Advice for Young Writers and Editors

In the fall of 1990, I entered 7th grade at Hunter College High School and immediately began attending the meetings of Tapestry, a student SF/F magazine. Yes, I know how lucky I was that such a thing existed! I hung out and made some friends (two of whom went on to work for Tor, one of whom was an editor at Del Rey for a while, and one of whom is a professor specializing in the study of fairy tales) and eventually became nonfiction editor (in charge of book reviews; raise your hand if you’re surprised) and learned a bit about the business of publishing magazines and generally had a good time.

Twenty years later, one of my PW reviewers became a full-time teacher at HCHS and learned that two of her students were involved with Tapestry. She mentioned to them that an alum was now in charge of SF/F/H reviews at PW and they kindly contacted me and invited me to come by as a guest speaker. Of course I was totally thrilled to do so. Who doesn’t dream of going back to their high school as an Authority Figure?

So I showed up, and handed out some ARCs, and talked about how to get into the business of editing and writing, and mentioned some of my more lurid teen escapades–I was such a delinquent!–and had a really wonderful time. My heartfelt thanks to editor-in-chief Kily Wong and everyone else on the staff for inviting me, listening respectfully, feeding me brownies, asking great questions, and melting my heart by telling me that you’re starting a lending library with the ARCs I brought. You guys are awesome, and you’re all welcome to email me for mentoring, advice, or gossip anytime.

I said I would put up a blog post listing all the resources I named while I was there plus a few more I thought of later. This is that post! Without further ado:

Advice

For becoming an editor: network network network. Get to know the people you want to work with and for. Read their blogs and comment intelligently. If possible, study with editors you admire; at the very least, take some Mediabistro classes or something. Most importantly, practice every chance you get. Work for free to start your resume, and then get away from working for free as quickly as possible. Be prepared to jump at any opportunity, and to go with the flow of an unconventional career path if it will get you where you want to be.

For becoming a writer: write write write. Write a million words of crap and dig through them to find your unique voice. Expect it to take ten years from the first time you start seriously writing to the first time you write something really worth reading–so the sooner you start seriously writing, the sooner you will get to be a good writer. Read widely! The more you to do to break yourself out of your comfort zones, the better your writing will be. Workshop your writing with writers who are better than you are, and learn to check your ego at the door. And always demand a fair pay rate (video, some NSFW language), remember that money flows to the writer, and watch out for scammers.

For anyone (and I am very sorry I didn’t think to say this at the meeting): TAKE CARE OF YOUR BODY. Your body is your livelihood. Your hands and arms, your eyes, your voice, and your ability to sit in a chair are all absolutely crucial to working with words. Justine Larbalestier writes very eloquently about this.

No one asked me about becoming a professional critic. I guess it doesn’t get much press as a possible career path.

Offline networking hotspots

The KGB Fantastic Fiction readings (yes, they take place in a bar, but I’m pretty sure anyone can attend; if you’re under 21 and want to go, please contact me and I will either serve as your attached Responsible Adult or find someone else to do so)

The New York Review of Science Fiction readings (in a more explicitly all-ages venue) (note that the information on that page is out of date and the readings now take place at the SoHo Gallery for Digital Art, 138 Sullivan Street)

Conventions! But always remember that the people you want to meet are people. It’s never a good idea to introduce yourself as “Hi, I wrote this book”. Better opening lines: “I love your work and here’s why!” “I loved what you said on that panel and here’s why!” “I totally disagree with you on this and here’s why!” As with blog comments, it’s better to say a few interesting things than a lot of foolish things, and a little respectful listening goes a long way. And on the flip side of that, don’t be shy or afraid around someone who happens to be a Big Name; we’re all human and glad to make connections with nifty people. If you feel you need an introduction to someone, tell them Rose Fox said you should introduce yourself.


If any pros reading this want to chime in with suggestions, please do! In return, let me urge you to get in touch with people at your high school or college and offer to come back to give a talk. Schools love this, students love this, and there’s always the chance of getting a really good mentoring relationship out of it. In my personal opinion, mentoring is one of the best things ever. I realize that not everyone shares my absolute love of smart, sassy teenagers, but what could be more fun than sharing your hard-earned wisdom with someone who’s sharp and eager to learn? It’s also a great way to expand your own worldview and your community. If you have that opportunity, I recommend you take it without hesitation.

16 thoughts on “Advice for Young Writers and Editors

  1. Ellen Datlow

    Hi Rose,
    I’m not really sure that those under drinking age can come to KGB–although possibly they can with a parent or someone who is drinking age.

