Friday, March 8, 2013

Starting from Behind: A Journey Into The Mind of a Nobody

A few weeks ago I was very happy to receive news that my Sword and Sorcery short story, Paper Demons, had been accepted into Thunder on the Battlefield by Seventh Star Press, and from what I have been told, it will be available in the latter part of June 2013. This is more than just awesome news, because while I am ecstatic about selling two stories within a year of Dragon*Con, it also brought home the idea that I might be able to make it in this very tough, very demoralizing business.

As I was thinking on this, the idea of writing a blog post on how the publishing world looks from the perspective of a wannabe entered my mind. Yes--I still think of myself as a wannabe, even though I once had a novel contract with a small press and I have now sold two short stories to a pair of great anthologies--but at the same time, I think having that mindset is good thing, especially in an industry that is currently struggling to find itself. Truth be told, I want to always think that I am a wannabe, as it makes me hungry to make myself into a bonafide writer and author.

When I first started writing at 19, I knew absolutely nothing outside of my local Borders when it came to the publishing world, even though those magazines were sitting on the racks at the front of the store. My world since the time I was 11 was the world of the reader, where I dived into every epic and heroic fantasy novel I could get my hands on. My writing was rudimentary at best (and in some fashion, still is), but I had this passion for the genre that transcended love. In some of the most beautiful and inconceivable ways, fantasy fed my soul at a time when it was empty of love, happiness, and the need to find truth.

A lot of that changed when I sold my first novel, The Night, to a small publisher in North Carolina that was just starting up. While that business was no big deal, neither was I, so it was an entrance into a world that I knew absolutely nothing about. I was put together with highly-critical readers, a great editor, and was introduced to Sam Montgomery-Blinn, who is the founder and editor of Bull Spec, a fantastic magazine for science-fiction and fantasy. Sam opened my eyes up to the world beyond the bookstore, to the magazines, the organizations, the conventions and the events. Beforehand I truly knew nothing and Sam helped usher me in. I was able to meet people like Richard Dansky from Red Storm Studios and James Maxey, the illustrious author of the Bitterwood Trilogy, who were both frank and honest about tell me that if I wanted to succeed at writing fantasy that I really needed to find a critique group, work hard on my craft, and since that I can thankfully say I have come a long way. Not all the way, but enough that there has been some very good progress.

But as wonderful as the world of Sci-Fi and Fantasy is, it is so big, so competitive, and so crowded, all of which are three things that each have their own pluses and minuses. It is quite clear to a new writer that they are competing for fewer and fewer precious spots in magazines and publications every year, and that there is definitely a hierarchy that favors a branded name more than their actual output (which is true of many markets), and above all things, quality was in the eye of very few beholders. Fantasy publishing, specifically, walks the line between being massively popular and being looked down upon by literary society as not being "real literature" (how would they know?), and that while it generates a lot of money, it doesn't either. Worse than that, when you really peel back the layers of the industry, you start to realize that even if you have a great book, success isn't determined on greatness, but on public perception and the ability to market oneself, something that the majority of people are either very uncomfortable doing or aren't willing to do in the first place. Added to this, the memories of a lot of the fan base is somewhat short-term, and getting into this business can seem very daunting. And if you think all this is bad, wait until you have to deal with a contract that offers little return in the beginning.

Yet even in all of this doom and gloom, I see real hope from this side of the abyss, the chasm between me and my dream. John Hartness has a really good saying: "You have to fall before you can fly." I don't know if he took it from someone else. I am looking at the very real challenge before me and realize there is nothing to be scared of. And you shouldn't be scared either.

I know I will develop into a competent and even great writer if I work hard everyday to get better at both the craft and at storytelling. You can too.

I know I will be rejected many times, and I have been already. Don't look at them as failures, look at them as showing you what you can improve on. It is okay to read through the rejection the first time and go "you stupid motherfucker" and be angry. Get the sting out of your system. But when that sting is gone, go back and look at it again with a very critical eye. Chances are you will see where you went wrong.

The honest truth is that the industry is very tough to get into, but if you want it, you scratch and claw to get in, stay in, and then fight for the top of the heap. You do this by making friends with the fans, with other writers, and generally realizing that there is no end to the journey. Good writers write forever, and the more you right, the better your chances. Sometimes that means climbing down one side of the abyss and finding the bottom and then climbing up the other side to reach the promise land. One good thing to realize is that though it is very competitive, most writers are thrilled to see other writers succeed, and those who aren't usually develop a rather unsavory reputation.

I will be successful in this industry. You will do it if you want it bad enough. Have no fear, learn to love, live to fight for that dream. Don't believe that it is possible, know that it will be done.

If you like what you read here, please click the "G+1" on the upper-right of the site, or follow me on Twitter @JayRequard. Stay safe and get after that word count.


  1. You're gonna do well Jay. Your story is really good and shows a lot of talent!

    Plus, you are professional in your actions and that carries a lot of weight!

    1. Thank you for such a huge compliment. It means a lot coming from an author and writer whose work I really respect and enjoy.

      I hope to see you soon, my friend.

  2. Sounding very Stone Green, Jay. Don't gather any moss, keep those stones rolling. Interpret that any way you want, but don't think of me when you do.