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How It Works [Jul. 11th, 2011|10:43 pm]
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The other week I had dinner with my friend Sean Craven. I got this great email from him today, which he said I could share:

When we met the other day, you asked me if I'd submitted to Future Lovecraft. I hadn't, hadn't considered it.

Then I went home and the story started eating at the back of my brain. Instead of doing thirteen or fourteen drafts over a period of months, I did one draft, one revision, no readers, and off on the last day for submission.

They took it. Said some awfully nice things, even though I set it in a generic USA. Probably liked the way I took the nation down. I will say, if I'd noticed that one of the editors was named Sylvia, I wouldn't have included the line, "They said Sylvia hit up in her vagina, and we believed them."


It struck me that on a couple of levels, this is how things get done. On the first instance, it's merely just doing something. "Say, you can do this" someone says, and then you do it. Or you don't—you daydream about it, or decide it not worth doing (and hardly everything is, of course), or you futz and faff around and then opportunity passes you by, or the algebra of living works against you and you can't do it. If you have children, or two or three jobs, or no job at all and no juice to try something new after a ten months of being pummeled by the fists of indifference...

On the other level, there's who gets to hear, "Say, you can do this." It's easy enough to find submission guidelines on the Internet...if you have the Internet. But lots of people need an extra kick, a "Go ahead!" at least occasionally. And some good writers do too, not just beginners or whiners. (My friend Seth Cadin has published a couple of great stories—sometimes when he's sent me them for critique, and instead of critiquing them I've just submitted them on his behalf to anthologies I was invited to myself. Check out his story in Bewere the Night for example.) This sort of social networking—just a web of acquaintanceships and friendships, has immense value. Of course, this value doesn't necessarily have anything to do with quality. Networks, online especially, also offer many opportunities for hilarity, especially now that CEOs and PR people and Presidential candidates and famous authors can gloriously rage and hate and ruin themselves (as I predicted would happen a decade ago, in a tongue-in-cheek essay.)

Networking can't really be harnessed, but it can be demystified. Award results, gender and racial disparities in jobs and in publishing, you name it—there's a network explanation. What might be handy, and what I've found handy personally, is to have an explicit understanding of one's own goals in a network. What can one do with one's ability to say, "Say, you can do this." Do you boost yourself, your mates down at the no-girls-allowed pub, your co-religionists, whomever you went to school with, people who are "nice" to you? For me, catvalente summed it up recently:

I actually told that story recently because Jim Hines does a first book Friday post where someone comes on and tells about how they sold their first book. There was a little footnote that nobody should bother Nick. And he was like no, actually I don’t mind, but you should make sure you’re a genius first as Cat did and it will go better for you.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: rosefox
2011-07-12 07:05 am (UTC)

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It's very interesting how thoroughly most conventions fail at encouraging and enabling this sort of networking. I wonder what could be done to fix that.
[User Picture]From: joycemocha
2011-07-12 02:20 pm (UTC)

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I don't know if this sort of networking can be easily packaged. I've seen writers' conventions try to do it, but it then feels forced and all about fee-charging for access. Too many classes and workshops hype networking to the degree that you get these fearful folks showing up at conventions looking to hype themselves waaaay too aggressively.

I think the best thing to do is to perhaps have some explicit teaching about how to network and how not to network. Learning how to discover and enjoy mutual interests and build up friendships and relationships rather than barge in on conversations to make it all about MEMEMEMYBOOKMYBOOKMYBOOK.

The other factor is that building such relationships takes time, patience, and a long-range perspective that it may take several years to get to the point where your networks have these openings. The best thing most people can do is to be themselves, seek opportunities to participate in small groups where they can share mutual interests, and not hype the hell out of themselves.
[User Picture]From: rosefox
2011-07-12 04:18 pm (UTC)

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seek opportunities to participate in small groups

Right, that's the sort of thing I mean. Like Readercon's kaffeeklatsches, or writing workshops.
[User Picture]From: nihilistic_kid
2011-07-12 04:23 pm (UTC)

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The problem is that such networks only promulgate networks, instead of geniuses.
[User Picture]From: rosefox
2011-07-12 04:24 pm (UTC)

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I'm not aware of any way to make someone a genius. If you are, tell us the secret!
[User Picture]From: nihilistic_kid
2011-07-12 04:33 pm (UTC)

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Promulgate means to make known, not to create.

