Everybody wants to write a winning story, but how do you do it? Some answers here, although not really from me. I have written stories--quite a few, in fact--and they won me some small money while I was in college. But I don't know anything about writing stories as a grown-up because I got the hell out of story-land just as soon as I figured out I could write novels. (It takes me almost as much start-up energy to write a story as it does to write a novel; my ideas come slowly, only with much cooking and many false starts. Sure, the execution is *sometimes* less involved for a story than a novel, but I'd rather suffer for something that gets to have its own cover.)
But I know people whose backs are bowed with the weight of all their story ideas. In fact, apparently there is such a thing as TMIS or Too Many Ideas Syndrome (posts at Writer's Digest, and Write World for those of you who, like me, wondered why many ideas would be a problem); sufferers report lack of focus and fear of attack from characters waiting to be brought onto the page.
Anyway, for you weirdos with so many ideas that writing stories is a must just to relieve some of the pressure, David Farland's daily newsletter has a post on what he looks for when judging a story (in this case, for the Writers of the Future contest). In this particular post, he talks about originality, and the story he uses as an instance of originality is by Quarter 2 Writers of the Future winner Alisa Alering, a writer I know well and whose work I love. The post offers great insights that can help you see your story in the context of what everybody else is (or might be) doing. Here's what Farland says about originality (and Alisa's story):
...in that quarter of Writers of the Future where I got several good ghost stories, one of them stood out to me. Alisa Alering’s take, “Everything You Have Seen” is a ghost story in an unusual setting—Korea—during the Korean War. In it, a young girl meets a ghost, a young American boy who can communicate by holding his hands up and creating visions, windows into his own world, that the girl can peer into.
So we have a ghost story in a bit of an unusual setting. It features two interesting characters, one of whom has a unique power that I haven’t seen before. Beyond that, Alisa writes beautifully and evocatively, with subtle twists of phrases that “recreate” the language, heighten it. So she scored higher on the originality scale, than did some of the other authors who had written ghost stories that quarter. I sent hers on to the other judges, and she won first place for her quarter.
Check out the rest of the post for the various locations of originality in a story, and if you have ideas to spare, feel free to send them my way.
You have to stick with your work till it sells. That’s my answer to the question, "How long will it take me to get published?" And it's pretty much the same whether we're talking about placing a story, landing an agent, or selling a novel.
Take a look at some data. Accomplished writer Vylar Kaftan has tracked the number of times she submitted her storiesbefore they finally were published in a pro or semi-pro market. Her max number of submissions for a single story was 19--it was finally placed with the 19th market. The thing is, as she's noted, this was a story that received 6 Nebula recommendations: "there was nothing wrong with it. It just had to find the right home. Here endeth the lesson." Another great takeaway from Vylar's post follows:
If I scan the list looking for my “best” stories, using any of several measures, I can’t see a pattern. Possible measures include: the ones I liked best, the ones readers emailed me the most about, the ones my crit groups loved, the ones editors wrote personal rejections for. I really don’t think there’s any conclusions to be drawn there except that submission history and the story’s quality are only somewhat correlated at best.
I pretty much agree. Once you've done the very best writing that you can, getting the work published is a matter of persistence, patience, and a bit of saavy about where or to whom you send your work.
Maybe you think you've done everything you can, but then you get feedback or grow as a writer, and you can take your story or novel a bit farther. (For some writer resources, check out this page.) Vylar has another great post that discusses the few reasons that she "trunks" a story as well as when she revises a story she's circulating. Here's my favorite part:
If I find myself stressing about whether my stories are good enough, and shouldn’t I revise them more so they sell, and maybe if I revise them they will sell… you know what? 100% of the time, that indicates I should be writing new stories. Because you can’t really assess whether your older work is any good unless you’re writing new stuff. You’ll be too biased and want the older stuff to work so you don’t have to write anything new. If you only have one story circulating, there’s no way you’re going to make smart decisions about what to do with it. By generating new material, you give yourself the freedom to be honest about your older work.
All of this points to what Vylar calls The Rule: "Write new stories, polish them, and then circulate them until they sell. That’s how you get stories published." Same goes, like I said, for getting longer work published. Maybe your agent manages the submissions, but you still need to keep writing new stuff to have any perspective.
