“Being a writer” and business models — kicking the Dutch out (into the world) part 2

Here is the tweet that triggered this post (bold added by me):

The writer must have follow-up: more stories in English, a *published* novel. Translating shorts is no viable business model.

And:

Also, a priority learning point for the Dutch scene is that (international) success does *not* come free

Even though the context changed in the hours that followed due to the exchange of tweets that followed, I felt like zooming into several aspects that were uncovered still and Tweets really fail as an instrument of expression.

This is my response and part of my “Kick the Dutch out (into the world)” series.

Kick the Dutch out (into the world)

  1. Open letter — To the Dutch SF/Fantasy world. It all started here
  2. Part 1 — The basis: Get them out into the world
  3. Part 2 — A response to “Being a writer” and business models
  4. Part 3 — Calimero, Imitation and Identity
  5. Dead horses — If you think all has been tried before and things are useless
  6. Stepping stones — A post about what is missing.

“Being a writer”, “Viable Business Models”, blah blah blah

In short

I respect the vision, but completely disagree with the above when no nuances are made. Not everyone strives for “that one thing” (whatever it is) and there are many ways to define “the writer”, none of them more “true” than the other.

“Kick the Dutch writers out (into the world)”

See this post from earlier today. In short:

  1. Translate them to English
  2. Make them available online
  3. Collect them in one place (links, publication if wanted)
  4. Curate the collection by preferences by people

Stepping stones

I wrote an earlier post on Stepping Stones. In short:

There is a gap in the Dutch SF/Fantasy scene. You can write, you can get published, but there is hardly anything between “Fan publications” and “professional”. See the image below.

Stepping stones: the gap

To stimulate writers to bridge that gap, I believe the following things are key:

  1. Writer friends — People who help you. Who are writing as well. Who want to achieve similar goals.
  2. Coaches/editors — People who help you improve yourself. Who look at your work and advice you where to put more energy, where to spend the next weeks developing yourself. Who also are there for you when you get stuck.
  3. A platform — A place where your work becomes visible.
  4. Eyeballs — Getting read. By hundreds, by thousands of people.

Reaching awesomeness

As a writer, you can choose many directions. If you want to reach awesomeness it means you will have to work for it. Like running a marathon you need to train. To practice. To work. To push yourself to your own limits.

Awesomeness is like making a chair, look at it and say: “this is a chair”. Then destroy that chair and make a better one. Then destroy that one until you have something that is YOUR chair. Then take the details and make those details YOURS as well. Then have experts look at it and take their feedback. Then work that feedback into your chair and make it even better and more exiting.

Chairs

Chairs: differences in craftsmanship

The balance is where you master your materials, make people stop, look at your work and provoke an interaction, a hunger for more of what your produced: “This is exiting! What else did he/she made? I want more!”

That second chair is not created by a lazy person.

“Success does not come for free”

Indeed. And this is your problem as a writer and/or craftsperson. There is no magical shortcut teleporting you from A to B and making you awesome overnight. Great writing comes from practice, understanding both your craft and yourself and taking risks in your own work. Risks mostly in doing something “not so popular”.

Stop complaining about it

The idea that the lack of motivation of some or all writers in the Netherlands is a “problem” as seems to emit from the quoted tweet about the “learning point” above is simply overlooking basic human nature. Out of 10 people who say they want something, only 1 is willing to make the effort. Out of 10 who are willing to make that effort, only 1 or 2 are talented. And so on.

It is a game of numbers. Out of a random 100 people, 98 people suck. Two might show promise.

Just be clear on your expectations. The whining about “people with lack of motivation” is just that. Whining. People differ. People’s self-knowledge differs. Some people think they suck ass and might be the most awesome whatever, ever. Some will try relentlessly and never grow beyond a certain point. Others think they are completely awesome and will never produce anything worth looking at.

Welcome to reality.

The real question is not “how do we change that reality?” but: “what will you do with that reality?”

Who is “the writer”?

The “writer” is at first someone who writes. A story. A poem. A blog-post. This can be once a year, once a month, once a decade. “I am the writer of this specific post/story/poem”.

