The Business of Writing: Joining the Community

The Business of Writing: Joining the Community

communityI spoke to some creative writing students at a local university last Friday and I tried to tell them something it took me a long time to understand: when you begin your writing career, you’re joining a community.

By writing career,  I mean your first published work. In my case, I was first printed in a ‘zine titled Gauntlet. Before I submitted my story to the magazine, about the only thing I knew about Gauntlet was that it was open to heroic fiction and sword-and-sorcery. I was making a common mistake — I didn’t know  the market.

It’s hard to know ALL the markets, especially when, in those bygone days of yore, to know about the magazine you had to buy an issue. (Most of those little magazines couldn’t be leafed through at local bookstores because they weren’t carried.) Today we submitters have it a little simpler because most magazines have web sites where fiction can be sampled. And, of course, an increasingly large number of magazines ARE e-zines.

I may not have known about Gauntlet (long out of print, alas) before I submitted, but when I was accepted for publication, I read the other stories in the same ‘zine with my tale, and found a fair number that I rather liked. Some I liked so well that I wrote the authors, which is how I became friends with Joe McCullough, Barbara Tarbox, and Shauna Bryce. When I was later published by Fraser Roland’s Sword’s Edge e-zine, I struck up a friendship with another writer, Eric Knight, after I read and loved a short story by him in the same issue.

snoopyI was reaching out to people because writing is a lonely business and I wanted to meet some kindred spirits. What I didn’t realize was that I was also forming a network of friends and allies, AKA “networking.” I dislike that word, though, because it suggests that one is cold-bloodedly setting forth to make friends to climb the ladder, probably before callously putting them aside for new and better and more powerful contacts as one advances. I realize now that I was becoming part of a writing community.

Many writers grow up thinking of the writing profession as a noble romantic one, where we sit alone in a tower room with our raven on a bust of Poe and a cat in our lap. Well, okay, I never pictured that, exactly, but I expected that I would write stuff and I just had to send it out until some editor finally printed me, probably sooner rather than later. As I became a regular at various magazines, I realized just how rewarding it was to be exchanging letters with editors and fellow authors and even readers from the various magazines. After I jumped the editorial fence, I started to comprehend that part of what you’re doing with a magazine is helping to build a community of writers and readers.

If my younger self were getting started today and I could somehow communicate with him, I’d tell him to make sure he knew the kind of stories a magazine published and that if he didn’t like those stories, that the magazine probably wouldn’t like his. I’d tell him to submit to a magazine that published stories he liked, and to join in the discussion.

We wouldn’t be working so hard to get published in this genre if we didn’t love the genre, and I can trace a lot of my success back to actually becoming involved in it (I already posted about the exact steps to my book deal a year or two ago). Corresponding with other writers, writing reviews for genre sites, reading slush, writing editorials, editing for ‘zines and magazines. Eventually, a whole lot of people had heard of me, so that I wasn’t a complete unknown when it got to be time to try to promote my books.

I didn’t know that was going to happen — I just couldn’t stay away from fantasy fiction, particularly heroic fiction. But it DID happen, and even though every author’s journey is a little different, surely there’s some lessons from this story some of you out there  could find useful.


Howard Andrew Jones is the author of the historical fantasy novels The Desert of Souls, and the forthcoming The Bones of the Old Ones, as well as the related short story collection The Waters of Eternity, and the Paizo Pathfinder novel Plague of Shadows. You can keep up with him at his website, www.howardandrewjones.com, and keep up with him on Twitter or follow his occasional meanderings on Facebook.

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sftheory1

Howard,
Awesome post! And so true.

Wild Ape

Have you seen any friction between writers since the Amazon vs the Big 5 lawsuit? I’m new to this stuff but I’ve lost a few writer friends who are heavily partisan in this scuffle. I’ve learned to say little as it is as sensitive a subject as declaring oneself liberal or conservative. In fact,those politics shave off friends as well. Do you find it best to keep your opinions quiet? Or is it better to go Doug Giles and let it fly?

I remember you from way back. I used to read Flashing Swords and got in on the forum where a lot of the players here talked there. They all seemed supportive and boosted each other. Several people from back then became published writers. Fast forward and the same crowd seems to be here with a bunch more faces and talent.

Where are the sword and sorcery magazines? Black Gate isn’t open to submissions until 2016. 2016! Let me say that again: 2016! Really? Why is that?

The only market that I see as open is the self published eBooks. Word of mouth from Black Gate hss helped me to discover several good stories from a bunch of new writers.

What makes me scratch my head is why is Black Gate closed to subscriptions until 2016? I’ve never put together an eZine and I don’t know what sort of task this is (it is probably very time consuming and more a labor of love) but why aren’t there more Sword and Sorcery mags cropping up? It seems like there is a lot of talent sitting around. I don’t have the big picture but that is how it looks like from my small little laptop.

All the best to you Howard and your friends. I hope they all see print and work in what they love.

markrigney

Networking is definitely easier now that the internet predominates. And Howard, you’re absolutely correct that in academia, nobody really talks about the importance of networking. People study craft and technique, but have you ever heard of a graduate level class in networking? Not outside of an MBA program.

But perhaps it was always just a matter of making sense of the information available. Look at the endless volumes of letters left behind by previous generations of authors. And you know who they wrote to most often? Other authors. Kipling to Haggard, Dickens to everyone, Steinbeck to his agent and on and on and on… History tells us that writers have always been quick to network, with pen, quill, and parchment. Or skins. Or smoke signals: whatever was handy.

One thing I will say about fantasy/genre editors: they are much more likely than their lit mag counterparts to correspond, or at least send a friendly note. I’m not sure what the difference is, but it may come down to simple enthusiasm, a quality that seems to me to be lacking, sometimes, in the so-called literary establishment.

So for those looking to network, I’d have to say BG is the place to be.

Wild Ape

I’m both flattered and wincing that you remember me. Those were the days that I was in the military and more unvarnished than I am today. Nowadays I’m really more a Domesticated Chimp than a Wild Ape. I had to learn how to be a civilian again.
I wanted to mention that I loved your book “The Desert of Souls”. I read it the first time for fun and reread it to disect how you did things. Not that you were bad back in the Flashing Swords days but you’ve come a long way and learned a lot of new tricks that have improved your craft.
In an earlier post you recommended that writers branch out beyond our genre. I’m honestly trying that because I know there is something to that. I’ve found that writers I’ve met tend to cheer each other on. That is pretty cool.

M.H.

So, networking…

I’ve discovered in the last five years how fun and engaging forum discussions can be.

So, other than the comments section at the end of Black Gate posts, is there a single forum out there that fantasy and sci-fi writers retreat to?

I would be very interested.

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