16 January 2013

Warning For The Future

So, it's 2013 and there are several people in this world who have made the resolution to finally write that novel, to get published or other variations on this theme. For those people I have a word of warning: QUIT NOW! Get out while you can. Just walk away. Really. This industry is so chock full of mind-boggling dichotomy and confusion, arcane rules and bylaws that no one talks about. Save yourself the trouble, the heartache and the endless boxes of Kleenex (you know, for wiping your tears of despair and anguish). Just quit. Now.

No? You won't be deterred? Fine, let me warn you about a few things that are frustrating as shit about this business. Meet me after the jump, if you will...

I've been actively pursuing traditional publication (ie, not self-publishing, although I have looked into it enough to know it's not my path) for the better part of 5 years now. Since mid 2008 it has been my job to learn the ins and outs of this business, to hone my craft, make connections and friendships and tear out my hair because Publishing is annoying as fuck. You hear all sorts of advice around the Intertubez and some of it is not worth the ethernet its saved to. Some of it is gold. In the end you have to decide which is which. While we joke that you are not a beautiful and unique snowflake, little writer, your career IS. No two are exactly alike, no two people necessarily have the same goals or paths to get there. Gah! That's what I'm talking about. Both are true. You aren't special and yet you are. What the hell? Annoying isn't it?

Well, I kinda wish someone had warned me back when I was dewy-eyed and fresh to this world that Publishing is rife with these kinds of both-truths. Here are a few of the more frustrating that I've collected. Take them with a full rim of salt and an extra squeeze of lime.

1. It's Not Who You Know...

We hear this chestnut in several industries insisting that you don't need a special friend, fuckbuddy or other such contact within to get access to the clubhouse. You can make it on your own merit and you should make every attempt to do so. Besides, you don't look at people in terms of where they fit in your Rolodex.  Right?

And yet...

You must network. Your sanity will (at some point) depend on forging friendships with other writers (see #2) and you can only learn about this industry from people more experienced. Talking to writers, agents, editors, critics, slush readers... it all helps you learn more and grow. Trust me, there are people in every category I've just listed who have helped me over hurdles, made suggestions or upped my chances of success just because they were willing to give me the time of day.

It's odd, at least it was for me. We're not supposed to look at people in terms of what they can do for us. We're supposed to build friendships and connections based on commonalities and what's inside the person. And yet, here we are building networks with at least some level of "how will this relationship help me in the future?" I don't like knowing that that voice is there that calculates the 6 degrees of the Big 6 or something, but it *is* there. Learn to deal with it. Make friendships. Help each other. Be there for others. Pay it forward. That kinda thing.

2. The First Rule
Network! Make connections and friends! Have a social media platform! Put yourself out there and be part of the community. Share your journey.

by Zaratops (deviantart)
And yet...

A lot of writing is solitary. Trying to get published is a slog of misery that loves company. So we use Twitter and Query Tracker and Book Country and any number of message boards as our water cooler. We talk about everything! We blog about query letters, query rejections, revisions, getting the call. But once you get to a certain point you are expected to tighten the lips and let the publishing happen behind the curtain. Submission, for example. I've been told by many people that it's best to just not discuss your submission period with your blog/Twitter audience. Editors like to think they are your first choice, or it's not professional to complain (I agree).... really, this is where those writer friends are helpful. Set up a Google hangout, open a bottle of something at least 15% and kvetch, moan and otherwise pour out your soul about how agonizing the wait of submissions are.

But this is one of those times where it would be so nice to be able to do what you did with querying agents... read other people's stories to know you're not alone. Sorry, dude, we don't post that kind of thing. You have to learn that one on your own and suffer. You just don't talk about being on submission.

3. Don't Judge A Book
Don't judge a book by it's cover. Right?

And yet...

We totally judge books by their covers.

4. Don't Take It Personally
When an agent or editor rejects your book, you're told to not take it personally. It's true. It's not a judgment of you, Joe Schmoe. It's not even necessarily a critique on your work. Sometimes rejections come even when an agent or editor likes you and thinks you're quite talented. You want someone who is ablaze for you, so it's okay. Keep working and putting yourself out there. It's not personal...

And yet...

You're expected to write from a place of truth, to bleed on the page. Your writing has to be not just personal but visceral! When you put yourself into your novel so much it is difficult to see how a rejection could be anything other than personal. I get it. But really, it's not about you. Unless it is.

5. The Next Big Thing

Have your own voice. Write like YOU.

And yet....

"Publishers want the next George R. R. Martin/Hunger Games/50 Shades"... So write like you, but be like them.

6. Things Take Time

Above all things (not craft-related) a writer must learn patience. The whole process is a sticky, sluggish waiting game that will drive you to lunacy if you don't have proper coping mechanisms. (Believe me, my agent knows how impatient I can be... and that's after I've been working on being more patient for years!)

And yet...

Refresh? Kick it? WTF? Are you stuck?!??!
you can get a query rejection in less time than it takes to make a cup of chai. Seriously. My first ever rejection to a novel came less than 10 minutes after I sent the query. And when things get moving in a positive direction, things happen REALLY FAST. This agent loves you and wants to talk, but you have to call this person, and this one emailed on the same day requesting a full and holy shit avalanche of awesomesauce. But then you have to wait. People need time to read. Phone calls have to be scheduled. Contracts have to be drawn up and sent across the country via snail mail. And that's when a blizzard hits, wouldn't you know it?  Even when you think the roller coaster is about to speed up, it's not, kids. Just be prepared to hurry up and wait.


There are infinite frustrations along the road of traditional publishing. You have to ask yourself if the end goal you've set for yourself is worth all that trouble. It might not be. Then again, it might be just the forge you need to help you become Excalibur.

What about you? What are your gripes? This is a safe place to bitch so let it fly. 

2 comments:

usman malik said...

You've for a lot of good point. I agree, it's frustrating. But atleast you have an agent and a damn fine one too. Newbies like me (who is so fricking nervous he hasn't had the balls to send his full mss to the agents who have requested it bc of fear it's not good enough) are still looking for that vindication. That elementary primal need that we don't suck. That we have smth to say. And yet...

Best of luck with your book. :)

Jamie Wyman said...

It's true. I have a fantastic agent and I consider it an honor and privilege to work with Jennie. However, that wasn't always the case. Everyone's a newb at some point, friend. The best way to kick the nerves? Do it any way. You've got full requests? SEND IT! If you have to do it in stages (attach the file, take a break, write the gracious email thanking the agent for interest, take a break, push send... hyperventilate...drink.) But whatever scares you the most...just DO it.

And yeah, I still think I suck. Ask my friends about the ass-dragging sea creature some time. :)

Thank you for your comment and best of luck to you. Come back here and tell me when you've sent that manuscript. :)

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