To claim the title: “writer” in general, like in: “I am a writer” changes the game a bit. Let’s start with this:

  1. Regular — You write on a regular basis.
  2. Published — You have been published at least 2 times and at least once a year
  3. Still doing it — You are still writing

Adding subjective bullshit

Now, let’s make it more subjective. When I apply MY specific version of “writer” to you, you also have to comply to this:

  1. Deep and thoughtful — You write deep and thoughtful stories that touch at least two or three relevant contemporary issues in a balanced way, from multiple points of view
  2. Inclusive — Your world contains all kinds of people. You write FOR the people you write about. ALL characters are well-rounded.
  3. At least 40.000 words per month — You write AT LEAST 40.000 words per month. In blog posts, short stories, novels and/or novella’s. 60.000 is better. If you produce around 100.000 of proper quality I might call you “equal”. “Less is laziness” and “with less you are not a real writer”.
  4. At least 300.000 words per year — And again I am being mild, assuming not everyone can write 300.000 words in 6 months time as I did.
  5. You do this in English — Otherwise: why bother?
  6. You blog — You blog. Write articles. That deal about stuff that makes people think. AT LEAST 4.000 words per post. You spend no more than 3 hours. Otherwise your post is just a word-fart and you are wasting precious time. Hardly anything of substance.
  7. You edit — You spend 2 out of three days of your time editing, because spending less time editing is not editing but just brushing things up.
  8. You work on at least 3 novels and 6 stories a year — Which you will finish all, edited and ready for publication. And I am being mild here.
  9. You can achieve an output of 10.000 words per day — 20 days in a row, making a total of 200.000 words in one month. Without editing.
  10. You do this full-time for at least 6 months in a year — Because when you do less, you are not really taking it seriously.

Now, if any of this is making you feel bad about yourself — especially the 10.000 words per day and 6 months full time — I achieved my goal.

I am also full of shit.

Back to basics

  1. Regular — You write on a regular basis.
  2. Published (maybe) — Being published does not define “being a writer”. It defines: “being a published writer”
  3. Still doing it — You are still writing
  4. Open for feedback? — You might want to consider critical feedback in your loop.

“The writer must–“

“The writer must have […]”

A writer “must” or “has to”… nothing. Nothing. Must: Nothing. At all. Here is why:

  1. Personal goals — Why do you write? What is it you want to tell and achieve? Where do you want to be in 1 year, 5 years, 10 years?
  2. Personal taste — When is a story “good” to your personal taste? Who do you want to mirror to? Who is your hero?
  3. Personal levels of ambition — How ambitious are you? How do you show that? Where that that show?
  4. Willingness to invest — How much are you willing to invest in that? How much is sufficient? Are you doing that?

When this is all in line, all in balance, you are doing a good job. Even if this is one story per year or per decade. It might be possible your work is unreadable or boring as a result. If it is not your goal to do otherwise, who gives a shit. You are doing what you want to. Happy. Joy. Awesomeness.

When you want to become published/win a price

Not all writers strive to be published. Or win a price.

When you do want to become published or win a price, the game changes. You are no longer only pleasing yourself and some personal fans. Especially when you want to be published in the “better” magazines (online and/or offline).

People will read your work with a more critical eye. It will have to pass the slush-pile reader. It will then have to pass the editor. To achieve this, your story — at least — has to be:

  1. Well written — A beginning, middle, end. Engaging. About something. Proper buildup of the chain of events. 
  2. A pleasure to read — Proper buildup of sentences. Not too many platitudes. Surprising. Rythmic.
  3. Alive — With characters that speak to you, a background (stage) that you an almost feel and touch, and so on.
  4. Feel fresh — Even when your topic has been written about and used 1.000.000 times, your approach to it offers something different. Your vision feels fresh.

