What If My Story Stinks? (Post 3 on Heinlein’s Rules)

In today’s Journal

* Two-Fer Sale Extended
* What If My Story Stinks? (Post 3 on Heinlein’s Rules)
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Two-Fer Sale Extended

If you buy a copy of any book in the Blackwell Ops (thriller), Wes Crowley (western), or Journey Home (SF) series through StoneThread Publishing, I’ll send a second novel in that series free of charge.

Simply visit the link above, click on the series you want to explore, then click on any book cover on that page to visit the store.

I’ve also decided to add Jonah Peach and the sequel, When the Owl Calls, to the sale. Buy a copy of Jonah Peach (under the Other Thrillers tab) and I’ll send When the Owl Calls free when I finish it. (grin)

Buying direct will also save you money.

What If My Story Stinks? (Post 3 on Heinlein’s Rules)

Today the topic is mostly about Rule 4: You must put it on the market.

Q: I want to dive right in to some of my questions about the rules, starting with #4: You must put it on market. I can see how this worked prior to self-publishing becoming so common because if your book stunk, you could send it to publishers but it wouldn’t go anywhere. So no harm done.

But we all have seen writers who self-publish before their stories are ready. And this hurts them because it turns readers off of future books by those authors. So how is it a good idea to publish all of our stories—especially the early ones—in today’s publish-with-the-click-of-a-button world?

HS: Well, first, “put it on the market” means “submit it to readers.” Back in 1948, the only readers a writer sent work to were publishers, primarily of magazines. Today, that means all readers. “Put it on the market” means “make it available” to publishers or everyday readers.

Second, re “if your book stunk”: Stunk in whose opinion? There have been at least dozens and probably hundreds of manuscripts (including Harry Potter) that were turned down by multiple publishers before achieving incredible success.

So the thing to remember is that every opinion of a novel (for example) is just one opinion. That includes the author, the agent, the acquisitions editor, the publisher, and every other reader (because all of those are readers with only one opinion) who ever reads the novel.

What one person doesn’t like, another will love. And of course, the reverse is true also. (More on this later.)

Third, re “No harm done,” I constantly hear writers worried that if they turn out a “bad” work or one that “isn’t ready,” it will ruin their career. When those writers seem serious, open-minded, and likely to eventually overcome that fear, I take the time to ask them, “What career?” When they don’t, I just smile and nod or say something like, “Yeah, it’s rough out there,” and go on my way.

Stephen King’s wife Tabitha famously fished the manusript for Carrie (if I remember right) out of the trash can into which he’d dropped it. If she hadn’t, he might still be teaching high school English and working a second job as a janitor.

Closer to home, I wrote a short story titled “Old Suits.” Frankly, I thought (my opinion) it was pretty much a piece of crap. But I’d written it so I published it anyway (Heinlein’s Rule 4).

Maybe a month later, I received an email from a woman who compared it to Hemingway’s works and said it was one of the best short stories she’d ever read. I still don’t see what she saw in it, but it goes to the point: most readers will enjoy your work if you haven’t polished your original voice off it. That said, some few will hate it, and some few will love it.

The point is, writers shouldn’t pre-judge their work (as King learned with Carrie) and decide nobody will like it. Our job as writers is to write. The reader’s job (each individual reader) is to judge whether they like or don’t like what they’ve just read.

But nobody will read your work at all if you don’t

  1. put it on the market by mailing or emailing it to a magazine, or
  2. put it on the market by publishing it yourself.

Re “we all have seen writers who self-publish before their stories are ready”: again, I say according to whom? According to whose opinion? I’ve never personally seen a writer self-publish before a story is ready, which basically means finished and proofed for typos.

I have, on the other hand, seen a lot of stories in which I knew well in advance how the story will end. That is most often a result of ignoring HR3 (refrain from rewriting).

In most cases, lifeless stories, those in which the writer “figures out” what will happen next, are the result of outlining, rewriting and polishing. If the writer can “figure out” what’s going to happen next, so can the reader. To paraphrase Ray Bradbury, “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.”

And finally, to your big question: “So how is it a good idea to publish all of our stories—especially the early ones—in today’s publish-with-the-click-of-a-button world?”

I’m not saying you have to self-publish every story. But you should either submit or publish every story. Don’t prejudge the editor’s taste at Asimov’s or Ellery Queen or wherever. You wrote the story. Send it to them and let them judge for themselves. You won’t ruin your chances for future success even with that one editor.

Magazine editors receive hundreds or thousands of submissions each month. They often don’t remember the names of the authors from whom they buy manuscripts, much less the names of those in the Reject pile.

Editors usually read a story only until they believe they know how it will end. At that point, they set it on the Reject pile and go to the next story. Your first goal is to make an editor read to the end of your story. (The best way to do that is not polish your original voice off of it.) Your second goal is to have your story be just enough better (in the editor’s estimation) to beat out another story they read all the way to the end.

