Which piece of wisdom to believe?

We’ve been talking about what kind of writer we want to be over on DWT… and I realized the real answer for me, many days, is simply PUBLISHED. I want to be the published kind. The kind who can tell her friends where to buy her books. The kind who actually gets paid (even if it’s only a pittance compared to the effort expended). But my urgency some days is admittedly wrapped up in wanting better answers for my family and friends, when they ask, “How’s the writing going?” with increasing trepidation and pity in their eyes. I’m a proud person. I hate that.

In the publishing world, it’s sometimes hard to sort out the “truth” amongst the many myths and slices of wisdom and rules and archaic business practices… And two conflicting “pieces of wisdom” I’ve been thinking about a lot lately are these:

1. If a book is good enough, it will find a home.

2. Even really great books don’t get published and not all books published deserve to be.

Somehow, I’ve managed to exist believing both of these things, even though, they contradict each other on the surface. One of the writing instructors I had when I started writing novels, told me that it takes Talent, Persistence and Luck to get published. (I’ve also seen this listed as Talent, Timing and Tenacity… but you get the idea.) But my instructor said that, in his opinion, 2 of the 3 is enough.

This, to me, explains the really great books not finding homes (talent, but either no luck or no persistence) and the mediocre or even crappy books getting published (no talent, but luck and persistence combining.)

I, and a few other writing friends, have recently suffered a few disappointing setbacks… situations where it looked like good things were about to happen and then they didn’t. At times like those, it’s so easy to assume we suck. That our writing just isn’t good enough. If it was, our books would find homes, right? We’ve been persistent, after all! But I’m still fighting not to get trapped by that self-doubt, however strong it may pull some days. My books, some day, will find a home.

That said, I’m also still fighting to not start house-hunting for my book in neighborhoods I don’t think it belongs in. (That sounded snobby or like I’m pro-segregation.) But, my point is that there are lots of neighborhoods for people to live in, many kinds of houses. Some people want a big yard in the suburbs, some people want to walk to work — and similarily, there are lots of publishing neighborhoods. I think I know which one I want my books to live in, which one would best serve the books, my career aspirations, etc. and I don’t see the point in setting up home, taking the time to decorate etc., in the wrong location, just so I can say I’m published. (Although I concede I may find myself eating these words some day. Perhaps soon.)

Jenny Crusie, in her great inaugural PRO-retreat keynote a few years ago, likened getting your first publishing contract (or, if you’re already published, a book really taking off) to getting struck by lightning. As much as I hate this idea, (too much given over to luck, with super-low odds) it’s also what I live by.

I just need to keep putting more lightning rods out there.

  16 comments for “Which piece of wisdom to believe?

  1. January 18, 2007 at 5:44 pm

    I was talking about this with the hubby last night. He said something flippant about my dream deal being with a big publishing house.

    That caused me to take a step back because…well…it isn’t. I thought it was, seriously, but it’s not. I want to be published where my books and sales efforts make a difference and are appreciated. I wouldn’t even move the needle at a big house.

    I’ve claimed that I am destined to be with smaller publishers because they are the only ones willing to take a chance on a new concept. A lie. Or an excuse to go down a route other writers aren’t interested in.

    Maureen, you should moonlight as a shrink to artists…

  2. January 18, 2007 at 7:56 pm

    Excellent, excellent post, Maureen.

    Such a good thing to think about as an unpubb’d writer and know where you want to be. Knowing that might dictate a lot of the decisions you make, as I know it is with you, and me.

    Kimber, it’s amazing you know what you want. So much easier to target then.

  3. January 18, 2007 at 9:29 pm

    The tough questions have to be asked, especially by those of us still unpublished. Too many self doubts not to.
    I’ve got another big one…how do you see yourself careerwise? As a writer first or second or third?
    I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’ll always be a businesswoman first. Doesn’t matter how well the writing does, I’ll be a businesswoman who writes (the business would merely be writing).
    I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. It’s just the way it is.

