Category Archives: Starting a Career

…And That’s Okay!

The first time I put serious thought into publishing my work was the summer of 1995, at the age of twelve. I’d been writing longer than that, but in 1995 I completed work on my first novel. Naturally, I was very proud of it. I’d given it to my English teacher to peruse, and he told me it was promising (it wasn’t; this was a blatant lie, told in the interests of not discouraging me from continuing my burgeoning hobby, which I suppose makes it okay). My family said it was great, as did some family friends who had taken the time to look it over. All lies, all of them. Either that or these people had seriously poor taste in literature. I’d much rather prefer to believe they were all lying to me.

The internet was a relatively new innovation at this time, one to which I did not have access at home. Our family had recently purchased our first home computer—a 386-something-or-other that ran Windows 3.1, if you dared enter that rabbit hole, but most of the time I stayed in the safe, warm embrace of black-screened DOS and its easy-to-navigate list of ten games I played over and over again. These were simpler times, and the internet hadn’t yet punctured them.

The internet had, however, made its first appearance one street over from mine.

Armed with my rave reviews, and the promise of finding answers to my publishing questions on this new-fangled world wide web, I paid an afternoon visit to a friend’s house. My friend’s mom sat down with me in front of the computer and together we ran a search—on Lycos, I think, or maybe AltaVista?—for how I could publish my first novel. I was no noob; I knew things. For example, I’d written a Star Trek novel, and thus I could limit my inquiries to one publisher in particular—Pocket Books, who had an exclusive deal with Paramount to handle the Star Trek novel line.

I’d been promised answers, and answers I got. And they were very discouraging. I learned that Pocket Books would only accept my novel and give it consideration if I had an agent to represent me. Next, we tried searching for information on how to get an agent, but there were no clear-cut answers to be found. Well, at least some things haven’t changed in the intervening twenty years!

My discouragement struck hard and fast because I had a whole slew of questions about how to make it as a bigtime author, and I intrinsically knew that the answers to these questions, as they related to me, could be summed up in two simple phrases: “You’re screwed. Don’t even try.”

I’ve learned a lot since then, and there’s so much advice I would give to my twelve-year-old self that it’s hard to know where to begin. In short, though, I’m not sure I would offer myself specific advice as I would offer reassurance that I wasn’t, in fact, screwed and that I should, in fact, try—and try very hard.

In the wake of my preteen despair, I remember wondering if all the people around me were lying about the quality of my writing. Future Evan goes back in time and says, “Yes, they are… and that’s okay. You’ll get better.”

I remembering wondering if it was going to take much longer for me to become a published author—after all, one of my favourite writers at the time, Gordon Korman, was published when he was twelve. Future Evan goes back in time and says, “Yes, it’s going to take you a very long time, much longer than Gordon Korman… and that’s okay. It’s not a competition.” It’s pretty easy to see now that Korman was just a hell of a lot better than I ever was at the same age. Seriously, that man was put on this earth by demonspawn to torment me.

I remember wondering if I was writing fast enough. It had taken more than a year to write that first novel, and I knew a lot of writers who were churning out books much more quickly. Future Evan goes back in time and says, “No, you’re not fast enough… and that’s okay. You’ll get faster. Probably.” The truth is, I’m still not writing fast enough today, but then again, what is and isn’t fast enough to compete in the present marketplace is an open question. And it’s highly individual.

In closing, I guess the morale of all this is that I’m not sure I would change anything. When it comes to writing, there just isn’t any shortcut. Over time, there are a number of basics you have to figure out for yourself: you have to find ways to write when you don’t want to, and be productive; you have to lean on the advice of successful people who have already achieved what you are aiming for, and disregard most advice from those who are on a different trajectory entirely; and finally, you have to accept that this process is going to take a lot of time.

Seriously, a lot of time. But if you’re persistent and good—yes, you do have to be good—then you’re well on your way. Keep chugging away, Preteen Evan, you’ll get there yet.

The Holy Grail of Creativity

A guest post by Brian Herbert.

There are many pieces of advice I could give to myself if I were a new writer at the start of my career.  From the perspective of decades later and millions of words in print, there is much I could say about the decisions I have made, the paths I have taken, the worlds I have created, and the characters who inhabit them.  I could encourage the fledgling writer to be observant and keep a journal, to write every day, and to develop a thick skin, so that he doesn’t give up, even in the face of having his stories rejected repeatedly.  I could lengthen this list considerably with tip after tip .  . details about how to plot, how to build character files, how to build suspense, and how to market his stories.  Structural and practical details, and they would be useful.

