I write this blog entry as one who at least currently lives on the other side of the fence: I am a published author who derives her whole income as such. By the end of this year, I will have had 12 books published since 2003. (Someday I'll learn to work Red Room more efficiently - I'm such a tech-not! - so I can get all 12 up here.)
My sister contributor over at Teen Fiction Cafe, Sara Zarr, was recently quoted as giving advice on blogging at the Kidlitosphere Conference that included, "Don’t be Debbie Downer with nothing but a string of posts about how publishing sucks." I wholly concur. Nor should a successful blog simply contain a constant string of, "And this is the latest wonderful thing that happened to me!" Believe me, even your mother doesn't want to hear the daily blow-by-blow.
All of the above said - I especially don't want to be Debbie Downer, although most of the time I don't mind being Candy Cheerleader on others' behalf - today's blog is intended to provide a clear-eyed view of some of the wisdom I've gained here on the other side of the fence, the things you can't possibly know when you're still living on the other other side. Here goes, The Things No One Ever Warns You About:
1. The relentness nature of it all, Part I. When you're still on the other other side, the chief things you have to base your vision on what the writing life are movies like "Martian Child" where John Cusack plays a novelist so successful he lives in an amazing house and writers' bios on the backs of their books - "Joe Blow lives in Brooklyn, where he is currently hard at work on his second book" - that give the impression that a person can actually make a living writing one book every couple of years. This is true for a very tiny percentage of writers. Most writers I know, on the other hand, still have to work day jobs or they're married to someone who makes enough money to cover the bills or, if they're a full-time writer like me, they have more than one book published a year so that the total in the end actually sort of resembles a salary. So here's the thing: On the other other side, you think if you can achieve your dream of writing and getting one book published, you'll make out like Grisham in his best year, but the reality is that you will need to perform your Stupid Pet Trick of stringing 50K-100,000K time and time again if you want to keep your job.
2. Every Time My Friend Succeeds I Die a Little Death. Much as I've always loved that quote, I strive my hardest not to live it. And yet I've certainly been the object of others' resentment, certainly seen it happen to many friends. I have a writing friend whose book will soon debut. (Please don't read yourself into this, Friend X, Friend Y or Friend Z. Stay in this business long enough, and I've been in the book business in one capacity or another for 25 years, and at any given moment you know scads of people at every stage of their career although those scads rarely include JK Rowling or the person with the lowest-rated book on Amazon.) Friend X - ooh, look! I really am talking about Friend X! - recently related how others have begun treating her differently. Although her book isn't even out yet, when she tries to share good news with certain friends, they no longer seem happy for her. The sad truth is, some of them probably aren't. You see, it's easy to cheer someone on when they're still on the other other side. But once you've made it in? Yes, you will still have friends, real friends, who will be happy for you, no matter what your sitiuation is relative to theirs. But there will be others who will think: "Why her and not me?" And if you are lucky enough to be published, be careful about complaining about the bad things that happen, which sometimes happen every day in publishing. If you are published and the person you're talking to is not, you'll get a reaction something like what you'd get if you were complaining about the 10 pounds you still have to lose to someone who's carrying around an extra 100. Is your pain real? Absolutely. Will some people care anymore? No, they will not. As a published writer you are expected to be constantly and overwhelmingly grateful for your obvious good luck. Again, there will be people, wonderful people, who will remain willing to applaud and commiserate no matter where you are in your career, no matter where they are. Prize these people like the treasures that they are. Oh, and it does help if getting published doesn't turn you into a complete asshat [see previous blog, Dear Author]. It's easier for people to care about you if you're not a complete asshat. The upshot of being published, though? You quickly learn to keep a lot - the good and the bad - to yourself. This can be very isolating, but then a writer's life is isolating so think of it as being good for the work.
3. The relentlessness of it all, Part II. This time we're talking about promotion. Blogging, guestblogging, conferences, trailers, Shelfari, GoodReads, LibraryThing, MySpace, Facebook - it seems every day there's some Great New Thing that all the authors are rushing to try in order to help promote their books. (You didn't think once you'd written the book your job was done, did you?) And every day, I see writers tearing their hair out because there isn't enough time in the day to do it all and, anyway, they'd rather spend their time doing what they got into this business for: writing. Well, here's one I have an easy solution for: You can't do it all, so cut yourself some slack. Learn which types of promotion best fit your time and temperament, and then let others get wrapped up in all the rest. Really, you'll be saner for it. And since sane is such a rare commodity for writers, you might as well grab it wherever and whenever you can find it.
4. Rejection never ends. You wrote a book! You got an agent! (OK, maybe you got *five* agents first!) Your agent sold your book! With God as your witness, you'll never suffer rejection again, right? HA! Bzzz. Wrong! If you continue on in your career, you will be rejected more times than you can count, either implicitly or explicitly. Your book will fail to attract foreign interest. The proposal for that book you really want to write most will get declined. Entire books will fail to sell. Your book will be bumped for review by People in favor of Ann Coulter. You will never be reviewed by the New York Times. You will walk into megastores where there are a million books, where tons of people appear to be buying books...and none of them is yours! Get over it. Get over all of it. (Allowing yourself the optimum five minutes of self-pity first, of course.) Writing and rejection go hand in hand like two little daisy-clutching kids on a Hallmark card. And all that pain? It's worth it because you can use it to fuel your writing.
5. The genre wars. You wrote a book! Oops, we've been down this road before. Still... You wrote a book! You should be so proud! (Actually, you really should be proud. Some 81% of respondents in a NYT poll said they had a book in them, and yet how many of those 81% ever go the distance? So good on ya.) But will the world let you be proud? Turns out, there's a discernible pecking order in publishing: literary trumps commercial; adult trumps YA; front list trumps midlist; everything trumps Chick-Lit. So unless you're a front list literary author of adult fiction - and even then, since there are reverse snobs all over the place too - there will always be someone who looks down on you for what you write. Hopefully, though, you will never turn into the sort of person who looks down on others. The truth is, no matter what you're writing, it takes something that we might as well call "talent," for lack of a better word, to string together 50K-100K in such a fashion that publishers will want to publish and readers will want to buy. So take pride in your accomplishment and to hell with those who would seek to take your joy away.
Joy: that's a good place to end this. Because here is the thing, the final thing for today: A lot about publishing can make a person feel like Debbie Downer but the truth of the matter, warts and all, is that I love my job. It is my privilege that I get paid for work that I love, it is my privilege that at least for now people still want to hear the stories I have to tell. The realities discussed above - the difficulties of making a buck, the jealousies of others, the relentlessness of it all - are, at the end of the day, only so much noise. So never forget what you got in this business for in the first place: to tell stories and to tell them with the best of your ability.
Now, it's your turn:
WHAT WISDOM WOULD YOU LIKE TO SHARE, FROM EITHER SIDE OF THE FENCE?
Be well. Don't forget to write.