Friday, April 14, 2023

Writing and Publishing Myths


I see a lot of writers – mostly newer ones, I suspect – propagating various myths about writing and publishing on social media. When I first started going to science fiction conventions in my late twenties (back in Bedrock with my good pals Fred and Barney), my friends and I would huddle between panels and talk about writing “secrets” and insider info we’d heard from panelists and other con-goers or read in how-to-write books and publications like Locus. There was no Internet back then or social media, but we still managed to find plenty of mistaken beliefs to discuss and adopt as best practices or professional standards, until eventually we gained enough experience to know better. I can’t begin to imagine how difficult it is for writers starting out today to sift through all the advice they read online or watch in YouTube videos and separate the wheat from the chaff. And it doesn’t help that some writing/publishing myths have a grain of truth in them, although perhaps not where you’d expect, or that some myths are both true and not true, depending on how you look at them. Following is list of writing/publishing myths – or perhaps beliefs might be a better word – presented in no particular order, along with my take on them.


·       You must outline/not outline. This is the Plotter vs Pantser debate, and people get so passionate about which side they think is best that I often expect them to go to war over the issue. I swear, it’s like a damn religion for some people! Neither approach is better or worse than the other. If one works for you, great, but that doesn’t mean it will work for others, and you shouldn’t try to force people to adopt your preferred technique or chide them when they don’t. It’s also okay to do a combination of each or to change from one to the other for different projects. I tend to outline novels but then pants scenes when I develop them. I outline short fiction a bit but usually pants it. I outline instructional nonfiction (like this blog entry), but I don’t outline personal essays. I have no idea why these different techniques work for me in different situations, and I don’t really care. It’s enough for me that they do. But if for some reason pantsing a short story isn’t working for me, I’ll try outlining. Writing techniques are tools and we need to use whatever tools work best for the job we’re attempting to do.

·       You must write many drafts/write only one draft, etc. I saw someone post about this on Twitter the other day. She said that writers must write at least five drafts of a novel. Of course, some people agreed with her, some didn’t. The problem with so many writing/publishing myths is that inexperienced (or non-introspective) writers assume their experience is universal and applies to all writers. Hell, it won’t even apply to themselves consistently throughout their career. I work out ideas, plot threads, scenes, dialogue in my head before I sit down to write, and I edit as I go. By the time I finish a draft, it may need a little polishing, but I don’t do a significant rewrite. Other people are discovery writers, and they may need to produce any number of drafts to find out what they’re trying to say and exactly how they want to say it.  

·       You’re only a real writer when . . . There’s no such thing as a “real” writer. All writers are real. (Some of us are even surreal!) I think “real writer” is shorthand for “What knowledge/practices/accomplishments are necessary for someone to be considered a professional writer?” People want clear, specific standards that will help them measure their career progress. The problem is that there aren’t such standards in the arts. There are specific steps to follow to enter most careers, but there are none in the arts. People create their individual paths. They can get ideas on how to forge those paths from established artists, but they can never replicate the exact steps another writer took to find success. Comparing ourselves to others can be a good way to learn what to try and what to avoid, but we must be careful not to allow such comparisons to impact how we view ourselves. The “real writer” myth is one that can quickly become poisonous.

·       You need to be on social media – all of them. You don’t need to do a damn thing in the arts unless you want to, including producing art in the first place. Social media can help you network, find out about markets, learn what different artists do, what works for them and what doesn’t, see professional (or unprofessional) behavior modeled, follow agents and editors to learn what they’re currently looking for, etc. It can also help you find fellow artists to connect with so you can develop a support network and (hopefully) not feel so alone as you work on your art and career. Yes, social media can help you reach an audience who will buy your work, but I’d argue the other benefits I mentioned are more important and will probably give you a better ROI on the time you devote to social media. I’ve read a number of articles that suggest three social media platforms is about the most a person can keep up with comfortably, and I’ve found that’s true for me. If you only like one social media platform and find it fulfilling, that’s fine, and if you hate social media, to hell with it.

·       Self-pub/trad-pub is best. Neither is best. They’re just different. Self-pub gives you more overall control of your work and its marketing, but it takes a lot more time and effort, as well as initial investment of money on your part (for developmental editing, cover design, copy-editing, etc.). A traditional publisher will provide most of those services, but you may have to make compromises in terms of your story or its presentation to the public. I think writers should try all venues at first – self-pub, traditional publishing (both large press and small press) and see what works best for them. You’ll also increase your odds of success this way. Maybe you never considered self-publishing, but you try it and that’s where you find your readership. But arguing which one type of publishing is better overall is ridiculous and pointless.