But there is an even more important piece of advice, one that I consider to be the most valuable of all.

It has been said that a writer should not write for money, that this should not be his first thought when a piece is created.  In this line of reasoning, if he discovers and nurtures his talent, the money is sure to come later.  Eventually, he will receive piles of cash; he just needs to write without getting paid much for a while, and the income will come later.  This advice is interesting on the surface, but if a new writer really has creative integrity, he will not expect the money to come at all.  Such a possibility will not even be in the back of his mind.  He will be engaging in the creative process for an entirely different reason.

In writing, as in art, many people copy the work of professionals they admire.  Art students sit in museums trying to replicate the works of great masters, seeking to learn their painting techniques.  Would-be fantasy writers read Tolkien over and over, and then produce stories that mimic the works of the master.  They say they were “inspired” by Tolkien.  This happens in other literary genres as well—mystery, adventure, romance, science fiction, mainstream.

Many writers are looking for a handy formula, on which they can hang their own words as a sort of façade—a way of masking the fact that they are not being original, and perhaps that they are not capable of being original.  Some musicians do this, and produce works that sound very much like those of others.  It happens throughout society, with one product looking very much like another one.  Automobile after automobile, house after house, commercial after commercial, book after book, movie after movie.

If something sells, it has countless imitators.  But I would tell the new writer that taking this path would be selling his creative soul.  If he were to take that route—be it in art, writing, music, or any other art form—he is not truly being himself; he is trying to become someone else.  The most important thing a writer of integrity can do is to have the courage and honesty to find himself, and to express that self in words.

Originality is a noble goal.

I’m not saying it’s easy to attain this objective.  Corporate publishers want material that is similar to other material they have published “successfully” (i.e. that has made money), and writers naturally fall into that trap.  In order to sell their stories they think they must copy, because another writer has made a name for himself that way, and writers are desperate to be successful, and to be paid well.  So they replicate the works of others (like taking a recipe and changing an ingredient), and make excuses for doing so.  After all, certain ideas are already out there being copied, and writers are getting away with it, so why not jump on the bandwagon?  Why not be “inspired” by a writer you admire?

There are many temptations leading the would-be writer onto that course, telling him to do exactly this.  If he takes the bait, he rationalizes doing so in any number of ways.  People are good at rationalizing, at finding excuses for less-than-noble behavior.

Admittedly, I’m being idealistic, considering the trickiness and laziness of human nature.  But I’m talking about human potential here, about a writer’s own personal potential.  I would encourage him to try going inward, instead of picking the ideas of others like fruit from a tree.  Try going deep inward.  Have the courage and the patience to do this, and see what is there.  Look for integrity and originality, in the deepest regions of personal consciousness.  A person might find a real pearl there, instead of an imitation.

The new writer might ask how this can possibly be accomplished, if he needs to make a living.  The bad news is, that for this approach, he might need to keep his day job for awhile, and perhaps for much longer than that.  Think of the great artists and writers who never found commercial success in their lifetimes, but stuck to what they believed in anyway.  They stayed the course, knowing deep within that they were creating important works, and that one day they would be recognized.  This type of writing from deep within, this type of artistic expression, should not be done for money, not in the near term or in the long term.  It should be done for an entirely different reason.

It should be done for the holy grail of creativity, in a heroic effort to find the writer’s own originality.  It has been said that each of has at least one interesting story to tell, at least one book within each of us.  I would also like to think that each human being has at least one original thought.

I’m not going to tell a new writer how to accomplish this inward journey, only that he should make the attempt for his own sake, no matter how arduous it is.  After all, if I were to provide detailed instructions on how to attain the holy grail of creativity, it would be a formula, and that’s exactly what we are seeking to avoid.

Brian and Jan HerbertGuest Writer Bio:  BRIAN HERBERT is the author of multiple New York Times bestsellers. He has won several literary honors including the New York Times Notable Book Award, and has been nominated for the highest awards in science fiction. In 2003, he published DREAMER OF DUNE, a moving biography of his father Frank Herbert that was a Hugo Award finalist. His acclaimed novels include SIDNEY’S COMET; SUDANNA, SUDANNA; THE RACE FOR GOD; TIMEWEB; THE STOLEN GOSPELS; and MAN OF TWO WORLDS (written with Frank Herbert), in addition to the HELLHOLE Trilogy and thirteen DUNE-series novels co-authored with Kevin J. Anderson.  In 2013, Brian published OCEAN, an epic fantasy novel about environmental issues (co-authored with his wife, Jan). Brian’s highly original SF novel, THE LITTLE GREEN BOOK OF CHAIRMAN RAHMA, was published by Tor Books in July 2014.

