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Lee Battersby
Posted on Friday, October 21, 2005 - 08:36 am:   

As of tonight, my article on getting published is up at the Australian Horror Writer's Association website, to whit: http://www.darkanimus.com/hwa.html

Go, read, come back here, argue, point bones, give me links to offensive pornography, whatever you like...
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Geoffrey Maloney
Posted on Saturday, October 22, 2005 - 07:19 am:   

Lee, It's full of motherhood statements. There's nothing to disagree with. What did you expect people would argue about? We've read it all before, on countless sites all over the internet.
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AT
Posted on Saturday, October 22, 2005 - 03:29 pm:   

Geoff, "There's nothing to disagree with" just shows what's wrong. So I will say that I think this best lesson in the world is pure misdirection:
The best lesson in the world: Memorise Heinlein’s 3 rules of writing—

a) Write something every day.

b) Finish everything you write

c) Send out everything you finish.


I once contemplated walking on water, as I gazed at the Rio de la Plata in Buenos Aires. I could have, treading like a lily hopper, on the bank-to-bank garbage floating on this river.

In my opinion, these three rules produce walkable rivers, too. IMHO: Writing to write is as silly (and obnoxious) as speaking to speak. Finishing something that just is not working is doing oneself a disservice. Being able to judge that it is not going to, even if there are radical changes made, is a valuable act in itself. And sending out everything produced not only negates the need to self-judge, but is an insult to anyone forced to read this my-words-are-gold rubbish. Sometimes they are, but that's where self-critical judgement must be exercised.

Sure, there's something to that diktat to write every day, just as there is for musicians to practice every day, but they don't generally flog their practice sessions as finished works.

Fiction should be the product of experience, observation and research, and contemplation. And I do think that those elements are the most important elements.

What I'm getting at is that these 3 rules are for factory producers, but they're not even good rules for them. Even factories that produce cheap socks have a quality control culler before the goods go out.

These rules also, I think, warp what the purpose of writing. They inevitably make people more interested in being a w***** than in the communication that is the fiction being the irresistible end of a series of events. Fiction is not loved on the basis of how much an author wrote, but on the perceived value of the work itself. Some great authors wrote hardly anything. Some had only one book in them (though, in some sad cases, many more were published).

Well, that's it from me re those unassailable 3 rules. As for some of the other points in the essay, they too, are arguable (and not just from a devil's advocate's position) so I'm glad that Lee wrote this piece. The opinions expressed are his own, and any honest essay such as this one deserves respect, especially as he invited other points of view.
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AliceB
Posted on Saturday, October 22, 2005 - 06:14 pm:   

Not to rain on the parade, but regarding the value of sparse fiction, you might like to take a look at this thread.

Best,
Alice
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AT
Posted on Saturday, October 22, 2005 - 07:00 pm:   

Oh, yes! Can you imagine what Wodehouse would have been like, had he been pushed through that mangler? Take, for instance, this scrap from a sentence in one of his letters.

But for the help I derived from your insolent familiarity with chickens...

And worst of all, that magnificent darling - Wodehouse's extraneous 'f'- would have probably been as wrung out as a chicken's last squawk.
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Lee Battersby
Posted on Saturday, October 22, 2005 - 08:40 pm:   

Sure, and Wodehouse's style was fine for the times, and for the genre in which he was working. But I can't imagine that style would do much to woo modern horror readers, which is where the article was aimed. Unless you were hoping to terrify them with the horrors of Upper class England :-)

I probably should have made it more clear that the article was aimed at beginning horror writers, hence its appearance on the AHWA site. I agree that established writers have a distinct voice, and the great ones have geat voices, but I think that beginners just have to concentrate on getting work completed and into the world.

I think it's appropriate to tell beginners that they need to write, finish, and send. It's not advice I'd give someone established, but I think there's only one real way to learn your craft, and that's to get the hard-nosed responses from those doing the business, which for me means editors. By getting a good volume of work complete and out in front of a variety of professionaly critical eyes, the beginning writer gives themself the highest volume of accurate writing advice.

