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Investment

Writing anything requires a certain amount of investment from a writer. Time, naturally. But a story also contains little bits of who were are. Writing a book is a substantial commitment, professionally, and often emotionally.

When the story is complete, the investment remains. We want it to be read. To succeed. To endure.

But sometimes our best efforts don't sell. Sometimes it's the writing. Sometimes it's the market. Sometimes it's some weird combination of circumstances that lead to rejection. (In fairness, weird combinations of circumstances often lead to acceptance as well.)

Which brings us to the point of this blog entry: When do we give up on something we've written?

That's a tough question. Is it time to abandon a piece after ten rejections? Or a hundred rejections? Six months? Three years? Does the time we spent writing it play a part in this decision? Does how much we personally like the story factor in?

The point is, we eventually need to give up. We need to stop dwelling on what didn't sell, and focus on something new that might sell.

Almost every writer I know has a shelf novel. Almost all of them have short stories that never say print. In some cases the writers admit this is a good thing. Work that doesn't get published often has specific reasons it wasn't published.

But sometimes we can't point to any particular reason. Sometimes we're 100% certain that a particular piece is gold, and can't understand why it didn't sell.

While rejection is tough, clinging to something because you're emotionally invested in it isn't a smart career move. It's better to move on to something new. Even if you're sure it's good.

So what do you do next? Assuming you've sent you book/story to everyone, reworked it several times, and still struck out, what your next course of action?

1. Grieve. Depression is an obvious response to rejection. You're allowed to wallow in it, as long as the wallowing doesn't last for more than a day or two. If it lasts more than a week, then you probably really are the untalented whiny loser you think you are, and should chose another profession.

Winners don't mope. Winners chalk it up to experience and move on.

2. Put it away. Distance yourself from the project by getting it off your desk, computer, and out of sight. Stick it in a drawer and promise you won't take it out for at least a month. Then you can peek at it again with fresh eyes, and maybe you'll gain a new perspective on it. Maybe it isn't as good as you thought. And if it is, well, rejection is part of this profession. Get used to it.

3. Write. Writers write. You're a writer. So write something else.

4. Post it. We write because we want to be read. If you have a story or book that you can't forget about, no matter how hard you try, make it available for free on your website. Downloads, email installments, audio podcasts, newsgroups and message boards---the whole World Wide Web is waiting to read you.

That's pretty much a lie. Very few people on the Web will actually care about the stories you post. But it can't hurt, and maybe you'll get a few encouraging emails. There's also the small possibility you will get a lot of reads. Stranger things have happened. At the very least, you're getting more reads than if the story was in a drawer.

5. Publish it yourself. By which I mean DO NOT PUBLISH IT YOURSELF. If you really have to, visit www.lulu.com and use them. Don't get an ISBN. Don't try to list it on Amazon or get brick and mortar stores to carry it. Print up some copies for friends and family and leave it at that.

I've written scads about the perils of self-pubbing and POD, and I say DON'T DO IT. REALLY. I'M SERIOUS. THESE CAPITAL LETTERS SHOW YOU HOW SERIOUS I AM.

6. Network. The conferences, book fairs, and conventions you go to are great places to meet other writers and gossip about who is sleeping with whom and who just lost their agent and who is drinking too much.

They're also great places to find out who is editing which upcoming anthology. I've had several rejected tales that were magically resurrected because a peer contacted me, asking to submit something. Often they didn't ask. Often I asked them, after buying them a beer.

Having a few unpubbed stories in a folder isn't always a bad thing. When the right place meets the right time, you can pull them out. But this involves keeping an ear to the ground, and staying active in the community.

7. Read. Want to know what's selling? Buy and read what's being published, and you'll know what editors are looking for.

That doesn't mean jumping on the latest trend and writing a carbon copy--though a lot of writers aping The DaVinci Code and Harry Potter did okay with that. It actually means knowing what types of stories websites, periodicals, and publishers, are looking for.

Books and stories are bought by editors. Editors are people, with tastes. Appeal to their tastes.

