, etc. Which should be pretty straightforward, if you're looking at a publisher that's a good fit for your work. What matters is to bring professionalism to your work, regardless of who you work with. Not all business relationships pan out. For those that don't, there'll be others that will. Either way, when your work is accepted by a publisher, sooner or later, it'll be available to buy. Which brings me to...
5. PROMOTE YOUR WORK. I know a number of authors have said that they're not comfortable promoting their work. But even if your stories would set the world on fire, they won't spark anything if people don't know about them.
The approach I take to promotion of work is on a number of levels. First of all is to spread the word. That means:
i) before the work is released
ii) when the work is released
iii) after the work is released
This encompasses such things as teasers on social media, cover reveals, excerpts from the story, book reviews/interviews with bloggers and reviewers. Along with podcast interviews, as well as attending actual conventions and signings.
In terms of bloggers and reviewers, bear in mind that they - like publishers - may also have a large pile of author requests to work through (not submissions). A distinction here is that while publishers may tell you whether your submission was accepted or rejected, reviewers may mention upfront that they can't review every work sent to them. On top of that, a number of reviewers may do this without any payment, aside from their love of reading and the genre. This is notable because there are some authors who show a sense of entitlement that their work isn't reviewed sooner, or given a more glowing review.
As I often tell people: no matter what you write, no matter what your craft: music, sports, journalism, dance, whatever - there will always be those who simply don't like what you do. And that's their right. In light of that, throwing a strop against the reviewer is not only ignorant, but self-damaging. The global genre community can be tight-knit and strong - but I guarantee that a tsunami of fuck-you will rise up if you ever throw such a strop. Even if it's in an email to a reviewer. Chances are good that the reviewer will expose your foolishness to the world. And you'll see firsthand just how large the community is.
Reviewers, like the publishers and the editors and the fellow authors, along with the artists/illustrators, et al, will serve to elevate the genre, get it in front of an audience and keep it there. What will also help promote your work is to support them the same way that they support you. That doesn't mean to blindly support any and everyone. Which is unrealistic, because you won't like any and everything. But, by all means, if someone else's work moves you, say so. There's no shame in that - just the opposite. Spread the word about how cool someone's artwork is. Or how chilling their last story was. How their editorial work on your story made it so much sharper. Celebrate your peers as they celebrate you. All of this shows you as more than some trader shouting about their latest release - it shows that you love the genre. Which is something your audience can get behind.
Beyond all of this, there are a lot of exponents in the genre. It may be challenging to shout loud enough to be heard. What will matter more is to 'shout' often. The more consistently you are engaging your audience, the easier it is to keep them, and reward them. For me, that means regular update of my pages: my website (including the journal), my social media pages, Amazon pages, author section on publisher pages, etc. One surefire way to promote your work is to keep working. All going well, your audience will love your work, and they'll keep an eye out for what comes next. So, like the O'Jays said; 'Give The People What They Want.'
Of course, the bottom line is that writing will drive all of this. So write.
There it is - Game, 101.