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.


About Thomas J. rock

Writer of Science Fiction

Posted on April 29, 2011, in The Daily Grind. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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