Staying informed about the writing community

I am not a perfect author, and I have a lot to learn and a lot of benchmarks I haven’t met. That said, one of the things I have become fairly good at over the past few years is self-education and staying informed about resources for writers. Part of this, I’ll confess, is because I spend a lot of time on writing Twitter, which is the place to be if you want to learn about the writing community and new opportunities arising therein. Part of this is just because I have spent six years of my life trying to learn about what it takes to be a successful author and a good writer (not the same thing) which is a lot of years. Something is probably going to rub off in all that time.

With that in mind, I wanted to share with you some Twitter accounts, websites, and generally informative paraphernalia for the writing-inclined. These links are mostly targeted towards fantasy and science fiction writers.

Websites

If you want to be a writer of science fiction and fantasy, your first stop should probably be at Science Fiction Writers of America. It maybe should be a continual stop, actually. Bookmark this website is what I’m saying.

SFWA provides various resources for writers, both members and non-members. Membership is only possible once you’ve achieved certain benchmarks in your career, but SFWA understands that a lot of prospective writers won’t even get there without a roadmap. They maintain a Resources page that offers a high level overview of some of the information available on their site, and they also have a really great thing going on over at Writer Beware, which provides some information about predatory businesses and practices seeking to target writers.

Another great source of warnings for writers is the Absolute Write Water Cooler. Take comments on these forums with a grain of salt and do further research, but this is a good place to look for hints that all is not as it should be with a particular agent or publishing house.

But how do you even get to the point where you are worried about whether your agent is on the up and up? You have to query, of course. For one of the best resources on querying and tips and tricks, try QueryShark. Though no longer providing new posts, the QueryShark archives provide valuable critiques of hundreds of queries. Reading examples of good and bad queries is a great way to level up your agent search.

To find agents and editors, you can look several ways. Twitter is an option, and grabbing a Writer’s Market from the store is another. However, if you are looking for a single website that has a lot of information about what agents and editors are looking for, you may want to visit Manuscript Wishlist (MSWL). Please remember to verify the information with a secondary search of the agent or editor or by checking out their website directly.

Helpful Authors

I’ve mentioned I spend a lot of time on Twitter, but it’s not only to build my platform. It’s also to learn. There are some great, helpful accounts on Twitter, specifically other authors who are offering a lot of advice for free.

First of all, Chuck Wendig has made a name for himself for his off-color writing advice. He’s got several books out if that’s more your speed, but you can find a lot of that information in the archives of Terribleminds, his personal website and blog. His advice is mostly geared towards the craft of writing itself.

On Twitter itself, one of my favorite authors to follow is Delilah S. Dawson. She does periodic posts geared towards new and upcoming writers about the traditional publishing process. They provide helpful insight into her process and the way she has managed to get where she is.

Author Kameron Hurley tweets a lot about various parts of her writing career, but especially about work-life balance or the lack thereof. She also talks a lot about money. This is a really important bit of advice for writers that often gets overlooked. The Authors Guild recently published this survey of income for authors and writers at all levels, which shows that it can be really hard to make it as a writer even once you get published. Hurley is very open about her monetary issues and what she makes off of her writing, and it’s helped me to have realistic expectations and strategies for my longterm career.

Self-Publishing

There are several resources out there for self-published authors, and that deserves a whole other post. But one place you can start is the 20Booksto50k Group on Facebook. Be sure the read the FAQs before you ask any questions!

I hope these resources have been helpful for you. If there’s something you think is missing, chime in in the comments!


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Doubt, desires, futures

This week, I’ve been reminding myself that you can look back, but you can’t go back.

I’m a self-published author, and when I started this gig I had no idea what I was doing. It is possible that I still don’t. Periodically, I will remember this. Writing could, easily, be a full-time gig. There are always more words to put to paper, and once something is drafted, more editing, more submissions, more research. This is very hard without a team to support you, and self-publishing means that the team you have is one you pay. No one should have to work for free. It’s a direct contrast to the traditional publishing mantra of “money always flows to the writer.” I have heard self-publishing described best as a business, with a large initial investment and a hope of payback.

Of course, when I started this gig, I didn’t understand any of that really. I was certainly not where I needed to be as a writer and marketer and business person to make things work. I’m still learning. All of life is a learning process, but the learning curve in this business is steep. Even with the insulation of traditional publishing, the pitfalls outnumber those in most careers. I can guarantee this, as I’ve bounced through several. For the most part, if you show up with halfway decent skills and a desire to work and learn, you can at least scrape by. It may not be pretty but it’s enough to get you to the next week.