·       You must have beta readers or a critique group. I think by now you get the idea that I don’t believe in musts. I do think that there are some techniques that are important and most writers will grow as artists and attain some level of success faster by employing them. Beta readers are one of these things. Whether you take a creative writing class or form a writers’ group (face-to-face or virtual), giving feedback on others’ writing and getting feedback on your own work is probably the single best way to learn. Getting feedback from a professional is best, but most professionals are too busy writing their own stuff to do in-depth feedback for others. Some writers find beta readers invaluable and continue using them throughout their career. Others (maybe most) use beta readers in the early stages of their career when they’re still learning, and when they start publishing regularly, they stop using beta readers. I last belonged to a writers’ group over twenty years ago. I reached a point where I was selling work regularly and had deadlines, and sometimes I had to submit stories before my group could get to them, especially when it came to novels. Plus, I write fast and write a lot, more than a group can comfortably keep up with. AND my group – although it included science fiction and fantasy writers – thought a lot of my fiction was too weird and should be made more ordinary, for lack of a better word. As a working professional, I have an agent and editors at the various publishing houses I work with. Those are all the readers I need now. But there isn’t a damn thing wrong with being part of a writers’ group forever, being part of a group at some times in your career and not others, or seeking out feedback only when you feel like you really need it.

·       You should never listen to feedback because it will change your natural style and rob your work of originality. On some level, I guess this is one of the things I said about my former writers’ group when it came to their response to my weird-ass horror fiction. But I didn’t choose not to use their feedback from ego or laziness. I’d been getting feedback from teachers, friends, and writing groups for over a decade by that point, and I did my best to learn from it and make my stories better. I eventually began selling weird-ass horror short stories, and editors and readers were responding quite favorably to them. I figured that was a good sign that I should plow ahead with that style and see how far it could take me. It hasn’t gotten me a huge readership, but I’m happy with the work I’ve produced and that’s what’s important to me. One of the criticisms of the workshop method of teaching creative writing is that eventually all the students’ work sounds the same because they end up creating fiction that appeals to a group with different tastes, and in order to please everyone, they have to make their work as generic and bland as needed to gain the group’s approval. Getting and using feedback is a balancing act. You don’t want to be so resistant to it that you refuse to consider it, but you don’t want to wholeheartedly adopt every suggestion, either.

·       You need a degree in creative writing, preferably an MFA to be a real writer. Nope. Most writers I know don’t have a degree in English if they have any degree at all. If you want to be a writer you need to read a lot, write a lot, get feedback on your work, and keep trying to improve – and you do all this until you die. Now how you go about doing these things, especially during your early learning/preparation stage is up to you. If you feel like a structured experience guided by professional writers and working alongside like-minded peers would be a wonderful way to grow as a writer, go for a degree. If you can afford it, and if you can devote the time necessary. I graduated with an MA in Literature with a Creative Writing Concentration in 1989. I didn’t fully understand the difference between an MA and an MFA or I would’ve gotten the latter degree. I got my MA because I wanted guided instruction in Literature with a capital L as opposed to just reading it on my own, and because with a graduate degree in English, I knew I could teach college composition courses part time while I wrote. Eventually, I realized I loved teaching so much I sought a full-time gig and was fortunate enough to land one (plus, I had two young daughters, so I needed to make more money and have good health insurance.) Some writers think an MFA will give them some kind of official status as a Real Writer, but it doesn’t. I know a number of people with MFAs who haven’t written a word since graduating, as well as people who struggle to get published as much as they did before they got their degree. There is so much information on how to write available freely available on the Internet, so many instructional videos on YouTube, so many writers talking about their lives, work, and process on social media, that you can teach yourself as much, if not more, than you could learn from an MFA program in terms of sheer information. It’s the experience of being with good teachers, strong peers, and having time to focus on your writing that you can’t replicate on your own (not easily, anyway). Still, in the end, you don’t need no stinkin’ degree to be a writer.

