Career Plan for Fiction Writers
by Victory Crayne
Table of Contents
- Learn how to write better.
- Learn how to critique.
- Seek clips of your writing being published by others.
- Submit manuscripts.
- If you are writing novels, seek an agent.
- Submit (booklength) new material via your agent, if you use one.
- Pay attention to the business of writing.
- Treat editors as human beings too.
- Keep in mind these helpful hints.
- References on writing
This is a posting of ideas for a career general plan to succeed
as a fiction writer. Non-fiction writers may pursue a different
It is meant as a GUIDELINE ONLY and was compiled from the ideas
of many postings to the Usenet newsgroup misc.writing as well as
other sources. This is not intended as a strict edict but rather
as a list of possible steps a beginner may follow to a career in
fiction writing, benefiting from some of the collective wisdom of
many who have gone before them.
The author, Victory Crayne, is solely responsible for typos and
2. Learn how to write better.
- READ! READ! READ! in the area of your interest in
writing AND other areas/genres as well. This will help you recognize good writing when you see it.
- WRITE! WRITE! WRITE! every day. The best way to achieve this is to set a goal of how much you will write every day, either in words or pages. Write even if you don't feel like it. The mere act of writing can stimulate your creativity.
"By making writing a part of your daily routine--just like
brushing your teeth--you'll discipline yourself to work as a
writer instead of a hobbyist who only writes when there's some
fun to be had." - Theresa Grant
- Lurk on the Internet and read paper copies of other people's
writing and critiques of same. You may pick up some useful ideas
on how to improve your own writing.
- Attend a class on creative writing.
- If possible, take a class in writing in the field you want to pursue, for example, science fiction,
horror, fantasy, mystery, romance, historical novels, etc.
- If your grammar or punctuation has been criticized on a number of occasions,
attend a class on grammar or study up on grammar on the many websites available. Poor grammar will turn off any editor
and will reduce your chance of having your piece accepted.
It will also turn off many readers who care about the language.
- Try to complete something to submit to magazines, critique groups, or newsletters as often as you can. The guideline here is: "Learn to fail fast." That is, test the waters
with your best efforts, submit them for review, and study
carefully the feedback you receive with an open mind to self
improvement. Realize that you will not learn as fast if you wait
until your material is "perfect" before sending it out.
- However, never submit something that is not your best effort
to date. One good way is to critique your own piece. Can you find
the weaknesses BEFORE you send it to anyone?
- Remember that the secret to success is revising.
"I have never thought of myself as a good writer. Anyone who
wants reassurance of that should read one of my first drafts. But
I'm one of the world's great rewriters." - James A. Michener.
- Ask some fellow writers to review you piece
before you send it to the "'outside world." Be willing to return
the favor by critiquing their works promptly when asked.
- "Never ask a friend, family member or coworker to review your
ms. Get a writer who is on the same level or higher than your own
experience; you'll then be assured that you're getting feedback
you need from someone experienced, instead of someone who will
pull punches or tell you what they think you want to hear." -
- There is some debate on whether posting your writing to
public outlets like the newsgroups alt.prose and rec.arts.prose
could be interpreted by some editors as "publishing" and would
decrease the attractiveness of your submissions to them. This
subject is being hotly debated on the Internet.
"Copyright, publication and the net are hotly
debated. Putting something in rec.arts.prose is no more
'publishing' than making a printout of your ms. and letting
someone else read it for fun and/or feedback." -Theresa
"I think it makes no difference any particular way,
except perhaps to some on-line, non-pay 'zines' that are in
competition with the newsgroups, in a sense. Real publishers
wouldn't know or care." - Jack Mingo.
- Another way to get reviews by others is to join a writers
critique group, either in your local area or on the Internet. In all
fairness, you should also read and post your critiques of other
writers' contributions to such a group.
information on online critique groups or workshops, see Writer's Resources at http://www.crayne.com/wri-res.htm. In addition, you will find
other web sites there for writers, many of which list writers workshops on their home pages.
