Okay – this’ll be a quick one. And I may be doing a few things like this over the next few months (depending on time), even though I always have an innate distrust of writing advice on the Internet. But, I figure I’ve built up some experience over the years, there’s a few things I know – and I might as well try and pay some of this forward.
This came out of a few encounters I had at World Fantasy Con, that coalesced some thoughts I’ve had for a while. I may have tweeted about this before, but blog posts are a tad more permanent.
So – a quick bit of advice for Newbie Writers who are taking steps towards trying to get an Agent/Publisher. If you’re going the self-published route, more power to you – this is for people who are targeting traditional publishing. And it’s a pretty simple bit of advice:
Always have a back-up plan.
Seriously. That magnum opus you’ve been working on for years? The one that you’ve rewritten countless times, that you’ve sweated blood over, that you know could be massive if someone could just take a chance on it, the first volume in a gigantic series that will redefine fantasy/SF/horror/whatever… it could genuinely be as good as you think it is. But that doesn’t mean it’ll sell, or that an editor will say yes, or that it’ll get you an agent. The publishing world is weird and unpredictable in a whole lot of ways, it’s a huge number of people competing for a comparatively tiny number of publishing slots, and sometimes it can be down to timing. It can be down to taste. It can be down to “This is great, but I’m afraid we already have something like this on our list.” It can sometimes take years of waiting to get a decision on a book, and trust me, it’s not the best idea to spend that time either impatiently drumming your fingers or slaving away on book 2 of a series when you don’t know if book 1 is going to sell.
Publishing is a business. Yes, art and beauty and passion are strong parts of it, but it’s also a business. What agents and editors are looking for are collaborators – professional people who can be worked with. They’re not in the business of shepherding special delicate snowflakes on their way to their ultimate destiny – they want authors who can conceivably build a career, who’ll be able to produce time and again on a regular basis, who won’t flame out once they have delivered the one towering masterwork they’ve been slaving away on for the past ten years. And one of the best ways you can show that you’re the kind of person who can adapt, who’s thinking about the future and approaching publishing with the right mixture of passion and pragmatism, is by having an answer to the question: “So, what else are you working on?”
It doesn’t have to be brilliant. It doesn’t have to be mind-blowing. Just a loose, sketchy idea, a possibility for where you could go next, some unexplored territory you wouldn’t mind exploring once you’ve fully defeated the story-monster that’s currently clogging up your head. Have it there, waiting in the wings as a back-up plan, as something to work on when your current project goes out to agents or editors. You might not need it – you might be an instant smash-hit, all your dreams suddenly coming true. But, if things don’t go according to plan, and your big magnum opus ends up on the rocks, you might be grateful for having squirrelled away a few ideas on alternative directions.
Back-up plans. They’re a good idea. Trust me…