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:
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.