·       You need to write what sells/you need to write art for art’s sake. This is where the Satanic Commandment comes in: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.” Whatever goals you have for your writing are good goals. Some people want to focus solely on the art and craft, others want to focus on making money from their work, and others try to find some kind of middle ground between the two. Going into the arts is a terrible way to make a steady income, but it’s a fantastic way of feeding your soul and giving your life meaning. All writers want the dream of being able to produce whatever kind of work we want, having critics laud it for its brilliance, having millions of readers adore it, and have trucks full of money pull up to their houses hourly. The truth is that only a small fraction of the human race reads for enjoyment, and if you write weird-ass horror like me, only a very small fraction of the human race will read it. It’s hard to make a living – even an extremely modest one – from writing fiction alone. Evidently writing weird-ass horror is more important to me than money or else I’d write in a more popular genre, like thrillers (but even writing in a popular genre doesn’t guarantee monetary success). My day job gives me and my family the money and benefits we need, plus it feeds another part of my soul – and it still focuses on writing. My goal has always been to create a life in writing, and in that I’ve succeeded. (I’ll still take all the money the world is willing to throw at me, though. I’m not stupid.) So write for your own reasons, and those reasons can change from project to project as well as throughout your life as your needs and wants change. It’s all good.

·       You shouldn’t write about people different from you; you should write about people different than you. I don’t think of this as a myth so much as an artistic and ethical issue. Some writers (often younger ones) say you shouldn’t write about anyone unlike yourself in significant ways. As I said early, I’m a straight, white, cishet male, and I’m fifty-nine and have lived in America all my life, most of it in Ohio. I have diabetes, but my overall health is fine otherwise. If I try to write from the perspective of a blind nonbinary teenager from Tanzania, no amount of research will help me portray this character in a truly authentic way. Plus I could unknowingly perpetuate harmful stereotypes. Also, if an editor buys a book about this character from me, that will potentially take a publishing slot away from a writer whose life experience more closely matches that character. On the other hand, if we only write about characters like ourselves, we’re writing autobiography for the most part. Plus, I’ve had people of color tell me that if writers only include people exactly like themselves in their stories, they’re erasing everyone else from the world of the story. So by not including characters different from ourselves in terms of age, race, sexual identity, gender identity, place of origin, we fail to depict the world as it is and lose the opportunity to help readers develop empathy for people who, on the surface at least, don’t appear to be like them. So what should we do? We should do what we feel creatively impelled to do. If we want to write about someone very different than ourselves, we should ask why we want to do this and why are we the best person to tell this story? Is there someone else who could tell it better? I’m perfectly comfortable writing about young people because I interact with them all the time at my college. But while I would put a younger character into a horror novel, I wouldn’t write a novel about what it’s truly like and what it means to be a younger person in America today. You’ll need to make your own decisions on how to handle writing diverse characters, but try to do so thoughtfully and respectfully.

·       You must pick a specialty and stick to it. In other words, brand, baby, brand! Living in a capitalistic society, we’re urged to make everything – including ourselves – an easily identifiable, simple product. We are what we do, we are our labels. It’s true that branding yourself as a sweet romance writer or a military science fiction writer can make it clear to readers what kind of experience your fiction offers and will help you connect with a specific audience. That’s capitalistic thinking, but it’s also artistic thinking. As an artist, we want to find people with whom our work resonates. But doing the same thing over and over again can get tedious for artists. So if you want to write different kinds of stories whenever you feel like it instead of producing one hardboiled mystery novel after another, do it. But if you love a certain kind of fiction and you’d love to toil in that field for the rest of your life, do that.

·       You should write every day. I get interviewed a lot, and I’m almost always asked if I write every day. Once a project gets going, I tend to work at it steadily until it’s finished, so I do write every day then. But sometimes I enter fallow periods where I don’t write much, or at all. I may write story notes, play with ideas, maybe write a rough outline as I search for a new project to work on. Sometimes I know exactly what I want to write but getting started is hard. Sometimes my life circumstances aren’t conducive to writing every day. It’s true that the more often you write, the more skilled you become, and the more publishable work you will produce over time. Making writing a regular practice is important. But if you hit a period where you don’t write every day, you’re not a failure as a writer. Just do your best to get back to it when you can.

·       You don’t need to be a reader to be a writer. I don’t get this attitude, but it’s not an uncommon one, especially among younger people who spend all their time consuming visual media and playing video games. I think what most of them would like is to write scripts for movies or create videogame scenarios, but it’s easier to sit down at a computer, open Word, and just start typing. Maybe they feel the odds of success in movies or videogames are so slim that they’ll settle for writing fiction. Can you write fiction without reading much if at all? Sure. Will it be any good? Probably not. But who knows? Maybe you’re the one genius in billions of humans who can produce great art without having had much experience with the art form as audience member. If so, go with god. Most writers I know grew up as voracious readers and remain so. (I’m so busy all the time these days that I don’t get to read much myself. I tend to listen to audiobooks as I drive.) To me, not liking to read and wanting to be a writer is like not enjoying eating but wanting to be a chef.

