Over the past couple of years I’ve discovered that as a writer I’m not nearly as alone in this solitary task as I once thought I was. Besides getting to know other writers from all over the world through Twitter, that most serendipitous of water coolers, I have also found that the New Zealand and Australian writing communities are truly brimming with talented, generous, and terrifically clever folk.
We’re also bloody good writers, apparently.
In the most recent Writers of the Future competition, Australian writers swept up more than their fair share of the glory. (Yes, those Aussies have been
claiming New Zealanders for decades, it’s time we got our own back.)
I asked one of these winners, Patty Jansen, what it means to her to be taking on the world from Down Under.
Small Fish, Big Pond
In case you didn’t know, my story This Peaceful State of War won the second quarter of the Writers of the Future contest for 2010. And in case you didn’t know, this is a highly competitive international competition for writers of short stories in SF and fantasy, judged by some of the biggest names in the field. Current judges include Kevin Anderson, Jerry Pournelle, Mike Resnick, Robert Sawyer, Rebecca Moesta, Doug Beason, Gregory Benford, and Larry Niven.
If you win, part of the prize is an all-expenses-paid workshop that has been held in the very heart of Hollywood for the past few years. You spend a week learning from these great writers. The main body of the workshop is given by Tim Powers and K.D. Wentworth, but many of the judges are there, too, and staying at the same hotel, so it might happen that you spend a night talking into the wee hours with Mike Resnick, Kevin Anderson and Greg Benford (insert fangirl moment). There are no words for how awesome it is.
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The contest is huge. They won’t say exactly how
many entries they get each quarter, but it’s in the thousands.
So… people have asked me: how hard is
it as Australian writer to break into the international market?
I find that a kind of odd question, for two reasons.
In the first place, I don’t feel as if I’ve broken in anywhere. I can’t remember which writer said ‘It takes seven years to become an overnight success’, but I’m not an overnight success, and neither are my seven years up yet. That said, in the room with us at the workshop, seated in comfortable chairs at the back (see my blog for pictures ), there were a number of past contest winners. The workshop organisers do an excellent job in inviting some previous
participants back each year as a way to show the latest group of winners how your writing career might advance within the next
few years. And advance it does, if you work on it, as shown by people like Eric James Stone, a winner himself a few years back and who just won a Nebula, and who was there. Apart from the fact that Eric is the nicest guy ever, he and other past winners made the point that winning the contest, akin to your first pro-level sale, is the beginning of your writing career, not the culmination of it.
This brings me to the second reason I find the question odd: the assumption that being an Australian writer makes it somehow harder.
Writing is a numbers game. Out of all the people who write, many won’t ever finish and submit anything. Out of those who do, many will never sell a thing. Out of the ones who sell, many will never sell anything to a pro venue paying 5c a word or more. Out of the ones who sell to a pro venue, there will be those for whom this will be the last and only sale at this level, there will be those who never go on to complete a novel, there will be those who never sell a novel, who will sell to a small press but never to a large press, and so on and so forth. At each
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step of this ladder, writers stop progressing, quit or in some way do not challenge themselves to do something bigger.
Now, would someone explain to me how, with the advent of the internet, being Australian limits you in doing any of this? To illustrate my point, in this year’s group of WotF winners, we had three Australians. That is a huge disproportionate representation. Australians and their writing are hot.
Yet, I understand why people hesitate to submit to the big name international magazines.
You might have a few sales under your belt and start to feel reasonably comfortable that you can sell fiction. Why then go back to the great unwashed slush and back to 100% rejection? It’s a matter of making that step up, and taking the rejection on the chin (want to see my pile of rejections from the big three?). If you choose to submit only nationally, you choose to swim in a smaller pond. While this may make you feel comfortable, it ceases to challenge you as a writer. Breaking into the international market is hard for any writer, regardless of locality. A miniscule percentage of all those who try make it. Being Australian has nothing to do with it. Being persistent and challenging yourself does.
Patty Jansen is a writer of primarily hard Science Fiction, space opera and daft fantasy. Her story in Writers of the Future vol. 27 is now out. You can get a copy of this volume on Amazon, or if you’re in Australia or New Zealand, from the author’s blog. Patty has also published stories in the Universe Annex of the Grantville Gazette and Redstone SF, and numerous local anthologies and magazines, such as Dead Red Heart, Tales for Canterbury, and Semaphore SF.
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