Farming your words effectively

Writing, I've decided this year, is like farming. You plant those words and eventually they sprout into published stories or books. Periodically, you have a very good harvest, several things coming out at the same time. Other times, the equivalent of a drought or a hurricane strikes your fields and you looking at a wasted landscape, wondering why you ever wasted your time on this project.

For those interested in publishing through the big six in New York, it felt like a Dust Bowl year for many. At a recent holiday party for Seattle Writergrrls, an online group of writing women in my hometown, the talk revolved around the usual triumphs and disasters. Sell a book to a NY publisher and, as one gal put it, "you think that's it. I've made it. From now, they'll be calling me for everything that I can write." Except for every book sold, everyone had a tale of being "dropped" by their publisher or agent. Of a climate so cold to new sales that you wanted to dress like an Arctic explorer before pressing "send" on that pitch email.

Similar tales were told over pizza and beer at a small publishers holiday party the next week. Only those stories revolved around the shrinking market for physical books, the lack of ebook sales, and the increasing frustrations of a dealing with a distribution stream still geared to the big six and nobody else. "Buy local" may be the cry of the small bookstore every where, but they like to buy only from big national publishers unless they are very sure of  return (an understandable but frustrating view for their neighbors down the street in publishing).

And the following week, at a coffe hangout of recovering NaNoWriMo writers, people talked about dreams, broken dreams, and recrafting their dreams of publication.

Among horror stories I heard at holiday parties with writers and publishers this month: the line went under, the editor decamped, the publisher merged into even bigger faceless conglomerate, the small press suddenly found all their ebooks taken off Amazon for no apparent reason, or an agent decided to leave agenting and start an expensive self-publishing service instead.

I also heard about books sold, short stories making a comeback in anthology series, and some interesting new opportunities in audio books coming up in the next year with Audible pushing to expand their market.

My own harvest this year was nice, but probably the financial equivalent of a very small local farmers' market stand. My short stories appeared in several anthologies published this year, an old publisher reprinted a couple of titles as ebooks, and my first superhero YA novella came out last month as part of Cobalt City Rookies.

Still I look to sky, read a bunch of predictions about the climate of publishing, and think:  "2013 might be a better year. If  I plant steampunk, dragons, vampires, and a couple of love triangles in the North Forty, it could be a bumper crop."

Next year, I'll try to farm my words as effectively as possible. Giving them as much care and attention as they need to grow and not trying to worry overmuch about things that I can't control (like changes in technology, corporate mergers, or editors with a yen to raise llamas).

With a little luck and a lot of hard work, I hope to have a bigger harvest of stories in 2013. May all your stories sprout in interesting ways too!


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