·       You must read the classics to be a writer. Read whatever you damn well want. Whatever makes you happy, whatever inspires you, whatever teaches you how to be a better writer. Every genre has its classics, though, and it’s not a bad idea to at least sample them to get a feeling for what’s come before, plus you might find inspiration in classics, maybe updating their themes and narrative approaches for a new generation. But must read them? Nope, nope, nope. Reading contemporary fiction – the kind editors are buying and readers are currently reading – is arguably more important.

·       You must write fast/you must take your time. Releasing shorter books more often is a marketing tactic for indie writers, so if you can write fast, that can be a benefit for you. Taking your time, though, means that you can continue to improve a piece of writing until you believe it’s the absolute best it can be before you send it out into the world. But whether you write fast, slow, or in between, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is the quality of the final work. And your speed may change from one project to another. If you are a slow writer, don’t take on projects with definite deadlines that you may be likely to miss. If you’re a fast writer, don’t give into the temptation to abandon a project the instant it’s finished and move on to another. Spend at least some time revising and improving your work before publishing it.

·       Writing awards are important; writing awards are meaningless. Winning an award for your writing means that your peers recognize that you’re doing good work. It doesn’t, however, mean no one else is doing good work. It just means that one particular group at one particular time chose to honor one particular writer (you). Some writers hate the entire concept of writing awards, seeing them as inspiring unnecessary competition among writers and motivating them to focus on awards as the sole purpose of writing – and then feeling like shit and thinking they’re a failure when they don’t win. Or if they do win, they’re tempted to believe they’ve Made It and might end up resting on their laurels instead of continuing to grow as artists. And since writing awards are subjective, people are always going to argue about them. But that’s good (even if it sometimes makes people’s emotions run high). Discussing what makes good writing broadens people’s ideas about writing overall. Although some people are bewildered – and a few become apoplectic – that the work they view as superior wasn’t nominated for an award, let alone won. Awards are given (ideally) to promote writing in general as much, if not more, than to honor individual writers. Once a year, the news goes out that a group – like SFWA, HWA, MWA, WWA, etc. – has presented their awards, and people are reminded that yes, science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, westerns, romance, literary fiction, poetry exists, and they’re given a list of writers they can check out, many of whom may be new to them. Winning an award also gives writers another way to promote themselves. I’m Multiple Bram Stoker Award-Winning Author Tim Waggoner. But does this actually help your career? Like so much when it comes to promotion, no one really knows. But it can be an additional weapon in your promotional arsenal. Bottom line: literary awards can be a very mixed bag, but you shouldn’t allow them to distract you from your work or fall into the trap of believing your self-worth is tied to them somehow.

·       You must spend a ton of time promoting your work. Traditionally published writers would love to believe that publishers will do all the promotion of your work, leaving you to get on with writing. Publishers will promote your work to a certain degree, but they won’t do a ton of promotion. In general, small-press publishers will work harder than larger publishers for their authors, but they only have so much money to spend on promotion. Larger publishers have more money, but they generally wait for a writer to sell well before putting a lot of effort into promoting them. They treat the first few novels an author puts out like a lottery. The authors who sell well get more attention and money for promotion. It makes sense from a business standpoint. An already successful writer is a better return on investment. Self-published authors have to do all of their own promotion, and traditionally published authors still need to promote their work too – if they want to. If you treat your writing as a business and you depend on its income for your living, then you better promote the hell out of it. But if you have a day job – as I do – you should do as much or as little promotion as you have energy and time for. If you really hate promotion – I mean loathe it – don’t do any. But whether or not you make our living from your writing, promotion is how you make readers aware of your work, and if you don’t do at least some, you leave it up to luck whether or not anyone ever finds your work. We write to be read, so we want to get our work into the hands of readers. On the other hand, promoting 24/7 can cause you to burn out fast (and it leaves you little to no time to write new work). And like I said earlier, no one has a clue what kind of promotion works, or when it does work, how to replicate that success next time. Promotion is a gamble, but you decide how far you’re willing to go with it.

