30 July, 2012

Marketability Means Marketing, Part One: Don't Agonise

"Don't waste your talent," said Ian M. Banks.

As this is a blog for writers, let's begin with a story.  Starting from the beginning with our third topic, marketability, means making a simple point about being forthright, and I was fortunate to learn firsthand via a perfect illustration.

We'll begin with a setting:  Alt.Fiction, 2011. I'm sitting on a red chair only slightly nicer than those at the cinema, watching a well lit, dignified stage upon which some awesome writers and editors are making speeches and receiving awards.  After the ceremonies, I move to the bar, find myself next to a dude in glasses who asks if I've enjoyed the show.

"As an aspirant myself I've got to say, it's awesome to see so many great writers all in one place.  It's like seeing a future home from the outside," I said.

"Oh?" he replied.  "Like to write, do you?"

I told him about the MA, the MFA, Scott Bradfield and Paul McAuley and a few minor publications.  Next thing I knew this guy introduces himself as Ian Sales, editor, critic and writer.  He paid for my beer and brought me backstage.  I followed, dazed, wondering if this was a cruel joke or something.  I soon found myself surrounded by dozens of my favourite authors all in the same room!  And the really amazing part?  They all wanted to talk to me!

I was introduced to Ian M. Banks (for cryin' out loud!).  He shook my hand (I recall the man as a giant, though it may just be that I was feeling the size of a peanut) and asked how my work was going.  I told him I'd met Andrew Hedgecock at the Manchester Book Fair a month or so ago, and upon learning who I'd apprenticed under, he'd asked to see my work.

"Have you sent your story, yet?"

"I've been writing lots of stories," I said.  "I don't think they're ready, yet."

Ian stood up even higher, gave me a long critical stare.  "Don't waste your talent, boy.  If an editor asks to see your work, send them the best you've got, right away.  Let Mr Hedgecock decide if it's good enough, before he forgets meeting you."

I skipped away from this little conversation, bouncy-beans bursting in my brain like so:  "Ian Banks just implied that he thinks there's a chance I might be talented!!!!!!!"

So what's the point?  Don't agonise.  You should still re-draft your work.  Paul McAuley and Ian Banks would get their first drafts rejected, too.  (Paul actually said this to me in person.)  But don't agonise!  Once it's as good as you know how to make it, get it's a*s off the computer screen and into an email and/or letter box.  I actually received a prompt rejection from Andrew Hedgecock, but that's beside the point.  In truth, though I didn't realise this at the time, I'm almost certain he thought it very unlikely that he would publish my first submission.  In all likelihood, upon hearing that Scott and Paul thought I was worth investing some time and energy into, Mr Hedgecock just wanted to see my work for himself.

Try this exercise:  make a list markets.  This is time consuming and annoying, but it's worth the investment. First, pitch the ball to the highest mountain top.  Don't be discouraged if top markets reject your work.  Instead be proud to have competed for space with those authors you admire.  Even the best sometimes get their work rejected from those places.  Upon rejection take a brief, objective look.  (See next week's lesson:  "Write Every Day, Part Two:  Without Hope and Without Despair".)  Can you make it better?  Yes?  No?  Once your answer is "no", shove it in the letter box that same day to a slightly lesser market--so on, so forth.

Here's the best place in the world to look up markets: https://duotrope.com/.  It's clean, professional, free, you don't need to sign up to search, and every market worth their chops will advertise there.  It is the Google of the publishing industry. I've placed a link on my "Useful Sites" section (bottom right), too.

The point?  No one's going to send your work out for you until you have an agent, and no agent's going to want you until you send some work out.  So, if you're in the same position as I was, it's time to send some work out.

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