Mighty Mur Lafferty

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Mur is too modest. When I asked her for a bio, all she sent was this: “Mur Lafferty is a pioneering podcaster, the host of I Should Be Writing, The Angry Robot Books Podcast, and the editor of Escape Pod. Find out more at www.murverse.com”

The parts that she leaves out are how Escape Pod is probably the most widely listened to source of SF audio stories, and how in her first year as editor of Escape Pod, she already has a story from the ‘cast appearing as a finalist on the Nebula ballot. And that in addition to I Should Be Writing, she was also the host and creator of the podcast Geek Fu Action Grip (on hiatus), and was, until July 2007, the host and co-editor of Pseudopod (think Escape Pod, except with slimy tentacled beasties). And she wrote a novel. And won an award for that novel. And writes short stories. And… well, you get the idea. She’s been around for a while and knows a thing or two — which is why I invited her to come visit us here at Magical Words.

And the mighty Mur sez:

***

Start At Step 1

I thought my career would go as follows: Write some short stories. Get rejected. Start getting some published. Write a novel. Get an agent. Get published.

Understand I did not assume this would happen in a year, or even five. I didn’t say this would happen fast, I just thought that would be the proper way to build a writing career.

Stuff did not happen that way. It happened something like this: write some short stories. Get rejected. Start selling a very few. Learn about podcasting. Podcast a novel. Get that novel picked up by a small press. Win an award. Get an agent. Write another novel. Lose the agent. Podcast more stuff. Get another agent. Try to sell second novel. Get rejected. Lose the agent.

But you roll with the punches, you know?

Even though I am understanding that this writing career stuff doesn’t always happen the way you expect it to, there are at least some logical steps that happen in writing. I get this question a lot, or variations of it, so I will go through the motions.

Step 1: Write a book. Seriously, people, write a book. Do not plan what your pseudonym will be. Do not worry about what genre it will be placed in. Do not pitch it to agents. Do not decide what advance you want. All of this is buying your kid a couple of gallons of oil and a can of Armor All before she’s old enough to drive. None of this matters if you don’t have a book. Write the book.

Step 2: Edit the book. Now, everyone is different. But for the most part, I have heard (and know for my own writing) that editing while writing is a bad thing. It takes a different part of the brain, an analytical part, and it ends up stifling the writing instead of making it cleaner. If you decide that Bob needed to die in chapter four and in chapter ten he’s hanging out in a bar -oh, it’s a fantasy? Then a pub. Bob is in a PEGASUS pub – then you write [TK BOB SHOULD BE DEAD HERE, STOP WRITING ABOUT BOB] and then poof, mention him no more except in sad reflection, or perhaps to inspire bloodthirsty revenge. When you edit, read through your book and make notes (that’s why you say “TK” – easy to search for since those two letters appear rarely together – in the English language, anyway), then you will remember to kill Bob by the herd of angry pegasi (pegasuses?) in chapter four and then erase poor bob in subsequent chapters.

Step 3: Find first readers. A lot of people worry about finding the right people to read their fledgling book. And it is hard, no doubt. You need someone who has the following qualities:

  • Respects you but hopefully doesn’t love you, because those people have a deep desire to make you happy, damn them. They want you to be happy and proud and will never tell you that your one-dimensional villain needs only a mustache to twirl to complete the stereotype.
  • Respects writers. And by that I don’t mean they have to BE writers, but they have to understand that this is important to you and it shouldn’t languish on their desk while you fret quietly.
  • Knows how to give constructive criticism. Yeah, our Snidely Whiplash wants to destroy the world with his herd of evil pegasi, ignoring logic that says that plan would destroy HIM as well, but you want your reader to say it constructively rather than launch into a Rocky and Bullwinkle bit over lunch. You need to know what works and what doesn’t, but your ego doesn’t need its metaphorical face shoved into the metaphorical mud.
  • And you need more than one reader. Perhaps the one person is wrong about Snidely, and your other two readers loved him. Then perhaps it was the reader’s issue and the book is fine. Also, you have more people around to catch that Bob probably can’t have sex with Jemmy the beet farmer in chapter six if he’s dead. Unless it’s that kind of book. I’m not judging.
  • Lastly, this is for you. Do not argue with your readers. Take the comments silently. You may ask questions to clarify things, but do not argue or even explain. Look at it this way- if you get published, you will be unable to go to ever reader’s house and explain that Bob’s death is a Christ metaphor. If one person doesn’t get it, then perhaps it’s them. If everyone doesn’t get it, you messed up and need to fix it.