And the only way to achieve those two goals is to write a story, send it off (or publish it) and write the next story. Instead of hovering over one story rewriting and polishing, write it to the best of your ability the first time through, then submit or publish it and move on to the next story.

I also recommend having one technique in mind—for example, pacing or dialogue or depth of description, etc.—in mind as you begin each story. That’s how you improve. Practice and learning, learning and practice.

All of that being said, the rule I have the most trouble with is Rule 4. I fall off that one regularly because I’d rather be writing than designing covers and jumping through the hoops to put the stories and novels up.

As a side note, I personally believe Rule 4 was to help writers overcome the fear of failure that keeps them from publishing their work and causes so many manuscripts to be tucked away into drawers (or dropped into Stephen King’s trash can).

If you don’t publish it, nobody can read and reject it. But if you don’t publish it, nobody can read and enjoy it either.

Running a little long, so enough for today. More tomorrow. Stay tuned. There are two more posts coming, each around 1000 words.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

“Team and More” Open Calls (for Anthologies, etc.)

Dr. Mardy’s Quotes of the Week Great stuff in this one for writers.

The Numbers

The Journal……………………………… 1290

Writing of When the Owl Calls (novel)

Day 1…… 1884 words. To date…… 1884
Day 2…… 3699 words. To date…… 5583
Day 3…… 2086 words. To date…… 7669
Day 4…… 3167 words. To date…… 10836

Fiction for May…………………….….… 28066
Fiction for 2024…………………………. 331851
Fiction since October 1………………… 634908
Nonfiction for May……………………… 24030
Nonfiction for 2024…………………… 178370
2024 consumable words……………… 510221

2024 Novels to Date……………………… 8
2024 Novellas to Date…………………… 0
2024 Short Stories to Date……………… 1
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)……………… 90
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)…………… 9
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)……… 239
Short story collections…………………… 29

Disclaimer: I am a prolific professional fiction writer. On this blog I teach Writing Into the Dark and adherence to Heinlein’s Rules. Unreasoning fear and the myths of writing are lies, and they will slow your progress as a writer or stop you cold. I will never teach the myths on this blog.

To be sure you continue receiving the Journal after May 31, subscribe free, then click the Donate link at the end of this post and make either a recurring donation of $3 per month OR a one-time donation of at least $36. In doing that, you’re effectively paying me 5 cents per hour to provide you with the Journal every day. Donate Here. Thank you!

4 thoughts on “What If My Story Stinks? (Post 3 on Heinlein’s Rules)”

  1. >>> What if my story stinks?

    Look, I think we all believe our stories stink. What if they do? What if they don’t? Get the darned thing out there and let others decide. But but but what will the people that know me think, you ask? The people that “know you” aren’t reading what you write. And even if those five people that know you read what you write, so what? Are they calling you up to tell you that your writing is trash? In that case, put three (or all) of them on ignore and keep on writing. Practice makes perfect, and if you don’t practice, you’ll never make it to the Carnegie – or something like that.

    After reading Harvey’s article, I went over to the only site where I can get firm numbers. YTD I have over 6,000 downloads. Uzbekistan counts for 979 of them. I continue to scratch my head over that one. Readers from Argentina to South Africa download my work. Why? Darned if I know, but maybe they like to read them. Or maybe they just download and don’t bother reading them in an attempt to annoy me. Like I said, darned if I know. (And there’s that doubt thing again.)

    I didn’t start out that way. You won’t either. (Or perhaps you will. You won’t know until you try.) We all have to start somewhere. So get the damned thing out there and begin writing the next. Practice what Harvey preaches. If you don’t, you’ll be disappointed.

    I will add that every one of my stories, from the first I wrote to the last, are up and being read. Do the same. Put it up. Write the next. Put it up. And on and on. Practice what Harvey preaches. Did I say that already?

    • Peter, I’m sure I’d probably be blushing if I was a blushing kind of guy. 🙂 Gracias.


      • It didn’t matter when I had six or eight downloads long ago and far away, or the 6,000 today, I still doubt my abilities. The only thing I can do is keep on writing, because it’s fun. Have I been fortunate? Probably, but if the stories weren’t “up there”, no one would have been reading that six in the past, or that 6,000 today. And readers in Uzbekistan would be out of luck!

        I still remember being tickled pink when I found out I had six or eight readers on a site that no longer exists. Those measly numbers had me asking, “What the hell, somebody is out there? Reading what I write? Who would have known?” Those measly numbers also kept me going.

        Is it easy? Nope. It never will be for me. But I keep trying.

        • “Is it easy? Nope. It never will be for me. But I keep trying.”

          That’s the whole key, Peter. As I was telling another reader this morning, once you stop learning or think you don’t need to learn anything else, you’re finished as a writer. Same if you stop trying.

Comments are closed.