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Industry Advice: Stephen Dedman

by Stephen Dedman
Award winning author and editor of Borderlands

Whenever I give a writing workshop, the first thing I ask the people to do is to write a list of their reasons for writing or for wanting to be a writer (not exactly the same thing). I then point out that I’m not going to ask to see the list, so they can be absolutely honest. Not all writing is done with the purest of motives, after all (vide the cavalier poets). And that seems like a good place to start here. How important is being published to you? Is it more important than enjoying the writing process? Do you pick your market before you start writing the story?

If so, then maybe you’re doing something wrong.

There’s so much good advice on this site already that there’s not much more I can add to it, but I will repeat Kim Wilkins’s point that you absolutely must write for its own sake. Write what you want to write… better still, write something you would want to read. When you’ve finished a first draft and are happy with it, then you can start worrying about who else might want to read it, and pick a market to submit to. If it’s not easily pigeonholed into a genre, read the magazines that are out there and see which editor’s tastes are closest to your own. If it’s rejected, pick another market, and try again. If you run out of markets, wait. New markets will appear.

My story "The Lady of Situations", had garnered at least thirteen rejections before Ellen Datlow bought it (I probably could have sold it if I was prepared to accept a token payment, but I thought the story was too good for that). I once spent several days researching a story about a war between Chicago mobsters and horses, and at the end, was convinced that this was too weird to send anywhere. I sold it two months later when an editor approached me saying he liked my stuff and needed a short story in a hurry for a new e-zine. I once wrote a comedy about the Mall of America being R’lyeh, and sent it to a few friends as a Christmas card, but I was sure no-one would ever buy it. The next year, one of my editors asked for stories for a collection called Cthulhu and the Co-eds. And so on.

Of course, when you’ve promised an editor a Dracula story by the end of the month, or signed a contract to write a sequel to your first epic fantasy novel, it may not be the best time to devote all your energy to writing a cross-dressing lesbian ghost cowboy romance. If you have a deadline, make sure you meet it; you can indulge your taste for weirdness in your own time. If/when you get to that stage, then writing has become your job – but it should never just be a job.

Whether you ever make a living from it or not, your writing should be exciting and entertaining for you as well as your reader, and your published work should be something you can take pride in. Now stop reading, and write! I need something amazing for the next issue of Borderlands!