After every writerly milestone, it’s like some kind of mass email goes out, and I almost immediately start associating with people who’re one step ahead of me.

I don’t really know why this is (or even if it’s just peculiar to me), but it’s happened again and again. After I started writing and submitting seriously, I went to Clarion and met people who were super focused and dedicated writers. After I started selling stories, I joined the Codex workshop and became friends with people who’re getting reprinted and being nominated for awards. After getting an agent, I went to the Nebulas, where it seemed like every single person I talked to had either just gotten an agent or just sold their book.

            It’s all very interesting. I have my theories about why this is. Part of it is just confidence. Once I get to the next level as a writer, I feel more comfortable with talking to more high-status people. For instance, when I first went to Readercon (aeons ago), I was so miserable that I swore I wouldn’t go to another con until I’d sold a few stories and didn’t feel like such a hanger-on. And that’s exactly what I did!

            The other part of it is that you just notice certain conversations more. Before you’ve written a novel, you sort of tune out conversations about getting an agent. But once you have a manuscript, you begin to pay attention. Similarly, right now I tend to tune out conversations about rights reversion and going out of print and foreign rights sales and firing your agent and all that other career stuff that’s a bit too far in the future for me.

            And there’s also an element of cliquishness to it. Like, whenever two authors get together, they always test each other in this weird, coy way, trying to figure out where the other person has published, what they’ve written, etc–basically trying to figure out how much to respect them.

            In SF, you don’t immediately get shut out of the conversation if you don’t measure up–you definitely get to at least stick around and listen. But you don’t really get to talk. Also, there is a slight tendency for people to condescend to lower-level people (god, I know that I sometimes condescend to other writers, although I do my best to avoid it!)

            For instance, now that I am agented, it is way easier for me to talk to editors and agents, because they know they’re probably not going to get a manuscript for me. Getting connections is easier when you don’t need them.

            I wonder if this would also work for people who are very low-level. If you haven’t even begun to think about writing a novel yet, then maybe that is the time to form connections with agents and editors and novelists–since you’re not yet hawking anything, you’re less of an annoyance. Not sure.

            In general, I think there’s a lot of value to bounding over this paradigm and trying to associate with people who’re much further ahead of you. For instance, when I was trying to find an agent, I wasn’t close with many people who had agents–if I had been, the process would’ve been much easier.

            But, sadly, that’s not how I do.

9 thoughts on “After every writerly milestone, it’s like some kind of mass email goes out, and I almost immediately start associating with people who’re one step ahead of me.

  1. Tracy Canfield

    You know how the Geek Hierarchy places SF writers and authors at the top? I’ve thought about constructing the corresponding SF author hierarchy, where “published” is outranked by “published by a paying market”, which is outranked by “published by a pro market,” which is outranked by “qualified for SFWA”, et cetera. Towards the top there’d be a dashed horizontal line that says “Above this line, people have heard of you”.

    1. R. H. Kanakia

      Haha, but there’s not just one ‘People have heard of you.’ I mean, I oftentimes see writers who I really, really admire (like Eileen Gunn or Ted Chiang) but who have pretty much no public profile. Because we’re so familiar with the genre, we’re pretty aware of the work of even fairly low-level personages.

      1. Tracy Canfield

        Yeah, I chased down James S. Dorr at Worldcon because he wrote a story about toast. Turned out that he had a vague idea who I was, because I used to have a quote from that story on my webpage.

        I keep running into a variant of the status competition. There aren’t many writers – even low-level short-story authors – in the SF circles around here, so instead of people spreading their feathers and displaying their credentials, you get things like “Analog? Are they still around?” and “Analog? Well, I guess you have to start somewhere.” And yet even these dismissals of the unwritten hierarchy are couched in an awareness of it, so they’ll run something like “Brian says you’re a writer. But you haven’t published anything, right … ? But not for pay… ? But nowhere I’ve heard of …? Oh, Analog.”

        In contrast, people outside SF will be happy for you and then forget the whole thing. Then they’ll be happy for you all over again when your next story comes out.

        … actually that last is an exaggeration. Some people outside SF will pay you the extravagant compliment which no SF fan ever pays to you, that of reading your story.

        1. R. H. Kanakia

          I thought you lived in the DC area. You don’t encounter that many writers over there? (I always thought that every SF fan _was_ an aspiring author). You should come hang out with us in Baltimore; there’ll be plenty of respect for Analog over there =)

          1. Tracy Canfield

            I moved to Indianapolis a couple of years ago, though I get out to DC a couple of times a year. There’s some other weirdness in the big SF group around here – they organize the local con, and have a reputation for running off newcomers – I think that’s why the comments seem to sum up to “Analog doesn’t count”, which isn’t much of a conversational topic, as opposed to “I don’t like Analog,” which is.

            In fairness, there are some smaller, healthier organizations – the spec-fic book discussion groups, here and in Bloomington, and the local Klingon ship are always a good time. They’re largely writer-free, though.

  2. bradleyheinz

    Sometimes when you mean “Science Fiction” I read the acronym to mean “San Francisco.”

    1. Tracy Canfield

      I should start calling it Sci-Fi.

      Also, I keep forgetting to congratulate you on finding an agent! That’s awesome. Looking forward to seeing the book out.

      1. R. H. Kanakia

        Oh, thanks! Sorry about the groups there not being super cool. Indiana seems like it’s got a lot of writers (or, at least, it’s got a hell of a lot of MFA programs). Maybe integrating into the lit scene is the way to go =) I think that aspiring literary writers are sometimes pretty friendly to genre writers who’ve published (even if their master institutions are not), simply because they like to know people who’ve actually “broken in” and they don’t care that they’ve never heard of the places you’ve published in because, quite frankly, most literary writers have never heard of most of the lit-mags that their compatriots have published in =)

    2. R. H. Kanakia

      Some of the things I said kind of apply to both, though =) Also, whenever people write SF, I always read it as “science fiction.”

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