To achieve THAT you need to:

  1. Practice — Write. Write. Write. Do finger-practices. Write for the hell of it, without any other goal than to try something new. 
  2. Challenge yourself — Go beyond your own ideas. Try something hard, new. Like: using different points of view. Or: using a dead object as your main character. Or: start with something completely random and stupid and make a well-rounded story out of it. Whatever.
  3. Edit / learn to edit — understand where you are doing too much. Where you are not doing enough. Where you are lazy. How you are lazy. Where you want too much. Where you are hammering the obvious.  And so on.
  4. Have at least one critic reader — Who will point out the shit you produced. “This is too long. That does not work. That is useless.”
  5. Accept criticism — Anything that makes sense. Even if you do not agree AT FIRST. It is possible that your reader simply does not get your genre (“I really did not like the heterosexual relationships in your story. It grossed me out totally” or: “Why are they talking… at all?”) so not all criticism is useful. But when two people point out: “all your characters are flat” there might be a point there.
  6. Make it awesome — Make it awesome. (And “awesome” here is relative, not absolute) For you. For your readers. Do not accept with “good enough” unless you have a deadline. When you write and feel: “this is awesome” and you read it back and you think: “I really am awesome here” you are getting it.
  7. Edit more — Cut the fluff. The things that do not work. The sentences you think: “I need to rewrite this, but it is almost impossible to get it right”. Scrutinize your sentences: are they to the point? Do they support the story?

To start “becoming a writer” like that, you could start with:

  1. Write at least 5 stories per year — Write them. Edit them. Make them as good as you can. Have them proof-read. Edit and correct. Have them proof-read again. Send them.
  2. Learn to write better — Write about writing. Write about your own writing. Write about how you can write better. Read books, analyze what the writer did. Write reviews on what the writer did from the point of view of a writer. Whatever. But learn. Study. Master it.
  3. Send your stories — Send them to magazines. Get them out there.
  4. Think like a professional — Learn to understand your (future) editor and publisher. Why would they buy your story? Would YOU buy your story? (“Sure, because I am awesome!” is not the answer.)

International success (does not come for free)

The many faces of “international success”

“International success” has many possible faces. “Being published and paid for English language stories in an online magazine” can be one. “Being published” another. “Winning an Britisch or American genre award” a third.

Payment, costs of translation, mastering the language

To get to any of these places is “hard work” indeed. You probably do not master the English language as well as the average English speaker does. And it will take a lot of effort and frustration to type and write as fluently in English as you do in your own language. And if you do not chose to go that way: translation is another option. Costing you about 10 to 15 cent per word when done by a professional. Costing you 5 to 10 cent more than you will receive (a payment of 5 cent per word on average) when you sell it.

Competiton

Another factor is the competition. Where in a country like the Netherlands, you have maybe 20 to 50 fellow writers aspiring to be published somewhere and where it is not that hard to become one of the top-10, in the English-speaking area you have about 10 to 30 times as much competition.

So when your story is on the slush-pile, you are competing with 100 other writers instead of 10 or 20. And there will be 5 to 10 writers clearly better than you, showing a more mature style of writing. And if there are only 5 slots for publication, your story will not make it.

Quality

You need to be good. When you say: “this is a good story”, you have just reached the bottom line of acceptable. And so you need to take it and lift it higher. Work on it more. Instead of 1 edit, you will probably have to edit it 3 times. Remove clumsy writing. Remove irrelevant scenes and sentences. Become more clear on your intentions with and within certain events in your story.

It starts with: what do you want?

There are ways to get (out) there. It starts with you. Why do you write? What do you have to tell or add? Why spend all that time writing? Why listen to others? Why ask and take feedback? Why improve something you already think is good? If that is crystal clear, the work, the price you pay is just part of the process.

Why “I do if for fun” is completely legit

The idea of the Najade: GTDO fund is not to encourage people to become professional, to build an international career because we MUST blah blah blah something something bullshit. It is to show what is going on in relationship to SF and Fantasy in the Netherlands. The average, the bold, the good, the awesome. It is to destroy the language barrier.

If your writing is just recreational, if you do not really have a clear vision on this, if you do not aspire anything, that is perfectly fine. You have just as much rights to be seen as anyone else. And thus the right to become translated. And I welcome you, regardless of my personal taste.

Curating and curators — taste and “quality”

Part of the “next steps” in the Najade: GTO fund is the concept of a central site and curators. People from different kinds of publishing backgrounds willing to cooperate will create their personal lists of favorites, telling you why they think it is worth to read the stories they selected.

