June 2, 2013

WRITING ADVICE: Bruce Bethke’s TWELVE STEP PROGRAM FOR WRITERS #10

Somewhere around thirty years ago, I met Bruce Bethke for the first time – when I responded to an ad in a newspaper for a science fiction writers group seeking new members. I called, then sent in an “audition story” and was invited to join the group at the ORIGINAL, original Loft Literary Center (before grant money started flowing) in Minneapolis. One of THEM reviews books now, the other published a few books and short stories but no longer writes. Bruce doesn’t write much lately except for non-fiction; he is currently executive editor of STUPEFYING STORIES, an irregular anthology of new speculative fiction, he mostly works for a super computer company as well as presiding over Rampant Loon Press. These nuggets of wisdom can be found here: http://www.sfwa.org/2009/06/a-12-step-program-for-writers/. They are used with the author’s permission.
    10. We will continue to take inventory of our old unsold stuff, in hopes that something will germinate in the dark and suddenly and spontaneously become a best-seller.
I completely get the first part – but I am puzzled by the last part.
 
So, I’ll do the tough stuff first: “...in hopes that something will germinate in the dark and suddenly and spontaneously become a best-seller.”
 
As I am an old writer, I do in fact, have paper files that would allow something to grow in the cabinet were seeds to get in and water seep create a moist environment conducive to germination and growth.
 
I also realize that paper is DEAD organic matter and turning into something that it is NOT is akin to expecting Spalanzani’s mesh-covered meat to burst with maggots and flies. It’s not going to happen.
 
I have submitted, at best count, something like 800 times. At a guess, I have on file (paper and electronic) something like 600 manuscripts. Of those, roughly 10% have been accepted for publication SOMEWHERE. That means that 60 of my manuscripts have seen the light of day and someone besides me has read them. If I were to dig back to my earliest attempts, I’d find completely unpublishable (note to self: “Self, is it significant to the state of publishing in this second decade of the 21st Century, that until I added, Microsoft Word XP did not have ‘unpublishable’ in its dictionary? This would make an excellent POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY!”)
 
To date, none of them has reached the NYT Bestseller List (though one is still available from CSS Publishing or Amazon.com).
 
The chances of one of the remaining manuscripts becoming a bestseller are the same as the chance of you spontaneously combusting in your rocking chair. According to Straight Dope, “Over the past 300 years, there have been more than 200 reports of persons burning to a crisp for no apparent reason.” That works out to a .18% chance that you will spontaneously combust today – with an average world population of 3.5 billion, you’d have to wait six million or so years before your turn came up. Your chances of being hit by a tornado are better: “Even if you were to camp out permanently in the heart of tornado alley, statistically speaking you would most likely have to wait 1400 years before being struck by a twister.” (Skyfire TV)
 
So germinating a best-seller from my earlier manuscripts is pretty much a bust. But I can SEND OUT earlier manuscripts to less exalted markets than I usually write for! I did that recently.
 
The first part of Step 10 is easier to understand and I have evidence that doing it on a regular basis might just net a sale for me.
 
I primarily write science fiction because I primarily read science fiction. (Of COURSE I’ve read Chronicles of Narnia (odd – Microsoft Word XP has the word “Narnia” in it…); Lord of the Rings; The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Unbeliever; Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell; War For The Oaks; and Chronicles of the Deryni! (Who DO you think I am?)). I wrote a story I really loved and duly sent it out to my primary markets: ANALOG, ASIMOV’S, OSC’s INTERGALACTIC MEDICINE SHOW; and LIGHTSPEED.
 
Rejected there, I aimed at my second tier magazines: DSF, BUZZYMAG, and a few others. Finally, frustrated, I sent it to AURORA WOLF. The editor there loved it, paid me and published it! (See the link above if you want to read it.)
 
This was a story I’d almost given up on – I’d sent it out the first time in March of 2011 and revised it twice. It was in a world that was sparked by an idea that Bruce Bethke had tossed out and while it took two revisions PAST the usual number I do with a typical story, it did in fact, spring from my files as ultimately published! Another piece of fiction has the same story –written in 2010, it suffered through six markets over the next year and it was ultimately published as a PODCAST by an English online YA magazine! (Cool, huh? I’m published internationally!)
 
Anyway – I continue to mine my past for present and future ideas – and Bruce Bethke recommends that same! (Tongue in cheek, of course.)
 
Image: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_EdiSPJX1jg8/STgq3AHYToI/AAAAAAAAA6I/dzfU2LaUgos/s400/Redi.JPG

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