1. Vance
    Offline

    Vance Member

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2011
    Messages:
    51
    Likes Received:
    4

    Which approach is better?

    Discussion in 'Publishing' started by Vance, Mar 1, 2011.

    I've a friend who, like me, wants to be a mystery writer. Unlike me however, he has chosen a different route to get published.

    I write my stories first, then send them out to whatever magazines the story is fit for. This doesn't always work out well for me, but I did get a few short stories published here and there, adding up to five total over the past year or so.

    My friend, who began writing around the same time as me, has a very different approach. Instead of writing and then trying to get his work published, he writes to get published. He looks at a magazine that has decent pay/acceptance rate, then writes specifically for the magazine he wants to get in.

    I know it's common practice to make sure your work is what the magazine wants, but he goes well beyond that. He doesn't just make sure his work is fit for the magazine, he builds each story from the group up so they fit in better. Sometimes he doesn't even like the style he has to work with, but he deals with it. While I take days sometimes to write what I want to write, he just busts out what he needs to write every single day. Sure he gets rejected a lot of times, but with his calculating approach he is getting a lot of success lately. The more stuff he publishes the easier it's getting for him to keep publishing short stories. One of the small circulation magazines he got published in even sent him an e-mail asking him if he wanted to run another story there since he reflected their philosophy so well.

    I asked a lot of people about this and they say that you need passion to succeed and that 'robotic' approaches don't work. But the thing is, I've seen it work.

    We both began writing when we were eighteen. We decided to compete against each other since it would serve as a sort of motivation to keep improving. Our basic idea was to write short stories for two years, build up a decent curriculum, then start sending out query letters to agents. Now we are both nineteen, and....well, he has been doing better than I have by far. He got 16 stories accepted into magazines, 3 of which are the "actually important" type of magazine.

    He told me to just try out to be calculating type for once around 4 months ago.

    ...Since then my acceptance rate has improved at least 400%.

    I'm having a bit of an existential crisis as a writer, so I'd like to hear some opinions about this.

    If your ultimate goal is to become a novelist, should you write from the heart, or should you be as professional as possible?

    I know this isn't a black and white theme. It's just that I was convinced for a long time that I was right in my way of pursuing things and that even if you were a good writer(which my friend definitely is) you needed to write because you liked to write, not because you were building a curriculum, or else it would turn out bad. Now, I'm not so sure anymore.
     
  2. Terry D
    Offline

    Terry D Active Member

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2011
    Messages:
    200
    Likes Received:
    15
    Location:
    Southeast Iowa
    Both approaches can work. I know of very successful writers who started as the calculating type, and later, after building a resume of publications, were able to write more of what they wanted to write. That does not sound like a bad plan. By doing that a writer will learn to write in differing styles, learn to structure his/her writing in varrious ways, and generally broaden their experience base.

    It actually sounds much like the way many non-fiction writers make a good living.

    All short story writers who are actually serious about getting published do the same thing to one degree, or another. We have to abide by word count restrictions, themeatic restrictions (gore, sex, language), etc. There are very few, publishing, writers who write whatever they want and have editors standing in line to buy it.

    Writing to fit a publication is not a betrayal of yourself. The work you produce is still wholely yours, it came from you. After all, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel was tailored to the wants of the customer and that didn't work out too badly for Michelangelo.
     
  3. Chronopunk
    Offline

    Chronopunk Member

    Joined:
    Feb 27, 2011
    Messages:
    20
    Likes Received:
    4
    Location:
    Lane Closed Ahead, TX
    Your friend sounds like a real pro. If he can keep it up, he's going to do well. I wish I'd been as dedicated at his age.

    You have to decide how you want to approach your writing. If you want to make a living at it, you have to look at it as a job. Hit it every day, hit it like you mean it. If you're just doing it for fun, as a hobby, follow your passion.

    Try reading Pressfield's
    THE WAR OF ART. He talks a lot about this.
     
  4. w176
    Offline

    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 22, 2010
    Messages:
    1,067
    Likes Received:
    49
    Location:
    Luleå, Sweden
    The thing is you learn an awful lot for working on commission, or with a specific buyer in mind. You learn how to use which tool when, for the best effect. You learn to understand receiver reactions. You learn to dig in an keep writing to use the best possible effect, even if it for you as a writer means you need to go trough a lot of boring stuff.