·       Real writers are completely and totally dedicated to their writing 24/7. This is bullshit. It’s okay to have a nonwriting job or to practice other art forms along with writing, whether for economic or self-actualization reasons. Plus, doing things aside from writing gives you different experiences that you can draw on for your writing. During the COVID lockdown, I found it harder to write fiction because I wasn’t getting enough input. I wasn’t going places, seeing things, talking to people . . . I wasn’t getting the raw material I needed to create my stories. Having a life outside of writing is what makes writing possible.

·       There are gatekeepers/a secret writing cabal. Nope. At least not in the way that most people imagine. In traditional publishing, some writers’ work is accepted and some is rejected for all kinds of reasons, some on the aesthetic side (an editor prefers quiet horror, not the kind of extreme horror you write), some on the business side (an editor thinks their readers will like one story more than another, even if they’re both well written). Editors aren’t trying to keep you out of their magazine or off their publishing roster. They’re simply trying to find the best stories of the kind they think their readers will like. And their choices, while informed by hopefully having read widely in their genre, are in the end subjective. To editors, it’s not about you or your story. It’s about fulfilling their readers’ needs. Editors, especially in the small press, do tend to work with their friends more often than with people they don’t know. But editors became friends with these writers by publishing their work first and then getting to know them. And they continue publishing their work because they like it, their readers like it, and they have a good working relationship with these writers. Now when it comes to writers networking with other writers, there are groups of friends and support networks that develop, and people like helping out people they like and vibe with. That’s human nature. It sucks when you’re not part of a particular friend group or support network. No one likes to be on the outside looking in. Are there people – writers, editors, publishers – who exclude others based on gender, race, gender identity, sexuality, etc.? Of course. That kind of gatekeeping occurs, but as a cishet white guy, I’m not a victim of it, and I’m not sure how often it happens. I listen to others with direct experience of this sort of discrimination and try to learn from them.

·       Only writers other than cishet white men can get published these days. On the other hand, some disgruntled writers – white, cishet, males, naturally – complain that they are being discriminated against in the current publishing landscape. This is horseshit. Editors may be working on broadening the types of stories and writers they publish, but white cishet males still dominate publishing. Some people just get pissed when they’re asked to scoot over and make room for others at the table.

·       You must have a literary agent; you don’t need a literary agent. If you want your book to be traditionally published by a larger, mainstream house, then you definitely need an agent. It’s rare that these publishers look at unagented submissions, but some will have open reading periods that they announce on social media, so if you don’t have – or don’t want – an agent, follow publishers you’re interested in on social media so you’ll be sure to see such announcements. If you want to publish books with a small press, no agent is required. Small-press publishers will work directly with writers. And if you’re a self-publishing writer, you don’t need a book agent. You might want one who can try to sell the film, TV, audio, and game rights to your book, though. And if you send an agent a query for a project, and they tell you that it doesn’t resonate with them but they hope you’ll send them your next book, they mean it. No editor or agent will make extra work for themselves unnecessarily, so if they ask to see your next novel, and you’d still like to work with them, send it.

·       Blurbs from other writers are vital for promoting your books; blurbs are meaningless. Writers hate asking other writers for promotional blurbs, and if they’re lucky, their agent or publisher will go fishing for them. Some writers believe that it’s vital to have endorsements from other writers to help sell their books, but the truth is there’s no proof they actually help. A blurb from a writer a reader likes might make them pick up a book and check it out, but it won’t make them buy it. And – based solely on anecdotal evidence I’ve seen on social media – most readers pay little-to-no attention to blurbs. I gather blurbs from reviews of my work and use those instead of asking other writers for them. I frequently get asked to do blurbs, but I often don’t have time to read the book before the blurb deadline. I try to get to them, and I always feel awful when I can’t deliver. So I guess my take on blurbs is they can’t hurt and they might help, so if you want them, go get some. Don’t be afraid to ask authors for blurbs and don’t take it personally if they say they’re too busy, or if they say they’ll try to get to your book but don’t manage to.

·       Trigger warnings are important and necessary for readers; trigger warnings aren’t necessary and can detract from the reading experience by acting as spoilers. Both of these statements are true and both are false. It all depends on the reader. There are ardent (and at times strident) advocates of both positions, and fights about which approach is better regularly flare up on social media. Some psychologists believe that trigger warnings don’t prevent readers from experiencing negative reactions if they’re warned about the possibility ahead of time, and that such warnings can be harmful by encouraging a victim mindset, potentially delaying someone’s recovery from trauma. So I don’t put trigger warnings on my books. Reviewers of my books sometimes include detailed trigger warnings in their reviews, and I have no problem with that (and it’s not like I could do anything if I did have a problem with it). And if a publisher asked me to include trigger warnings, I’d explain how I feel about it, and if they still insisted I include them, I probably would. But you know what I don’t do? Demonize anyone who believes trigger warnings are vital and absolutely necessary. And if you’re a proponent of trigger warnings, I don’t think you should demonize those who choose not to include them with their work. If as a reader you insist on trigger warnings, choose to read books that have them. If you dislike trigger warnings, don’t read books that have them. And you can state what your preference is on social media without saying anyone with the opposite view is evil and uncaring or too fragile emotionally.