- Some people use the "buddy system" to help their
productivity, asking another writer to communicate with them
FREQUENTLY, to help each other develop a better habit of writing daily.
3. Learn how to critique.
- Learn to critique others' writing. The better at critiquing
you become, the better writer you will become. In your critiques,
try to list positive steps for improvement in the story.
- Read my article "How to Critique Fiction" at http://www.crayne.com/howcrit.html, which goes into
detail on points to look for and questions to ask yourself as you
prepare a critique.
4. Seek clips of your writing being published by others.
- Seek information on publications that might be interested in
what you have written.
- Try to get samples of the publications to which you are
interested in submitting. Ask yourself: Will my piece fit in
here? If not, then the editor is not likely to buy your story. Editors
get a lot of material every week. Don't waste their time and your
postage submitting to the wrong publication.
- If you are sending a short story, send your entire
- If you are sending a long piece, first send a query letter.
Write a brief one paragraph description of your story to send
with your query letter. Send multiple query letters for the same
piece to different publications, to save time. This is different
from "multiple submissions," where you send complete copies of your long piece.
Besides, it saves money on postage.
- Do not use a vanity publisher, which is like paying someone
to say they liked your writing. Not credible if you wish to get
paid by an editor for another piece. The key here is: Which other
editor has thought enough of your work to publish it?
- Send your work to the appropriate market.
"Don't sell yourself short; dare to dream. You might
sell to a top market before you ever sell to a non-paying market
- you won't know unless you try. In the same way, it's good to be
cooperative, but don't be too humble either." - Rheal
"Start your marketing at the top; that is, with the
best magazine that you think has a chance at wanting your story.
Work down the list from the top. The 'best' means different
things to different writers. If you're writing for money, it
means the magazine that pays best. If you're looking to be widely
read, it may mean the one with the highest circulation. To some
people, 'best' is an intangible; the magazine that you think has
the best reputation, the best production values, one that puts
you alongside other writers you respect. If you're an academic
looking for tenure, it may mean the one that's most respected in
the academic world." - Geoffrey A. Landis
- If you have some non-fiction writing to your credit,
mentioning it might help. For example, writing articles for
non-fiction magazines, press releases, pamphlets, etc.
- Keep a goal of getting published for money--which earns more
respect. Therefore, after a limited number of these easier
targets, start sending your work to paying editors only.
- Be willing to closely follow the guidelines for submission of
each editor you use.
- Format your work professionally for the editor's reading and
run it through a spelling checker before mailing. If grammar is
still a weak spot, run it through a grammar checker AND have someone who has a good eye for grammar look it over. An electronic spelling and grammer checker will never be perfect. Proper
formatting is better covered in books, other magazines, etc. and
will not be covered in detail here.
5. Submit manuscripts.
- The concept of submitting manuscripts "simultaneously" to
different editors is a very controversial subject.
- If the editor's guidelines say "simsubs" are okay, then by
all means do it. That increases your chance of finding
acceptance for publication. Tell the editor you are submitting
simultaneously to other publications, for example, "This piece is
being submitted simultaneously." They know what that means; you
don't have to apologize.
- If the editor says "NO simsubs," then by all means send out
ONLY ONE copy to ONE editor and wait for their response before
sending out to another editor.
- Keep the number of simsubs at a level you can keep track of.
The more you send, the better your chances. But--when one
editor accepts a piece, you MUST inform those other editors
- Discipline yourself in handling submissions.
"Earmark a day of the week as 'submissions day.' On
that day you WILL get out at least one submission. Do it on a
regular day of the week. If you pick one solid day to ALWAYS
generate a submission or query, you'll start snowballing the
effect of acceptance and rejections. As responses pick up you'll
get into the 'business' of being a writer, all because you
earmarked one day where submissions and queries WILL be done." -
- In your cover letter, you may wish to OFFER to send a floppy disk, CD, or email attachment
containing your complete work.
