Ignorance of professional writing

“Love it when I run face-first into my own ignorance. Will work on another blog post, soon, about something new I just learned I didn’t know.”me, on Twitter

So, as I sometimes do, I followed someone’s intriguing link to the ISBW site a little while ago.  I haven’t yet been intrigued enough by what I saw there to want to actually listen to the thing.  (I basically stopped listening to podcasts 18 months ago, when I switched from working a boring day job that gave me 40+ hours/week that didn’t engage my mind or give me anything else to listen to … to being a full-time creative.  I can’t listen to podcasts while I work on my podcasts, or while I’m reading (books, blogs, news, et cetera), or while I’m writing, or while my wife is home (because I’d rather not be ignoring her during the few hours we have together, awake, most weekdays), and that doesn’t leave any regular (ie: available every week) time for listening.)

Anyway, scrolling back through the ISBW posts (half of which … I don’t get, because I never listened to Mur’s book, I guess) there was one that included the following:

The fabulous tool Story Tracker is now available for your iPhone/touch. I used this tool a lot when I was actively working on short stories for many markets, and it’s invaluable. It takes a lot of work on the front end (listing your stories, the details, sales, rejections, income made, trunked status, etc, not to mention all the details for the markets you submit to) but once you have all the information it’s so very useful. Highly recommended. (Thanks to Tobias Buckell for blogging about it and alerting me to its existence. You’re reading Toby’s blog, right? RIGHT?)

Immediately my awareness of my ignorance was expanded.  That paragraph is like a list of things I didn’t know.  First:  There’s software specifically for authors’ tracking of their short story submissions?  How many authors need such a software for it to constitute enough a market that people are making iPhone apps for them?  I followed the links to the software’s site and the blog in question and in the comments on the blog post discovered two more software products and two additional web services that perform the same function.  Seriously?  How many authors have so complex a situation re: short story submissions that there are (at least) 3 different softwares and 2 different web services to address that need?  A couple other things here I don’t know: What is “trunked status”?  Who is Tobias Buckell?

In the blog post, by way of explaining why the iPhone app wouldn’t work very well for him, Buckell said “I have an excel spreadsheet with 650+ submission entries on it, tracking 130+ short stories or so, I don’t see sitting in place and keying these in by hand into it.”  — What stood out to me first about this sentence was my inability to think of anything near enough places that even publish short stories to accommodate that quantity of submissions.  I had no idea.  On the Duotrope site they “list 2580 current markets, plus 1246 closed/dead/removed/DNQ markets” – where by ‘markets’ they mean … places that publish short stories (or poetry), I assume.  The list of current markets for fiction includes 2121 listings, right now.  I had no idea.

In addition to which … 130+ short stories?  I’ve written 2 or 3 dozen short stories in my life.  Of course, that might have to do with the fact that I didn’t know there were thousands of potential publishers for short fiction, which implies even more readers – someone must be buying what those publishers are putting out, right?  I had no idea.  I’m aware of maybe a handful of places (read: publications) I might go to if I wanted to read short stories, myself.  Not dozens, not hundreds, certainly not thousands.  As far as I knew, from my personal experience as a reader, short stories were vastly in the minority -both in terms of number of stories and in volume of writing overall- compared to other available fiction, perhaps a fraction of a percent.  Since I didn’t read much short fiction, and wasn’t aware of much short fiction, I’ve never spent much time thinking about writing short fiction.

(Of course, until I started reading through industry reports (ie: after I started my own publishing company, in 2007) I had no idea that fiction was only a small fraction of the overall book market.  Fiction gets all the visibility, most of the press, and most of the big advances…  I just hadn’t thought about it.  I’ve never been very interested in writing non-fiction, so I just didn’t look into it beyond by interests as a reader.)

I just … I guess it comes down to approaching writing not as a profession, but as a calling.  Instead of ever bothering to look into what other writers do to make a living, what markets exist to sell the written word into and what they’re looking for and will pay for, I just wrote what I wanted to write.  I wrote the stories that I had to tell, in the way they wanted to be told.  I wasn’t trying to write to make money, to build a career, or even just to follow in the footsteps of other writers.  So many other people who label themselves as writers are on such a different path from me.  They want such different things.  They write all the time, they write with specific markets in mind, they are aware of and follow genre conventions, they collaborate with each other, they build their “platforms”…  I noticed recently that there is a further distinction being made, automatically by people classifying themselves as such – that people who are writing blogs, writing journalism, writing short fiction for specific markets, writing non-fiction, working on most any commercial writing… they say they are a “writer” (or that they are an aspiring writer).  I am an author.  I’m not in this to write.  Writing isn’t the point.  It’s all about the stories, the ideas.

Also, my perspective on publishing itself is a bit skewed, since I know I can put together a collection of short stories and publish it as soon as I’m happy with it.  I can publish even an individual short story as an “eBook” to the kindle and via Smashwords (which is apparently about to start selling through to B&N and its subsidiaries) as soon as any individual story is done, and not wait until I have enough for a book.  I could even put together chapbooks and sell them by hand & through my site, if I had the urge to sell physical copies of short works – individually or as collections not large enough to warrant becoming a paperback.  I hadn’t thought much about submitting short stories to other publishers, since publishing them myself is so straightforward.  I don’t even really know how much money people are able to make from writing and selling short stories to those thousands of “markets” … and I think I’m only wondering it in the context of “how many copies do I have to personally fail to sell for selling to someone else to make sense,” since I’m not really motivated by money – just curious how the different models compare.  Maybe I’ll look into it, now that I know that the short-fiction-publishing world is so much larger and more complex than I’d suspected.  Perhaps I’ll even start writing (and/or reading) more short fiction.  But I have trouble holding back finished writing because it’s the industry standard way to do things, so … I doubt I’ll ever have use for the sort of softwares discussed above.

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Author, artist, romantic, insomniac, exorcist, creative visionary, lover, and all-around-crazy-person.

One thought on “Ignorance of professional writing”

  1. I feel like the difference between 'writer' and 'author' is similar to the difference between 'painter' and 'artist' – and that I think of myself more as an author and artist than a writer and painter.

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