Sunday, July 15, 2007

VW#6: Career Writing

The winners of VW#4 giveaway are:


Adele Dawn (whose comment read Just came by to check out the Workshop and would like to be tossed in the hat.)

Winners, please send your full name and ship-to address to, and I'll get these goodies out to you. On to the workshop:

I. Paperback Writer, the Novel

Once upon a time, in a trailer park far, far, away, a writer wrote her first novel-length manuscript on a second-hand manual typewriter her mother had given her for her birthday. She'd written quite a few short stories and some novellas in longhand on legal pads and notebook paper, but having a typewriter gave her the confidence (and the writing tool) she needed to attempt something far more complex.

She finished that manuscript about a year later, and submitted it to a publisher. She was so excited, and so sure it would be accepted for publication. For she had written a book -- a whole book -- and no one had helped her. For the first time in her life, she knew that she had created something important and beautiful, and she had done it all on her own.

Now all we need is an ending . . .

Ending #1: The publisher stole the brilliant manuscript, and sent a deranged intern to assassinate the writer. A failed literary agent coming off a twelve-step program heard the publisher plotting the writer's demise, and raced to the ghetto to stop the madness. Mayhem ensued, a kindly but disposable sidekick met an untimely end, but the failed agent was able to save the writer and bring the publisher to justice (crime fiction.)

Ending #2: The publisher invited the writer to New York to work with an editor who wore designer jumpsuits and tortured the writer, mainly over her thrift-store wardrobe. After agonizing over never being able to afford the right shoes for BEA or please the boss from hell, the writer fell in love with the illegitimate son of Manolo Blahnik, quit publishing and lived almost happily ever after (chick-lit.)

Ending #3: The publisher invited the writer to New York, where she was bitten by a vampire agent on the subway. After suffering a horrible but non-fatal transformation into a dhampir novelist, the writer discovered publishing was being run by werewolves, some of whom wanted to have wild monkey sex with her, and all of whom were locked in an eternal battle with the fanged literary agents. The writer spent the rest of her immortal life avoiding one tall, dark and furry were-editor, occasionally having wild monkey sex with him, and battling the evil blood sucking agents (dark fantasy.)

Ending #4: The publisher hated the brilliant manuscript, because that's how publishers are, and told the writer to buzz off. The poor writer starved to death in meaningless poverty, misery and sorrow. The manuscript was recovered from the trash by a sensitive but jaded intern, who found a publisher for it. The manuscript became an immediate worldwide bestseller while the writer's ghost watched from heaven. After the dead writer's book received a Pulitzer, the intern died in a pointless car accident and the publisher kept all the royalties but commissioned a nice, cheap little series of artistic suitcase shrines depicting the lives of the intern and the writer using their own hair (literary.)

Ending #5: The publisher loved the brilliant manuscript, made the writer an offer that allowed her to escape the poverty in which she dwelled and meet a hunky, brooding but monogamous ex-editor who protected her from brutal, maniacal reviewers, until she discovered he once wrote reviews. After that horrible black moment, she forgave him, he proposed, they married, and they lived happily ever after. (romance)

Ending #6: The publisher accidentally exposed the manuscript to an experimental print-on-demand machine, which acquired sentience, infiltrated an editor's human form and used the secrets in the manuscript to trigger the singularity, which wiped out 99.9% of human life. The writer, her dog and a brilliant but surly astrophysicist then battled the POD thing for Earth's dubious future. Not that there was any icky romance whatsoever between the writer or the astrophysicist, you understand (science fiction.)

Ending #7: The thirteen-year-old writer received a very kind rejection letter from the publisher. The editor addressed her as an equal, and let her down gently and politely. The letter ended on a generous note, with an offer by the editor to consider any other novel she might write in the future. The writer never stopped writing after that, grew up and, after about thirteen hundred more rejections, became a career writer (YA.)

Guess which one is the ending to my story, folks?

II. Writing as a Career Choice

As much as we would like to be the heroes to Publishing's villains, choosing to write professionally is generally not the stuff of novels. It's a job.

