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Industry Advice: Shane Jiraiya Cummings

by Shane Jiraiya Cummings
Writer and Editor

Achieving that Holy Grail of publication can be frustrating and elusive for the emerging writer. While elusive, it doesn't need to be a path littered with despondency and broken dreams. I strongly advocate it is attitude which makes a writer, rather than raw talent alone. The fundamentals of story telling, and writing in general, can be learned through courses, mentorships, and above all else, practise and perseverence.

It is attitude - professional attitude - that differentiates a true writer from an 'aspiring' writer (one who 'aspires' to write isn't writing, they're people hoping to write one day - a different thing altogether).

To me, a professional attitude (and a professional writer) is one that includes:

  • Completing your work (be it novels, poems, or short stories etc.). Writers write. Remember, you can edit a rubbish first draft, but you can't edit nothing. Put those words on paper (or screen)!
  • Polishing your work once the first draft has been completed, which means a second, third, fourth (or more) draft before it is submitted to a market. When revising your work, try giving it some time (at least a day but preferably longer) between drafts, to allow you some objective hindsight when tackling it again. Never send an editor anything other than your very best work. You can't expect an editor to clean up sloppy work. Remember, you only get one shot at impressing the editor, and first impressions count! Sloppy or hastily submitted work is not one but two strikes against you.
  • Choosing the right market. Do your research. Go to places like Ralan, Australian Speculative Fiction, or Storypilot to find the most appropriate publication for your story. Bear in mind the 'top down' approach (below) when making your list of potential markets.
  • Submitting your work. Don't be afraid to let your pride and joy experience the world. Try a 'top down' approach - send your work to the most prestigious or highest-paying market first (depending on your intent for the piece), and then the second best, etc. etc. until your work is published or you run out of markets. When submitting your work, read the publisher's guidelines - carefully! A surprising percentage of submissions are rejected because the writer didn't follow the fundamentals of manuscript formatting, or understand the type of work the editor likes. Follow the guidelines and you're ahead of half the competition.
  • Making rejection your friend. Rejection is a necessary evil, and one you must mentally overcome. Bear in mind that rejection is not a personal attack. The editor is rejecting your story, not you. Often an editor may enjoy your work and find it of a publishable standard but feels it doesn't fit their theme/schedule/marketing plan etc. It's a subjective business. Use your rejection slips or emails as a badge of honour - they're a good way of gauging your progress as a writer.
  • Listening to editors' advice. When receiving feedback in a rejection letter, take careful notice of what the editor or slush reader had to say. Personalised feedback is a rare and valuable commodity. Don't change your story based on every single comment from the first rejection, but do give it consideration especially when two or more editors are telling you the same thing.
  • Tracking your submissions. Keep tabs on where your stories are, who has rejected them etc. There's nothing more embarrassing than being caught out on simultaneous submissions (especially when two editors want to buy the same story at the same time).
  • Networking. This is perhaps the most important aspect of writing (aside from writing itself), and the most underestimated. Get out to a SF convention, join a writing group (at the right level of experience), meet and talk to your colleagues. Establish a presence - a physical one as mentioned, as well as an online presence. Join mailing lists like the Southern Horror yahoo group, set up a promotional website, or join an online critique or writers community/discussion board. It all helps. Just because you may be unpublished doesn't mean you're not a professional writer.
  • Perseverence. Don't give up! The publishing business is a slow one, but perseverence always wins out in the end.
     8. don’t give up.