·       Writer’s block is real; writer’s block is not real. “I don’t believe in writers’ block.” Whenever I see someone say this on social media or on a panel at a con, I think some variation of, You might not believe that touching a poison dart frog will kill you in seconds, but that’s only because you’ve never touched one. Writers who scoff at the existence of writers’ block make the same mistake that so many humans do. They think their experience is universal. It never seems to occur to them that someone else might have a different experience. I think writers’ block is a shorthand way of referring to any number of situations that can interfere with a writer’s ability to regularly produce prose. Maybe you’re dealing with health or emotional issues. Maybe your family needs you to focus on them right now and you don’t have enough energy left over for your writing. Maybe you’ve experienced a devastating professional setback. Maybe you had to put down a beloved pet and you’re grieving. All of the causes are different, but the result is the same: you’re not writing. Some of these situations will resolve themselves with time. Some may necessitate you putting work in to overcome them. I’m prone to depression, so I take meds and have gone through a lot of therapy to give me tools to deal with my depression when it gets bad. Some situations may require that you rearrange your life and try to find new ways of getting to your writing. The most important thing is to understand that you are not blocked from writing forever. It may not be easy, but you can get past it. I regularly recommend the work of Eric Maisel, a therapist who helps artists deal with the emotional challenges of being a creative person:

·       Agents and editors need to understand the power they hold over writers. This is a relatively new belief/attitude I’ve seen some writers express on social media. They rail against editors and agents who take a while to get back to writers on submissions. (A while being anywhere from a few weeks to a year.) “Don’t they understand how that makes us feel?” these writers say. “It’s not fair that they hold so much power over us!” I get how frustrating and demoralizing it can be to wait a long time for a response from an editor or agent, and sometimes you get ghosted and never get a response. My agent and I get ghosted by editors now and again, and if I reach out to editors on my own, I sometimes get ghosted too. I started writing and submitting before there was email. I remember what it was like to check the mailbox every day, hoping there would be a response from an editor or agent. Dealing with disappointment, frustration, and heartbreak is normal for creatives. The current attitude of “Don’t they understand what they’re doing to us?” seems like positioning yourself as a victim of abuse. And if yours was the only submission an editor or agent had to consider, a long wait time for a response would be unprofessional. But you’re competing with hundreds of submissions that agents and editors regularly receive. And agents and editors need to tend to authors they already work with too. And of course they’re human beings with lives that can impact their response times. If you hate waiting for responses, self-publish. Then you’ll have total control and won’t have to wait for anyone. That’s one of the main benefits of self-publishing. It seems to me that many people today believe the greatest evil they can experience is feeling bad, and if they do feel bad, someone must be responsible, and that someone needs to be brought to justice (even if their punishment is only getting called out on social media). People do experience serious abuse, or course, but I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about smaller, everyday emotional difficulties and frustrations, like getting to the pharmacy three minutes after it closes or being stood up for a date. These things suck, no doubt, but they don’t come close to the seriousness of actual abuse. These writers always bristle if someone advises them to develop a thick skin, but that’s the most useful thing they can do in this business. And if you do experience super-long wait times or truly unprofessional behavior from an agent or editor (such as sexual harassment), spread the word far and wide, whether you do so publicly or within your writing network.

This entry turned out to longer than I expected it to, and if you made it here to the end, I commend you on your fortitude. I suppose the biggest takeaways from this entry are to not believe in Musts in the writing world, and to remember that one size doesn’t fit all. Someone else’s experience of writing and publishing might be different than yours and vice versa. And don’t immediately accept any writing and publishing advice you come across without checking to see what others think and comparing it to your own experience. And that includes my advice too.

Gather all the information about writing and publishing that you can, but think for yourself and make the choices that seem best for you.