Actually, it's a couple of jobs. Being a writer and making a career as a writer are two separate but equally frustrating occupations. There is so much involved in the art of writing that it can be considered a full-time, unpaid job on its own. Most writers would like to make a living doing what they love, so they must take on a second job: pursuing publication. Add to that caring for a spouse or partner and family, a part- or full-time day job, a home, a car, a social life, and all the daily requirements of being a functional part of society, and you end up with one very overworked, under-appreciated individual being pulled in five different directions.

This does not get any better after publication, because the writer acquires another full-time job: being an author. This means working with an editor, a copy-editor and possibly an agent and publicist, negotiating contracts, meeting deadlines, assisting in production and otherwise contributing to the final product. Then there is the ever-increasing pressure to network, mingle with other people in the biz, create and maintain an online presence, make public appearances and promote the final product.

Are you sure you guys want to do this, and not try something easier and less stressful, like disarming landmines?

III. The Writer Vs. the Career Writer

You're still here, so we'll assume the bomb squad will have to go find new recruits somewhere else. Let's discuss a common career situation involving a request from an editor:

Editor: Your title doesn't have the same oomph that the previous books have had nor a hint of the genre you're writing in. Can we discuss some other possibilities?

As a writer, my first reaction to this request is to say no, don't you dare touch my title. This is because:

A. I work very hard on coming up with my titles.

B. I don't like anyone else "contributing" to my work. I work alone, thank you.

C. I've already had too many editors stick me with titles for my books, most of which were beyond lame and all of which I still hate, to this day. Not that I'm bitter or anything.

The part of me that is reacting is the writer. She's angry, insulted, fearful and disappointed. She's a bit irrational, too. This is why she is not allowed to talk to the editor. Instead, the part of me that is the career writer steps in to try persuasion:

Writer: To explain the reasoning behind my title, I went with that to make the connection back to the mythology that I established for this character in an earlier book. I think that continuity is important for the readers. I did have a tough time coming up with it, but as soon as I read the Keats poem, it all came together for me. The parallels to Greek mythology are resonant, and an ideal fit for the protagonist. Obviously I think it's beautiful, poetic and perfect for the novel, and I hope after reading this you will, too.

That's calm, reasonable, and still defends the original title. It's a professional response. It also doesn't work:

Editor: I'm sorry but we need a new title. You've made some good points, but it's just not suitable. We think it sounds too dull.

The writer in me blows a fuse. Dull? Excuse me? It's from Greek mythology. You know, those guys who invented civilization? Didn't they teach you any of that at the University of Frat Parties? And whose name is going to be on this book, anyway? I'll give you a hint: NOT YOURS.

God, I loved writing that. But that's not how the career writer responds, of course:

Writer: I'm sorry to hear that no one cared for my choice. I appreciate all you did to support it, and I'll get to work on a list of new ones.

The career writer will get a decent list of alternatives to this editor within twenty-four hours, too. Why? To be helpful and cooperative, which is the career writer attitude, and because the last thing both the writer and the career writer in me want is for the editor to think up the titles.

Just a side note: perhaps the single greatest invention of all time for writers pursuing a career has been e-mail. Before e-mail, a writer and an editor or agent had to communicate by meeting in person, talking on the phone or relying on the postal service. E-mail is better than flying up to New York for a meeting, is as fast as a phone call, and whips the postal service on delivery 100% of the time. E-mail also acts as a damper between the writer and everyone trying to mess with their work. E-mail allows your career writer time to think of how to respond (not something you can do in a meeting or on the phone) while the outraged writer can curse and kick the office trash can around the house out of Publishing's beady little eyesight.

Some of you know that anti-perspirant commercial, during which a celebrity says, "Never let them see you sweat." In publishing, never let them see how much they piss you off.

IV. Writing as Chief Biz Navigator

All week we've been talking about how to write books. I've thrown in a little about handling the biz, but I believe writing should be our priority at all times. Collectively we are not celebrities, publicists, agents or media specialists. We're writers. Writers write.