But I do like the difference in our approaches, AT & AliceB, and I'd lay money on them all working. After all, they've obviously worked for us. Part of the reason I invited people to respond was to expose myself to other ways of working.

I just wonder why nobody's sending me porn... :-)
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ben peek
Posted on Saturday, October 22, 2005 - 09:48 pm:   

I probably should have made it more clear that the article was aimed at beginning horror writers, hence its appearance on the AHWA site. I agree that established writers have a distinct voice, and the great ones have geat voices, but I think that beginners just have to concentrate on getting work completed and into the world.

that kind of advice doesn't actually build a voice in an author, however.
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AT
Posted on Saturday, October 22, 2005 - 10:32 pm:   

I don't mean to write in the style of Wodehouse any more than I mean that people should try to imitate Carver or Leonard or Link or VanderMeer or Shepard, or Sadie Smith or Banville )who just won the Booker on the strength of his unspare language, not his unripping tale)
- or anyone.

What I meant is that I think one should serve the story by telling it however it needs to tell it best, and that means that voice is important, so different stories suit different ways of telling - some spare as a burnt tree, and some, bursting with herbage - each according to its needs. I am saying that the voice of the story is what's needed developing. Not the voice of the author, especially an inexperienced author (and this is said from the standpoint of someone pretty inexperienced, but nevertheless, opinionated - a fault in myself). And as for sending, I still think hmmm, but if it works, I shouldn't decry it.

As for Wodehouse,I was only using Wodehouse as an example, but I'd wager he'll be discovered by those who are surprised, as I was fairly recently, by what he actually wrote (as opposed to his reputation) and the level of his superb craftsmanship - he often did "make every word count" - many years after the works of Leonard and Carver and some other revered exemplars today rest in peaceful landfills as do the many editions of the once authoritative Radiation Cookbook.
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AT
Posted on Sunday, October 23, 2005 - 02:31 am:   

Lee, I think you put your finger on what I would think is the greatest strength of Clarion: the range of approaches. It's very nice that you've invited responses. I don't know if my responses are constructive, but they are meant to be.
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Lee Battersby
Posted on Sunday, October 23, 2005 - 04:53 am:   

I admit it, guv. I'm a LitGeek. I love talking shop, with anyone and everyone. Bring it on :-)
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AT
Posted on Sunday, October 23, 2005 - 03:45 pm:   

You asked for it, so now I'm going to be so heretical, you can pile papers below me at the stake and bring that pyre-lighter on.

The best thing that could happen to many people who go to writing workshops is that something happens to them on the way - cataclysmic life - for a few years, give or take a few failures and epiphanies. This has nothing to do with age, but with levels of discomfort, surprise, untowardness in life. There are too many people who want to write whose lives have been too damn smooth, and who live cocooned amongst others who live similarly. While Clarion is called 'boot camp', I think the real boot camp is experiences, observation, listening.

Then when it comes to writing, the next best boot camp, I think, is being forbidden to write anything tainted with I - autobiographical fiction - which is why so many reporters not into gonzo narcissism wrote/write great fiction.

So burn me, as long as those scrunched papers are all 100% rag bond. Why burn for less?

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Lee Battersby
Posted on Sunday, October 23, 2005 - 04:09 pm:   

Actually, I agree :-)

Writers have to speak about something, to have some opinion that twists their writing into a pointed weapon. Like comedians, it's often not what is said but the attitude with which it is said that creates the emotional response. IMHO, no great art comes from a place of comfort. Even if it's just a grumpy sense of dissatisfaction, the writer has to want to create a change. After all, how boring is a story that says "This is the way it was, and it was all rather nice and everyone was content, the end."

