More Advice to Beginning Writers

Several years ago, I posted some advice to beginning fiction writers. I still field regular queries from aspiring writers. Lately, the questions I’ve received have fallen into three general categories.

How to Keep Writing When Things Get Tough

I’m a binge writer at heart, so I set aside large blocks of time to work on my stories. I write whenever I can but I don’t write fiction every day. I’m frequently working to deadlines; it’s mostly a function of having a lot of projects to finish and teaching and other freelance to juggle along with my writing. I prepare for a writing session by making sure I’ve got coffee and a playlist of music that I only listen to while I’m writing — I find that environmental cues like specific music are very helpful in getting my brain in gear for what I need to do.

Generally, if I get stuck, I just switch to a different project, and in the rare event that I just can’t seem to get anything done, I go out for a walk in the park or go to a movie. Mild writer’s block is often a sign that a story has taken a wrong turn and I need to back up and reconsider what I’m doing with it. Serious writer’s block is a sign that I’m too tired or tapped out creatively and so I need to take some time to recharge.

How to Create a Fiction Collection

A fiction collection is a book of stories (or poems or other short work) written by a single author or set of co-authors. This is in contrast to an anthology, which is a book of short work by a group of different authors. Fiction anthologies are often centered on a particular theme; collections can be themed, but often aren’t.

The first step in my process of creating a collection is pretty obvious: write the individual stories. If you’re putting together a short story collection, keep in mind that you will need to have at least 40,000 words of material. I try to sell most of my individual stories at least once before I put them in a collection, simply because I earn more money from my writing that way (and connect with new fans of my short fiction!), but I also do try to include one or two new pieces in a book.

Working to sell your stories before you collect them will slow things down, because in addition to sending the story around and waiting for it to be published, you’ll have to wait out the publisher’s exclusivity period, which will be stipulated in your contract. A six-month exclusivity period is pretty common, but more and more high-paying markets want one or two years. (The two-year exclusivity clause on my story “The Yellow Death” is why it’s taking so long for my new collection to be released.)

Once I have a critical mass of stories I haven’t used in a collection before, I go through them to see if and how they fit together. I spend a fair bit of time looking at how the stories flow and resonate with each other when I’m putting a collection together. I’ve gotten better at that as I’ve gotten more experience.

Selling a collection can be a challenge. Unless you’re a bestselling author or the winner of a major literary prize, it will be difficult to get a major publisher interested in a collection. Fortunately, there are a lot of small and mid-sized presses that publish collections. Do a search at The Submission Grinder to find open markets.

How to Succeed in This Crazy Business

I wrote a nonfiction book a couple of years ago entitled Shooting Yourself in the Head Fun and Profit: A Writer’s Survival Guide. That book contains practically all of my business-related advice for new writers. Seriously, it does!

But the really short nutshell advice I’d give people who want to become writers is: read as much as you can, write as much as you can, try different things, develop your craft, and don’t give up. You’ll probably get a whole lot of rejections before you get any acceptances. The people who succeed in this business are the people who don’t give up.

Image courtesy Antonio Litterio.

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