Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Young Man and The Sea

I have a lot of memories of my father and I fishing. Now there is one important thing to note about this - we never, ever caught anything.

My father used to fish with his father, and my Dad had a some sentimental notion of how nice it was to sit and fish. The difference was my Grandad was actually someone who knew how to fish, and no doubt took Dad to his own secret spots at exactly the right time to catch something.

So when my Dad retired, he went and brought himself some fishing gear and together we went to the closest patch of water and threw in a line. Something wrong with this picture?

Well for a start there were no fish. Nothing wrong with that. The thing is we sat there, for hours and hours - with nothing biting or the bait being taken. Discouraging to say the least - and not all that inspiring to confidence either.

Its taken me all the decades between then and now to actually have the experience of getting a fish on the line. Thanks to my visit to Flinders Island and the experienced fishing guide Dave Freer. It's a hell of buzz to get something, then reel that sucker in!

What has this to do with publishing? Well - I feel like my early fishing experience has kind of given me a bloody-mindedness that makes me slog away at something when I should be packing up the writing tackle and moving to another fishing spot! I have worked and re-worked material or sub and re-subbed to various markets that I should have just written off long ago.

If there is one thing I learned fishing - its that if the fish are not biting Move On!

So how do you decide where to sub material and when to give up on a market? When to give up on a project? Or better yet - how do you pick a likely fishing spot!

17 comments:

Dave Freer said...

Chris, there are a lot of similarities in trying to catch fish and trying to catch a publisher. The one obvious parallel is that experience counts - shapes your judgement and your decisions on where to fish, what tackle and bait to use and how long to try before you move on. That's something that is very difficult therefore to prescribe! I would seriously suggest using another fishing technique -- ergo the long-line with many different baits spread across a range of possible habitats.
cheers
Dave

matapam said...

I dunno, I caught one little one using bait I'm not too familiar with. Been skunked since. But I hate to give up fishing my usual way, since I have so many bait novels.

You know, that sounds really bad. Just goes to show that writers really are insane.

Amanda Green said...

I really prefer the method of enticing them in close and then clubbing them and stunning them so they can't get away. Of course, those editors as slippery critters and it's not easy getting them close enough to club...but I keep trying ;-)

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

First of all, sometimes -- or perhaps the kid really is a changelling who was meant to be Dave's -- miracles happen, in fishing and in publishing. Our little shark bait when out fishing for the first time with Dan who hadn't fished since he was a teen, Robert, who'd never fished and my two nephews, one of whom is an avid fisherman but had never fished in the US. Marshall -- sharkbait -- was then five. And while all these bigger people who had at least READ about how to fish caught nothing, the little brat caught a supper of 10 fresh trout for the family. He has since gone fishing with his friend's family, with moderate success, but never had spectacular.
So, what does this mean? Does this happen to publishers too?
Sure it does. The first published author I ever met wrote her novel on a whim and sold it to Baen books (Andrea Alton, Demon of Undoing. Not a bad book, look it up.) Lucky her, right? Not only lucky in that, but she almost immediately got asked by a wel established female writer to write a book with her. A writer who was THEN at the apogee of her fame. The other writers this woman collaborated with, all went on to have names in the field.
So, what did my friend do? She was an inexperienced fisherwoman, remember? She had no clue how fickle these fish can be and how flimsy the line. She believed, having established she could write a good book, she could now procede to do whatever she wanted.
So she told this famous name author -- who'd sent her an outline for the collaboration which was, btw, the second in a series -- that she'd got her heros and villaisn reversed and that famous name author couldn't carry a plot in a bucket. (For the record, my friend was wrong. It was she who could not plot. Her first book was a lucky case of everything falling just right.)
Needless to say the famous name author dropped her (look, I would too. She later tried to critique my books from her same "there is one right way to write" perspective and because I was silly enough to take her opinion, killed at least two.) And she never sold again in the field -- not least because though she wrote a couple of serviceable books, she gave up after one rejection. Rejection wasn't supposed to happen if the book was good.
Her case was extreme, but I've seen it again and again and again in less extreme scenarios. Usually, in writing as in Rome, those whom the gods love die young. (Whether driving them mad is necessary first is a matter for those who don't know writers to ponder. I know the answer.)
Suppose you set out fishing and lo and behold, without knowing anything, you came home with a dozen fish. If you're not shark bait (who is a stuborn cuss. No idea whom he takes after) would you not think you were doing something wrong when you didn't do the same next time? Wouldn't you give up in disgust, or never learn to try hard enough?
It's like that. Sometimes -- not often -- luck strikes. It's usually a matter of hitting the right publisher at JUST the right time. Sometimes it's a matter of hitting a publisher's pet topic or something the publisher THINKS is NEW and earthshaking, no matter the evidence against it (one such fairy-godmother darlings got promoted out the wazzoo because her editor thought there weren't enough tough female heroines in uf. You may stop laughing now.) Sometimes the water is right, the lake overpopulated and the fish BITE. And sometimes, sometimes you might as well be fishing in the desert, trying to cast your lures into dry land.
So, what do you do -- Dave has the right of it to an extent. Experience helps, as does trying to catch different varieties of fish: romance, mystery, science fiction, fantasy, YA, non-fiction. Sometimes in a lake, one species of fish has gone down, the other up. You fish what's there. (This doesnt' mean the books aren't yours. Of course they are. I'm sure you and I could take the SAME plot and write it completely differently.)continued...