Writing often doesn’t feel like that for me. Perhaps it’s because I have never paid into it as deeply as some; perhaps it is because I don’t have a great head for business, or at least didn’t six years ago. Perhaps it’s simply a matter of hours in the day – I’ve given a lot more hours, most likely, to developing my career at the dayjob just by dent of having a degree in it, no matter that I’ve been writing since I could hold a pen. But despite my natural propensity, writing as a job feels like climbing uphill in a snowstorm. I have to give 100% or there is no momentum. I’ll stand there and freeze.

I’ve thought a lot about what my goals are for the future and how best to get there. There’s no one path in this business, at least that’s what everyone says, but there are more well-trodden ones. At this point, I’m in a place of introspection. I don’t need my writing to live. I would like to be in a place, someday, where I didn’t have to juggle it with a whole other career, but I don’t hate my dayjob – the opposite, most days. In my dreams, I write full-time. All the stories that are inside me make it to paper before I inevitably return to the soil. Writing full-time isn’t about making money, necessarily, but birthing those stories. It’s about having the leeway to do that, to get the words down on paper, without sacrificing all of the other good things in my life – the time with family, the mental and physical health, things that can give a little now if you’re willing to pay for it later. And you will pay for it later.

Anyway, I keep thinking about where things go next. I keep thinking about the best use of my time. I keep thinking about all these worlds jostling about in my head, how they slosh over sometimes without me telling them to. I haven’t figured anything out yet for sure, except that, while I can change what I’ve already given the world, I’m not sure it’s the best use of my time right now. I can’t go back.

I need to move forward, to become.


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Getting ready for my panel

Hey friends! This weekend I am in San Antonio for World Fantasy Convention 2017. The theme is “Secret Histories” and I am moderating a panel all about cities as palimpsests! The panel is called “The Role of Cities in Fantasy Settings” and it will be tomorrow morning at 10 am if anyone is in town.

I got to be panel moderator because of my day job, so I thought I might use this post to make recommendation of some of my favorite books about cities for those of you who may not be able to join tomorrow. I’ll also try to do a recap of what the other members of the panel discuss for next week, though we’ll see how on the ball I am tomorrow morning with note-taking.

Imaginary Cities

First, I spent several weeks leading up to this panel reading the book Imaginary Cities by Darran Anderson. It was a super interesting read, and I recommend it if you are a writer daylighting as an urban planner, like myself. Anderson does a broad survey of the city in literature and architecture, including such famous minds in the urban planning field as Le Corbusier alongside philosophers like Plato and fiction writers like Italo Calvino. It’s a dreamy, memorable survey with a delightful way of looking at things. One of my favorite early lines in the book talks about Le Corbusier’s vision for the city: “It is a city rethought as planetary space, but what can live in a vacuum?” There’s enough fodder in here for all of your storytelling and visioning needs.

The Dervish House

On the semi-fictional spectrum, one of my favorite cities is Istanbul as depicted in Ian McDonald’s The Dervish House, a tense and smart techno-thriller meets near-future dystopia meets historical fiction. Yes, there is a lot going on in this book, and it is done so well. The layers of Istanbul sit on top of one another, bleed into one another, and each character carries their own city with them. It’s a book of intensely vivid prose and gorgeous vistas, all contained around a tight knot of action.

The Water Knife

Paolo Bacigalupi has made a name for his near-future dystopias focusing on climate change. Most memorable of these is the Wind Up Girl, which won several awards, but I think the author really comes into his own with The Water Knife. This book takes place in Phoenix, AZ, conveniently enough the city I was born in, and I had a hard time reading it because it was so incredibly believable. As might be expected, climate change means that the setting is absolutely integral to the plot of this work, and that setting is a grim, waterless future indeed.

The Wheel of the Infinite

Really you could pick up any Martha Wells book and get a delightful lesson on building worlds, but why not start with this one? This city hangs parallel in time or space to another, and the big crisis of the book is trying to keep it from being erased by that other place. Wells draws on canal cities from around the world to design Duvalpore.

The Craft Sequence

I left the Craft Sequence for last because there aren’t enough words to explain Max Gladstones adroit use of the city in these works. The first of the books in order of publication, Three Parts Dead, is set in the city of Alt Coloumb, a magnificent place whose infrastructure is literally the body of a god. Every book in this sequence is set in a different city, each more fascinating than the last, with the most recent book focusing on how cities are narratives, communal decisions in how we want to experience our world. If you have any interest in cities historically, urban planning, fantastical zoning law or anything of that nature, you should probably read these books.

Go forth and read, and I’ll see you next week!


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