Publishing Realities

“You’re suggesting I have to do what? You’re kidding, right?”

I know there are a number of people following this blog who are writers aspiring to become published authors. The vision of what that involves isn’t the same for all of us. Some see it as an exciting progression from the initial writing to signing a book contract and enjoying the reward of royalty cheques. Others have been peeking over the cyber-shoulders of those already into the journey, and are learning that the major portion of work begins after a book is written.

“No way! You’ve got that all wrong. Nothing can be more challenging than slogging through the creation of a 100,000-word novel. Once it’s finished, the rest will be easy.”

If that’s what you think, you may be shocked at today’s reality. Agent Rachelle Gardner is currently running a series of blog posts on questions submitted by her readers. Yesterday’s post dealt with “Life as a Published Author,” and she pointed out life will get harder, not easier; you’ll be busier than you ever imagined, and some responsibilities will be daunting. She asks, “Are you ready for the pressure?”

Most debut authors I’ve heard from say they are somewhat overwhelmed – that the edits, deadlines, and marketing, all while writing the next book under a contract schedule, have dumped more stress on them than they anticipated. Balancing the multiple tasks of the writer’s life often leaves little time for anything else, including families and jobs… and yes, they still need those jobs. The financial ‘rewards’ of publication are usually such that maintaining another source of income is a necessity.

No doubt about it. Publication will move our novel writing out of the realm of a pleasant hobby and into a demanding occupation that requires more of us than we may be prepared to give.

“I’m not listening. I don’t want to hear this. Closing my ears. La-la-la-la, la-la-la-la.”

Is this the reality that you imagined or do your dreams of being a published author take you somewhere else? If you haven’t read Rachelle’s post, please do, and then return to let me know what your reaction is. The many comments are worth reading, too. There are others wearing the rose coloured glasses that I put up on the shelf some time ago.

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“Whatever you do, work at it with all of your heart,
as working for the Lord, not for men.”

Colossians 3:23

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“May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us;
establish the work of our hands for us–

yes, establish the work of our hands.”

Psalm 90:17

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The Impossible Dream: what keeps you from giving up?

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If you were on Google’s home page anytime Wednesday, you will have noticed the German physicist Heinrich Rudolf Hertz’s 155th birthday was being celebrated by Google, who turned its logo into an undulating frequency wave.

Heinrich Rudolf Hertz

What I didn’t know about Hertz was that he died without realizing the significance of his research.

Wikipedia says, “While his discoveries would eventually lead to the inventions of the wireless telegraph, radio and television, Hertz didn’t realize the importance of his work at the time. After an experiment that helped establish the photoelectric effect, he commented that, ‘It’s of no use whatsoever.’”

He died at age 36, and it wasn’t until thirty-six years later that the hertz was established as a standard unit of measurement.

As writers, we sometimes downplay the importance of our efforts. We write,  revise and refine with the ultimate goal of publication, but we realistically understand that it’s a dream that might be beyond our reach. And, like Hertz, there are days when we feel justified in saying, “It’s crap… no use whatsoever.”

The thing is, just like Hertz, some writers never live to see the success of their endeavours. There are many books published posthumously that go on to great success — The Trial by Franz Kafka, Queen: The Story of an American Family by Alex Haley, Between the Acts by Virginia Woolf, The Mysterious Stranger by Mark Twain, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson, and The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien – to name a few.

Consider what the world of literature would have missed if these writers had given in to the despair that is typical when the internal critic creeps in under the radar and sabotages morale — if they had destroyed those manuscripts instead of allowing them to collect dust on a shelf somewhere. Or if they had completely given up on writing before ever finishing the first draft.

There are undoubtedly many excellent writers who never see their dreams realized, not because they couldn’t find a publisher, but because they stopped too soon — stopped writing, stopped querying, stopped dreaming.

Are you ever tempted to throw in the towel … to give up writing and find something else on which to focus your time and energy? If you aren’t, what would you say to encourage those who are?

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There’s a Conspiracy Against Writers

 

Ernest Hemingway had lots to say on the subject of writing, some of it pretty discouraging. Take this, for example:

“There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly; sometimes it’s like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.” [Ernest Hemingway]

That brought to mind other familiar quotes:

“Writing is easy:  All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” [Gene Fowler]

“There’s nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” [Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith]

 

“Writing is not hard. Just get paper and pencil, sit down, and write as it occurs to you. The writing is easy—it’s the occurring that’s hard.” [Stephen Leacock]

 

There are aspects of writing that are undeniably difficult, but it appears some authors want us to believe it’s excruciatingly painful. I always thought they were being humorous, but what if it’s a ploy to make us appreciate their considerable talent and the effort they’ve put forth; or a conspiracy to discourage new writers from trying to enter the elite and exclusive society of the published author?