Step 4: edit again. Take your comments from readers and get working, leaving your ego at the door.

Step 5: Research agents. Yes, it seems easy to go through Writer’s Market, pinpoint every agent who represents fantasy, and carpet bomb them with a generic query, but no one ever said this was easy. You will have better luck if you do work and tailor each query to each agent.

Step 6: Query an agent. Alternatively, you can query editors. But one of the benefits of agents is they can query lots of editors at once, while it’s considered bad form for authors to do so. I don’t really get why. But that’s the way it goes.

Step 7: Start another book. It will keep your mind off the glacial pace of publishing.

Step 8: Sign with an editor. Yay! NOW you are allowed to talk about marketing and book store placement and cover design and your pseudonym and your future as an author in the new violent genre, splatter pegasuspunk – or do you want to pigeonhole yourself?

You can do these things in a different order, I suppose. But if an agent or editor receives an incomplete or unedited manuscript, you will never get to Step 8. If you worry about the details in Step 8 or Step 5 or Step 2 before you do Step 1, you may never finish. So do things in the right order, and you’ll have more luck.

Dammit. Now I wanna read splatter pegasuspunk.

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16 comments to Mighty Mur Lafferty

  • Mur, I think we were conjoined twins in another life. Perferably one in a demension where Zombie Bob never gets it on with the (making an assumption) human beet farmer. Espececially not in the middle of the beet feild under a full moon at perigee.

    Thanks for the wisdom that came with my morning giggle.(Though I never giggle. Real women don’t giggle.):)
    Faith

  • Mur! Wonderful to have you here at MW. You’ve done a great job here at distilling the process down. It may never be simple, and we all get thrown curve balls, but the honest truth is that writers have the best chances if they take things somewhat in order — as you point out, without doing step 1 first, you got nothing. Too often we want to put that ol’ cart before the horse. Oh, and congrats on the fantastic support you got at Kickstarter!

  • Welcome to the sandbox, Mur! We’re delighted to have you! (Okay, yes, I’m having a small fangirl moment. I started listening to ISBW at the beginning of the year…)

    Do not argue with your readers. Take the comments silently. You may ask questions to clarify things, but do not argue or even explain.

    I used to belong to a great writing group, and one of our rules was exactly this. I can’t speak for everyone, but it made a huge difference in how I heard the critiques. I was able to let my defenses down and honestly absorb what was suggested. It’s not easy at first, but it definitely works.

  • Great, no nonsense stuff, Mur. Thanks. My favorite bit: “Write a book. Seriously, people, write a book. Do not plan what your pseudonym will be.” This is all you know on earth, and all you need to know.

  • mudepoz

    I like this. A lot. Enough that I just sent it to a bunch of friends. The same bunch of friends I purchased the MW book for. Just one comment. I had to go to several writer’s groups before I found one that fit. I don’t mind constructive crits. However, when the other members attack because the genre doesn’t suit them, where they want you to define each word because they don’t know it, or think it is sacrilegious to quote biblical sources and compare them to other religions, well. It took quite a while to figure out they weren’t critting my writing, they were going after me. My sense of humor (or lack of), and my choice of what I prefer to read and write about. Getting through grad school and peer review publishing was easier than accepting attacks that did nothing except destroying my self esteem isn’t very useful and I didn’t know any better. Fortunately, I found a safer place with a lovely combination of genres and styles. The feedback is useful and not threatening. It feels good to be with people who actually care, to help and want to get help. And who understand that some people prefer to dance with skeletons than with a live partner because the skeleton doesn’t step on feet.
    Faith, with duct tape, a zombie can get it on with whatever he/she wants. Including the beet.

  • I’ve heard this advice many times before from various sources – but never, I think, presented with such a clarified whimsy. Delightful!