Beyond Conference Survival: How to Make Positive Connections to People You Don't Know (ALA 2013 Takeaways)
Two facts about ALA (true of most large librarian conferences):
(1) It is an introvert's nightmare.
(2) It is an amazing opportunity for librarians and authors to connect.
This post is about finding ways to get around point #1 so that you can get to point #2.
My first impressions of ALA 2013 involved the enormous crush of bodies, sensory overload (books! books! free books! authors! books!), and a sudden sense of smallness. If anybody here would care about my work as a writer for teens, how was I going to find them in this enormous place? Why would they listen to me? My gut was telling me to meet with my editor as planned and then get the hell out of that nightmare.
But my gut doesn't get to make the plans. Whatever the discomfort, it'd be a shame to miss out on the chance to forge connections with book people who share your interests and concerns. Here are a few tips for shifting yourself from conference survival mode into conscientious networking.
Perhaps the first thing you need to do when walking into ALA is to decide how much of what you are going to do. How much time do you want to spend in formal presentations? in networking sessions? strolling the exhibition hall? While librarians should load up on great things to use with students and patrons, we author types should remember that we aren't here for the free books and bling. (A possible exception is gathering giveaway material if you keep a blog, but I'd say this isn't your most strategic use of time.) Authors, you are at a conference to increase your visibility and to connect with the readers who will put your books into the hands of more readers.
Find your people
Once you set your priorities, you are going to be looking for sessions that fit your interests. In my case, I wanted to meet teen librarians (school and public), advocates for underserved groups, and other writers interested in brining more Latin@ experiences into kidlit. So I went to events like:
Attracting Reluctant Male Readers
Latino Books for Youth: an Honest Conversation
Crossing Over: Teen Books for Everyone!
Diversity and Outreach Fair
YALSA Happy Hour
It helps to research events and make a tentative schedule in advance, but be flexible and follow opportunities. For example, in chatting with a librarian before the "Attracting Reluctant Male Readers" session, I found out that The Knife and the Butterfly is very popular with librarians serving teens in detention centers. I then went back and changed my schedule to attend a discussion session on services for youth in custody, which turned out to be a great opportunity to learn about how I could connect and serve these readers more.
Personally, I find informal settings to be the most productive for networking. These include poster presentation spaces, smaller sessions with audience participation, and networking/social events like happy hours.
Talk to people you don't know
Too many of us view networking as something along the lines of, "How fast can I get my card in their hands and launch into why I am/my library is/my books are awesome?" I've tried that approach--and sometimes fall into it when I am very nervous--but for the most part, here are some tips for·conscientious networking.
(1) Be personable. No one ever believes me when I tell them I'm shy, but it's true. (I talk about how I learned to fake myself out of shyness here.) I have to make it my job to be friendly to people on the escalator, on the bus, in the food court, waiting for a session to start. For casual interactions, notice who is moving in the same direction. You are walking together, so why not say hi? There is plenty of common ground for any attendee at a large conference: handling the loads of free stuff, the trade offs of cute shoes versus comfy ones, the confusing conference hall layout.
(2) Show interest. ALA badges have a lot of information on them, so you have something that can guide you to ask the other person about their work. Show interest in what they do, ask them what they think of the conference, share stories of positive experiences.
(3) Seek common ground. Rather than thinking about an "in" for talking about your "thing," try to really attend to what authentically links your interests. For example, if I meet a community college librarian, I'm not going to be trying to pitch my awesome school visits, but we might have a conversation about the importance of pleasure reading to increasing students' literacy, and then I might suggest my YA titles as a possible addition to a collection.
(4) To business card or not? I always worry about being pushy with a business card, but if you have found some common ground, it's fine to offer a card or ask your colleague for his or hers (which almost invariably leads to a reciprocal request). If you feel the conversation is really just a polite one that doesn't have much genuine interest on either side, it's okay to skip the business card.
At the end of the day, networking is most valuable when we are open to the skills and strengths of the people we are talking to. The more genuine your interest in their experience, the more potentially productive the relationship.
Want more? I'll be at the Indiana Library Federation conference in Indianapolis co-presenting with librarian Julia Reynolds on author-librarian collaborations. Hope to see you there! If you have questions or suggestions, leave a comment or holler at me via my contact page.