  4. January 18, 2007 at 9:33 pm

    ‘Course it probably would have been smarter to figure all this out before sending out 100 plus query packages.
    Live and learn.

  5. January 18, 2007 at 11:08 pm

    Boy, I have psychologically manhandled this issue to death, even once a big publishing house – Berkley/Penguin – took my book. I’m like you – I just really wanted to be published by a large and reputable house. But it was a long journey for me, and one thing I learned along the way is that you have to leave room for that something better when it seems like you keep hitting roadblocks.

    It’s supposed to be a process frought with self-doubt: how else are we going to learn to conquer that part of ourselves? At least we get to grow while doing something we love!

    I surrender a lot these days – I don’t think we should give up our goals or stop sending out queries – we just have to let go of letting the outcome dictate how we feel (i.e. lousy, despair, frustrated, trapped, even elated). Otherwise we become a prisoner of what does or doesn’t happen, and here’s the truth: we can’t control it anyway.

    Good luck to everyone – don’t give up!

  6. January 19, 2007 at 12:36 am

    I want to be the published kind of writer, too! I’ve only sent queries to NY agents, considering that’s the center of publishing universe, but sometimes I wonder if I should query (wait for it) Canadian lit agents. It would be sooo much better to be published in New York. Apparently, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.

  7. January 19, 2007 at 3:44 am

    Kimber, knowing what you want, what makes sense for your books, is what it’s all about…

    And I think of myself as a writer first. Sure, I’m also a CA but I really, really want to put that part of my career behind me.

    Mia, I like your attitude… Struggling through all this does make us grow and understand our characters’ struggles better. Drinking helps, too. I can’t wait to read your book.

    Maia, I’d keep hitting those NY agents. You’ll find one who loves your work.

  8. January 19, 2007 at 6:48 pm

    I know how you feel. I really would love to be published by a big house, but in the end making that first sale is what mattered to me. Now I need to figure out how I want things to play out. I want to make writing a career so I can quit my day job and concentrate on writing. In the end, that’s what’s really important to me.

  9. January 19, 2007 at 7:03 pm

    I hear you, Christine… but your publisher makes sense for your sub-genre –sci-fi erotic romance. You’ve found a smart home for your books… One where it will get noticed. One where readers of that genre go to find new authors, great reads…

    Me, that option doesn’t make as much sense, even though I’m pretty confident some of the e-pubs would publish my book… I’m not as confident many readers would find it. Not enough to justify the amount of publicity I’d have to do, anyway… Sigh.

  10. January 19, 2007 at 7:39 pm

    I know Maureen. I write pretty niche, so I didn’t have too many options. But I hate to see so many excellent people not having their books picked up by the big houses. There are some chick lit authors in the Halifax group who have amazing stories that no one seems to want right now. I get so frustrated for you!

  11. January 19, 2007 at 7:43 pm

    Ya… My projects aren’t even chick lit… but their ability to sell right now is, I believe, being affected by the chick lit backlash and the glut of chick lit books on the market. But everything comes around, eventually.

  12. January 19, 2007 at 8:23 pm

    Hey Christine,

    A late congrats on your first sale. Well done, and Ellora’s Cave is pretty huge, not that niche any more.

  13. January 21, 2007 at 10:06 pm

    You can also try wrapping tin foil around your head in an effort to attract lightening. It also makes you an interesting person for your neighbors. The more people I meet in this biz, the more I realize the lack of control that exists for the writer. It is a lot of wait and see. And martinis.

  14. January 22, 2007 at 1:59 pm

    Great post. Sums up what so many of my writer friends (me included) are going through. Keep the faith. This will happen.

  15. January 22, 2007 at 2:34 pm

    Christine, I agree with Sinead. Ellora’s Cave isn’t exactly a small fish anymore.

  16. January 23, 2007 at 3:52 pm

    I’m jumping in late but it’s an excellent post, so I can’t resist. I agree that sometimes we may find our artistic outlet with a smaller house. I also believe that you still need to be selective. I recently turned down a contract because I realized it wasn’t the kind of place where I thought my book should be. It was tough but I felt good doing it.

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