Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Encouragement for New Writers

Did I ever tell you that my first professional publication was in Star Trek, Strange New Worlds, Volume V?

I'd been writing, well, forever. Pretty much since I knew how to craft letters with a pencil. I loved books, loved stories, and couldn't wait to tell some of my own. But for all of you who love to tell stories, you know: Writing isn't the tough part. Submitting is. And rejection can be even worse.

Flash forward to the year 1999. I finally worked up the nerve to submit a short story to Strange New Worlds. It was an annual contest and I'd read the prior volumes, amazed by the stories I found there. Even better, there was an AOL group (remember those?) that chitchatted about how to enter, what mistakes to avoid (no staples, no wacky fonts, and for heaven's sake don't require the recipient to have to sign for it!). I sent in a story. But I still made a huge mistake. I forgot to include the SASE. Turns out the editor was sending comments back that year in checklist form. Comments that might have helped with writing the next entry. I blew it!

It's near the end of 2000 and I'm submitting again. This time I wrote a story that meant something to me. I sat down and made it the best story I could. But I hedged on sending it. I waited until the very last minute, and decided I had to mail it or I'd never know what might have been. So I rushed to the PO and paid a ridiculous sum of money to have it overnighted.

I couldn't wait to see the results online. But on the day the winners were announced, I sat back in my chair, disappointed. My story hadn't been chosen. But at least this time I'd included the SASE so I hoped, really hoped for some feedback.

Here's my favorite part of the story:
About a month later, mid-afternoon, just before the kids got home, the phone rang. It was the editor, Dean Wesley Smith, calling me at home. What???
I knew I hadn't won a spot in the anthology so I couldn't imagine why he was calling.

But he explained. He really liked my story. Liked it a lot. But because of other reasons, reasons that make perfect sense, it couldn't be published. To be honest, I kinda thought that might be a problem even as I wrote it.

In case I haven't made it clear: That phone call meant the world to me. Dean taking the time out to tell me that my story was good made me realize -- maybe for the first time -- that I really could do this. That maybe I had what it took to be a writer. I can't even begin to explain what an important moment this was for me.

So... why am I telling you this today? Because Dean, and his wife Kristine Kathryn Rusch, who have since both become friends, have a whole lot of information to share about the publishing world. Between them they've probably published 150 (more?) novels and countless short stories. They've edited, published, written, taught. You name it. They're great people and extremely generous with their knowledge.

Dean writes the Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing blog and Kris writes the Freelancer's Survival Guide. Do you want to be a writer? Then click on either, or better yet, both, and read and read and read. I just noticed today that Dean mentions my short story in his latest chapter of Killing the Sacred Cows and it brought back a flood of memories. That's what inspired me to share it here.

What happened next, you ask? In 2001, I submitted a new story (I actually submitted a couple that year) and saw my first publication in SNW 5, in 2002. Then again in 2003 and 2004 (my "Life's Work" actually won the grand prize that year). And that year, 2004, was the same year my first novel was published by Five Star.

It's 2010 now, and I have two series with Berkley. Love them both. I've won writing awards (woo-hoo) and I'm doing exactly what I wanted to be doing since I was about six years old. I'm having the time of my life.

Dean's call that day still stands as the very best rejection I've ever received. And it probably will always be the best rejection ever.

I am so lucky he took the time to encourage this new writer. To me, it made all the difference.

So, new writers - read those two blogs linked above. And don't stop writing.

Author, editor, and agent friends - when you see something in a new writer's work that catches your eye, maybe take a minute to let that new writer know. It could make all the difference to them.

Thanks, Dean!


Anonymous said...

Dean still talks about that story when he does workshops in Lincoln City. It does indeed sound like perhaps the greatest Star Trek fan story ever told. I am happy to finally be putting a face with a name.

I was a Strange New Worlds entrant myself. Never won, but Dean's very encouraging feedback kept a tiny thread of hope alive at a time when the entire enterprise of writing for publication seemed hopeless.

I'm selling my stories now. Took me awhile to ramp up to pro level -- the proverbial "million words" as they say. But Dean and Kris both have been very important to me, in how they have encouraged me to keep going, abandon certain myths, and now that I'm making it, how to navigate the publishing world as a pro.

Again, so nice to put a face with a name. Well done, and great blog post.

Julie Hyzy said...

Thanks, Brad. Nice to "meet" you. Congrats on selling stories and on hitting those million words. When I first heard that, I thought... I'll never hit a million. Yeah.. well, once Dean and Kris get hold of you, a million whips by in a flash. They are amazing and I'm so lucky to count them as friends.

Thanks for stopping by!