"In general, editors don't want to see a floppy with
submissions; it clutters up their desk, and, worse, it won't stay
paperclipped to the manuscript. It will probably be discarded
before the manuscript is read. If editors want an electronic
copy, they will ask for one *on acceptance*. (If you want, you
can put in your cover letter that you will send a floppy on
request.)" - Geoffrey A. Landis
- Of course, some publications will accept email submission.
CAUTION: Do not send your manuscript via email unless that is
stated as acceptable in the editors' guidelines! Editors do NOT
appreciate having their email inbox full of unsolicited
manuscripts. Don't bite the hand that feeds you.
- Don't stop writing while waiting for replies. Realize that
you may have to submit five or more different stories before you
- "Keep good records of which story has been to which market
and where it is now. You may think, on starting, that you
couldn't possibly forget where you sent something. Wrong; you can
and you *will*, if you don't keep good records. Start out right
with your first story. Records don't have to be *elaborate* --the
name of the story, the market submitted to, and the dates of
submission and response, written on a piece of paper, is fine." -
Geoffrey A. Landis
6. If you are writing novels, seek an agent.
- "Having a few stories published will help you to get an agent
to read your material seriously. However, this is not absolutely
necessary to getting an agent. Many of my friends have gotten
agents simply on the basis of submitting a good manuscript. [On
the other hand, other people I know have had their agent contact
*them* after seeing several stories in reputable magazines.] An
agent is important for novels but not for short stories or
articles." - Geoffrey A. Landis
- "You can also submit novels directly to a publisher without
an agent. Selling a novel will *definitely* increase your chances
of getting an agent." - Geoffrey A. Landis
- "Most agents do not bother with short story and article
writers. The money isn't there, and the representation hinders
timely publications. Story and article writers crank manuscripts out like
candy." - Theresa Grant
- "...why an agent? Only if you're planning to do books and
already have some dynamite proposals ready. Agents don't handle
articles or short stories, and won't take on a new client until
they're ready to submit something really good. Better advice:
publish a few freebies if absolutely necessary, but
simultaneously work on getting published by 'real' (paying)
magazines and newspapers. Use this to make some money and
eventually step into higher paying jobs." - Jack Mingo
- Get advice on good agents for your area of writing
"If writing books, get copies of the books by authors
you most admire in the field and find out who the agent was for
that book. Target that agent FIRST before farming/trolling for
unknowns. You'll often see the same agent's name popping up over
and over within the same genre. It's not coincidence." - Theresa
- You may find the names of agents in the many books in the
library or bookstores, in the back of writer trade magazines, or
by asking other writers.
- Remember that agents are people too and they wish to make a
living from professional writers who write good stuff. Do not
expect them to cater to your emotional whims. You are NOT YET a
well known writer! You can bargain for more after you establish
your reputation in print. The best reputation will come from
getting published by editors who PAY for your work. Agents are
your best way to get the attention of these valuable and very
- A good agent is worth his or her commission.
7. Submit (book-length) new material via your agent, if you
- Deal with an agent who will work "on commission only" and not
require an upfront fee.
- Monitor your agent's efforts and results to verify that you
have chosen the proper agent for you.
- Treat your agent professionally.
- Question: should you be willing to pay a "reader fee" for
independent professional readers when asked?
"YES. Sometimes it can really pay off. For example, I
read and critique novels on the side. I charge a fee to read, to
edit, to critique, etc. Paying a professional to read your work
pre-submission is like paying someone to detail your car before
you take it in to use as a trade-in for something better. It's a
little bit of money, but a shiny car (or manuscript) really does
get the better price." - Theresa Grant
"NO. Or, at least, if you do, be very wary. Any
agent who charges a reading fee are not making money from selling
your stuff, they are making money from accepting manuscript fees.
Be especially wary if an 'agent' tells you that you need your
manuscript worked on (at a hefty fee) and then gives you the name
of a person to do it." - Geoffrey A. Landis
8. Pay attention to the business of writing.
Remember at all times that to make money as a writer you must pay
attention to the "business of writing," a rational activity. This
is not the same as the process and emotions of writing, a
9. Treat editors as human beings too.
- Some editors are also writers and appreciate what you are
going through. However, they have their own demands, perhaps even
an autocratic, unreasonable publisher who expects them to come up
with winners in every issue, and "do it now!"
