Monday, July 18, 2016

Getting through the mid career doldrums, even if you only have a teaspoon to row with...

Woohoo - another short story is to get its moment in the sun. I am so pleased to have something new picked up. It is with an educational publisher and I have no clues about when it will come out - sometimes those things can take some years (my previous record was around 6 years between acceptance and publication). I am doing a little happy dance - it has been a little while since I last had a story (of any kind) accepted. I have had droughts before and they are never fun. As I quoted in my last post - it's a whole lot harder to stay published than to get published. For those of you still trying to break in this can seem counter-intuitive. Surely once you are 'in' you know the secret of how to achieve an acceptance. Except the secret isn't really a secret. It's producing a well enough written story that a publisher can see the merits and the potential profitability of. You don't need an introduction, or to 'know' someone. There's no special handshake or password. In the beginning, I just kept sending my stories in, and working on new ones until one stuck. No secrets. Now, I do the same. Sending stories in, working on new ones, hoping like crazy. Persistence really is a useful quality in this business. And even then, when your story is good and smart and saleable it might still fall into that bottomless crack that exists between 'same, same, but different', 'one out of the box' or 'just before the crest of a trend'. And there is always the publisher's box to be ticked which has no definition, they just know it when the see it, and no they can't explain what that means. No secrets, some magic. Rinse and repeat.

So you've succeeded a few times and you are slowly understanding how things work and getting the hang of this business. How can this make things harder? This seems like an advantage, and of course, to a certain extent it is because it streamlines the process of submission. But it doesn't make them say yes in any different ways, or more often than they did before. In the mean time trends are shifting and changing, and the economies of countries are contracting or contracting. Publishers may want to invest in your next book but their money must be spent as wisely as possible to enable their business to continue and there just may be less of it to spend on everything, because trends, global financial stuff, changing platforms, latest thing, and most probably all of the above. If your last book didn't sell as well as they wanted then that will have an impact on whether they take your next book. Even if they really want your next book. And you've honed your voice and style and that shines through in all of your stories and is that what people want, or don't want, is it tired or is that how the fans you do have know you best and is what they wait impatiently for. And do the publishers want more of that or are they searching for new voices?  And yet in amongst all of this you are changing too. All the things you've written previously have shaped and influenced what you are writing now. And personal things happening in your private life are affecting you too. Books you are reading, world events, life events, aging, families growing or contracting, sadness, happiness, other stuff you do to keep the wolf from the door, or the labrador, cos like you know they eat a lot and are endlessly hungry. You are a long way from your debut you, and you know stuff and that isn't always helpful to your writing.

And of course the fear of never getting published, or not being good enough just surreptitiously transforms into imposter syndrome, or an advanced form of self doubt. It never goes away. It is stubborn and pernicious - damn it.

So, what do you do?

The only thing you can do, if you want to advance from mid careerist to established writer. You utilise all that change and growth and labrador drool and keep banging away at the keyboard. And you stick all of that experience in your stories and your writing. And you smack yourself if you say 'I've reached my peak' or 'I know I'm never going to be better than this' because how the hell do you know (unless you are truly clairvoyant but honestly I still don't think that is the final word). You push, because apparently people who tell themselves they can do better, often do. And you remind yourself that fear is something you have previously successfully overcome or ignored long enough to achieve good shit in the past, so you are clearly capable of doing so again in the future. And if something doesn't work you try something different cos that's what you used to do, and how you got published in the first place. And you remind yourself that good ideas have always arrived at their own pace and there's no reason why that should change now just because you're older and wiser.

And then you realise that it is a whole lot harder to stay published than to get published, and you've been staying published up till now and there's no reason why that shouldn't continue if you give yourself half a chance, and that deserves a bloody good pat on the back and some chocolate and maybe a little bit of confetti. No secret, just magic.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Some magpie behaviour...

A friend recently had some toxic blow-back from a book review she posted. The author took exception to this person's view of the book and got in touch personally several times to express their disapproval. This is incredibly poor form, and behaviour that won't win you any friends long term. People tend to remember when you tore a strip off them, and not in a good way. And if reviewers are trying to get a rise out of you, then rising to the bait is achieving their ends not yours. Truly, the best policy is to never respond. Writer Maggie Stiefvater has a classy attitude to reviews good and bad, that takes the sting out of the one star ones and and demonstrates why getting some negative response can actually be desirable.

And underling Maggie's point, agent Janet Reid (and friend) had this to say

Jessica Snell picked up the thread on book reviews (and how readers find books) with this:
Although many of the books I read are ones I've heard of via word-of-mouth (mostly from my brother and my mom, honestly; I know and trust their taste), I probably find most of my books via book reviews.

And the thing is, those book reviews don't have to be positive. Sometimes the reviewer doesn't like the book, but if she's a good reviewer, she'll say *why* she doesn't like it, and I'll know whether or not that reason would be a deal-breaker for *me*. Sometimes I know I'd like the book for the very reason the reviewer hated it, and I'll go ahead and pick it up.

So, I guess what I'm saying is: dear authors, don't be too discouraged by bad reviews. Well-written bad reviews might get you just as many readers as the good ones.

Very very true. One of our sayings back in my publicity days was "Get reviews. Good or bad, doesn't matter."

Now it's even more important because any mention of a book increases its discoverability.

Janet Reid has also made a few good comments that resonated with me, on a range of other issues. The first is about marketing your books. It's a long game folks. Of course all authors think their own book is an incredible work of heartbreaking genius, and even if they are making an objective assessment and are right, no self respecting reader is going to take that on face value. They want to hear it from someone they trust who has no vested interest in the sale/purchase of the book.

And then there's the one about when publishers give off warning signals  that the ship isn't quite so ship shape. Number 6 especially gave me pause - Publishing is Broken; We're Going to Fix It.  Confidence is a good quality in a entrepreneur. So is iron clad optimism.  Hubris is not.  Someone who tells you they're going to fix an industry they've never worked in is textbook hubris . I recognized this one...I'd heard it before and that hadn't worked out so well then either. If someone says this to you, wait to see their fix in action before jumping on board. Do your homework people. Ms Reid's blog is a good place to start.

And last but not least this one - perhaps the most sobering of all my links today - which pretty much concludes with  'Bottom line: it's a whole lot harder to stay published than to get published'. That's a hurdle (or dark long corridor of hurdles) that you can't imagine when you are working so hard on breaking in, but it's a reality for a significant proportion of all writers, and an issue that many mid-career writers grapple with. Getting published isn't a lifetime pass in to the publishing world, or a guarantee of future publication. More on this I think next time.....