Of course, the good thing about boot-camp workshops like Clarion is that they give you a crucible into which you can pour a teensy-tiny, laboratory created cataclysm, even if it's just having someone come along and puncture your self-worth for a week. Not that I'm giving away anything of what I intend to do :-)

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Geoffrey Maloney
Posted on Monday, October 24, 2005 - 04:39 am:   

Hi, I'll chime in again here. I guess one of the problems I had with the article and also with the discussion on this thread so far, is that it assumes that there are these people out there who can be classified as "beginning' writers and others who can be classified as "established" writers.

I don't understand the distinction. I can understand the difference between "wannabee" writers and people who actually do write. Wannabe writers keep telling people about how they're going to be a writer, maybe attend a few courses, and then just keep on talking about it. Others actually write.

Among those who actually write there are the professionals, the people who for whatever reasons actually make enough money to support themselves through writing. Personally, I don't think you can call yourself a professional unless you can do this. You can certainly class yourself as being ethical and having good manners, etc but having a professional attitude is a nonsense term. There are plenty of professionals working in the music industry, all the creative arts for that matter who are as petulant as hell.

Then there's the rest of us who actually write and on any given day with any given magazine one of my stories has just as much chance as getting published as someone who hasn't been published before. Editors say this, but no one seems to believe it, but it's true. A beginning writer has every much chance of placing a short story in a magazine as I do. In some cases they may have a greater chance because many editors are actually interested in encouraging new writers. It all depends on whether they have something interesting to say, with an interesting voice and have polished their skills to a reasonable level.

So I'm not quite sure what any of us "established"
"non-professional" writers really might have to say to those "beginners" who already "actually write." At least not anything that is of great and tremendous value. Those who really want to write will do it and hone their skills and develop their voice regardless.

I think anything else is just talking to ourselves for the sake of it, which of course is what I'm doing right now.
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Lee Battersby
Posted on Monday, October 24, 2005 - 04:20 pm:   

I have to disagree with you, Geoff (I mean, obviously: I wrote the article...)

When I was starting out, articles such as that were of enormous help to me, as was going to festivals and listening to established pros, working out what was good behaviour and not, and so on. I made a conscious effort to work on my public persona, and the way in which I conversed with people. I may not have been published, but I sure as hell could act with a level of courtesy and professionalism. And I know a bunch of guys with multi-sales who I wouldn't contact to ask the time because they're grade-a jerks.

The distinction between wannabes and writers is a valid one, but for me, the act of writing is only part of the package. The business side is important too, and that's the part that beginners who write take the longest to learn. It was that way for me, which is partly what the article was designed to address: a few tips to help the BWW along.

Incidentally, I also don't agree that you have the same chance as a BWW when your story hits a slushpool, otherwise what is 15+ years of experience and honing your craft for?
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Geoffrey Maloney
Posted on Tuesday, October 25, 2005 - 03:11 am:   

Hmm, this quite interesting. I think technology and its development, particularly the internet, may have something to do with our differing views on this. I didn't get internet access until I think 1997, so I'd been publishing for about 5 years or so before then. Apart from Strunk and White and the odd book on the craft of the short story information about writing didn't really exist. Finding markets, etc was often by sheer luck or the occasional nice person like Peter McNamara writing you letters in envelopes that said there's this new magazine starting up that you should sub to. So my experience was that I did a lot of writing just because I wanted to and did a lot of editing because I could always find ways to improve what I'd written. And there wasn't that many markets to send your stories to anyway, so you spent a lot of time on trying to make them better just because it was an enjoyable thing to do. Weird, I know.

Personally, I don't think 15 odd years of experience counts for much. Mostly, I can probably write much better than when I started out in terms of the craft of writing: structure and sentences are much more fluid, but I think there's a limit to how far your writing craftsmanship can take you in speculative fiction, and once you have improved beyond a certain point I think it's probably superfluous. Once you can string a sentence together and get your grammar correct,then I think it's all about having an idea that really appeals to the editor who is reading the story. So I believe that a beginner writer who's got the basics of the writing craft correct has just as much chance of getting published if they come up with an appealing idea.