·       BONUS MYTH! Writers must attend in-person conventions to make the right connections/in-person conventions aren’t important for your career. Thanks to writer Eva V. Roslin – – for suggesting I add this one! The short answer is that both statements are true (except for the “must”). Writing conferences – especially larger ones like Stokercon, World Fantasy, Worldcon, Thrillerfest, Buchercon, Romance Writers of America Annual Conference, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Annual Conference, the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Summer and Winter Conferences, and the Western Writers of America Annual Conference – can be excellent places to meet and schmooze with editors, agents, and other writers. If you’re a newer writer, there are numerous panels, programs, and workshops put on by established pros for you to learn from. Hell, you can be an old vet like me and still learn a lot. I like going to panels about new developments in the field, current publishing trends, and areas of writing I don’t specialize in, such as screenwriting or poetry writing. Scheduled programs are also a great way to find people that might be hard to track down otherwise, and you can try to speak to them after the panel or, now that you know what they look like, approach them elsewhere at the con to talk. There are often scheduled pitch sessions with editors and agents, and if you manage to snag one (always sign up as early as you can!), it can be a serious boost to your career. Meeting writers and making connections with them can help you develop a support network as well as lifelong friendships. Connecting with people face to face can make a big difference business-wise. People prefer to work with people they like, and you can get a deeper sense of who someone is and whether or not you vibe with them during a ten-minute conversation that you might be able to in ten months of seeing their social media posts. But do you need to go to conventions? No. Back before websites, social media, and Zoom, a lot of publishing business was done at cons because you couldn’t easily connect anywhere else. (Back then, the belief/myth was that you needed to live in New York in order to network with agents, editors, and publishers.) But as different types of communication tech came along, more people started using it and fewer people traveled to conventions. The World Fantasy Convention – a professionals-only con with no fans – used to be the place to do business in SF/F/H. Everyone in the field attended. It’s become increasingly smaller over the years, and now it’s hard to do any significant networking or business there. I think it’s a lot easier to network with small-press publishers and editors at cons. You can usually find them in the dealer’s room at their bookselling table, and you can introduce yourself, chat with them, and pitch your book. There are a number of downsides to attending in-person cons, though. Time and money are perhaps the biggest issues. Not everyone can get time off from their day job to attend cons, and not everyone can afford to pay for travel, a hotel room, and meals. Even if you try to do everything the cheapest way you can and try to share costs with friends, it can still be a lot. I’m privileged to have the job I have. Attending writing conferences goes hand-in-hand with teaching creative writing, so if I need to take a day or two off from teaching, it’s not a problem, and if my department has travel funds available, I can ask for some. The money may not pay for everything, but it sure helps. Another issue is access. Not everyone is physically able to do in-person cons, and if you do go, you may find that the “accessible” hotel isn’t really accessible to people with different mobility needs. And if you’re an introvert (as most writers are) trying to network for four days straight can be exhausting, if you can bring yourself to do it at all. I tend to be quite shy, and I often can’t bring myself to join in conversations at cons, even if I know the people talking. Hanging out at the con bar and staying up late talking is an excellent way to network with other night owls – if you can do it. I used to be able to do it fine in my younger days, but it’s harder for me now that I’m older. I don’t know why. After the advent of COVID, a lot of cons switched to virtual events, and many are continuing to offer at least some of their programming as virtual components for people who can’t physically attend. I hope this trend continues and expands until entire conferences are available virtually to everyone, everywhere. For decades, writing conferences have been a primarily attended by white middle-class people, and having a robust virtual option – at a reduced rate since those virtual attendees don’t have access to certain on-site activities and facilities – will go a long way to making cons more equitable. Writers can also use cons to feel like a professional writer and be connected to the publishing community without doing much, if any, actual writing. There’s nothing wrong with networking via social media and sending work to agents and editors via email or Submittable. The writing is always what matters the most. And once you start working with editors regularly, you can skip the slush pile. I’ve done a lot of business at cons over the decades I’ve attended them. I first connected with Marty Greenburg at a World Fantasy con, and I placed dozens of short stories in anthologies he published. I pitched my first Leisure novel, Like Death, to Don D’Auria at a World Horror Convention, and I’ve followed him to Samhain Publishing and now Flame Tree Press. All told, I’ve published eleven books with him. I’ve made a number of tie-in deals at cons, and I’ve successfully pitched projects to editors at cons – including Writing in the Dark. Could I have gotten all those deals without attending face-to-face cons? Maybe. But my guess is probably not. At cons, I learned how to approach specific editors from other writers who shared info in person that they wouldn’t put in writing, and that was a huge help. But even though I’ve published over fifty novels and won awards, that doesn’t mean every deal I try to make at a con comes through. I’ve had lots of conversations over the years with editors about projects that never came to fruition (at least with them), and some editors will ask me to submit a manuscript and a proposal and it sits on their desk (or more accurately, in their email inbox) for months, if not years before I hear anything – if I ever get a reply. I have no idea how much of a “name” I have in the horror field, but it hasn’t seemed to make networking at cons much easier. I do get asked to submit to some anthologies, but not others – even when they’re edited by people I know – and sometimes when I learn of an invite-only anthology’s existence and ask an editor if I can submit, they say they’ll be sure to let me know when submissions are open, and the next thing I know, the table of contents are announced, and I never heard anything. I don’t mean any of this to sounds like sour grapes. I write and publish plenty of material regularly and have no call to complain. I mention it to show that even being an established professional and attending cons regularly doesn’t necessarily equate to success. And one more thing about cons – it can take a few years of going to them and networking before you see any professional benefit. It helps if you become part of the community (or a community) that attends these cons, and that can take some time. This is the closest thing to a secret cabal of gatekeeping writers that some people talk about. Going to cons can help your career if you can network successfully at them and you’re willing to wait to see any significant results. But they can be expensive, access can be a problem, and just because you do network with people, publishing success is by no means guaranteed. If you’ve never been to a big con before, and if you have the means and ability, try one out and see if you like it. If you do, but can’t afford to go every year, go every few years. But like so much of the advice I’ve offered in this blog entry, in the end, you should do what works best for you.


