Evolution of a Writing Career: A Workshop with Ken Scholes and J.A. Pitts

Although my day job is currently web strategy and analytics, I've recently finished my first science fiction novel. I'm at my first Orycon, a Portland, Oregon science fiction convention.
I just finished the Evolution of a Writing Career workshop led by authors Ken Scholes and J.A. Pitts.

Here are my notes:


  • J.A. Pitts:
    • started writing when he was 13
    • writing short stories forever
      • “wow, that’s a great first chapter of a novel”
      • “you can’t have 9 plot lines in a short story”
    • started writing seriously in college. studied english. had to spend 10 years unlearning everything he studied.
    • got discouraged frequently: had to learn to get touch skin. if you aren’t getting rejections, you aren’t working hard enough.
    • if you want to be a professional writer, you write. that’s it. it’s a job. it’s not a hobby.
      • most people don’t think of their writing that way, and that’s a mistake.
      • if you want to make a living at it, you’ve got to treat it like a real job.
  • Ken
    • started telling stories when he was really young. 
    • started submitting stories when he was 14 years old.
    • came back to it, dabbling a little in 1996.
    • didn’t know there was writers groups, conventions, etc.
    • decided he didn’t like writers groups. they don’t work for him.
    • if you are wanting major distribution, then you generally want a publisher. even the exceptions (like eragon, which was self published)...in fact have traditional publishing working for them: both of his parents were editors, and were best friends of professional editors and publishers.
  • Beginner friendly markets
    • Use duotrope.com and ralan.com.
      • have both short story and novel markets
      • use publishersweekly.com (cost $20/month): has an email that comes out each week, and publishers and agents usually post their sales there. so if you want to see who is publishing and buying what, you can see it.
    • Never undersell yourself. Always start at the top. Always go down the list. If you start at the bottom, you will get sales faster, but you won’t get the reach.
    • There’s no such thing, because no market is really friendly.
    • “the smaller the market, the more egotistical the editor is.” - they want more edits, for almost no money.
    • Don’t stop: keep going through all the markets. You can get 30 rejections, just keep going.
  • e-publishing markets are OK if they pay you. 
    • orson scott card has an electronic distribution.
    • tor.com pays 25 cents a word.
  • Self-publishing
    • Avoid self-publishing at all costs.
    • you’ll get negative rejection from a lot of people in the business if you’re self published, and you’ll have to overcome that.
    • on the other hand, for established writers... when their old books are not reprinted by the publisher, then the rights revert to the author. they can resell to another publishers, or they can self-publish, which some writers are now doing.
    • maybe only if you’d already tried every market and no one accepted it, or if its older stuff that no one wants.
    • The other thing that happens is that if you finally sell your 3rd or 4th novel, they might say “do you have anything else i can buy?” at which point, having a bunch of previous, unsold manuscripts is a great resource.
    • If you are putting out a novel a year, then you have a good pipeline, 
  • Rights:
    • science-fiction/fantasy writers of america: professional organization. will help you if you are concerned about contract violations. 
    • Read everything carefully - don’t sell all world rights for a fixed price. “first world english”, whether you can resell it, etc. you always want to have to right to resell if possible, in case you get picked up by something else, something new.
  • What to do when the offer happens
    • dance
    • ken: by the time you are getting an offer from a new york publisher, you probably have an agent, and they will help advise you.
    • john: didn’t have an agent, got a call from an editor, and when he did, the editor asked “do you have an agent?” the answer was: “i’m close, let me get back to you.”  then scrambled to get an agent.
    • you don’t have to start with an agent, but you have to get an agent or a literary lawyer. the contracts run from 16 to 30 pages. you want someone who can really interpret that for you.
    • the agent gets 15% of your book deal forever. so they have a vested interested in getting you a good deal.
  • Finishing vs starting something new vs. continually revising
    • Your old material will never be as good as your new material. You will keep getting better and better. You can’t just relayer new stuff on top of old. Write it and finish it. Get it as good as you can. Then go out and market it. Don’t touch it again until you get a request from an editor to make a change.
    • Submit everything. Don’t worry that it’s not publishable. The longer you practice submitting stories to markets, the better you will get at it.
    • Editors don’t remember the bad stories. They remember you, and they remember that you are a consistent writers. Editors talk to each other. They root for you as writers. The more you submit, the more consistently, to more markets, the better and better chance you get.
  • Resubmitting...
    • if the editor asks you to make changes or suggests changes, then do resubmit.
    • if the editor for a market changes, then do resubmit.
    • if you did some rewrites for another market, you could do a query first.
    • It’s all about relationships and etiquette: you want them to have a good vibe about you.
  • Rewriting on request:
    • If you want to sell, do it.
    • They would love for you to be a best-seller. They are trying to make it be a better book.
  • Identity and Branding
    • Go get your domain name for your name.
    • One for your book, one for yourself, have a blog, have a twitter. 
    • Publishers have a limited amount of capital. The bigger folks gets more marketing dollars.
    • So decide... how important is it?
    • The first thing a publisher is going to do is google you.
    • Don’t let it interfere with writing time, but do treat it like a business. Schedule time to do a blog post a week.
  • read christopher moore: extremely funny writer, writes about vampires and horror, but marketed as mainstream.
  • World building (in fantasy novels)
    • You want it to be as smooth as possible.
    • If it’s rice, call it rice. If it looks like a horse, call it a horse.
  • 55K novel length
    • That’s fine for YA, which comes in around 60K, but it’s not enough for big world thrillers. But, there are some markets that might take it. Submit it, get feedback from editors and agents.
  • favorite books on writing
    • natalie goldberg... writing by the bones
    • ben bova, orson scott card... both have books
    • but best thing you can do it just read, read, read.
    • any book that sings to you is a good book to learn from.
    • zen and the art of writing by ray bradbury.
  • cover letters... they don’t need a love letter. only what your story is, and what relevance you experience have.
    • use a personal touch, especially if you run into an editor at a conference.
    • nice people are remembered better than people who aren’t.
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