Ask The Writer: “How Do I Get Published?”
This post is a bait-and-switch.
I’m warning you up front that this is me being a Cheaty McCheaterPants in that I’m totally not going to answer the question posed above. First, because despite what you may think, the question of “How do I get published?” (or its variants: “How do I make a game, how do I sell my script, how do I get to write Batman?”) has a many-headed and surprisingly complex answer. (And also: not that interesting.)
Second, because I’m kinda a jerk.
HA HA HA SUCKERS.
Okay, so, to set the stage:
As you know, I spoke at the Crossroads Writer’s Conference this past weekend.
At such conferences and conventions you always end up meeting a wide-eyed and delightfully eager gaggle of hopeful penmonkeys young and old who have not yet had the optimism beaten out of them and, more to the point, have not always had wisdom beaten into them.
(I am of course ever a fan of beating wisdom into writers. Often with a board. A heavy wooden board.)
Part of what always stuns me about these conferences is the focus — more from the standpoint of the question-askers rather than the answer-givers or the conference-holders — on the end game. The then above the now. The result rather than the process. The publishing above the story. More crassly, the questions end up being more about the commerce rather than the craft.
Now, let me jump in here and say: knowing the in’s and out’s of publishing is important. Being aware of the business and its greasy, sinister workings is a feature, not a bug. That business stuff is important, but it only follows the part where you learn how to craft the fuck out of your art, or art the fuck out of your craft (just don’t fuck either out of either). Because, I gotta tell you, for every one question I get about the actual writing or storytelling process I get ten questions about agents, or editors, or publishers, or getting movies made or scripts read or why I won’t have sex with them and love them up with my heroic “beard-style.” (OKAY FINE NOBODY IS ASKING ME THAT SHUT UP *sob*).
Getting an agent or putting your manuscript and script out there isn’t exactly easy, no, but that process is fairly mechanical. That’s one step in front of the other. But writing a book? Producing a killer script? Telling a motherfucking bomb-dropper of a story? That’s really hard. That’s the tricky part! A story is this big, hard-to-contain thing, this overwhelming gas giant of possibility that requires a level of emotional and intellectual commitment drawn from a far deeper well than you could imagine. Knowing how to make a character pop, how to make a story feel impactful, how to elevate tension and keep your readers biting at the bait on your hook — these are the tricky tasks. These are the jobs that have no easy answers, that cannot simply default to a mechanical menu of pre-programmed actions.
The whole “endgame” bullshit is fairly rote and, frankly, not all that magical. But the writing part, the storytelling part — that’s some voodoo, right there. That’s some at-times-awesome, other-times-awful, awe-inspiring, heavily-perspiring, weird and wonderful and fucked up and frustrating and completely imperfect power. It’s your power as the writer. That’s the part that remains entirely in your control.
Hell, I can’t tell you how many people want to know how to get published before they have even finished the story. Which is like asking how to write an Oscar speech before you even get cast in the goddamn movie. (Or, for your sports nuts: like asking how you get on the cover of a Madden video game before you learn to throw a football. Or, for you “aspiring serial killers,” figuring out what your death row meal will be before you’ve even flayed the skin off seven dead hoboes.)
Witness this pair of tweets from (ahem, incredible) author Paolo Bacigalupi:
— Paolo Bacigalupi (@paolobacigalupi) October 7, 2012
So: I’m not saying I won’t answer questions about agents or editors or publishing or any of that end-game stuff. And I’m also not saying you shouldn’t ask. But what I am saying is, focus more on the part where you produce the material that matters — the material that will first launch your ass into the realm of the publishable, the editor-needing, the agent-having, the fan-favorite-being.
Work on the story.
Character, plot, theme, process, beginnings, endings.
Ask those questions first.
Don’t be distracted by questions that do not pertain to you. Not yet. Asking those questions and getting the answers is a way to feel productive, to lend some credence to ourselves (and even to others) that says, “Look, I’m asking the important questions, the questions about how I get paid, about how I do this without losing my car and having to take out a second mortgage on my first-born.” But fuck that and forget it — pay attention to the order of operations. Write first, publish after.
As they say, love writing as much as you love having written.
Also, YES, FINE, I’LL HAVE SEX WITH YOU JEEZ.
(*gallop-dances into the wall, passes out in puddle of blood*)
Want another hot tasty dose of dubious writing advice aimed at your facemeats?