    If you studing art or music on an university level being told what to do part of how you are though and how you are expected to learn. The schools knows you wouldn't learn half as much if you didn't have to try out different types of painting and art, or play different types of music and other songs then you favorites. You friend is told by the market about what to do.

    Doing what you feel like all the time is not what gives you the best learning curve. You will learn a lot more if you are pushed to practice different things, and things you don't feel like doing.

    So in my opinion; Your friend got the correct approach. Not because he being published more at this stage, but because his approacher gives him the opportunity and forces him to learn things he otherwise wouldn't have to learn.
     
  5. thirdwind
    Offline

    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2008
    Messages:
    7,349
    Likes Received:
    2,891
    Location:
    Boston
    There's nothing wrong with either approach, though each has its advantages and disadvantages. I write my stories before I look at magazines because it gives me the freedom to finish the story without worrying about tailoring to a specific audience. On the other hand, it may mean that my chances of getting published in that magazine are lowered.

    From my experience, writing about a specific subject or writing for a specific magazine makes my writing worse. It may work for your friend, but it won't work for everyone. I think the important thing to realize is that this is not a contest. You should aim for magazines that you feel contain great writing. Personally, I'd take one publication in a really great magazine over publications in five mediocre ones any day.
     
  6. w176
    Offline

    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 22, 2010
    Messages:
    1,067
    Likes Received:
    49
    Location:
    Luleå, Sweden
    On the other hand. You can view it this way. Of course you performance will be worse when you need to try a new thing and practice something your not already used to doing. That's how you learn. By challenging yourself.
     
  7. Vance
    Offline

    Vance Member

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2011
    Messages:
    51
    Likes Received:
    4
    He really is professional about it. I've never seem him miss his 3000 daily words routine for the past year or so. The only time I saw him miss it was when he got hurt during our tennis tournament.

    And thanks for the advice on that book, it seems pretty interesting. I'll check it out next time I go to a bookstore(so tomorrow).


    Thanks for the advice everyone. I think I've been freaking out over nothing. I mean, not nothing, but I'm a bit calmer now. I think that either of the two extremes isn't the ideal.

    I suppose that since being either human or a machine has its disadvantages, so the best way to go would be to do a bit of both and become a cyborg.
     
  8. Mxxpower
    Offline

    Mxxpower Member

    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2010
    Messages:
    40
    Likes Received:
    0
    The answer is in what your goals are, and nobody can answer that for you.

    Obviously your friend's goal is to make cash now, and they are doing it. By all means if you are writing for money, then DO it..

    Think of a resume. Say you are an out of work carpenter, and you apply for a brickwork position because you know you can do it, they should just give you a chance even though you dont have what they want...Sure some might take a chance, but why not go for the out of work bricklayer instead?

    If you don't depend on the income from these stories, why not write what makes you happy? Christ if all you want is to be published there are plenty out there that pay .03 CENTS a word...
     
  9. HeinleinFan
    Offline

    HeinleinFan Banned

    Joined:
    Jan 6, 2007
    Messages:
    483
    Likes Received:
    33
    I'm a little confused as to why your friend is considered 'robotic' and not 'passionate'. Hitting a 3000 word goal every day is passion -- he's doing it instead of things that might be more fun, like video games, because he cares more about his writing. And by tailoring the stories, he ensures that the rejections he gets are more meaningful. If he writes whatever kind of mystery comes to his mind first, he won't know whether a rejection is because it was badly written or because it wasn't the kind of story that magazine wanted.

    I think of writing like playing basketball. Your friend is going to a bunch of different coaches, and they want him to focus on different things. One wants him to focus on offense. One wants him to work on dribbling, another wants him to practice 3-pt shots, and a third isn't letting him touch the ball at all -- he's just having to run back and forth across the room for hours, building stamina that will come in handy later.

    None of these coaches is letting him do entirely what he'd like to do. But they are forcing him to expand his abilities in different ways. And when he finally breaks away and plays the way he wants to play, he'll be much better because of it.

    That doesn't mean that your approach is wrong. It won't get sales as quickly, almost by definition; he's writing specifically to please a given magazine, so assuming you are equally talented writers, he's likely to get more one-submission-acceptances. But it doesn't sound like you want that. Right? So don't worry about it.

    You sound like you want a) to be a good writer, b) to practice until you are certain that you are a good writer, and if money comes your way it's nice. So if you're improving, that's all to the good; it means you are succeeding in the ways that matter to you.