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

The other thing is persistence and a certain kind of madness -- you improve your writing, even though you know ninety percent of it isn't the quality but the moment and the theme and the editor's mood. You write other things. You try again and again.
On merely revising and trying the same market: I know people who have great success with this, but most don't. It is best to write something else and move on. Those "trunk" stories will sell, once you get momentum going. And your technique will improve faster while working on something else. Hell, I know I could never have rewritten two stories and a novel into saleability without having written a lot of other stories in the intervening years. Then it was obvious what was wrong.
So, a) do not envy fortune's favored darlings. Most of them will die horrible career deaths and(most of us will, but)they won't know how to recover from them. b) sad as it is to say it, rejection DOES build character. It tests how much you want to do this and it toughens your sensitive feelings enough to withstand the rollercoaster ride of a US career. (I know it's different in OZ)
That all said and under physician heal thyself, I worry ten times a month on whether I should give up fishing and go into farming or cattle raising. Only at this point, "fishing" is the only thing I know and, heck, I enjoy it.
So I'll persist in finding new ways to make the trout come to the tickling hand.

Anonymous said...

I love to fish. In fact, I was my father's favorite kid to take fishing because I'd sit there all day watching that little bobber bob (fresh water fishing in lakes). I'd bait my own hooks with worms. The only thing he did for me was take the fish off of the hook so I didn't get hurt with the hook or the fins.

Transfer this to writing. My stories are done when I run out of markets. I then keep them and wait for new markets to open up. I'm stubborn that way.

I've wisely followed Sarah's advice not to rewrite before sending out unless there's some really good advice given. Wendy Delmater (Abyss & Apex) gave me her opinion of where to actually start one story which was about three paragraphs in. I reworked the opening and then Steve and I (co-written) placed in the Ralan's 2006 Grabber Contest out of 80-something entries. That's a hard one to win without a compelling opening. So, sometimes I do take the advice of editors who don't buy my stories if I find the advice sensible.

My point is that I don't ever let a story truly die unless I later decide it's unsellable. If I have to totally rework it, it's not worth it to me. I can't send it to the good markets anyway because they've already seen it in a different form. A new story is a better bet. But yes, it's about knowing when to pack it in or if it's just switching out the bait that might work best.

Linda

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Dave. Good advice. A few different irons in the fire.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, matapam. How you though of using lure novels? Shiny things that look better than real novels? Not sure where to buy they - I guess thats like a proposal on steroids.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Amanda. I've heard spear-fishing at night is very satisfying. Nothing like sinking a spear through those suckers! Just let them try to get away then!

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Sarah. You're right - to a certain extent you pretty much have to just keep throwing the line in.

I know for myself I find it all but impossible to give up on a project. I just keep writing and re-writing. At least with the short stories I get to try a range of things.

When it comes to markets it certaily pays to think broadly and look for fresh 'pools' to throw the line in.

Apart from that I guess its a case of enjoying the view from the pier and having a nice beer to watch the sunset - even if they aren't biting:)

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Linda. I find I am very much the same. I have to confess I have re-worked and re-written way too much. I'm trying to follow Sarah's line there and just keep plugging these things waiting for the right editor. And writing something new!

matapam said...

Explosions! Hot Martian Sex! Desert Treks! Inbound Meteors! Lizard Lawyers!

Oh darn. It was looking like a good proposal, right up till that last. Maybe I can not mention that my main character is a Martian Lizard Lawyer?

Stephen Simmons said...

I hate fishing. Trout season back home opened on my birthday, and I had better things to do with my birthday than go sit in the mud at 5 AM ... plus I don't eat fish. (A career Sailor who doesn't eat seafood. Go figure.)

I don't know, I'm new at this. So far, I've been phenomenally lucky, and I know it. I've only submitted six stories in the year since I started writing. Two sold to the first market I submitted to. One sold to the second with no changes. One came back with editorial recommendations I agreed with, and sold elsewhere after making those changes. One's still with its first editor, awaiting a verdict. The sixth came back with editorial comments I'm still pondering.

I don't know what I'm doing, really, so I don't know what about it is right. Like I said, I'm pretty sure a lot of it has been luck. And I have no idea if any of that will translate to trying to submit the novel I have almost ready, either.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, matapam. No! Keep the Martian Lizard Lawyers!!

Chris McMahon said...

Hey, Stephen. I grew up Catholic in a poor family and had to eat the worst kind of old fish each Friday. Yuk! I know where you are coming from. Although, I'd have to say I am a seafood convert after I tasted fresh stuff cooked well (thanks Dave!)

Look - just keep up the pace! Don't baulk for anything. You are doing spectacularly well, but that is nothing to be ashamed of. I applaud you.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Oh, Wise One Sarah,

How right you are. I bow down to you.

Seriously folks. What Sarah said is right on the money.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Rowena. You are living proof of Don't Give UP!