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.