    His approach is more strategic, and it's working for him. That doesn't mean it would work for everyone, but it is to be admired in its own way. That doesn't mean you should feel ashamed for taking a different route. After all, you're still making sales, and you're still improving. That's leaps and bounds ahead of many people who say they want to write.

    Edit (added later): It is possible that you're bothered by this now because as your skill has gone up, you've realized you're good enough to make money semi-regularly. That's awesome. Seriously, it means some part of you may be setting a new, somewhat harder goal -- "Sell my stories to magazines more often" -- because it knows that you are now capable of more than when you started out. You've written stories, put in the practice, and now that you're better, you can do more. That's great, and not something to be ashamed of.
     
    1 person likes this.
  10. Vance
    Offline

    Vance Member

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2011
    Messages:
    51
    Likes Received:
    4
    Funny you would mention goals. Our situation is actually a bit different from that. He and I don't care about making money for now, though we basically only apply to magazines that pay something, even if a small amount, because it means the publication is more "professional" more often than not, which really matters to us.

    [Little bit of a long rant here, bear with me, or feel free to ignore it. I tried to recall my reason for writing and wrote most of it here. I didn't have to paraphrase much as I still have much of it written in my diary.]

    Last year when we graduated from high school, we walked around town and saw many of our old friends just hanging out and talking about what things were like, how they were going to be, and how life would be boring and predictable. After hearing that, my friend turned to me, and somewhat hesitant, yet strangely confidently, and told me we shouldn't be like that.

    "Remember when we watched Rocky IV for the first time?"

    I nodded.

    "How did that song go again? I see all those angry faces...afraid it could be you and me...talking about what it could've been, or thinking about what it used to be..."

    "I'm almost certain you mixed up a few verses."

    "And I'm almost certain you need to shut up and let me finish." He extended his fist towards me so suddenly for a second I thought he wanted to fight--which would of course end with me winning--but that wasn't the case. "Let's not become like that. Take one look at them. We just graduated high school and their eyes are already half dead. They act like the best part of their lives just ended. I don't want my eyes to look like that. Let's make a pact."

    "So your solution to not looking half dead is to be fully dead?"

    "Not a suicide pact! I mean something even more self destructive. Let's both compete to become writers."

    "That sounds idiotic," I responded without missing a beat.

    "Afraid of losing to me?"

    "Never. PACT!"

    Our fists touched each other in what was quite possibly the most over the top vow to write the world never saw. We established a few rules. No going outside the mystery genre. No self publishing, "it is for cowards," we decided full of bravado.

    The most important step in those rules would be that we would want to get published in at least twenty magazines each in two years, and we would then follow that by using our surprisingly large resume to improve our chances of being picked up by an agent when querying about our respective novels.

    To me, writing is fun. It's something I've always loved. But what drove me to the point I am now isn't just writing, it's our little game. I want to win. I wrote this topic because I was unsure which approach would give me the better chance at winning.

    It's childish, yes I know. But how should I put this...it also makes each day worth living. I don't feel like each day is just passing by anymore, it feels like every second counts. It feels...fun!

    Thanks, this post actually made me think about this whole thing under a whole different light. What I really want to do is to become a better writer, and I don't particularly care about money. What I'm afraid of, to be honest, is that he'll leave me in the dust if I don't step up to his level.

    As for calling him robotic as opposed to passionate, it's hard to explain, but sometimes when I'm reading his stories, I get a feeling that I'm reading the same story twice but with a different plot, setting, characters and tone, if that makes sense. They aren't different enough from each other.

    Recently I've settled on a compromise. I've stepped up to the 3000 words a day routine, and I found out I can follow it without much problem. I'm still not writing for specific magazines, but I have learned to at least stop ignoring the market in the name of creativity. He's still doing marginally better than me since he's more used to this pace, but he's been giving me a few pointers here and there and I feel like I'm improving as a writer lately.
     
  11. w176
    Offline

    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 22, 2010
    Messages:
    1,067
    Likes Received:
    49
    Location:
    Luleå, Sweden
    Sounds like you could give him a few pointers about you concern that he is usning the same formula over and over.
     
  12. Vance
    Offline

    Vance Member

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2011
    Messages:
    51
    Likes Received:
    4
    You might be right. While it's true that his structure is solid enough to be abused for such a long time without getting stale, it's probably for his best interest if he changes it up a bit.
     

Share This Page