Publishing isn't as heartless as we might think. There are editors and agents who honestly care about us. Some of them even understand what we go through for the work. Publishing is a business, however, and a business must generate profits or it can't compete with other businesses. When it comes down to being supportive to writers or making a profit, publishing is always going to pick door number 2.

Writing is our talent, and over the length of a career it becomes the only real weapon we have in the battle of the shelves. Some ideas on how writing can help you get through the long haul:

A. Write to create the best books you can: Writing is your job description, and it's the only thing in your career over which you have significant control. Writing, nothing else, should be your priority.

B. Write to publicize yourself: How many of you have met me in person? How many of you know me from reading one of my books or visiting the blog? What keeps bringing you back, my gorgeous face, my genial personality, my fantastic wardrobe, my shelf of important industry awards, my brilliant advertising all over the Internet, or the writing?

I rest my case.

C. Write to generate interest and opportunities: July's Biz post was about how to find Supplemental Writing Income. It's also free publicity. When you sell an article to a print magazine, you have the chance to interest whoever subscribes to or buys that mag. Some of these people will go out, look for and buy your books. Readers aren't the only ones reading, either -- one article I published in an industry trade resulted in about a dozen job offers.

D. Write to teach and inform: The next generation of writers needs all the help they can get. Investing in them by writing to teach them about the biz and to keep them from getting scammed is simply the right thing to do. This is good for your soul, pays it forward and even helps boost your self-esteem.

E. Write to support your colleagues: I've gotten a lot of flack from the powers that be for the way I support other authors. I'm an idiot; I could be doing for myself what I do for others, and become as self-absorbed as that jackass we were profiling yesterday, and sell a couple more books. Or I can help spread the word about talented writers who deserve a lot more recognition than they get, maybe nudge some of my colleagues into doing the same, sell a lot of great books, feel great and help the industry. Hard choice.

If that still doesn't convince you, guess whose name and endorsement are on some of the bestselling novels of the last couple of years? Yep. That idiot who doesn't pimp her own books.

I'd like to thank everyone for stopping in this week and joining in the virtual workshops (and I will now go and catch up on answering all the questions in comments.) I'd also like to thank all the writers who so generously answered my call, and gave of their time and wisdom to hold their own virtual workshops: Joely Sue Burkhart, Gabriele Campell, LJ Cohen, Rosina Lippi, Jordan Summers, and Shiloh Walker. Ladies, you are the best.

For a chance to win one of today's two Left Behind and Loving It goodie bags, in comments to this post ask a question or share your view on career writing, or just throw your name into the hat by midnight EST on Monday, July 16, 2007. I will draw two names at random from everyone who participates and send the winners a backpack-styled tote filled with a signed copy of Ring of Fire, edited by Eric Flint, which features my 1632-based short story A Matter of Consultation (paperback), as well as unsigned copies of In An Instant by Lee and Bob Woodruff (hardcover), Into the Wilderness by Sara Donati (paperback), Wild Mind ~ Living the Writer's Life by Natalie Goldberg (trade paperback), Letters to a Young Brother by Hill Harper, Tied to the Tracks by Rosina Lippi (trade paperback), Bacchus by Jordan Summers (e-book), the July/August 2007 issue of Organize magazine and some surprises. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Other sources on career writing:

Create a Successful Career as a Freelance Writer by Danielle Hollister

Writing as a Career by Kacey

Deborah Lapoint's Maximize Your Writing Career

Questions About the Business of Writing, Questions About Going Pro,, and Life Changes Writing: Writing Changes Life by Holly Lisle

Courage by PBW
Other virtual workshops now in progress:

Joely Sue Burkhart's Do You Know the Secret?

Gabriele Campbell's How to Make a Battle Come Alive on the Page, Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3

LJ Cohen's Organize your Novel with a WIKI

Rosina Lippi's Workshop Day 1: The Story Machine, Workshop Day 2: Ask Your Characters, Workshop Day 3: Rev Your Engines, and Workshop Day 4: Mix It Up

Jordan Summers talks about writing outside the traditional boundaries of romance, and her own trials and triumphs as an example of what roads are available and how to avoid some of the potholes

Shiloh Walker's Heat with Heart Day 1, finding that missing emotion, Exploring that Backstory (where she briefly grills me). She will be continuing the workshop as a series every Wednesday at her blog, so do check in here to follow along.