- Be patient when expecting a response from an editor. Pay
attention to their posted response times and remember they have
many other manuscripts to look at also.
"It's one thing to be meticulous about response
times, and even better to realize that the editors are also
human, have lousy days, kids with chickenpox and days where we
just don't want to deal with a manuscript. - Theresa
- If you have not received a response after TWICE the quoted
response time, then is the proper time to send a letter asking
something like "How goes the war? Have you read my manuscript
yet? I realize you may be swamped, but when can I expect a
- If you still don't get an answer in a couple weeks, withdraw
your manuscript and send it elsewhere.
- Your best bet? Keep writing and submitting new stuff all the
time. Don't place all your bets in one basket.
10. Keep in mind these helpful hints.
- Keep your day job until your writing income is STEADY enough
and HIGH enough to pay all your bills and then some.
- Accept total responsibility for producing something that
someone else WANTS strongly enough to pay money for it. Do not
expect anyone else to pay for your way as you learn. Expect them
to only pay for what you provide that is of value to THEM.
- Learn to live with the rules of the trade and "pay your dues"
before you can expect success. Strive to learn what works and
what does not work for your market niche.
- Strive at all times to act as an adult. Be polite at all
times. Remember that editors belong to their own networks of
editors. You want to create a reputation as someone who is nice
to do business with. You can practice being an eccentric AFTER
you are a great success.
- Remember that a lot of success in writing comes from learning
the craft. And a lot of that can be learned by almost anyone who
commits themself to learning.
- Keep up the firm conviction that you have or will get the
talent to be a good writer.
"Believe in yourself, even at 2:00 a.m. and
surrounded by rejection slips." -Theresa Grant
- For your mental health, remember to have a life outside of
writing. Be kind to yourself.
- Try to write with enthusiasm.
"If you don't feel enthusiastic about what you are
writing, readers (and editors) won't feel that way about it
either. I say this to people who talk of having 'writers' block'
because they think of writing as drudgery. If they're going to
have to slog through it, so will the reader, so the writer may as
well just go become an accountant!" - Kim
11. References on writing
Manual of Style
For detailed studies of punctuation, I recommend The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th Edition, ISBN 0-226-10403-6. The book is a little expensive at $55, but I strongly recommend the investment for any serious writer. It is the most common reference manual used in the novel publishing industry.
- For an easy to read but very useful book on grammar, I recommend Painless Grammar, 2nd Edition (Painless Series), by Rebecca Elliott, Ph. D., ISBN 0-8120-9781-5, trade paperback, $8.99.
- Another book that offers correct grammar instruction in some detail is The Writer’s Digest Grammar Desk Reference by Gary Lutz and Diane Stevenson, ISBN 1-58297-335-0, 6 x 9 hardcover, $24.99.
- A Dash of Style, The Art and Mastery of Punctuation by Noah Lukeman, copyright 2006, ISBN 987-0-393-32980-3, paperback, $13.95, 201 pages. This is a book written for creative writers, not grammarians.
- “Online English Grammar” at http://www.edunet.com/english/grammar/index.html from the Hampstead School of English, London. Maintained by Anthony Hughes. Searchable. This is an excellent source, well organized. Bear in mind that it came from Great Britain so some American rules may be a little different.
- “Confusing Words” at http://www.confusingwords.com has a collection of 3210 words that are troublesome to readers and writers, such as affect versus effect, lie versus lay, etc.
- “Words That Are Often Confused” at http://lbarker.orcon.net.nz/words.html includes many pairs and groups of words that are often confused, such as accept and except.
- “Common Errors in Englsh” at http://www.wsu.edu:8080/~brians/errors/ describes proper use of common pairs of words that are often misused, such as advice/advise, lay/lie, etc.
*** END ***
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