Saturday, 4 June 2011

Open House Day 5 - Simon Morden

I want to talk about honesty.

Ooh, deeply unfashionable start there, Morden. You’re a writer, tell me something I might need to know about how to snag an agent, or tips for marketing, or some low-down on the latest genre trends.

Well, tough – and in a not-so-roundabout way, this is about how to get an agent, market your book and keeping up with the genre. Simply put, unless you deal honestly with everyone you meet in this business, you’ll be lucky to get any breaks at all. Even if you’re insanely talented and can make people associate with you because of the money you’ll bring in, you’ll be working at a lower level than you could do. Honesty – and no matter what the backstabbing little shits on The Apprentice say – is an integral part of the way other industry professionals relate to you. And they will judge you on it: heaven help you if someone important finds you wanting.

So Steve here has thrown his blog open to other writers and publishers: who does he ask to help him fill this thirty-day midsummer of madness? People he thinks will not only provide him with good copy, but will provide him with copy, ready for the day they’re down to do, and not let him down. It’s a little example that points to a wider application.

It applies to invitations to anthologies. It applies to promising first publication rights to stories. It applies to word limits and theme. It applies to speculative submissions to magazines. The rules are there, unfortunately, to be followed. Not only do you show your professionalism by sticking to them, you give the editors one less reason to junk your story and remember your name for all the wrong reasons.

And it applies the further up the greasy pole you climb: it applies to contracts and deadlines, to doing the editing and proofing in a timely manner, to helping publicise your novel and doing the best you can to make your work a success and repay your publisher’s confidence in you. Bluntly put, even if you look on honesty as a strategy to build up your career rather than something you ought to do because it’s how decent human beings behave, you’ll go further than someone who takes the money, dicks about and then lies as to when the manuscript will be ready.

If you’ve been around for any length of time, you’ll have heard – and maybe even experienced – some real horror stories: where two or three authors are gathered together, they will swap the names of publishers and agents who have shafted them in the past. There is a very good reason for this, and it’s the same reason sites like Writer Beware exist. No one wants to waste time dealing with a charlatan, no matter how big the incentive might be. Publishers and agents all talk to each other too, and I’ll bet their lists would make fascinating, if libellous, reading.

The old-timers know all this instinctively, even if they’ve got a few skeletons of their own rattling around in the closet. To anyone starting out in what we laughingly refer to as a business, you’re sure to find yourself tempted to take short-cuts at some point. My advice is, don’t do it. Even if it’s just out of enlightened self-interest…

Simon Morden is a writer or science fiction, fantasy and horror, and sometimes all three at once: most recently the Metrozone trilogy, published by Orbit. Three slices of old-school cyberpunk mayhem featuring everyone's favourite sweary Russian genius, Equations of Life, Theories of Flight and Degrees of Freedom were published in April, May and June 2011. Because you shouldn't have to wait for the future.

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