July 4th, 2009

Willow

On building careers

I'm working at the moment on getting two book projects to completion, slushing for Shiny 5 upcoming issues, talking to novella writers about novella projects, and developing some new future projects for Twelfth Planet Press. All of which are exciting. And all of which I am really enjoying working on. And it's gotten me thinking.

I was invited recently to participate on a panel talking about why we need small press to publish specfic. It's similar to other panels I've sat on before. And my response reminded me of how it felt to be on a recent panel in Adelaide. See, when I think about it, I don't think we do need small press to publish specfic - not *us* as readers. Not us really as a specfic community either. Small press is going through a bust period, and has been for the last two years, and we've all gone on like it hasn't happened. We still read specfic. We can still find specfic to read that we like. And the majority of specfic readers won't even have noticed there was small press, let alone that it has diminished.

Small press is traditionally the place for writers, artists and editors to grow and learn their crafts. It's a place to try new things, be non-mainstream, be less safe in your choices. It's also a place to learn about the industry. And I think that's really why we need small press.

As I learn more about the industry, and gain experience with each project, working with each writer, I'm learning a lot in terms of how small press is a great opportunity to gain exposure and to learn the art of professionalism. Both for me, as publisher and editor, and for the writer. I've worked with writers on their first publication and I've worked with writers who have been publishing for 20 years or more. And it gives me the unique position of seeing how different writers interact with the editor. Everybody needs different things from the editor and I definitely interact with different writers differently but I must confess it's the most fun with the classiest writers. This, for me, is what makes this gig. What's interesting though is that as you go along, you develop a bit of a list - people who, if you had two manuscripts that you loved equally, you might choose one over the other, just because you had a better experience working with one writer than the other.

And what it makes me realise is, the question of why a story gets rejected has lots of answers. It could be that it's not good. It could be that it doesn't conform to the guidelines. It could be that it's not well written. It could be that the market just accepted a story like it, or already has too many stories like it in that issue/volume/collection.

I have worked with some awesome writers by now. Writers who have been being published for much longer than I've been in the game. And pretty much, without exception, these writers tend to take on board criticism. These writers are not precious about the 6 words on page 13. They are never the writers who tell you that you have missed the point of the story, or explain to you what you didn't get about the plot, and they never tell you that you are wrong (at least about the big things, I'm all up for debating the small ones like semicolons or hyphens). And you know why they don't? Cause those kind of writers respect the reader. They know that if the reader didn't get the work, or the point, it's not the readers fault, it's a flaw in the work. And these writers don't cry, they don't whine on their blog, they come back to you in a couple of days or a week with a new version. And what floors me is when large sections of the plot come back completely from a new angle, or have taken the story in a completely new direction, so totally reworked that you just think ... wow! They did that in 3 days?!

And the thing is, when you get the privilege of working with a truly classy writer, you kinda get a bit spoiled. They are so professional. So prompt in replying to emails, they ask for deadlines and meet them. They follow up on all your queries. They are available, they don't fall off the face of the earth days before the print deadline without signing off on the proofs (that's happened to me). They are reliable and they are enjoyable to work with. They work with you and you get to experience that creative synergy. And what that means is that the next time, if I have two manuscripts that I like equally well, I'm likely to buy the one that I know means working with the writer is going to be enjoyable and efficient. I am not likely to choose the writer whose last experience to work with was painful. And the more painful the writer, I reckon the harder they have to work for their work to be a cut above the rest in order to shift their manuscript up the pile.

I'm reflecting on this because of late I've been working with some really talented writers and artists. People who take feedback as part of the creative process. I've really been enjoying seeing concepts develop and grow and watching how both the art and stories have evolved into final products that sometimes look very little like the first draft. When you become less attached to every detail about a work, when every single word or pen stroke no longer define who you are as a writer or artist, you become more comfortable experimenting and deconstructing and rebuilding. And for me, I think that's when work gets really interesting. Particularly when looking at working out why something doesn't work and when something else does, which sometimes helps you figure this stuff out the next time too. When you accept that nothing is ever perfect, and you can let that go, you create a space that encourages improvement and growth. And development. You create a space that allows more risk taking. Because there is no penalty for failing. And that becomes really exciting to watch, and sometimes be a part of.

I've learned a lot too about the industry, through the luxury of small press. I've made my own mistakes as an editor and publisher. I am always interested in new writers who are just coming along, at the beginning of their career. And I have a ways to go yet, doing my own time, seeing things and stuff, but I have a keen interest in seeing how writers go. Seeing how successful different approaches to the editing and publishing process become.

The thing though that I always keep in mind is, honestly, losing one really brilliant story by accident (ie by not "recognising" the talent) is a price, but it's a small price, compared to being stuck in a really unfun editorial process for a story that is less than brilliant.

(ETA: And on rereading this, I've just figured out who the audience is for small press - it's readers who love seeing and supporting the development and evolution of a craft, just like me.)

cuppa

long day

Probably not a good sign if you have to watch an episode of Enterprise twice in order to understand the plot. I was working and talking the first time through.

I got my hair colour slightly changed today, not too radically since job interviews may come up soon, and also cut. Benji went to the groomer's. He came back from the groomers banned but also closely shaven. He looks like a clean little lamb. But he is either very tired from his stressful day of being grumpy or he isn't talking to me. He's not allowed back there so I have to find a new place and hope that soon I can break my curse of getting dogs who bite.

Spent the afternoon at Supanova with catundra and talmor. I got a "And then Buffy Staked Edward" Tshirt. Had a good look around and things. Asked Jennifer Fallon a question (I'll blog about that tomorrow). I came in under budget cause I didn't really look closely at things - I of course need comics and books and DVDs and whatnot.

I ended up shopping online for fat quarters for the monochrome project. I am forever amused how these things start out as cheap scrap quilts and end up costing as much as a big, planned one. Though, I have been planning and collecting my black and whites for a while so it's not a true scrappy quilt at all.

Tomorrow I have a luxurious day of WORKING!!! Yay. I hope to tackle some bigger TPP tasks. Sort some Swancon 36 stuff. And feel accomplished by the end of the day. That's the plan anyway.