Writing goals for 2010

So far, my writing career has seen me sell and publish 2 stories to professional markets, with one of those stories also appearing in an anthology.  When I started writing seriously, way back in January of 1993, publishing even one story was a dream that thrilled me in ways that are difficult to describe.  It took 14 years to make that first sale, and another year and a half before I made the second sale.  Looking back on those early stories, I can see improvements.  Heck, I can see improvements in my writing even on more recent stories.  The online workshop I participated in last year run by James Gunn was a big help in this respect.  I love science fiction.  I love reading science fiction and I love writing science fiction.  I love being part of the camaraderie that is science fiction fandom.  I want more of it.

It seems to me that as much as I want to be a science fiction writer, I have never really set goals for myself to work toward.  I did this successfully for NaNoWriMo this year and was pleased with the results.  I do so now for my writing career in 2010.  (The year I make contract.)  I work best with aggressive goals, and I am posting them openly so that you can keep my honest.  I have four basic goals, each of which has one or more objectives through which I hope to achieve them.

1. Make 5 short fiction sales (at least 3 of which should be to professional markets) and become an Active SFWA member.

I currently have 2 professional credits and need one more to become an active SFWA member.  As an associate member, I can do almost everything an active member can do, except vote for Nebula awards and one or two other things.  It would be nice to vote for the Nebulas, but moreover, becoming an active member shows me at least that the first two sales were not flukes.  Here is how I plan on making 5 short fiction sales:

  • Write 20 new stories in 2010.  From my experience with NaNoWriMo this year, I learned that given the time, I have no problem writing nearly 60,000 words in a month.  For NaNo, I would do my writing between 5-7 am during the week and 7-9 am on the weekends to minimize the impact on family time.  It worked out well.  I don’t have a dearth of story ideas; that has never been a problem for me.  It’s been sitting down and writing them.  Assuming the average short story is 6,000 words (some are much longer, but some are much shorter), we’re talking about 120,000 words over the course of a year.  Put another way, it’s about one complete story every 2-1/2 weeks.  This seems reasonable to me.  I have never written more than 2 or 3 stories in a year, but NaNo showed me how to be more consistent in my writing and I am depending on this discipline to help keep me on track.
  • Aim for 100 submissions.  That sounds like a lot, and certainly, some of this is out of my control.  But look at it this way.  Suppose I just submitted to 5 markets, the Big Three (Analog, Asimov’s, and F&SF, as well as the two professional markets to which I have already sold stories, Intergalactic Medicine Show and Apex Magazine), that means sending each story I write to 5 different markets.  For 20 stories that’s 100 submissions, assuming no sales.  For a few of the markets, I can skip the slush pile, being a prior contributor.  For a few of the others, I have received direct editorial feedback on stories and I get the idea that I have at least some name recognition.  The responses have seemed faster, anyway.  100 submissions might be aggressive, but then again, I am really not limited to just 5 markets and that could make some of it easier.  After all, it is possible that at some point toward the end of the year, I could have 20 stories "out" at the same time.
  • Learn from the feedback I receive.  One thing I’ve noticed is that I get more direct, personal feedback on rejection slips than I used to.  This has been especially true for stories I send to IGMS and Analog.  Learning from this feedback and improving upon it in each subsequent story will be invaluable.  Furthermore, I have built up a small network of fellow writers (all of whom have published fiction) whose opinions I trust.  Listening to their feedback and learning from it is also invaluable.

2. Submit my novel through an agent to one or more publishers for consideration

In November, I participated in NaNoWriMo for the second time, and this time, I came out a winner.  I have a novel that is, at this point, about 65% complete, that tells a compelling stories with a cast of what I think are very interesting characters.  I’ve never written a novel before and I’ve always thought of myself as a short fiction writer (it’s the form I love the most).  But what I’m striving to be is a science fiction writer; I’m looking at a career and new challenges and one new challenge for me is a novel.  Here is how I plan on submitting my novel in 2010:

  • Finish the novel.  I’ve got about 60,000 words of what I estimate to be a total of 90,000 words complete in first draft.  I found that I needed a break for a while to allow things to become fresh and exciting in my head again.  So I’m pausing on the effort for a time while I return to some short fiction.  But I plan on getting back to the novel in the not to distant future and completing the first draft by around my birthday at the end of March.  Then I’ll set it aside for 4-6 weeks and write some more short fiction before returning to the novel for the second draft.  Once the second draft is completed, I’ll look for some feedback on it.  My objective is to have a final draft that I feel comfortable sending out by the end of the summer.
  • Find an agent.  Isaac Asimov, my literary hero, managed most of his career himself without an agent except in rare instances.  It is natural that I would want to ascribe to this philosophy as well.  But I am not Isaac Asimov and times change.  It seems to me that my best chance for submitting my novel in the most efficient fashion, and getting appropriate considering is through the use of a literary agent.  I am under no illusions about how difficult this is, but I think I have a few advantages: (1) a completed novel (by the time I start my search); (2) at least 2 professional sales, demonstrating some amount of writing ability–enough at least to get into the professional short fiction markets; (3) the possibility of a few more sales before my search, which bolsters #2; finally (4) an outline for 2 more novels in the same "series", showing that I have more to offer the agent than just what’s in the envelop.  I will try to work through some of the contacts that I have to get the names of agents who are reputable, but would also be willing to give my novel a genuine glance.  My objective to be to have a targeted list of agents to whom I could send the novel, each of whom would be fairly likely to at least read the first 3 chapters and provide feedback by the end of the summer.  In a perfect world, this would lead to an offer of representation before the end of the year.
  • Submit the novel to one or more publishers preferably through an agent representing me.  However, if I don’t have any representation by December 31, 2010, I will query a few editors that I have met at conventions and send the novel off myself if there is interest.

3. Write another novel.

During NaNoWriMo this year, I came up with the idea for a short, mainstream novel that I think would be a lot of fun to write.  The thing came into my head almost fully formed, which is unusual for me.  Despite being mainstream, my plan is to write that novel during NaNoWriMo 2010 if for nothing else than the experience of novel writing, of which I have done very little compared to short fiction.  The exception to this would be the unlikely even that my current novel sells and there is definite interest in a sequel.  In that case, I would obviously be working on the sequel.

4. Expand my network

The first science fiction convention I ever attended was RavenCon in 2007.  Since then, I’ve probably been to 10 cons or so.  I’ve been treated as a "real" writer by the likes of Michael A. Burstein, Robert J. Sawyer, and Barry N. Malzberg.  I enjoy these conventions enormously.  However, up until now, I have been somewhat star struck every time I go to these things.  I realize that science fiction is a relatively small world.  But still, walking around a parking lot with Barry Malzberg, chatting with Scott Edelman, having dinner with Rob Sawyer, and being introduced to people as a writer by good folks like Michael Burstein and Edmund Schubert is a dizzying experience for me.  I think I need to start thinking of myself as a real writing and being a little less shy about introducing myself to others at these conventions.  Here’s how I plan on expanding my network in 2010:

  • Attend more cons.  I was reviewing my 2010 calender last night trying to identify the key conventions that I want to attend in 2010.  It has become harder to do this with an infant, but Zach will turn 1 in the middle of the year and I just may be able to get to a few more conventions.  Most of them are local, of course, but there are two I’d really would like to attend out of the local area: (1) Nebula Awards Weekend in May in Florida, and Readercon in July in Boston.  I am already reserving these dates and planning other things around them to ensure that I can attend both.  I’ve never been to a Nebula weekend, and that just sounds like fun.  I attended Readercon 2 years ago and it was perhaps the single best convention I’d ever been to.  In addition to those cons, I’d like to spend at least a day each at RavenCon (April), Balticon (May), although this may conflict with the Nebula Weekend, and Capclave (October).
  • Participate more.  Michael Burstein suggested to me nearly 2 years ago that I should try and get on some panels.  At the time, I was terrified by the idea, being a new writer, but now it seems like a good idea to me.  I have a pretty good knowledge of science fiction literature, and if nothing else, I bring the experiences of a recently new (and hopefully up and coming) writer.  The only problem is that I have no idea how one goes about getting themselves onto panels.  If anyone out there has suggestions, particular for any of the cons I mentioned above, please let me know.
  • Participate more online.  My regular blog is returning, and while I imagine I’ll be writing about stuff that almost no one is interested in from time to time, my objective here is to focus on my developing career as a writer.  I also plan to be more active in discussion forums that are frequented by the key players in the genre.  Hopefully I have something to contribute there as well.
  • More SFWA volunteering.  I have been doing on-and-off volunteer work for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America since the middle of 2009 and I hope to continue that in 2010.  It’s my way of giving back to those who have taken the time to help me as a new writer, and it has the added benefit of putting me in touch with people who I might not otherwise have had a context for introducing myself.

This is a lot. I know it is.  It is an aggressive plan for 2010,  but the payoff, if it works, is to help jump-start my career as a science fiction writer.  I am a software developer by trade, and I’ve probably gone as far as I’m going to get with that.  But at 10 years old, if you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I was likely to tell you that I wanted to be a science fiction writer.  And if you asked me that same question today, I’d likely give you the same answer.

So here is to hoping that my last blog entry for 2010 will review the extraordinary changes that have taken place in my writing career over the past 365 days, several more sales, active SFWA membership, more networking, and maybe even representation.

Happy New Year, everyone!