Monthly Archives: April 2011

5 rules…still the same.

In a previous post I touched on the first two of Robert Heinlein’s five rules for writing speculative fiction.  Those rules first appeared in an essay back in 1947, and, even today, they are the best rules that any new writer could follow when trying to break in. 

1. You must write.
2. You must finish what you write.
3. You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
4. You must put the work on the market.
5. You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.

While these rules were conceived 60 years prior to electronic publishing, they are just as relevent as they ever were…even for the digital self-publisher.

Rule 1.  You must write.

This is still the most important of all.  It’s what we, the writers, do.  But I have met a good many people who are infatuated with the idea of being a writer.  They spend learning about the craft through professional writer’s blogs and other online resources, but only put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) when they ‘have time’ or the ‘right idea’ comes to them, producing only a small amount of new material every year…then these stories have the life rewritten out of them…then MAYBE they are submitted to one market, rejected, filed away as crap and never heard from again. 

In digital publishing, it’s exactly the same.  You have to write, to sell ANYTHING.


Rule 2.  You must finish what you write.

This is pretty self-explanatory, I think.

Rule 3. You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.

This rule expands on rule 2.  At some point, you have to be finished.  Constantly rewriting, kills a story and a dead story won’t sell.  I’m sorry.  However, if an editor says he will buy a story of you rewrite certain parts to make it fit what he publishes, then by all means, do it. 

How does this one apply to digital publishing?  The same way:  You have to be finished and move on to the next project.  The self-publishing model works on the ever-increasing catalog of material you can create.  If your first readers all point out the same problem, then fix it ( if you agree) and publish.  But don’t go through an endless cycle of rewriting.

Rule 4. You must put the work on the market.

This is what we did when trying to break in to traditional publishing.  Submit, Submit, Submit.  Digital self-publishers still do the same thing, only we’re bringing our work directly to the market.  It’s really no different.

Rule 5. You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.

When submitting to traditional publishing, it is possible to run out of markets…or at least, get tired of the rejections for a particular story.  So it gets retired and filed away where it won’t do anything for you.  The time spent writing it, is then pissed away.

With Digital publishing, this is the easiest rule of all.  It allows you to dig into that  back list, put it on the market and it will be at work for you forever and ever as long as the digital retailers stay in business.


When I speak of the trials, tribulations and mistakes that new writers make when trying to break in, I’m speaking from experience.  I’ve made every mistake I’ve talked about here.  But Digital publishing gives us the means to side step all of the road blocks the Big Pub has put in our way and be in control of our writing careers.  It will take work…more work than it takes to break into paper publishing.  But these same rules that have served writers since 1947, will continue to do so in this new golden age of publishing. 

The new writer will (still) do well to follow them closely.


The Perfect Fit

If you’ve come from the same (largely outdated) school of thought that I have with regards to breaking into traditional publishing, you learned a few unbreakable rules when it came to submissions.  Of these, the biggest was likely:  FOLLOW SUBMISSION GUIDELINES.

It’s not unusual for a market’s guidelines to include the provision:  Any submission not adhering to these guidelines will be automatically rejected.  This is one of the walls put up by Big-Pub to help keep out those that aren’t serious and will likely waste the editor’s time.  The slush pile is huge and the guidelines are means to help keep it manageable.  Even still, an editor will generally stick with the first five pages or less of a short story before deciding to read on or have his secretary stuff your return envelope with a form rejection for your collection.

Word Count is the one that gives me the most trouble.  Most of my stories end up hovering in the 15,000 to 20,000 word range after I’ve cut out the pork.  In my experience, these lengths are harder to sell.  The major science fiction magazine will accommodate them, but usually only one per issue.  That’s a lot of words to have just out there in submission limbo competing for such limited real estate.

Maybe I’m showing my lack of patience here, but it seems like a waste of time – especially if you have a backlog of stories in those hard-to-sell lengths. 

So what do you do?  How do you get that material to work for you as soon as its ready for primetime?

Electronic publishing, of course.