  1. Loved the editor-writer-career writer exchange. Hilarious but so accurate.

    Thank you for all the insights.

  2. Thanks for the workshop(s) this week.

    Throwing my name into the hat, please.

  3. Anonymous1:43 PM

    wow, i love how apt your VW has been to my life over the last few days.
    Yesterday i discovered how hard it was to find a publisher that takes a manuscript in the genre im writing in, (not many)and most dont take unsolicitated work. Oh yeah, and most were in America (i live in the UK)
    But I've decided, no matter what, to try and do this job, as a career, (even if it is harder than disarming landmines) because i love writing.
    Thank you for doing these workshops for us lot who are trying to do what you do so well. =)

  4. Thanks so much for a great laugh! I loved your alternate endings. :)

  5. Lynn--I've said this more than once, but you are my model on how to have an honest, respectful relationship with your readers. I have learned so much from you about the craft of writing as well.

    Thank you so much for giving me the chance to participate in your virtual workshop. It means a lot to me, as an aspiring novelist, to have someone like you take an interest and give me the exposure.

    I have no illusions about the business of writing, partly from your incisive and insightful blog posts.

    I've moved from form letter rejections on my first queries for my first novel to personalized rejections on partials, to waiting on requested fulls. It's a slow, often frustrating process, but it's the way the business runs. In the meanwhile, I continue to write, to explore, and to learn. Perhaps one day I'll have the privilege of one of your quotes on the back cover of one of my books.

    Keeping the faith and with my sincere thanks for all you do,
    aka, ljcohen

  6. Thanks for another wonderful workshop. You rock!

  7. Oh! I forgot I wanted to thank the others for their workshops as well. They were all very informative and interesting.

    Thank you everyone who participated!

  8. Hah, I too loved the endings. Please throw my name into the hat.

  9. Throwing my name in the hat. Thanks for another wonderful VW. :)

  10. Thanks for this (these) workshop(s). I'm truly impressed by your posts and I love your sense of humor.
    I think I'll give it a try aand throw my name into the hat. :)

  11. Anonymous3:47 PM

    Thanks for this workshop. The thing I've really learned this week is this is all or nothing. I can't "pretend" I'm a writer. All the excuses in the world add up to zero. I'm a writer, so I write. I make the time, I make it important. And if I don't, then I'm not a writer. I'm just playing at this, and this is too hard to play at. In the Success Principles, they say 100% is easy, 99% is a bitch. I didn't apply that to my writing until this week.

  12. Anonymous3:52 PM

    Thank you for this today. I was staring at my computer screen and trying to force myself to do SOMETHING...ANYTHING. Your workshop gave me a laugh, reminded me to write the best thing I can and not get so bent out of shape about what else I "should" be doing. You picked me up today, and for that I can't thank you enough.


  13. I loved this! Especially the 'never let them see how much they piss you off'. LOL I also really loved ending 3 hehehe

  14. Please throw my name into the hat.


  15. Thank you for this entry. Writing I can handle. Possibly becoming an author scares the bejeesus out of me. I'll take all the glimpses of it I can, in the hopes that one day I'll stop being afraid and actually do it.

  16. Loved the alternate endings. Thanks for all the wonderful information this week. Tossing my name in the hat.

  17. As always you are so kind to provide a plethora of insight on the adventure that is writing. Thanks sooo much!

  18. Congrats to the lucky winners! Thanks for anothe interesting workshop. Would like to drop my name in the hat.

  19. Anonymous5:09 PM

    Thank you for all informative insight into writing.

    Throwing my name into the hat!

    Congrats winners and happy reading!


    Terri W.

  20. Thank you for inviting me to participate in the workshop and coordinating the various blogs. It has been fun.

    Too bad I can't count those words for Alison's challenge. :)

  21. Thanks for these helpful, and entertaining, insights into the career of a writer. Although I love to write, the business aspect scares me. So, your posts serve to make these mysteries a little clearer!

