Drawing Lines

The past year or so has taught me a lot.  Between the publication of Just Like Hell and Broken Skin, I received several offers for collaborations, appearances in anthologies, and magazine publications.  I’ve scored a contract for a novel and then been released from it.  I’ve written two novels that were both gutted when smarter writers pointed out terrible flaws.  I’ve made more and more friends within the business, and every single one of them had helpful advise to send my way.  At the same time, I’ve seen some ugly things, practices and philosophies that make me want to run screaming from this genre.

Instead of running, I drew some lines.  A career, even a teeny-tiny one like mine, isn’t worth a damn thing without some form of integrity.  Now, I don’t have a whole lot of integrity, but I figured it was best to lay out a few rules for myself.  Those rules (and their exceptions) are…

1) The story has to be one I want to tell.
Maybe this one is a no-brainer.  What I mean by it is no forcing a story if I’m not passionate about it.  If there’s an anthology paying pro rates (or even more importantly, less than pro rates) calling for “Terror at the Zoo” stories or something, I won’t force a story just to make a sale.  If I don’t have a story to tell, I won’t crap one out.

2) I don’t work for free.
In the past, I’ve done work for a few anthologies that were paid on a royalty-only basis.  I did it because I thought it would help gain me some wider recognition.  Well, three years later I still haven’t seen any royalties, and that tells me a little something about how many people picked up those books and now recognize my name.

Now, this one has some exceptions.  There’s the “For a friend” exception.  There’s also the “For a good cause” exception and the “Way too fun to pass up” exception.

3) The publisher matters.
I’m not excatly the most in-demand writer, and I’m fine with that.  I do, however, take the publisher of any potential project into account.  Do they have good distribution?  Have they screwed writers in the past?  Do they have a history of good production values?  All of these things need to be taken into account, as I’ll only be taken as seriously as a publisher allows me to be.

4) I will not beg for awards.
Last year, Just Like Hell racked up enough recommendations to make the Stoker long list for short fiction (yeah, that’s a weird sentence).  My great source of pride lies in the fact that I didn’t trade recommendations with any authors, an offer I received more than once or twice.  Every rec came from somebody who read the book and liked it.

In the past week, I’ve seen a few people make offers of free books or pdf copies to voting members of the HWA.  Now I did something similar last year, when there was a big thread of folks doing it on Shocklines.  All I received was a single offer to trade recommendations, and the whole thing just made me feel like a whore.  Well, that’s not going to happen again.  If something I write ever makes the final Stoker ballot or wins (hell, that goes for any award) it won’t be because of my prodding.  Otherwise, it’s not really an award, but a favor.

So that’s what I have right now, my four guidelines for a better career.  Maybe they’ll lead me right.  Time will tell.

3 thoughts on “Drawing Lines

  1. Respectable. Keene was right about your talent. Just like hell was really good and broken skin has a few great tales. Need more.

  2. Good plan, Nate. I’m almost finished with Broken Skin, and its great so far. Keep writing.

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