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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Tuesday, October 25, 2005 - 02:10 pm:   

Geoff,
I don't agree with you.

Fifteen years of writing and selling stories counts for a lot. It means someone is buying your work. It means (hopefully) that your writing gets better and better as you continue to hone your craft (something I continue to do as I edit over the years).

Stringing sentences together with an appealing idea is emphatically NOT enough (at least for me). I want storytelling with a voice. For me, it's the whole package that appeals not the idea. I'm terrifically happy if a story has an "appealing" idea (not sure what that means anyway. Do you mean "original"? --something that is extremely rare. Or just an idea that hasn't been done to death?) but it sure isn't what I look for when reading submissions.
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ben peek
Posted on Tuesday, October 25, 2005 - 03:36 pm:   

i would have thought, and this is just my personal take, that after fifteen years you'd want to be in a position where your name, appearing somewhere, had a kind of sway that meant people would read your stuff first in a collection/book. oviously not everyone will, but for me, it's one of those things you want to get associated with you. i reckon that goes alongside making a difference in the slush pile, and editors noticing, like ellen said.
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Geoffrey Maloney
Posted on Wednesday, October 26, 2005 - 03:52 am:   

Ellen

Personally having been consistently published for the last fifteen years does mean a lot to me, and I agree with you that as an editor that you do seek something more in the stories that you publish. (God, I love the Jeff Ford stories and the ones by Howard Waldrop that you have published, to name but two exceptional writers).

And I admit that I'm coming from a narrow base with my comments -- which is mostly dealing with Australian editors and the big US magazines which is where most of my submissions have gone in the last 15 years. So my own narrow experience.

An appealing idea was meant to be a very generic term for what an editor likes. In Australia, this doesn't have to be an original idea BTW. And I have heard comments from several editors here that they are not interested in well-written stories if they they don't like the ideas in it, and that a more basically written story with an idea that they like will get preference. I think this is the Dan Brown Da Vinci Code style of story they are thinking of, except in a more spec fic kind of way. People just love that Dan Brown don't they? I actually think he's kind of okay, but he's very clunky with his sentences.

On another note when I say that I don't think that 15 years of writing short stories counts for much on an editors desk, I still think this is true. I might be looking at this from the wrong angle, but the way I see it my acceptance to rejection ratio has remained the same for the last 15 years. Back in the early 1990s, when I first started to get published, when I was beginner writer, for every ten submissions I sent out I'd get 1.5 acceptances. Or to put it in percentage terms 15% of my submissions got accepted. It's the same today.

I had expected over the years, as I honed my craft, that the acceptance rate would have picked up, but it hasn't. So this is what I base my analysis on that a beginner writer has just about as much chance as getting published as I do.

Well, that at least is myself now speaking to me back then.







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Geoffrey Maloney
Posted on Wednesday, October 26, 2005 - 04:17 am:   

Ben

You are yet to hear the cry, "Jesus, not another Ben Peek story!" Which was said about another Australian author (not me) who has also been published over the last 15 years, and who is a very excellent writer indeed. But I've had similar rumblings in the last 2 years. One rejection I received was particularly disappointing. It basically ran, "This story is better than half the stories that I have already accepted for the anthology, but I'm rejecting it on the basis that I don't think it is as good as story X which you had published in issue Y of Z magazine. I would prefer to give new writers a chance to get published, unless you can send me a story better than story X."