Since I’ve started to self publish on Kindle and other formats, I’ve found a new sense of motivation to write.  I don’t have to wait months for my writing to get to my audience.  I’m not blocked by that 15,000 word barrier.  I can write as much, or as little, as I want and all it takes is a few hours of work to prep it, format it as an E-book, create a cover, and put it out there.  If it’s priced right, and I’ve let my audience know that new material is available, someone will buy it.  After that, it’s up to my writing to keep people checking back for more.  And thanks to this new digital publishing revolution, I can put out stories right when the audience will want them most to maximize their interest.

That’s not to say their still aren’t submission guidelines (of sorts).  Your .doc or .html file has to be set up properly to convert over to .mobi, or whatever format, to display correctly on e-readers.  But rather than a road block to discourage a writer from submitting, these guidelines serve to help make you look like a professional.  If you’re self-publishing, this is second only to writing a good story.  Stephen King had it right in On writing.  You have to show up looking like a professional.  This, to me, is the biggest thing that carries over to e-publishing from traditional publishing.  Time and time again, I see in reviews for self-published e-books, the reviewer enjoyed the story, but the e-book had lots of formatting issues.  A good many reviews are not nearly as kind.

I’m still new to self-publishing, but I learned a lot from my first e-book.  The second one is going well and a sample will be available soon.

Don’t let the stigma of the old submission guidelines that has kept those books and stories that aren’t quite the right size for (insert market here) in your inventory.  They have a place, and an audience, waiting for them online.

Really at work?

As a resource for the new writer, the internet (in my opinion) can easily be regarded as a mixed blessing.

Hundreds of professional writers pay it forward daily.  They donate their very valuable time to empart their knowledge and experience to millions of new writers…for free.   Until the last decade, to reach the number writers that are educated on a daily basis, it would take thousands upon thousands of traditional workshops.

One of the first things a new writer will seek out is writing advice.  “How do I write a novel?”   is one of the most subjective questions a new writer will come across…and it’s only the tip of the iceburg. 

Because there is no one right answer to this question, an undisciplined writer can spend weeks reading the blogs of every writer they ever enjoyed, looking for the answer that suits them best.

That’s right…weeks.

That’s weeks of limited precious writing time cut back to a fraction of  what it could have been.

Then there’s the inevitable progression to learning about the business of writing.  There is no shortage of blogs that talk extensively on this subject, and it’s necessary learning.

Traditonal publishing, E-publishing, composing, editing, marketing, agents, contracts…no shortage of things to learn and no shortage of resources on the internet.  Resources that take time to explore.  Resources that can be so immersive, a writer will only manage a hundred words of actual writing and call it a day.

Believe me…I know.  And I know I’m not the only one that has experienced this.

This is why nailing down a good writing discipline from the start is so vitally important.  This internet makes it so easy to fall into the trap of learning everything there is to know about this business from everyone that is teaching it without finishing a single story, and defeats the purpose of learning it all in the first place.

Don’t take this to mean that I think a new writer shouldn’t use this resource.  The internet makes this the best time to be writer since the turn of the last century, in my opinion.  But we have to know how and when to divide our time between the learning of the business and the learning of the job (writing).

No amount of learning the business will help one put words on the page for you to sell.

Dean Wesley Smith preaches Heinlein’s 5 rules of writing speculative fiction, that can be applied to writing all genres.  Rules #1 & #2 stop most new writers before they get started.

Rule #1 – You must right. 

Rule #2 – You must finish what you write.  ***I still wrestle with this one , admittedly, but I’m beating it more and more often.

If you find yourself knowing all the ins and outs of a contract’s Right of First Refusal Clause, but have been going round and round on the same page of a short story you’ve been working on for a month, it may be time to reexamine how you spend your writing time.

Learn all you can, but get your butt back in the chair.  I bet you’ve got a story to tell.

(I just spent 40 minutes on this 522 word post…see what I mean?)

Back to work

Now that the novelty of publishing my first Ebook is out of the way, there’s work to be done.  Working on prepping another story for Kindle, of course, but more importantly, getting back to work on a new original story.

This shift to the digital age made me wonder if information could ever be as valuable as something like gold.

I guess I’ll find out when I get to the end.