Shorter: I'm only interested in networks that help the best people out, and am against networks that lead to, say, terrible stories winning awards. Cons don't involve only the best people.
[User Picture]From: rosefox
2011-07-12 04:44 pm (UTC)

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Heh, that's what I get for posting while the muscle relaxants are still in my bloodstream.
[User Picture]From: helivoy
2011-07-12 05:13 pm (UTC)

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If you grasp an opportunity and happen to be at the right place at the right time (aka lucky), things will click whether you be genius or hack.

Humans coalesce into small-to-medium size tribes, that's how we're wired. The irony is that such groupings often perform reverse promulgations -- such as shafting group members for the sake of appearing ultra-objective or for establishing internal hierarchies, with quality being totally irrelevant.
[User Picture]From: rosefox
2011-07-12 05:21 pm (UTC)

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It's quite possible to engineer "luck", though.
[User Picture]From: helivoy
2011-07-12 05:35 pm (UTC)

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Let's say you have to pursue it, recognize it and pounce on it promptly and decisively when it appears. Also, we tend to remember the times that "clicked" far more than those that didn't (in part because they make us feel good, unless we make a fetish of dwelling on rejections).
[User Picture]From: rosefox
2011-07-12 05:53 pm (UTC)

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I was thinking of Richard Wiseman's studies.
[User Picture]From: helivoy
2011-07-12 05:58 pm (UTC)

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The four principles are commonsense rules/traditional exhortations. However, "Luck school"? Why is my Spidersense tingling?
From: (Anonymous)
2011-07-13 08:36 pm (UTC)

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Sean from the post here.

I first signed up for Nick's class as a specific response to Wiseman's studies, and the decision to have him look at my novel again was based on the same principals. You know what? It's not a bad idea to pay attention to smart people.
[User Picture]From: marlowe1
2011-07-12 03:00 pm (UTC)

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I network at conventions but I also find that other venues like LJ, FB and pissing off Nick Pacione work as well. Although I tend to view conventions as opportunities to see old friends first and network second.
[User Picture]From: mariadkins
2011-07-12 04:17 pm (UTC)

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same here.
[User Picture]From: akasylvia
2011-07-12 09:49 am (UTC)

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I can't help but believe that the world would be a better place if we had less references to Sylvia's vagina.
[User Picture]From: nihilistic_kid
2011-07-12 02:21 pm (UTC)

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Aw, c'mon...
[User Picture]From: james_nicoll
2011-07-12 03:30 pm (UTC)

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That almost scans to "Sylvia's Mother"....
From: littlebbob
2011-07-12 01:56 pm (UTC)

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"Just fucking sit down and do it, you pussy" applies very broadly. Basically to everything to which "Just fucking stand up and do it, you pussy" does not apply.
From: draxxx
2011-07-12 02:21 pm (UTC)

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Yes, yes, and yes.
[User Picture]From: burger_eater
2011-07-12 02:43 pm (UTC)

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And for those of us without a F2F network? I don't even know what to think about this post (oh, right, I should pretend it doesn't exist and doesn't bother me).
[User Picture]From: nihilistic_kid
2011-07-12 02:44 pm (UTC)

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Congrats, it means you get to shower less often than the rest of us!
[User Picture]From: burger_eater
2011-07-12 03:04 pm (UTC)

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Wait'll I tell my wife!
[User Picture]From: christophrawr
2011-07-12 03:36 pm (UTC)

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Thank you for this.
[User Picture]From: Luke Jackson
2011-07-12 04:07 pm (UTC)

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It'd be even better to give it a catchy name, like Codex II?
[User Picture]From: popelizbet
2011-07-12 05:13 pm (UTC)

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I have friends at various levels of writing and publishing experience who are used to me passing along calls for submissions that I think would work for their ongoing projects or would spark new stories given the requested subject matter and their individual interests. They may not all be Valente-level geniuses, but the encouragement helps. (They likewise check in to see if I'm working on things inspired by a particular call for subs after I've considered working on it, and that's helpful because it keeps me on task.) I don't know how to make that networking more formal or more effective at selecting for exceptional excellence, but that's my two cents.
[User Picture]From: nihilistic_kid
2011-07-12 05:17 pm (UTC)

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I suspect that making it more formal would make it less effective for selecting excellence, actually. A random conversation might work better than an official kaffeklatsch at a convention.

