When I first started breaking into the business of writing F&SF I was fortunate enough to meet and by mentored by a number of Big Name Authors. I am eternally grateful to those folks and that’s part of why I’m here with the other Wyrdsmiths doing this writing blog thing. There’s not a whole lot I can do for the BNAs who helped me out, but I can pass on that help to the folks who are climbing the mountain behind me.
Those BNAs gave me a huge amount of good advice on the craft of writing, and a great deal of good advice on the business of writing post-first novel offer. The one place where I had to carefully filter the advice I was getting was in the area of landing that first sale. This is because the world of publishing has been changing at astonishing speed over the last thirty years or so, and advice that was stellar then (whenever then may be) is sometimes simply invalid for the newbie unpublished writer of today. I will occasionally (and entirely goodheartedly) call this stuff dinosaur advice-magnificent in its time, but not such a great idea now that all these nimble little mammals have started cluttering up the scene.
In my class last night someone asked me a question about getting a start in writing by publishing with small presses. In that instant I knew that I had just had my first dinosaur moment–I’m sure I’ll have more. I know that small press is changing the face of the industry and I’m pretty certain that it’s going to change it much more radically in the very near future. There are quite a number of small presses that are doing great work, getting books in distribution channels, winning awards, and giving their authors exposure they just couldn’t get elsewhere. So far so good. But in terms of submitting to small presses, their relationships with agents, and even where to find that kind of information I am totally clueless. In short those darn whipper-snapper mammals are changing the face of publishing and me–big old dinosaur that I am–I don’t understand the rules of the new game.
Update 2013: I’ve had a lot more of these in the six years since I wrote this post. I basically no longer give advice about short story markets. I still don’t know much about the small press scene. And self-publishing, which used to be mostly vanity press and anathema to a career, has blossomed into the indie-publishing movement where a ton of fascinating new models for making a living writing are springing up. Given the rate of change in the publishing industry, I’m starting to think that break-in advice has a finite life cycle of 1-3 years at this point in terms of the business side. On the other hand, the writing side doesn’t change much: Write something really good. Find a way to get reader eyeballs and transfer reader dollars to your bank account. Rinse. Repeat.