ReadRightNow: Monday, September 23, 2013

Yesterday morning, I made a colossal mistake:  whilst I was supposed to be looking up recipes for dinner ideas this week, I made a bad judgment call and clicked on an article I saw on Facebook that details advice from a literary agent.

I’m not fragile (most of the time) when it comes to the literary business. I have, to date, cried over only one rejection letter, and that’s because it detailed, in a page and a half-long letter, everything that was wrong with the scholarly article I submitted. It was intense. I was used to form rejections.

But the thing is, I expect rejection, and that way when it comes, it rolls off my back like water off of a duck. I have no grand illusions that I’ll send a manuscript to a publisher or magazine and receive a glowing email telling me what a brilliant talent I am, how I have changed the course of publishing forever, and how that particular agent/publisher/editor has been waiting for me. (That would be awesome, but it’s not going to happen.)

I am not a snowflake. I am a writer.

To have healthy expectations about rejection and about the challenges of making it in the literary business is a good idea. Perspective is essential to avoid inflated ego, unrealistic expectations, and repeated heartbreak. I have, to date, had two pieces accepted by magazines; I lost count of my submissions two spreadsheets ago. It’s a lot.

But let me tell you:  there’s a difference between having those healthy expectations and subjecting yourself to doomsday news about the process of getting published.

I read the article, which was mostly full of good, useful advice, with an open mind. I haven’t finished my first draft yet; looking for an agent is something that is still pretty far off in the future. I found the first few bits of advice helpful, things to add to my list of goals once I finish my draft. But when I got to the end, the helpful nature of the article ceased to exist. There was only doom:  your first novel probably won’t get published. Sorry.

I closed the window and let the dark cloud come over me. I’m putting (at this point) years of my life into a project that probably won’t get published, and the only response is a cold and cavalier “sorry”? Writers put their hearts and souls into their work. They think about it all the time. They lose sleep over it. Their partners come to know the characters of their books as if they were real people within their social circle. Countless hours and pages and sacrifices are made. And all we can get is doom and a “sorry”?

The thing is:  yeah, it’s true. It might not get published. I realize that. But on the flip side, it might, and if you can’t keep hope alive while you create, the work will reflect that. I have to remember what several successful writers have told me:  ignore the business talk. Like Lady Gaga says, you have to shut out the “noise” in order to create. The business end of publishing is toxic to the creative process. It’s also the part we have almost no control over.

So do me a favor, friends. Protect yourself from the business end of things until you’re really ready to deal with it. And until you get there, read these fun articles about writing and stories and life. And then go write and be an artist and worry about the other stuff later.

Monday, September 23, 2013

  • Roald Dahl’s birthday was last week, and Huffington Post compiled a great set of life lessons we could learn from the stories he told.
  • You know what production company puts out good stories? Pixar. Any cartoon that can make me cry in the first ten minutes (ahem, Up) is a good one, and Toy Story 3 was no joke. I can’t even talk about it. So here are Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling.
  • When life hands you harsh articles from agents delivering no-nonsense advice with a side of doom and gloom, just turn to BuzzFeed, particularly this list of Expectations vs. Reality for being a writer.

8 thoughts on “ReadRightNow: Monday, September 23, 2013

  1. If you believe in the value of your story, if you get good editing and a great cover, if you find someone to format your work (or do it yourself if your talents run in that direction) – there is absolutely no reason that your story will not be published!

    A person could spend years (after the years it takes to write a book) to get an agent and then to (maybe) be accepted by a traditional publisher. Or, the person could choose self-publishing and get their work out there. Let the public decide. Then spend all those years where you are not shopping your manuscript around to write your next book.

    I read somewhere that the authors who are pursuing the traditional publishing route become expert at writing query letters. I’d rather write novels, thanks. The average traditionally published book sells approx. 500 copies. That won’t even pay out any advance the author received – you will be required to do practically all your own marketing and if your book doesn’t take off immediately – well, don’t expect a lot of attention in the future. You lose much more than control.

    I talked to a traditionally published author the other day – she had a great first novel – was reviewed in a major paper – invited to a literary festival – she sold 1000 copies of her novel and then nothing. She can’t even get copies of her own book – it’s out of print and the publisher has no interest in printing more. It’s listed as an e-book for over $10.00 – obviously no one is going to buy it. She’s lost all control and that is that.

    Sorry for going on and on – but I don’t think people should let any of the barriers of traditional publishing stop them from sharing the story they have to tell. thanks for your patience with this long comment.

    1. Haha, I welcome a long comment! Thanks for the encouragement. I’m definitely not letting it hinder me, but every once in awhile, I break out into “Don’t Rain on my Parade” when it comes to writing. And it appears you’re singing along with me. 🙂

  2. I don’t always say the words “Lady Gaga” and “sage advice” in the same sentence, but she’s right: you have to block out all the other stuff and just focus on your art, period. I suppose i can’t even track how many hours and days of my life have been spent over the last several years writing, either for the blog or working on other things, but that’s MY time: MY talent in practice, you know? And i’ve gotten better, as one does when they practice and fine tune a talent without worrying what people think. One of the biggest things i’ve learned is to write just for me: the minute i feel like i’m writing to garner someone else’s approval, boom: i clam up like a 14 year old boy asking a girl to homecoming, and my writing sucks it. I hate rejection too, but it’s easier to take when you remember how many extremely talented people have gotten those same rejection letters, i suppose.
    there was a session in that conference i attended back in august on getting published versus self-publishing. the entire hour i felt myself getting smaller and smaller: i didn’t want to know. lalalalalala hands in ears. you’re right: no thinking about things until you actually get there.

    1. I love your advice about making sure that you’re writing for you and not trying to garner someone else’s approval. I think, especially when we’re learning a craft, it’s easy to try and cultivate a voice that sounds “like a writer.” But when we just use our natural voice, the product is so, so, so much better.

  3. When your sister is a writer/big-time editor, you hear the bad news all of the time. People are constantly trying to send her unsolicited manuscripts or pitch crappy ideas. Everyone wants her help to become the next big thing, and usually, they aren’t the next big thing. It must be exhausting. The stats in publishing are terrifying. We talk about it often. Yup, it’s impossible to get an agent, she’ll say. And yes, It’s impossible to get published. No, there isn’t anyone who wants to read your manuscript. NOW WRITE. Get it on paper. DO IT. Really crappy authors have really crappy books out there. Write better than them. Write something different. Have ten ideas to pitch. Read, read, read. Then write some more. Keep getting better. Do it. Write.

    She’s pretty smart, so I’d listen up if I were you.

    Keep. Writing.

    1. Good advice! I did keep writing (am keeping, really), and last week, I finished the first draft of the novel. I then felt anxiety, something like buyer’s remorse, elation, and fear. Quite the roller coaster of emotions, this whole writing game.

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