  • Unicorn

    Thanks for the great post, Mighty Mur, and for the reminder that the most important part of a writer’s job is not networking or querying or marketing but WRITING. Now let me get back to Step Number Two.
    Mudepoz – Dancing with skeletons? Okay, fine, provided said skeleton is Terry Pratchett’s amazing Death. Duct tape and zombies? Yuck. Epic yuck.
    Unicorn

  • mudepoz

    http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1414568760023&set=a.1526460717252.2078725.1106691725&theater I spent days articulating Huey and we needed to celebrate. For zombies, duct tape is the only way they can’t lose important parts. Sheesh. Is this why I was drummed out of the first two writers’ group? I wrote zombie love stories? *Scratches head*

  • Lance Barron

    This is great! I really like the last bullet in Step 3. That one is something new for me and much appreciated.

  • Such a great post! (Except, where’s step 9, where you become wildly rich and all that?) Seriously, though, laying it out like that does make it simple (easy to follow) and that’s helpful. It also reinforces that slogging away doing what I’ve been doing is part of the process, and makes it easier to continue to do. Thanks!

    Mud> I had some bad experiences with a critique group too… it’s just a fit thing, like finding a group of friends. Some folks can be totally nice, but not what you need. I have seen some scary crits out there, too… ones where people were overly personal, or just mean for being mean, which I think isn’t helpful. I’m glad you found a good group! I wish I had a “live” one locally. But where I live is kinda small and kinda short on writers. But I’m happy with the online one’s I’ve got… I’ve met some faboo folks through the MW betas.

    *sighs* I’m ad 5,6, and 7. Working on queries and all that. Getting ready to start a new project while I wait and see ’bout the other two. Yay.

  • Mur is awesome. 🙂 I’ve been listening to ISBW for a few years now, and recently had the honor of voicing one of the stories for Escape Pod (Kachikachi Yama). Mur very kindly accepted my facebook and twitter requests.

    I agree with Wolf’s assessment of the post: clarified whimsy! Also, I couldn’t help but hear Mur’s voice as I read…

    I’m totally in the camp of “edit later”, since I made the mistake of editing while I wrote my first book, and it consequently took me 4 years.

    Great advice!
    Lauren

  • Now I wanna read splatter pegasuspunk too. But not if Bob dies. Unless he comes back. (Hey, my characters do that all the time. But not with duct tape.)

    Anyway, I loved this post. Thanks for the advice. I agree that writing the book is most important. Sometimes though (such as presently) I’ve found that I need to take a step back and focus a bit on plotting, so I know where I’m going. It gets frustrating trying to write otherwise.

    On the other hand, plot developments tend to hit me out of the blue while actually writing, so maybe I need to confront that blank page more. Preferably with some pegasi as backup.

  • Thanks for the great post, Mur, and welcome to Magical Words. Nice to return home to find the site hosting such an excellent guest. But I’m going to skip the splatter pegasuspunk. Just not my thing, you know?

  • Tom G

    Sorry to rain on your parade, Mur, but splatter pegasuspunk is so yesterday. I read on the Facebook that Mercenary pirate weremonkeys are the next big thing. Just saying.

    Great post.

    Tom G
    Future author of Weremonkey Pirates of the Baboon Coast.

  • Wow. That square bracket thing? I can totally relate! I assign things like [COOK] and [COOK, NAME HIM DAMMIT – What about ___?] and [AWKWARD, FIX]. And sometimes I plot out the next few actions, like vague ideas of what happens in the next scene. [X makes a comment about Y. Mention Z!] Lots of [ZOMGs: epiphany] when I make a connection in the story I hadn’t realized. Then go back and clean it up when I begin my next writing session. It’s not an outright edit, it just smooths a few wrinkles so what follows makes vague logical sense. I have two pages of stuff to go back and retcon or outright change when I’m done.

    Sigh. Pen names. I already learned the hard way about pen names. Yeah, oops. Oh well. Thank you for such a fun post!

  • @Tom G “I read on the Facebook that Mercenary pirate weremonkeys are the next big thing.”

    Oh, thank God! I happen to have something in that genre lying around, but there was never a market for it. Hooray! I can stop writing about eqinavian assassins.