Advice for Young Writers

Some of the authors who’ll be with me on the tour of Pioneer Library System’s libraries this summer have experienced the dream for writers: Write your first book, have it accepted quickly by a major publisher and earn critical acclaim and commercial success instantly. I was asked to join in part because that is NOT my story. I’ve been doing it the hard way, with lots of dead ends that had to be retraced.

I decided I wanted a career as a writer during my senior year of high school, 1983-84. At the time, I was mostly writing poetry. Thanks to the first “publisher” to take advantage of my naivete, I actually thought that was a viable career choice. You see, within a few years after graduating, I’d won several Golden Poet awards from World of Poetry. While I never had the money to go collect my certificate in person, they did send the papers to me, and accepted two of my poems for anthology publication.

Oh, but to ensure publication, I was encouraged to buy a copy of the book in which my poem was set to appear. Our Western World’s Most Beautiful Poems, the first I was in, cost only $69.95. My mom bought one, too. Our World’s Most Cherished Poems was slightly cheaper, I think. There’s no price on the dust jacket, but it’s thinner. Both volumes feature multiple photos of the editor on the back of the dust jacket, including an appearance he made on The Steve Allen Show. I guess in hopes of proving World of Poetry and editor John Campbell were legit.

Lonely is the Sea

When I look out upon the rolling sea,

Lonliness stretches forth its hand to me.

On the beach the seagulls cry,

As the waves roll and sigh.

Always rolling onto the land,

Pulling away the very sand.

It fills my heart with emptiness,

To look upon the sea’s loniness.

Yes, the misspellings are actually in the book. At this point, I have no idea if they were in my original poem. Misspellings aside, can you believe somebody wanted to publish that piece of crap?

The 1980s were a good time for horror writers. Major publishers were churning out dozens of (mostly bad) horror novels as Stephen King got richer and richer. Small magazines flourished and, while they didn’t pay much, if anything, they were always open to submissions. I didn’t publish a word of fiction in that decade, though. My first fiction publication didn’t come until 1993, when “Unholy Womb” was accepted and published by The Midnight Zoo. That was pretty much the ’90s for me … submission and rejection, with a few acceptances in small press magazines and Web-zines for little or no money and audiences that matched. But I was scam free.

Until 2002 when I submitted Darkscapes to Publish America. The scam here is that PA publishes everything sent to them and makes their money by jacking up book prices and selling mostly to the authors and their friends and family. They did pay their royalties on time, though. Book stores, however, refuse to stock their titles and they are viewed as a vanity press by most people.

In 2o03, 3F Publications accepted Shara. Four months later the company was gone. Then came the long and troubled relationship with Scrybe Press that recently ended, though I’m still awaiting my final payment.

It was in 2008 that chance (and Melissa Marr and Jeannine Frost) threw me in with Carrie Jones and I finally had some large-scale success.

So, the title of this blog is “Advice for Young Writers.” What’s the advice? The advice is simple: Be careful. Don’t get so desperate to be published that you jump on the first opportunity that comes along. Investigate. You can find out just about anything about any publisher on the Internet these days. Don’t think what’s happening to other authors trying to work with a certain publisher won’t happen to you. It probably will if you work with that publisher.

One response to “Advice for Young Writers”

  1. I think that might be changed to ‘be careful but not so much you are afraid to try’. Scams exist in any industry but are more common in any of the creative arts. As you said the information is there for anyone willing to look for it. For my stuff I chose to use Lulu to avoid a lot of the scams. I see them more as a printer than a vanity house. They offer some of the same services and lack of as I have seen some vanity houses offer but on the free level the person submitting is responsible for all preprint aspects. The main factor seperating them is they do not dictate putting their name anywhere on the product. They “offer” it but do not dictate it. I do not expect to get rich off of book sales but they are there if someone wants them. The point is that is the level of risk i am willing to take. Part of being careful is not putting more at risk than you are willing to accept. Any time you hand you work over to someone else you are putting something at risk. All of my stuff may or may not be complete crap but that does not mean i am willing to put it at risk.

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