Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Publishing: Inspirational or horribly depressing?

The other day, I heard a story about an author who had taken 35 years to publish her first book. However, that book has since been an overwhelming success, published in dozens of countries, and it recently secured a film deal.

What an inspirational story, I thought. This poor woman, plugging away for years upon years, never gave up, and was finally appreciated by the market. However, a friend of mine had the opposite reaction. He found this "success story" horribly depressing, and said had he known when he first started writing that the publishing industry was like that, he would've never gotten involved.

I've been thinking about inspiration and the publishing industry recently, as this past Saturday I co-taught a course on writing for children at Bristol's Folk House. Rachel Carter (whose book is coming out from Scholastic in 2013!) and I covered character, setting, voice, tense, plot, all the biggies, but we also spent a bit of time on the market, and how to submit work to agents and publishers (Rachel will be offering the course again--minus me--this autumn if any local people are interested!).

The course was a great success (if I do say so myself!), though I was amused that when it came to talking about the publishing industry, we found ourselves playing good cop, bad cop. Rachel would point out how competitive the market was, and I would chip in and say there's always a place for awesome stories. Rachel would say she recommends agents, and I would add that some publishers accept material directly.

In truth, we didn't know what our class wanted to hear. Different people are inspired by different things. Some people want to know exactly what they're getting into, while others need to hold onto hope and dreams.

What do you wish you knew when you started writing?

In other news, why yes, I am moving across the ocean exactly a week from today! So there definitely won't be a blog post next week, probably not for a few weeks, as I get my bearings in Massachusetts. In the meantime, be good, take care of yourselves, and please send positive moving thoughts my way!

14 comments:

  1. I wish I'd known how little control there'd be over the creative process such as cover art control and how that the priorities in publishing are very heavily skewed to business over creative self-expression.

    That books that don't sit tidily in one genre are discouraged. That your book won't see a bookshelf for at least a good year once it's been completed. That it might not see the light of day at all even if you've received an advance! That getting an agent is no guarantee of getting a publisher.

    All eye-opening, all witnessed through other writers' experiences. All have sent me running into the arms of self-publishing, Gunshot Glitter, for now. Good luck with your move!

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    1. Thanks for the good luck wishes, Yasmin, and for stopping by! I'm so pleased to hear you've found an avenue into writing that makes sense to you. Interesting that you wish you had known all that up front... I wish I had known more upfront, too. It's a bit of a depressing wake-up call, isn't it?

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  2. Interesting post. I think anyone who refuses to acknowledge that publishing is first and foremost a business is doomed to disappointment. Yes, one of the goals of the book industry is to nurture creativity and writing but first and foremost, and most importantly, it is to sell books. If your writing is driven solely by the dream of glory and success then I would argue that you are writing for the wrong reasons. Write for yourself, for your reader, whoever they might be and if you hit the jackpot - great! I'm not saying that writers should dampen their ambition, just be prepared.

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    1. Thanks, Mrs Gold, and thanks for stopping by! I completely agree. I think the reason I wish I had known more upfront was exactly this--I was so disappointed at first to discover writing was a business. Whereas, I think if I had known all along, I might have approached it more in stride and just kept pushing to be the best I could be. But then again, that's such an important lesson to learn, to write for yourself, that maybe it's worth learning the hard way. Very thought-provoking!

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  3. I have to agree with Mrs. Gold that writing is first and foremost a business. The warm, fuzzy notion that all these wonderful words pouring out of your head onto the page is all there is to writing is naive. So is the notion that the world of publishing will be tripping over themselves to publish your work (or heaven forfend, your first draft) is also naive. I think we write because we need to write; writing is how we communicate.

    Anne, bon voyage! We'll be eagerly waiting for you here in New England!

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    1. Yes, they're two separate things, aren't they, Andrea? Writing is a business, and also how we communicate. The only really frustrating part is when we conflate the two and think our ability to communicate, even our self-worth, is tied up in succeeding in the publishing industry.

      Thanks for waving the welcome flags for me in NE!

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  4. I guess I'm a glass half-full person - so I find the 35 year story encouraging. The longer I work at this the more I'm aware that good books (generally speaking - of course every rule has an exception!) take time to craft. And the more I learn, the more ok I am with my project taking more time, because I want it to be the best it can be, and if that means more time, then, well, so be it.

    You're in the home stretch (hah!) now - so much going on for you this summer. Sending you smooth-moving vibes!

    Elisabeth/Fictionforge (blogger insists on making me anonymous today!)

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    1. Yeah, I mean at least the 35-year career author got there EVENTUALLY, right?! ;)

      And yes, that's exactly how I feel. I don't mind spending the time to learn the craft. And if I get to write a few (or more!) books along the way to finding one that sells, that's fine, too. This is a passion for me, so I guess I'm in it for the long haul. I might as well enjoy it!

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  5. Great minds... My post today sort of relates to yours and, well, I hadn't seen your until just now.
    I was well aware that the odds to being picked from slush (a must whether the slush is an agent's or an editor's) were steep. I also knew some remarkable but never published writers and two illustrators.
    Here's what I didn't know and wish I had-
    That I loved thinking about/writing the first draft. It's a heady experience. (Excuse this sixties/seventies expression.) It makes the rest bearable.

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    1. Ohhh, off to check out your post for the day, Mirka!

      And such a good point--if we need to know the negative (and it seems everyone so far is in agreement about wanting to know upfront!), then we should know the positive, too--how wonderful this thing called writing can be.

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  6. I loved the story of the woman who persevered ... but I'm typically an optimist. Actually, I had a wonderful first writing teacher, who covered not only the basics but a bit about marketing in our first class ... so I very confidently sent out PB with photos of our son and cat to 8 publishers. I got back six personal rejections about the cute baby/cat photos, but gee, I wished I'd known earlier not to make such a fool of myself. Laugh.

    I wish you a smooth move back to the US. Godspeed.

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    1. Goodness, Vijaya, I know that feeling well, and I feel exactly the same way! I'd much rather know the game ahead of time rather than to make a fool of myself. Thanks so much for the kind moving wishes!

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  7. Thirty five year to publication - that is quite a story. And like most things in life, we can decide how we want to interpret it. I choose to be inspired =) I am that voice in our writing group that, like you, believes that there's always a place for awesome stories. And I think that attitude helps me to persevere (although I hope I don't have to wait 35 years for my book to see the light of day ;)
    Anyway, best wishes for the move, and as an MA girl myself, let me say WELCOME!

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    1. Aw, thanks for the warm welcome, Ruth!

      I think you're absolutely right, too. We can't control the world of publishing, but we can control our attitude about it, so might as well be positive!

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