    Please throw my name in the hat.


  22. As tough as it seems to be a career writer, it still hasn't put me off too much. I think my biggest fear is not doing my stories justice.

    I guess we write because that is who we are and we love it. Publication is the cherry on top.

  23. Too tired to comment tonight so please just throw my name into the hat.

  24. That'll be the perk to being a writer. I'll get to cuss and stomp at home and my boss won't see it...well my publisher's I mean.

  25. Anonymous7:19 PM

    While getting three novels through the thrill ride of publication, I have only been well and truly upset once. Sure, I had a copy edit from hell, and yes, I had some title issues with the third book, but both of those things were perplexing challenges, not major aggravations.

    However, I did have a single cover art issue that had me seriously freaking, and not in a good way. Let's just state that I do not write frothy, fluffy bunny stories under any conceiveable kharmic alignment yet the intial cover art seemed to indicate that sweetness and light were contained within the fine, gentle narrative, sure to leave the reader with a delightfully satisfying, wholesome read.

    Niceness? In a tambobook? Oh hell no.

    I stated my position to my agent and editor, admittedly not as 'sweetly' as I possibly could have, and the cover art was changed. Because my agent and editor seriously ROCK! :)

    I've been very, VERY lucky, and I know it. I coulnd't imagine having a happier, less problematic experience with publishing.

  26. Sometimes I amuse myself by googling my name and what comes up most often is an article I wrote for Strange Horizons while I was an articles editor there. It crops up in very unlikely places!

    The hat wave would like to collapse with my name inside it :).

  27. Thanks so much for all your words of wisdom.

    *tosses namecard toward hat*

  28. I really enjoyed this post. Please add my name to the hat. Thank you.

  29. Writing consistently is the only thing you really have any control over since selling and getting your books bought by readers aren't something you can control 100%. :)

    Throwing my name into the hat.

  30. Please add my name to the hat. Thanks.

  31. Anonymous11:00 PM

    from experience, i know how hard it is to be the career writer.

    and how important it is. Writers can't afford to run off at the mouth and piss people off left and right. Normally, I tend not to worry about doing that, but it's not something I want to do to editors and agents so I try to keep said career writer firmly in charge when I'm online.

    :P I hate her though sometimes.

    WHile it hurts me to say this, (thanking somebody for payback jsut doesn't seem right), thanks for inviting me to join in. :o)

  32. Anonymous11:26 PM

    That was very well done and very funny. The workshops this week have been great and very helpful, thank you very much!
    ~Briana N.

  33. Very good advice...and Shiloh actually wrote a post today about a few people who obviously aren't thinking of their careers.

    I guess the creativity aspect of the writer lends itself to the emotional outbursts one sees.

  34. Throwing my hat in.

    Thanks for a great series!

  35. Another great post, I'm throwing my name in.

  36. Loved your alternate endings!

    I've only been asked to change a title once (so far) and it was for the better (and still my choice) And yes, email is a godsend for the author / editor relationship.

    Hat please :)

  37. Anonymous2:57 AM

    Just throwing my hat in the ring this time. Late for work... as usual.

  38. Anonymous10:01 AM

    I can't remember if I commented because I was having Issues being able to comment yesterday/earlier, so here goes.

    I just wanted to say THANK YOU for another fab LB&LI series. And for paying it forward in general. Yanno.

    (And a begrudging congrats to all the winners, of which I wanted to be. Still a chance...!)

  39. Great post. Just leaving my name in the hat.

  40. Anonymous12:30 PM

    Throw my name in the hat please!

  41. My inner writer is screaming, "Don't believe him!"

  42. Like this post. Please throw my name in the hat.

  43. Anonymous8:07 PM

    This is great what everyone is doing. throwing my name in the hat also.

  44. This time I really did miss the deadline (instead of misreading it) but I wanted to say that I appreciated this article a lot, especially the way you demonstrate how focusing on the writing is still the best way.

    Thanks so much for doing this. I just wish it wasn't a crazy week and I had more time to digest yours and the others you pointed to.



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