In my senior seminar class, we are focusing on different types of English degrees. We were asked to interview someone in an English profession that we might want to enter. I took the opportunity to ask a published author, Tayna Huff, some questions about what it's like to earn a living from writing fiction.
1.How difficult is it to enter the market as a new writer?
In all honesty, I have no real idea. I've been in the business for over 30 years so it's not something I pay attention to. From what I've heard, I'm fairly confident in saying it's a lot harder now than it was if you're talking traditional publishing -- there are significantly fewer traditional publishers -- and a lot easier if you're self-publishing. Back in my day, you know, when we used cuniform on wax tablets, self-publishing go less than no respect. Now, it's a viable option.
2. Did you get an agent before having a publisher?
I sold two short stories and my first book -- CHILD OF THE GROVE -- without an agent. With the offer for CHILD in hand, I called a friend who was two published books ahead of me and asked who was representing her. He wasn't taking new clients but as he worked for The Scott Meredith Agency at the time, he recommended me to another of the agents at the agency. Then that agent left. Then my next agent left. Then I was moved to Joshua Bilmes and I've been with him ever since. When he left Scott Meredith to start his own agency, I went with him. But, again, that was thirty years ago. I doubt that these days any of the larger publishers will look at an unagented manuscript. Could be wrong...
3. How long did the process take to go from writing the story to seeing it on the shelf?
I starting writing CHILD OF THE GROVE in 1982 in an entirely boring Television Tech lecture, finished it in 1984, sent it out once to be rejected and sold it to DAW in 1986. It came out in 1988. The only thing I remember about the short sorties was that I started Third Time Lucky on vacation in Cuba in '82 and although I sold it to Amazing before I sold What Little Girls are Made Of to Andre Norton's Magic in Ithkar 3, Little Girls came out first.
4. Are you able to write full time now or is writing been a side job?
I've been writing full time since 1991. Mind you, in order to do it we had to move out of the city to the country where the cost of living was significantly less.
5. What advice would you give to someone who wants to write professionally?
Read. Read a lot. Live a life. Learn to do a lot of things. Develop self-confidence and a thick skin. Learn the rules of grammar so you can break them consciously when needed. Figure out what story you're telling. Learn to enjoy the process because there's a lot of processes. Learn to budget. Don't expect to be able to do it full time -- some of us do, most don't. Most importantly, write. Too many people want to have written rather than put the work in.
6. What is the hardest part of the writing/publishing process and how do you overcome it?
Self-promotion is hard. And most of us hate it. If we were good with people and promotion, we'd be performers. Pre-social media, a writer did minimal marketing but now, we have to keep our name out there and remember that everything we do can reflect sales.
7. How do you overcome writer's block?
If I'm blocked, I first look to make sure I haven't written myself into a corner that my subconscious noticed before my conscious. In THE FIRE'S STONE once I went back and fixed a problem in chapter three the rest of the book was clear sailing -- unfortunately, it took me six weeks to get to that point. Sometimes, though, all I can do is keep writing, wear away at the block one word at a time like a constant drop of water against stone. Sometimes, I apply ice cream which doesn't actually help but I feel better about things.
8. How much say do you have over the cover of your books and the editing?
I have more say now than I did but I've always had some say, especially in the editing. In CHILD I had Dwarfs changed back to Dwarves and that was my first book. In the latest Peacekeeper books, I was asked what I saw on the cover and on An Ancient Peace I asked to have a character repainted because he looked like Rocket Raccoon. Because DAW is wonderful, it was repainted. They didn't have to. First edits are always talked over with my editor. She tells me what she'd like to see to make the book better then we discuss how (or if) that can be done. Sometimes I capitulate, sometimes she does, mostly we meet in the middle. She's good at her job and I trust her. When I do my final pass on the manuscript, after the copy edits, if I see a section that doesn't work, I check to see if it doesn't work because I wrote it badly or because of the way it was changed in edits. If the former, I grovel to get it changed, if the later, I change it back.
9. What is the best part of being a published author?
The best part of being a published author is making my living doing something I'd do anyway. And working in PJs doesn't hurt...
10. What is your least favorite part about being a published author?
My least favorite part links back to question six -- the marketing, no doubt about it.
About Tayna Huff
Tanya Sue Huff (born 1957) is a Canadian fantasy author. Her stories have been published since the late 1980s, including five fantasy series and one science fiction series. One of these, her Blood Books series, featuring detective Vicki Nelson, was adapted for television under the title Blood Ties.