8. Get over it. Yes, you spent a lot of time putting those words on the page, and they're dear to you. But put it in perspective. They're only words on a page. Even if those words did sell, you'd still have to move on and write something new.

Dwelling on past work, whether it was published or not, won't do anything for your future. I know too many writers who have been tinkering with a story, book, or manuscript for much longer than they've needed to. A better scenario is to abandon that albatross and begin a new project.

Conclusion. The publishing world, much like life, often isn't fun, fair, or easy. Don't blame the industry. That's just how it works. If you want to blame someone, look in the mirror. You're the one who chose this. If you're miserable, it's your own fault.

Also, if anyone reading this is editing an anthology, I'm pretty sure I've got something uniquely suited for it. Send me an email, and I can get it to you right away...

Artistic Anguish

Many writers say you have to write every day.

That's BS.

"Write when you can" is a good rule of thumb for newbie writers trying to break in, or those who have busy lives and need to micro-manage their time.

My personal motto is: "Write before it's due."

I don't believe in muses, any more than I believe in writer's block. I heard a fellow writer once say, "No one ever gets farmer's block." I agree. If your job is to be creative, performing on cue is a must.

And please don't overplay your own importance.

A famous writer once said, "There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you."

She didn't ask for comments, but I'd offer, "Being trapped in a burning car seems a bit worse."

Writers tend to do two things really well: whine and inflate their own importance.

Who was that famous guy who spent an entire day anguishing over a semi-colon placement? Am I the only one who thinks this is ridiculous? And we're supposed to look up to him as some sort of ideal for artistic integrity?

Tell you what--spend two minutes fretting over the punctuation mark, then spend the other eight hours of the day volunteering at a soup kitchen. Then you'll have my admiration.

Writing IS NOT HARD. Laying bricks is hard. Curing disease is hard. Fighting in a war is hard.

Writing is sitting on your butt and stringing words together.

And what's with these writers who think all they have to do is write? They really, truly believe it is a publisher's job to sell the books, and all they have to do is turn in a decent manuscript.

Look, I'm the first person to admit that self-promotion is expensive, exhausting, time-consuming, and difficult. I'd much rather sit in my house and write books instead of doing all the travelling, lecturing, signing, and Internet busywork that currently occupies most of my professional life.

But name any other job that is 100% fun. Tell me who loves every second of their 9 to 5 day.

Imagine an executive saying, "It's not my job to take meetings" or a chef who insists "I won't cook vegetables."

Here's a shout out to all of my writing peers: We're entertainers. We're the folks who tap dance on the street corner for money. We should consider ourselves lucky to have this job, and be willing to do whatever we can to keep this job.

Save the drama for that journal your kids will throw away when you die, and realize how good you really have it.

And the next time you think that writing is hard, or that you don't want to self-promote, or that your precious words are the most important objects in the world, gimme a holler. I'll stop by with some matches and a can of lighter fluid and I'll help you readjust your priorities.

Casting Your Net

I just joined a few more online billboards.

This means, besides my blog and website, I'm maintaining 12 other hubs on the Internet. If you're curious, here are all the links:

Joe's Amazon blog: http://www.amazon.com/gp/blog/A1EF5ODLYYMZIU/ref=cm_blog_dp_artist_blog
Joe on Facebook: www.facebook.com/people/JA_Konrath/679343992
Joe on CrimeSpace: http://crimespace.ning.com/profile/Konrath
Joe on Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/137270.J_A_Konrath
Joe on ITW: http://www.thrillerwriters.org/connect/JA%20Konrath/
Joe on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/JoeKonrath
Joe on MySpace: www.myspace.com/jakonrath
Joe on RedRoom: http://www.redroom.com/author/ja-konrath
Joe on Shelfari: http://www.shelfari.com/jakonrath
Joe on Squidoo: http://www.squidoo.com/jakonrath
Joe on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/jakonrath
Joe on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._A._Konrath

Some require more maintenance than others. MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter lead the pack, needing to be updated almost daily. Others, such as Goodreads, Shelfari, RedRoom, and Crimespace, are fine to check up on once a week. The resy are mostly sites I can visit once a month. Squidoo and Lijit can be set up to practically run themselves.

