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Don't write just one story

By Jed Hartman

If you've written a story and submitted it for publication, that's great; go, you! But there are a lot of reasons that you shouldn't stop with just one.

For example, sometimes authors run into conflicts with editors that could be easily resolved by the author writing more stories.

The most common such situation is simultaneous submissions. Authors (understandably) hate to wait for responses to stories, so sometimes they submit simultaneously to multiple venues, even if those venues have a policy against considering simsubs (as most professional speculative fiction venues do). Here's the best way around that problem for the author: write several stories, and submit each of them to a different venue.

Another such situation is reprints. There are perfectly good reasons to try to get a story reprinted; it's great to make more money for little or no additional work. I applaud authors reprinting stories! But not all venues are interested in reprints. If a given venue doesn't consider reprints, then instead of trying to convince them to take your story, why not send them a new story? (This paragraph inspired by an editorial at Abyss & Apex a few months back.)

I think part of what happens is that a lot of writers have the idea that the goal of being a writer is to sell one story. You write the perfect story, you sell it, the world loves it, you go on Oprah, the story magically turns into a Hollywood blockbuster movie, you make a kajillion bazillion dollars, and you retire, rich and famous.

But a writing career doesn't work like that. To have a writing career, you'll need to get more than one story published. Maybe even as many as three or four! After your first story is published, you need to go on to getting your next story published. You may even want to get a novel published—or, ideally, more than one.

People don't seem to have this misperception in most other careers. Imagine that you show up for work on your first day at your first office job, you do a fine job, and then the next day you stay home. Your boss calls you and says, "Um, what's up? Where are you?" And you say, "Oh, I already put in my day of work. Now I'm waiting for untold wealth and fame to arrive on my doorstep." That's not likely to result in a career.

Or say you compete in your high school track meet, and you win! Good for you. But you're probably not going to get any track-shoe endorsement deals if you decide to rest on your laurels at that point.

I'm sure there are people in other artistic fields who do expect this kind of thing. "If only enough people knew about my amazing song, I'd sell a million copies!" But I suspect that if they thought it through, most aspiring musicians wouldn't want to be known to future generations as one-hit wonders.

So don't let that be you. If you've written a story and sent it out for publication, again, that's great; that's already more than a lot of people do. But don't stop there. Go write another story, and send that one out too. And keep doing that.

It may sound like a lot of work, and it is. Building a career in any field is a lot of work; writing and selling fiction is a lot of work; if you want to be an Author, you'll have to put in a fair tad bit of work.

But I don't mean that to be discouraging; I mean it to be encouraging. Because writing more stories will almost certainly have the additional salutary effect of making you a better writer. People tend to get better at things with practice, and writing is no exception. As you write more (and think about your writing, and get feedback on it, and examine other people's writing), you'll probably start to write better stories.

So go forth and write!