It’s a Business

I graduated college in May 2007. I had no idea what to do next. Luckily, I landed a job interview with a well-known publishing company, and it turned out to be one of the best, hardest lessons I’ve ever had to learn.

Annoying young business people being way too enthusiastic about business.
Annoying young business people being way too enthusiastic about business.

Dear Kristin circa May 2007,

Oh you beautiful, delicate flower, you. I know you think you’re really good now. Your writing isn’t bad. Really! I like how you use poetry-like metaphors that only a few people seem to understand, and your interesting paragraph structure. It’s all about the self-expression amiright? Yes, I am right, and so are you.

Like the Terminator, I come bearing news from the future. In a month or two, you’ll have an interview at a big publishing company. Yeah, I KNOW.  Good job!

But you will not get the job. Wah wahhhhh. And it’s important that you don’t, so don’t go trying to change it. One of the most important life lessons you will learn happens in that interview.

In the interview, you’ll have a short conversation with the Associate Editor. She’ll tell you that after leaving college, she was idealistic. She was after changing the world. “Cool, me too!” you’ll think. And then she’ll drop this bomb on you. “But this is a business. Yes, it’s a publishing company, but it’s still a business.”

At the time, you’ll wonder why she’s trying to crush your spirit and decide she hasn’t had her coffee yet. In the months after the interview, you’ll understand.

No matter the cause or mission statement, every organization is a business. Every business needs to make money. If they happen to make dreams come true along the way, that’s cool. But the bottom line is that a company needs revenue to continue.

This is where you come in. You love writing, and you do it pretty well. Keep doing it. Keep getting better, keep making friends who are professionals. But also remember this: a publishing company is a business. In order for anyone to read those flowery prose pieces you like so much, you have to make sure they are sellable. Make sure the story is compelling, new, unique. You love experimental writing, and I’m not saying you should stop writing it. But you should also hone your skills on telling good, tight stories that publishers will want to buy.

The future is bright. Hone those skills. Write sellable stories while staying true to yourself.

Oh, and stop with the flowery prose. No one seems to like those but us. Er… me.

Hugs and Kisses

Keep on keepin’ on,

Kristin circa August 2014


It Takes a Tribe

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We get it into our head that writing is a solitary art.When we first dreamed of being a writer, who saw themselves as sitting along in a cabin banging on a typewriter? Come on. I see you over there. Put your hand up. You know it’s true.  Okay, put your hand down. If you were really advanced in your dreaming you’d have acknowledged on the edges that at some point other people come into the picture – an agent, a publisher, the reader. But that was way downstream. This whole creative gig. It could be done alone. Right?


It’s time we stopped kidding ourselves.

We lose writers – good writers – every day from the profession because they “go it alone.” While actually putting your butt in a chair and writing will almost always be a solo activity (even in a collaboration you are responsible for writing your part) the path that leads you to your keyboard and beyond is filled with other people. Spouses, significant others, and friends give us support, we may bounce ideas or our outline off them. We confer with experts to ensure our writing is accurate enough to be believable. We work with dozens of people to hone the story, the prose, the cover, the blurb, and all the lovely marketing bits. We need our readers.

But the biggest thing your writing tribe does is keep you going when you are in a low spot.

This past week I was in a low spot. I’d been rejected from two anthologies.   Two of my stories had been rejected from different anthologies.  I was sincerely happy for everyone who made it in but the rejection cut deep. Mostly though, I’ve had some stuff hanging over me for a while and it was coming to a head. I felt so alone. All my husband’s attempts to calm me put me into full-out panic attacks. (Sorry, honey.) So, I did what I’ve never done before. I asked my writing tribe, this tribe, for help. Now, I didn’t really tell them what was happening just that I was going to be facing a ton of adversity in the next 24 hours. The outpouring of support was humbling. Their words of encouragement, thoughts and prayers gave me the strength to go through that trial with grace and a sense of peace. My Tribe had my back. I wouldn’t have come through the crisis without them.

At the same time our Facebook group was discussing another writer the profession had lost because going alone had broken her spirit.  She went so far as to announce the death of her pen name. She didn’t have a support group. It broke many of our hearts. It’s a huge loss.

It shouldn’t have happened.

The advice I’d give my younger writing self? Even more than “don’t listen to your high school English teacher. You absolutely can and did write the story that touched her heart.”? It’s this:

Surround yourself with like minded-people who are going through or have already gone through what you are going through.

With your Tribe you can accomplish anything you work for.

Ask for and accept help. This is not a a  sign of weakness but of strength.

Know you aren’t alone.