Thursday, May 14, 2015

"Following" the Path to Success

Last night, in the Loft class, we talked about the mechanics of short story submission. Science fiction/fantasy/spec fic is one of the genres where, I think, a person has a fair chance to get their short work published if they're willing to keep going down the list of publications. You CAN run out, especially if your piece is of a very specific genre and a word count that's too long (or too short, etc.) But, I still think we have a lot more short story venues than a lot of other genres. In fact, while I'm sure they exist, I can't think of a single romance short fiction market--erotica, maybe, but romance? Nothing that jumps to mind the way Asimov's, Analog, Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Realms of Fantasy, Apex, Lightspeed, Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons,, Uncanny Magazine, etc, etc., do for spec fic.

Just looking through the list at can be dizzying, because on top of the regularly published magazines, there's also anthologies, etc.

So, I pointed my students to and their page on manuscript formatting.

Our critique session went really very fast because it was a bad week for a lot of people for some reason and we had more than our typical "passes." (When teaching adults who have full-time jobs, families, school, etc., I always allow a pass if life eats your brain.) So, we had an unscheduled Q&A about the business of writing. I bring this up because one of my students asked a question that astounded me. She wanted to know if it was true that you should have at least 2,000 followers on social media before you try to court/land an agent. I had never heard such malarky in my LIFE, but nearly all the other students in my class had HEARD THE EXACT SAME ADVICE.

I had to admit, it could be true. I sold my first book in 1999, before e-books were really a thing and before social media was even really a concept. I said that the advice I heard back then still seemed pretty damned solid to me and that was: concentrate on writing the best book possible, full stop. I told my class that I don't know how a person gets 2,000 followers without spending every waking moment trying far too hard to be clever in 175 characters or less. How would you have time to write if you were spending that much time on-line? 2,000 followers sounded, to me, like a full time job in and of itself.

I also told them to look at the list on "ralan," and ask themselves if their time would be better spent collecting followers on Twitter or writing short stories for one of the three dozen (+!) magazines that will pay good money for good words?

I also suggested that they didn't have to give up on the idea of collecting 2,000 followers, but maybe the way to start doing that in spec fic was by attending conventions, volunteering to be on panels, and writing stories. Do both, I suggested. That way, maybe you'll have a little fun on the way to collecting some mystical number of Twits.

When I ask on FB whether or not other pro writers/agents/editors had heard about this idea, I got one response from an agent who said that, it was a lie to some extent, but of course its easier to sell books to an editor if you can point to a waiting audience. Sure, that makes a kind of sense, but I really have never believed in a 1:1 correlation between follower: buyer. A lot of people follow me on various social media (not anywhere near 2,000 if you're wondering, often not even HALF that, though on FB I have just over a 1,000--I checked), and I have directed them, often, to things of mine they can buy.

They don't. Some do, of course, but probably not even 1% do.

And presumably, I'm a known quality (maybe that's why they DON'T, but I did fairly well for Penguin for a fair number of years.) BUT, my point is, how on EARTH would this translate to someone you've never heard of? Whose cat pictures you've liked on Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr? Seriously.

TBF, I have no sense of how popularity works. Some people have clearly figured out how to leverage this social media thing far, far better than I ever have. So, maybe this is the new path to publication/scoring an agent. I really don't know. It seems crazy to me. I still think the key to success ought to be: write a good book.