    But if anyone is interested in readings in the NYC area, you might want to subscribe to the gothamlit group which regularly posts about different genre reading events and other appropriate goings on.
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/gothamlit/

    1. Rose Fox Post author

      Ah, thanks for the reminder about GothamLit. I meant to link it but my brain is mush today.

      I’ve never really been sure what the laws are around people under 21 going to bars on their own. I certainly did it all the time when I was a teenager; I never ordered alcohol, so it was never a problem. Have things changed?

      Anyway, I don’t want to contribute to delinquency of minors etc., so anyone under 21 who wants to go to KGB, please contact me and I will either be your Responsible Adult or find someone else to do so.

    2. Stacey F

      I actually went to a KGB reading last summer when I was twenty and no one seemed to care. I entered alone, so I wasn’t with a parent or adult. I think anyone trying to go would probably be fine as long as they don’t try to order alcohol.

  2. Ellen Datlow

    Just googled it and found this from the NY Times: (2008)
    Neither New York state nor city law forbids minors in bars, although state regulations say children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult, a State Liquor Authority spokesman said.

    So bring em on!

  3. Alana Abbott

    I’d actually love to know what university offers courses specializing in the study of fairy tales! I’m hoping to make going back to school for a doctoral degree my midlife crisis (in several years, of course!). :)

    1. Rose Fox Post author

      The one I’m thinking of teaches at Queens College. (I don’t want to name her without her permission.) I don’t know whether they offer a doctoral degree in fairy tale studies, but many things are possible.

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  5. Emily Goodman

    To Alana — Studying fairy and folk tales is a scholarly specialty, so if you’re interested in it, you should ask at various universities to find out where there are good people to study with. I took 1 class in fairy tales as an undergraduate and it was a lot of fun — anthropologists have numbered the different motifs, you study variants of the motifs around the world, you get assignments like, “Your homework is to read Rumpelstiltskin,” (making all those novel people envious), and you learn that in 19th-century Germany the fairy tale was considered a genre, just like the short story is for us, and so lots of writers wrote their own (like E.T.A. Hoffmann, whose work is referred to as the “Tales” of Hoffmann). Go for it!

    To Rose Fox — thanks for the great tips; that was a really heartwarming piece.

  6. Michael A. Burstein

    Su high school es mi high school, although by the time you started there I was already gone. I do recall meeting with a bunch of students at one point after I had graduated and discussing Tapestry with them; you might have been one of them!

    All of your above suggestions sound like what I would tell the current students myself. I’d also add to try networking with graduates of your high school, especially if it’s a place like Hunter, which seems to engender a certain amount of school loyalty among the alumnae/i.

    1. Rose Fox Post author

      I mentioned you and Charles! They knew your name but not his, though it helped when I called him “Mr. Novik”.

      It didn’t occur to me to suggest networking with other grads in a more general sense–I’ve never gotten anything out of alum get-togethers–but I do certainly keep an ear out for other people who mention HCHS; school loyalty among our alums is certainly substantial, and a startling number of us go into writing-related professions. I just got an email from two members of the class of ’06 who went back to chat with the students about working on college publications. At least two or three people who were in the grades immediately ahead of mine are currently writing or editing for the New York Times. (Now that I’m a Times employee via About.com, I should send an email out to the employee mailing list and see how many more of us there are around here.) Maybe I should start going to those alum events again and see who looks familiar or has that word-nerd air.

      1. Michael A. Burstein

        Yeah, I don’t mean that one should network indiscriminately among fellow grads, but if someone else from Hunter got in touch with me because of an interest in science fiction or publishing, and mentioned they were a Hunter grad, I’d definitely be more inclined to help them out.

        And Charles as Mr. Novik – priceless! (He does tend to stay a little more in the background, yes.)

  7. KAW

    Hi Rose. Sorry this is late, but I just wanted to say thanks for coming to visit us at school and for writing this very sweet and informative blog. We’re grateful for the wonderful introduction to world of networking and writing. At last, we did indeed check out the KGB Bar and Lit–proving that underage minors are allowed–but we did have adult supervision. Also, we plan to go to many more events in the future–even meeting up with past EICs and other members–making that our new unofficial hangout. Hopefully, we’ll be able to check more things off the list of suggestions you made for us as the year goes on. We love this new mentorship and find your passion very inspirational. To everyone else who has commented, we’d love to hear more from you some time! Our club’s always looking for new guest speakers and friends.

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