Of course, the more time you spend on each of these, the more effective it becomes as a billboard.

At this point, I'm fine with having a toehold in each of these communities. People join them looking for books, or friends, or just something to entertain or inform, and I've made it easy for them to find something that fits the bill: Me.

That's the first step. But to truly take advantage of Internet relationships, the next step involves time. Time to seek out people on these sites. Time to announce yourself on them. Time to respond to those who have contacted you.

But is it worthwhile?

As the world continues its race into a digital future, it is becoming more and more common to have relationships with people you never actually meet in real life. And unlike real life, these relationships often have less baggage and more leeway. You aren't required to do as much, give as much, or be as responsible with online friends as with real life friends.

And yet, your online friends can vastly outnumber your real life friends, and they can also be a gigantic feather in your self-promotion cap. They can help spread the word. They can buy your books.

I've mentioned many times that people are searching for two things on the Internet: Information and Entertainment. While a visual medium, the net is still all about words. You enter words into Google. You read words in response.

Who better to blaze a trail in this frontier than people skilled to use words?

Your words, in the form of communication and correspondence, are a very effective way to garner supporters online. Your words, when advising and entertaining, will help to keep these relationships going, and are also helping to build relationships with people who you don't even know exist.

The majority of folks who visit my blog and website and billboards are lurkers. They stop by. They read. And if they like what the read, they often buy my books. All without ever letting me know.

It's great to have cheerleaders, linking to you, mentioning you, corresponding with you. But it's also great to have a silent audience who doesn't ask for more than the time you've already given creating a blog or homepage or billboard.

So I don't mind maintaining these billboards. And as more social networking sites spring up and gain popularity, I'll go there as well. I want to be where the people are. I have information and entertainment to give them, but it is only useful to them if they know it exists.

No Dues is Good Dues

When I first became published, I joined every writing organization I could think of. I wanted to meet other writers, to learn about the industry, to be invited to exclusive gatherings, to have the opportunity to be included in anthologies, to get my name and bibliography in mailing lists and newsletters and on websites.

I eventually let all of my memberships lapse, with the sole exception being the International Thriller Writers.

The reason for not rejoining these organizations was a purely selfish one--I didn't feel that they were worth the seemingly ever-increasing dues I had to pay. I believe writing organizations are supposed to help writers, but I couldn't really point to anything helpful being done for me or for my career.

Networking with fellow industry professionals is a wonderful experience, but I discovered I could do that without spending several hundred bucks a year in membership fees.

I've never really understood the importance of awards, and have found some of them to be nepotistic and self-congratulatory.

The organizational newsletters and websites that listed my books also listed 3000 other books, making me wonder about their effectiveness.

I kept up my ITW membership because that organization did help me and my career, namely by putting one of my stories in a high-profile anthology. They did other things as well, but that was a biggie and it earned my loyalty .

Then just yesterday, ITW sent out an email that said, in part:

From the beginning, ITW was not – and was never intended to be – a writer’s organization like most others. Our purpose was not to collect dues, publish newsletters, and have a convention once a year where we get together and talk about what fine fellows we are. We are a group of published writers who have banded together to promote our genre in an innovative, effective way. With that in mind, the Board of Directors decided in July that dues are inconsistent with our mission, and we have voted to eliminate all membership fees for qualified, active members.

Well color me impressed.

With this one decision, ITW has made me believe there is an organization that truly wants to help me and my career. But it's done more than that. I've long stood fast to the belief that volunteering is masochistic, and no good deed goes unpunished. However, if the ITW decides it needs me for something, anything, they've got me, no questions asked.

For the first time in my professional life I feel proud of being part of writing organization. And it's a really nice feeling.

To learn more about the ITW, visit www.internationalthrillerwriters.com.
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