Should You Submit, Quit, or Self-Publish It?

Self Publication - it isn't just for real writers!

The way to become a published writer is to write (and to submit what you write).  Seems obvious, yet so many would-be writers produce that one story or novel and then rework it endlessly, or submit a story or three, get rejected once (or a hundred times), and decide to give up.

Ira Glass does a wonderful job of explaining the reasons we creative types set out to create our particular art, and why so many become disappointed and quit:

I would add for writers specifically that the writers who are published are the ones who continued to write NEW stories, and submit those stories, and move past the rejections, until they were published.

Of course, today we have a wonderful short cut — self-publication!

I have repeatedly been asked for advice from writers who have written one story, or been rejected a few times, wanting to know how to proceed, how to become published.  And sometimes as part of my response I make the mistake of mentioning self-publication as a possible future option.

Don’t get me wrong, self-publication is a very valid alternative IF your writing is worth reading, and IF you believe you have what it takes to stand out from the sea of other self-published works.

But too often, the would be writer latches onto that option as the answer, because the rest of my advice — to write and submit and be rejected until you are good enough to actually be published — requires work, and a lot of rejection, and letting many of your stories die an anonymous and unnoticed death.

And often the amateur writer believes their writing to be perfectly wonderful and worthy of being read.  Unfortunately, it is hard to be objective about one’s own work.  I certainly see how bad my early stories are now, though at the time I thought they were completely awesome.  I would have self-published them if I’d had the option.  And now I am so glad I did not, that they were rejected and I was driven to try again, to try harder, to do better.

So please, if you want to be a writer, then write, and submit, and keep doing that until you are good enough that somebody other than yourself and your mother thinks it is ready for the world to read.  Persevere, and become a good writer, not just a “wroter” (someone who wrote that one thing and just keeps reworking that same one thing), or a self-published amateur, and someday you will have something published that is worthy of being read.

(Originally posted at

How to Give and Get Good Critique

(I wrote this guide for the Cascade Writers Workshop, where it was originally posted)

In 1632, Jebediah P. Milford, Earl of Worster Shire, became famous for eviscerating any poet whose work he found displeasing.  Thus began the Milford critique method.

Okay, that’s not true.  What is true is that both giving and receiving good critique can be one of the best ways to improve as a writer (other than writing lots of words).  I could go into the real history and facts about the Milford workshop, or similar workshops like Clarion West, but you probably don’t care too much about that (and it is easy enough to lookup on the web).  What is important, and what you should care very deeply about, is how to get the most out of this critique method for the betterment of your writing, and indeed, the betterment of all humankind.

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Writing Stories About Edgy Issues (Or Maybe Bono-y Issues)

I recently answered a question about finding spec fic markets responsive to stories with a “green message”.  Here’s my answer, and it applies to stories with any kind of message — political, social, religious, sexual, even a rant against whoever canceled the latest Joss Whedon show.

I suggested two things:

First, you can search for appropriate markets for any spec fic story using or

Second, generally speaking, all magazines are open to stories that have a green message (who doesn’t enjoy Kermit’s musings?), with the caveat that what magazines really care about is the story, not the message.  You can have the most important message in the world, but if your story is a thinly veiled excuse just to deliver that message, or if you deliver it in a “As you know Bob, all the reefs died due to global warming and pollution.” “That’s right Ed, if only we had done X we would not now have to try to repopulate the oceans to prevent a catastrophic collapse of the food chain” manner, nobody is going to hear your message over their own groans.

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Randy’s Example of Writing so Horrible it is Funny (or at least Groan-worthy)

My epic flash fiction tale about Framdar “The Slayer” Deathkiller, which I read as an example of writing so bad it is funny for the Norwescon panel “Bad Writing, No Cookie”, is now up at Every Day Fiction:

Norwescon Schedule – Randy Henderson

Thursday, 6:00 – 6:30 p.m., Cascade 3
Reading: Randy Henderson
Incrediguy Meets Bartholomew P. Lovelace, What happens when Incrediguy attempts to save a pastor who refuses to believe in him?, Rated: PG
Randy Henderson

Thursday, 9:00 p.m., Cascade 8
The Living Dead
Forty years after George Romero gave us Night of the Living Dead, his zombies still walk among us in remakes, new films from Romero himself, and astonishing recent movies ranging from Shaun of the Dead to 28 Weeks Later. Zombies are cropping up in popular literature as well. Why is this SF/horror subgenre so enduring? What are its classic books and films and which are merely the walking dead?
Mark Henry (M), Daryl Gregory, Randy Henderson, Jack Skillingstead, Anthony van Winkle

Friday, 1:00 p.m., Cascade 5
Working On Your Craft: Writing as an Evolving Process
As with any other art, writing requires practice; and a writer’s skill can improve over time. Writers discuss techniques they have learned as they have evolved and ways in which they gained new levels of expertise. How can you tell when you’re improving? How can you judge your own progress as a writer?
Cat Rambo (M), Daryl Gregory, Eileen Gunn, Randy Henderson, Jack Skillingstead