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ben peek
Posted on Wednesday, October 26, 2005 - 05:41 am:   

geoff, this is why i publish outside australia (i'm basing this on what you said to me and to ellen in the previous part). i'm sure there are people who don't want to read my work, which is fine. but if i jump to different markets, and try to find different audiences, and always work to do something a bit different, then that reaction should be limited some. i know that if i stay in the small world in australia it will happen--it's just the nature of such a small market.

as for the editor's comments... well, editors in general say a lot of things when they reject you. some things are reasonable, some things are not. i just ignore them when they're not. plenty of other editors in the world who'll be nice.
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Geoffrey Maloney
Posted on Thursday, October 27, 2005 - 02:56 am:   

Ben, I agree with you about trying different markets and searching for different audiences. I also agree with you about trying to always do something a bit different, but when doing that it seems that you really must try different markets at the same time. Editors that you have dealt with before just don't seem to like it when you try something new.
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ben peek
Posted on Thursday, October 27, 2005 - 05:09 am:   

i don't know about that, geoff. i've honestly not had any editor tell me i shouldn't do something different, and when they haven't liked something in comparison to what i've done, it's just taste. but that said, there are lots of ways you can do things differently, and it doesn't always involve editors. if editors and publishers don't like your new thing, but you truly believe in it, then you can publish it yourself.
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Lee Battersby
Posted on Thursday, October 27, 2005 - 06:35 am:   

I've been treated badly by editors both in Australia and overseas: one Oz editor sat on a story for almost 2 years for 2 different projects and then still rejected it because bigger names came along. By the same token I've scored what to me were amazing sales out of nowhere. In none of these cases could I tell you what constituted the magic 1% to get me over the line or not.

And frankly, I've never listened to anybody who hs told me what I should be doing, or how I shoulkd change my essential style or voice. If they want Dan Brown, let them fucking publish Dan Brown and stay awake at night with demons nibbling their entrails.

I've heard some of the tough stories Geoff has experienced from editors, and it would suck mightily to have some of the feedback he's received, particularly when he has such a unique voice. But that's the editor's lookout, not Geoff's.

There's always another editor. if I've done my job properly, there's only one Lee Battersby. Or Maloney or Peek or Waldrop or Bester etc etc and so forth.
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ben peek
Posted on Thursday, October 27, 2005 - 04:57 pm:   

I've been treated badly by editors both in Australia and overseas

i've had bad experiences, but then i've had bad experiences in jobs, too, and i do the same thing here that i do there: i get up and walk away and don't work with that person no more. in the case of waiting for a submission for two years, i just query and withdraw if it gets like that. i don't view that as a bad experience, myself, but it's all different mileage per person.
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Lee Battersby
Posted on Thursday, October 27, 2005 - 05:41 pm:   

Exactly. There is always another magazine, always another editor with whom you might strike up a positive relationship. An editor like Ellen, or Eric Heineman at TOTU, who creates a positive atmosphere even in the act of bouncing a story, is worth an awful lot in comparison to others.
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Thursday, October 27, 2005 - 08:31 pm:   

Geoff, I'm very sorry to hear that you've had such negative experiences with some editors. Ben and Lee are both right. Don't deal with editors who are insulting.
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Geoffrey Maloney
Posted on Friday, October 28, 2005 - 03:19 am:   

Well, thank you all for being so supportive. I wasn't really trying to turn the discussion into "dumb comments I've received from editors" but I do have a wonderful mental list of those if anyone wants to see them:-) In private. Not that I'd name names. Although the Battersby dude is pretty good at extracting all the messy details. At the same time I should balance that with some excellent rejections I have had, even from beginner editors who clearly had the goods for doing their job and took the time to say why they were rejecting a well-written story.

No, I really was just trying to justify why I was arguing about the beginner writer versus the more experienced published writer angle. It is just based on the feedback that I've received from editors over the years, and yes the vast majority have been Australian editors, so it's not necessarily a widely applicable argument.



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Lee Battersby
Posted on Friday, October 28, 2005 - 06:10 am:   

Its definitely something Lyn and I are conscious of when editing: if there's ever any time to conform to the "do onto others..." credo, it's when you're writing rejections. Especially in a small scene like the Australian SF scene, where what goes around surely comes around, often with fresh mud attached.

I have to say that I've been lucky when it comes to US editors. I can only think of one or two who have been rude or ignorant, and there are always so many other options that it's easy to avoid them.

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