A Hunter Called Night Out Soon

My next horror novel for Flame Tree Press, A Hunter Called Night, will be out May 9, 2023. Advanced reviews have been good! My favorite so far is from Jess at Goodreads: “If Quentin Tarantino dropped some acid and then got into an Uber with Guillermo del Toro, who just ate a handful of magic mushrooms, and they rode to Studio Ghibli and stumbled into Hayao Miyazaki’s office for a brainstorming session, not even they could come up with anything remotely near this book. Holy shit.”




A sinister being called Night and her panther-like Harriers stalk their quarry, a man known only as Arron. Arron seeks refuge within an office building, a place Night cannot go, for it’s part of the civilized world, and she’s a creature of the Wild. To flush Arron out, she creates Blight, a reality-warping field that slowly transforms the building and its occupants in horrible and deadly ways. But unknown to Night, while she waits for the Blight to do its work, a group of survivors from a previous attempt to capture Arron are coming for her. The hunter is now the hunted.


Order Links


Flame Tree:


Amazon Paperback:




Barnes and Noble Paperback:



New Audiobook Released: Love, Death, and Madness

Three of my award-nominated novellas of horror fiction are now available as one audiobook from Crossroad Press. They’re narrated by Gary Noon, who’s done a fabulous job bringing to life a number of my previous audiobooks.


The Winter Box


Winner of the 2017 Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in Long Fiction


It’s Todd and Heather’s 21st anniversary. A blizzard rages outside their home, but it’s far colder inside. Their marriage is falling apart, the love they once shared gone, in its place only bitter resentment. As the night wears on, strange things start to happen in their house—bad things. If they can work together, they might find a way to survive until morning...but only if they don’t open the Winter Box.


A Kiss of Thrones


Finalist for the 2018 Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in Long Fiction


Lonny lost his beloved sister Delia thirty years ago. Since then, he’s sacrificed many lives in order to return her to the world of the living, but without success. His next target is Julia, a young women with a unfulfilled marriage and a passion for ’80s horror films. She will soon discover that not only is real life more complicated than the movies, it’s far more terrifying.


The Men Upstairs


Finalist for the 2012 Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novella


He finds her crying in the lobby of a movie theater and takes her home to his apartment, a strange, beautiful woman with no last name, a mysterious past, and a powerful sexual allure. He wants her, and she wants him. There's only one problem: the Men Upstairs. She used to belong to them—and they'll do anything to get her back.


Order Link:


Amazon Audible:


Scheduled Appearances


Stokercon. Pittsburgh, June 15-18. I’ll be conducting a workshop called The Horror Hero’s Journey, which is about how to apply the hero’s journey template to horror fiction. Sign-up information for the workshop isn’t available yet, but I’ll be sure to let you know when it is. In the meantime, here’s the link for the convention webpage:


Where to Find Me Online


Want to follow me on social media? Here’s where you can find me:



Twitter: @timwaggoner


Instagram: tim.waggoner.scribe


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