My good friend “D” is a fellow writer, author of several published short stories. His writing is tight, polished, and vibrant, but he has focused on learning the business rather than writing one novel and stopping to submit it to a hundred places. He mostly writes stories involving cowboys, the Old West, or both.
Recently, through his research, he found a publication that pays in “exposure,” not money, but this publication was read by his target market. If he got exposure there, though it would only go to a small audience, those would all be people interested in someday buying his novels. He could push his ads to them through the magazine, and they might remember his name. Moreover, the publication is edited and produced by a mainstream publisher that focuses on Western novels.
D’s long-term goal is to be conventionally published by the same publisher who runs that magazine. He figured he’d work on shorts for a while, then self-publish a few novels before trying to query a publisher. By then, he figured, he’d have mastered the craft. D writes continually. Every day, he puts pen to paper and writes something. Anything. Practicing. Honing his skills.
Over the last year, I’ve had the privilege of watching this guy’s writing progress from okay to great. From merely talented to skilled. I knew he was ready to query a novel, but he didn’t, so he kept on his shorts > indie > traditional path.
He made the tough decision to submit a short story to this publication, despite the fact that it paid only in “exposure.” He rightly felt that, although he has had a few submission victories in the past, he was still at the career stage where victories to put on his resume outweigh the need to get paid the few bucks a short story might bring if published elsewhere.
He submitted to one of the magazine’s upcoming issues. Against the conventional wisdom, he sent one of his best pieces to this non-paying market, a wonderful short that I think would be well worth sending to a paying market.
But there’s more…
We were both surprised when the acquisitions editor for the magazine, who also works for the publisher that puts out the magazine, wrote D back almost immediately. He praised D’s writing and his ability to tell a compelling story with great characters in a short space. Skills that came from starting out deliberately writing shorts instead of a novel. Better yet, the editor asked if D had more shorts, and then asked whether he would consider submitting a novel for consideration.
The promise of a traditional book deal and multiple paid shorts all came from smartly submitting to this one tiny, unpaid market.
I agree with that acquisitions editor. My buddy is definitely ready to write and publish a novel. He got that way faster by writing short stories from the beginning of his author career, accelerating his progress. With shorts, he got to experiment with what works, what doesn’t. He learned to quickly make compelling characters, and to show them well in very few words. He learned how to quickly produce tight writing. For him, there would never be a 247,000 first novel that took three years to draft, as so many other writers go through.
Writing short stories from the beginning is like being in an Advanced Placement class. It quickly puts you far ahead of everyone else who have the same amount of time spent writing. If most novel authors take one million words to master their craft (a number I might have already reached ghostwriting novels), by working on short stories first and being methodical with plots, story arcs, and character development, D is at a similar point as me with far fewer words written.
“There are no shortcuts to learning good writing.” The only way to get good is to write, write, write (and read a ton). But apparently, there is a shortcut of sorts… writing short stories, aggressively seeking critiques of his writing from day one, and making informed decisions about submissions. Combine that with knowing your market and submitting wisely, and this is a recipe for success.
Someone once said that luck is where opportunity and preparation meet. Never is that truer than with writing and becoming an author.
Congratulations, “D”, and let me give you a pat on the back. Ya done good.