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Room to Mature.

This might be one of those blogs that starts in one place, wanders off and scratches its nose, and then goes back to the point in the end. They do that, sometimes.

I've reached the end of two long edits. Prior to that, I was reworking an older book. I feel like an editing machine and am looking forwards to a week catching my breath and writing something new.

It's been a useful exercise in seeing my growth as a writer. A lot of the editing has been in the areas of stronger verbs (he leaped, rather than he jumped; he strode rather than walked) and the killing of passive voice - one of my first draft sins, still, and, apparently, my every-drafts two years ago. I feel that, at the end of six weeks, I have two much stronger books (which is good because they've both got publisher homes).

It got me to thinking about reading other writers' early works. I'm on record as regularly fan-girl squeeing over Lois McMaster Bujold. I adore the Vorkosigan books. Yet, I very nearly didn't read them.

Why? Well the first book I read was Shards of Honour, Bujold's first book. I found the romance too obvious, the jumps in the story too convenient. I read the second book, Barrayar (which I really feel might be better enjoyed once the reader knows something of the world), and slogged through it. I put Bujold to the side and that was that.

Except that everyone told me to try her again, especially people who had read Abendau. I would love the characters, I was assured. I was beaten down and, in the end, gambled a writing prize of Amazon credit on the Young Miles collection.

I was entranced. I devoured Vorkosigan. A few of the series, such as Cetagandan, weren't entirely to my taste, but her characters were so vivid, her take on the sf world fresh.

After, I went back and reread Shards of Honour. The flaws, to my eyes, were still there, but so, too, was the talent. The characters - Aral and Cordelia - were rich. The dialogue was quick and clever. Here was a writer already developed, but needing honed. Jim Baen felt that, too - he allowed her to write, even when sales figures didn't support the direction she took.

Since then, I've gone back and read some early works by writers I now enjoy. Some, I like. Some, I can't quite find the love for. All of them have added something to my understanding of the writer.

Which takes me around another corner - and that's about the publishing industry today. It seems to me there are two big factors working against those writers learning their voices, becoming more accomplished, and gradually getting there.

1. Self-publishing. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of self-publishing. I've had a crack at it myself, and might do again in the future.But it makes it very easy to bring the book out.

At least when a writer trawled a zillion agents, and wrote the next book while they waited, it put the brakes on things. Long enough, perhaps, for that writer to go back and revise the work and hone it further.

Now, it's different. We have the book written and finished. We've slogged at it for months! Months! It's ready, and it's going out there.

If you're lucky, or a genius, you might well have a polished work of beauty. Or you might have something you'd prefer not to have your name against in five or ten years - years! - but that will still be around in some form or another (because yes, you can take down the words and the text, but not the reviews. And some readers, like me with Bujold, will decide not to try again without persuasive evidence.)

Your books are your advertisement for your writing brand. They're how readers will judge you. If they're poorly finished/told/edited/rushed/delete-as-you-will that advert will have done you more harm than good. And, the chances are, you won't know you need an editor, or you won't know who is considered good in your genre. You won't know how much better you could be, if you were nurtured and supported and given the space to grow. And when your book sells ten copies, you might decide you'll not cut out to be a writer and give up.

(please, please note I am talking about one end of self publishing only. I know there are many books - including debuts - that are polished, lovely and a credit to their writers.)

The other side of the connundrum might seem miles away, but it's just as dangerous, I think:

2. Getting the dream deal.

I know, I know. You want Harper Collins. Or Orbit. Penguin. You want the advance, and the publicity and the singing and dancing kudos that comes with it.

I thought I did. (I might in the future.) I chased all the big boys. Subbed to the dream agents. Entered Open Submission windows.

I'm glad I didn't get taken by a big publisher. There are sales expectations. Big, big sales expectations. If you don't match them, you could get dropped. (It happens. And boy, is that a crap thing.) I know of a book doing not dissimilar figures to my own debut. Sadly, those figures were not what a Big 6 publisher wanted, and the author was dropped. Whereas I can quietly go about building a reader base, promoting my books; my sales are creeping close to what I hoped for in the first year. I feel safer where I am, finding my feet with a small publisher.

But it won't go anywhere, people tell me. You'll stay with a small publisher forever. Even if that mattered, it's simply not true. Small publishers are the life-blood of sff - lots of authors start there, and grow from it. Some publish with small publishers and big, according to the project. And some do stay with a small publisher forever, grow a dedicated fan base, and remain very happy.

But small publishers are struggling. This week Samhain, one of the more established presses, shut up shop Too few direct sales, too many discounted books with not enough margin (because we like to pay 99p and not a penny more for a book that will entertain us for three days, but are happy to pay a fiver to get into the cinema for two hours.)

What I'm trying to say - and this is where the blog comes around full circle - is that I'm not sure we give enough safe places to our authors anymore. I'm not sure we allow them to find their writing wings, and support them while they do. We put pressure on them to achieve sales at one end of the business, or cut them loose from any support at the other.

I'm very happy to be with a small publishing house. I'm happy to have the support of a great editor, and the belief of my publisher, even on the slow weeks. I'm happy to have had a few years developing my skills before releasing a book into the wild, self-published - the book I released was a lot better than the one I had written and subbed to agents three years previously.

I think it's something for a new writer - in fact, any writer - to ask themselves. What do I need to know, how will I learn it, and how long will it take? And then find a place that will give you that time. Without those safe places, we could lose the would-be future writers and that would be something very, very sad.

The book my small publisher supported me for, Abendau's Heir:

And the book I went and self-published, Inish Carraig:


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