Friday, February 18, 2005

The Fallacy of Advice

The problem with doing an advice column is that it can't help but be based in the advisor's own personal experience, while the landscape has continued to change since that experience was accumulated.

Case in point: when I first set out to get professionally published some 30 years ago, there were 6 pro magazines on the market, probably two dozen semi-pro mags, and at least a half-dozen publishers with healthy lines of paperback originals. The typical editorial response time started at 4 to 6 weeks, and if you lived reasonably frugally, it was possible to pay the month's rent with one decent short-story sale.

Since I wasn't having much success at first, I decided to accumulate all the advice I could find from established pros, and it didn't even occur to me that *their* advice was in turn rooted in a time when there were two mail deliveries daily, NO paperback originals market, and far fewer writers competing for publication space. Way back then, if you lived in New York, it was literally possible to mail a story in the morning, get it back with comments from John Campbell that afternoon, rewrite it overnight and remail it the next morning, and have Campbell's check in hand that evening -- and that was when 5-cents per word was serious money.

I first began to suspect that I was on the wrong track when I got my first actual personal rejection letter back from an editor, to the effect that I'd written a really good 1940s Astounding story -- but this was 1975, and no one was much interested in any of that old junk.

Hence, my challenge: to avoid the fallacy. It's 2005. With the recent relaunch and immediate resinking of Amazing Stories there are now just 3 pro magazine markets left, a couple dozen semi-pro markets (that if anything are poorer paying and slower to respond than their progenitors), who knows what's really going on in the paperback originals market, and if you live really frugally, a decent short-story sale will pay your cell phone bill and maybe leave enough left over to buy dinner for two at Taco Johns.

So if you catch me giving out advice that will lead to someone's writing a really good 1980s Asimov's story or the perfect Ace original, call me on it.