Friday, May 1, 2015

Lessons I Have Learned

So did I tell you guys that I joined an online writing workshop this year? I did. I'm still giving a lot of attention to my fiction writing and then some additional attention to trying to get that writing out there into the world and published in paying markets, but the latter part remains a challenge. Of course it's a challenge for everyone pursuing the same goal, the whole point is that markets that pay for fiction are competitive (and also cruelly fickle), but particularly challenging for me is trying to parse the inevitable rejections, particularly when they are of a boilerplate nature. Was the story I submitted seriously flawed, inherently unmarketable? Or was it a good story that just, as it happened, didn't tickle the fancy of the editor whose desk it came across? If it's the first scenario I might as well either dump it in the failed experiment file or tear it apart for scrap. If it's the second, then I just need to shrug off the rejection and submit it somewhere else, again and again until it catches someone's eye.

But I don't feel like I'm particularly good at differentiating between the two possibilities when it comes to my own output. I'm too close to have any proper perspective. So the workshop is helpful in that regard because I get strangers to read my stuff and tell me very specifically what (if anything) they like about it and what they don't. Once I've addressed those concerns, I can feel a little more confident that subsequent market rejections are due to intangible editorial moods and keep reloading. I'm not saying having a story workshopped guarantees that it is objectively good, but I'm optimistic that it increases the odds.

So I've been doing the workshop basically since the beginning of the year and it entails selecting one story each week to read and critique, out of about two dozen, with that slate turning over every Wednesday. In return for doing that on my end, I get about a dozen critiques on the stories I submit - three, so far. It's been interesting and occasionally intense and so far overall worthwhile, I'd say.

One of the unexpected bright spots I discovered was that almost everyone in the workshop is exceedingly gracious. I was anticipating that a hefty percentage of people would do the bare minimum in terms of critiquing other people's stories while waiting for everyone to hurry up and get to their story. But that really hasn't been the case, and people seem pretty generous with their time in terms of providing thorough feedback. And after I sent in my first few critiques, I started getting notes back from the authors thanking me for my thoughts, which I soon realized was more or less the norm. So I started writing back "you're welcome!" to these thank you notes, and in a couple of cases the correspondence went another round or two batting around some general thoughts about the workshop as a whole and whatnot. Good stuff.

So as my stories have gone through the process, I've tried to individually thank everyone who took the time to do a critique, including when my most recent story was up. One critic in particular, in the course of leaning towards the positive side of the feedback (which, to be fair, the entire workshop is set up to promote and encourage people to do) mentioned that she'd be interested in seeing the main character of my story appear again in other stories. When I wrote to thank her, I indicated that she was in luck because I did in fact plan to return the character in the future. Even better, there was already another story featuring the character out there, because what I was workshopping was a sequel of sorts to my tale from the PulpWork Christmas Special 2014.

One of the recurring motifs I've picked up on since intensifying my focus on writing and selling stories is this idea that the upstart independent author should basically be in self-promotion mode all the time, so I was certainly happy to take the opening my fellow workshopper had given me and lob a softball through it. She asked where she could get a hold of the story, although she did also add that if I could just send it straight to her, that would be great. As much as flattery usually works pretty well on me, especially along the lines of "I love what you wrote, show me more!", I had to content myself with sending her the Amazon link and explaining that it really wasn't my call to give away contents of a published anthology for free, because it simply wouldn't be fair to the other authors in the collection, since we all benefit equally from sales of the book.

I did, however, point out to my fellow workshopper that the Kindle version was cheaper than the paperback version, and for that matter, if she happened to have a Kindle Unlimited subscription then the e-book would be accessible through that service for free. At which point I was no longer really sure if I was shilling for my own writing or shilling for Amazon (which, full disclosure, I do own a tiny bit of stock in) but so it goes in this crazy modern world of ours I suppose.

As it turns out you can get a free introductory trial of Kindle Unlimited, which the workshopper had been thinking about, and she decided to go ahead and start the trial so she could get the e-book I had been talking up. I guess all in all I'd call that a win-win, because the more eyeballs I get my work in front of the better for my writing rep, and the more subscribers Amazon has, the better for my portfolio. I'm still undecided as to how distressed I should feel by the fact that I apparently consider my efforts as an amateur author and my efforts as an amateur investor about on par with one another, but I'm sure I'll sort that out later.

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