The distinction between “what is good and what is not” is made by those curators.

Your first novel

Seriously. Who gives a shit. Write a shitload of short stories. Build a name. Build your skills. Become awesome.

Once you master story-telling, think about writing a novel. Spare yourself the waste of time on doing the wrong thing first. Your. First. Novel. Will. Suck. Big time.

Better make it suck less by doing a lot of practice. And — while doing that — getting published with your practice-material: your short stories.

Write your novel. Your first or second novel. Fail. Finish it. Whatever. Write at least 6 different short stories while you do it, and experiment like there is no tomorrow. Then write another novel.

Viable business models

In writing and publishing there are no “viable business models”. Writing and/or publishing books and stories is the worst you can do. If you want a viable business model, here is one: “Don’t write/publish. Get a job. Earn money”.

5 cents per word, 4 weeks to 4 months

Even when you sell your stories, here is reality: each word delivers around 5 cents. That is 50 Euro/USD for 1.000 words. 500 euro for 10.000 words.  It will take between 4 weeks to 4 months before your story is taken from the slush pile. THEN it needs to please the editor.

Book deal? Not viable

Getting a book-deal? Awesome. You will get a 2500 Euro advance and 1.50 euro royalties (on average) per sold book. Sell 2000 books and you earned a total of 7500 euro. If you are lucky to sell so much copies. Most writers do not.

Writing is not a viable business model. Working at McDonalds is financially more rewarding.

Publishing business? Not viable

And publishing? The same story. It is better to start a coffee-corner with delicious home-made apple-pie. Or sell french fries.

Publishing is not a viable business either.

Going Dutch: or how not to do it

Energy in wrong directions, looking at the wrong examples

The main problem with many Dutch initiatives is that the energy usually flows in many wrong directions. We tend to compare things with initiatives elsewhere which are already 10 stages further, forgetting they started somewhere in a crappy place as well. It has to be “perfect from the first moment” and “ambitious, but not too ambitious”. I found in many goodwill-projects I was involved in in the past that people think you have to: “solve a lot of problems first” and: “simple solutions are not good enough” as: “if it comes easy, it cannot be good”.

False issues, non-existing problems

Most problems in a project (including writing) are usually not real-world issues, but created by the project owners themselves and thrown on the road ahead as obstacles because: “you have to be prepared for and overcome those ahead of time in case of ‘what if'”. Most of these problems never occur. In most cases, the project owners themselves kill that project before anything even has the time to rise.

Step by step

The idea that things start from a little seed, that you nurture that little seed, that many seeds will not bud and many others will be eaten by the birds seems to be alien. It is usually easier to look at the points of failure. 100% must pass. Loss is unacceptable.

Loss/failure as a default aspect of the learning process

In reality, loss is the default mode. You take it. You accept it. You continue. You reduce and eliminate it by learning from the past and doing things slightly different.

Business models, seeds that die? Irrelevant

The talk about business models is irrelevant in this stage.

I am not intending to spend time or worries on the seeds that die. They will do so anyway. It is part of reality.

Even if out of 20 stories only 2 are awesome, my money is well spent. In 5 years some trees will grow out of all the seeds.

Concluding

In my old work with Ator Mondis, which followed a similar approach as the American SF magazines under editors like John Campbell did: actively seeking writers, stimulating them to wrote and stimulating them to write better, I learned that you can not force writers to become better writers.

They do this, do not do this, but most importantly: most of them have a completely different view on things and a completely different agenda than you do.

The basis

To avoid many mistakes I made with Ator Mondis, twenty years ago, I do things radically different.

  1. Create a fund
  2. Have the best 5 or 6 stories from the Paul Harland Prijs translated.
  3. Donate the translation to the writer without any strings attached
  4. Step back and let things happen as they go

Platform

Additionally I:

  1. Create a platform to assure ALL Dutch stories written or translated in English can be found in one single place.

Approach

There is no business plan behind it, except:

  1. Keep it simple
  2. Keep costs low/minimal
  3. Do it well
  4. Do not strive for perfection
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