Edited at 2011-07-12 05:19 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]From: rosefox
2011-07-12 05:20 pm (UTC)

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Aw, you fixed your typo before I could make fun of it.
[User Picture]From: popelizbet
2011-07-12 06:09 pm (UTC)

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Well, I won't say everyone I do that for is the Next Great Treasure either. Some of them have a body of work published nontraditionally but would like to do some mainstream publishing too & broaden their name recognition/brand/fandom. Some of them are utter newbs (like myself, really, with my very few poems) whose work I enjoy when they ask my advice on it; I want to keep them trying, working, getting stuff ready to send into the world, because it's scary to take that step. I never would have made my first sale had Cat not approached me about a poem we'd workshopped together and caused me to reevaluate it as commercially saleable. Some have more publishing experience than I overall but are less tuned in to genre. itself, even though their work fits the bill. But if I think your work sucks, I'm unlikely to expend even that minimal effort. I have to think you've got some merit for that info-sharing to start.
From: (Anonymous)
2011-07-12 05:25 pm (UTC)

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Sean here!

The Missus: A penny a word? So they're paying the writer's what, two hundred bucks? And they want electronic rights?

Me: Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, I been saying that, but Nick jumped off the garage roof and if I didn't I'd look like a sissy.
[User Picture]From: nihilistic_kid
2011-07-12 05:28 pm (UTC)

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I got a nickel a word cuz I'm fancy. (Though I was also limited to ~2000 words in my special secret solicitation.)

Edited at 2011-07-12 05:28 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
2011-07-12 06:27 pm (UTC)

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That was actually a motivator for me. "You've got to do a ton of this crap if you expect people to think you're fancy," I said to myself.
[User Picture]From: pauljessup
2011-07-12 07:56 pm (UTC)

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Hey I'm in that FUTURE LOVECRAFT one as well. WE CAN BE ALL FANCIES TOGETHER AND THROW A PARTY.

A' course mines a reprint, but still chuffed they included it.
[User Picture]From: silviamg
2011-07-13 05:49 am (UTC)

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Yeah, I know. Penny a word is small, but I do pro stuff at a nickle and still plenty of penny a word if I like the market or the idea (and the fancy does come eventually if you keep aiming high and keep writing. Don't be complacent).

People wonder why I spend hours and all the spare cash from under the couch on running a micro-press, but it's the joy of giving a home to end of the world jellyfish, girls with an exploding fungus heads, weird shit written in French and cannibal comets. It's not the money (ha). It's the experience and also the chance to interact with lots of writers who really do share some of that loopy love you have for the fantastic.
From: (Anonymous)
2011-07-13 10:50 pm (UTC)

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Sean here. My reply to the missus? "They're spending money to publish us. The pay is a courtesy. This isn't the fifties."

When I do Swill, I work at absolutely top capacity and pay for the privilege. I think I provide a service to the arts, and I believe you do too. Whee!
From: (Anonymous)
2011-07-12 05:55 pm (UTC)

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Thanks for this post. Now I'll actually finish a story and get it to you for a critique and you can disabuse me of my notions about being a writer.

Jeff P.
[User Picture]From: mr_earbrass
2011-07-12 08:51 pm (UTC)

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That's me starting out, basically--after years of writing but never pursuing publication, a friend forwarded me the guidelines for an anthology of zombie stories with the note: It pays pro money and the only criteria is that it has to have zombies. Are you a pulp writer or not? At that point I didn't have any real concept of pro-anything, but that was the push to finally go for it--I figured if I couldn't bang out a semi-decent story featuring zombies with a three-month deadline then I probably needed to take up another hobby. The editor took the story, and that was that.

...and by that was that, I mean that I spent the next several years writing a ton of shit that I was never able to place. Mostly because it was terrible. But having the first thing I subbed to a pro market snapped up gave me something to hold onto in the intervening lean years; without that initial push from a random but trusted friend, who knows?

And by the by, jazzed to be on a ToC with you! And Paul and this Sean character and everyone else, for that matter--should be a pretty goddamn cool book, though I cheated with my piece in that it's Future Clark Ashton Smith.
[User Picture]From: lokilokust
2011-07-13 12:06 am (UTC)

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'in that it's Future Clark Ashton Smith.'
this excites me.
[User Picture]From: jeffford2010
2011-07-13 02:20 am (UTC)

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This was something I had to learn at a point in my writing life -- nothing ventured, nothing gained. A word of encouragment about a given project from friends and colleagues is still welcome and necessary sometimes. The SF writer Bill Watkins was the first one to point this out to me, but not the last.
[User Picture]From: silviamg
2011-07-13 05:57 am (UTC)

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Sean's got something special going there, so I'm glad you sent him our way. Pretty sure he'll be a fancy if he keeps at it.