Surely it can’t be! We writers claim to be a friendly, encouraging bunch. A contract or two wouldn’t change us that much, would it? There have been a few blog posts recently dealing with envy and jealousy on the part of the aspiring writer, but we haven’t heard much from the opposite perspective. Is it possible there is a protective instinct at work?

Think about it. If we never burst through the barricaded doors, there’s more elbow room inside for those who got there before us. Less people to share the hors d’oeuvres and chablis.

Is this possible? Sure. Is it likely? Hmm… after due consideration, the other side of my brain says not. Otherwise why would so many successful authors lend a hand at conferences and on their websites? Why would they care enough to write helpful books? To make money off those of us who want to be where they are, you say? Oh, no. I think it’s called “giving back”. I’m sure that’s what it is.

So ignore the masochists. Take heart. Listen to the more encouraging authors out there.

“If you want to write, you can. Fear stops most people from writing, not lack of talent.” [Richard Rhodes]

Fear not. I bring you tidings of great joy. Oh, wait… I’m ten days early with that quote. Sorry.

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Interview with Canadian Author Laura Best

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Laura Best

Laura Best

I’m delighted to welcome Laura Best to my blog today. Laura has lived in the small community of East Dalhousie, NS her entire life. She was a contributor to Christmas in the Maritimes: A Treasury of Stories and Memories and A Maritime Christmas: New Stories and Memories of the Season, and her fiction has been published in literary magazines across Canada, including The Antigonish Review, Grain, and Room. In 2003, her short story “Alexander the Great” was nominated for the Journey Prize. Released by Nimbus Publishing on October 1, 2009, “Bitter, Sweet” is her first novel.

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CG:             Laura, you’ve just launched your first YA novel, BITTER, SWEET. Tell us a bit about the story.

LB:  The story is about a family who move into a small community in rural Nova Scotia in the 1940’s. They are barely settled in when their father abandons the family. Soon afterward their mother becomes ill and eventually dies. While she is sick, their mother prepares them for her death making them promise that they’ll do everything they can to keep the family from being sent to foster homes. But when the authorities eventually show up the children are forced to do whatever they can to ensure they stay together.

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CG:            Where did the idea for this story come from?

LB: The inspiration for the story came from a newspaper clipping, an incident that I thought would make an interesting scene in a story. When it came time to write, the oldest daughter, Pru, gave me the first line, “After she died, we buried Mama behind the house.” The rest of the story came together quite easily after that.

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CG:            You live in Nova Scotia and I understand that’s the locale for the story. How closely did you adhere to real people and places for your characters and setting? Did you ever worry that friends, family or neighbours might feel you were writing about them?

LB: I wanted to make sure that the places, such as the Anglican Church, the Dale Post office (which by the way was a little room in the house I presently live in), Lake Torment, rang true. I knew it would be important for the readers who were familiar with the community. My characters are all imagined and I never once thought anyone would compare them to real people, especially since it was set twenty years before I was born.

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CoverCG:            Was there ever a concern that having a Canadian setting might limit its publication potential, or did you always expect to have it published in Canada?

LB: While I was writing “Bitter, Sweet” I concentrated only on the story that was crying out to be told and not what would happen in terms of publication once it was written. Writing a story is one thing, having it published is a totally different story altogether. I’ve never, in the past, considered publication in any other country other than Canada. I’m not really sure why, I just haven’t.

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CG:            Everyone has a story about “how I found my agent/editor/publisher.” Can you share a bit of the journey that led you to Nimbus?

LB: I was published in two Christmas anthologies that Nimbus put out. I also knew they are the largest publisher in Atlantic Canada and prefer to publish stories that are relevant to this area. Since “Bitter, Sweet” is set in Atlantic Canada I thought it was worth trying them.

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CG:            How long did it take you to write BITTER, SWEET?  Was the first draft close to the finished product or did it go through multiple revision transformations?

LB: I’d say I worked on “Bitter, Sweet” for about three months. I never sit down and write a first draft. I tend to edit as I go so that when I finally reach the end the story is pretty much where I want it to be. I did make changes later to the first two chapters once I was finished but it wasn’t anything substantial.

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CG:            Did you do a lot of research before starting? Are you a writer who plots and outlines first, or do you dive in and figure things out as you go?

LB: While writing “Bitter, Sweet” I needed to do a bit of research on plants since the use of healing plants native to Nova Scotia is present in the book and of course the deadly night shade plant or bittersweet from which the title comes. I knew a bit about the subject myself, since my father was knowledgeable about these things as was common for people from that generation who live in our area. I often remember him digging out gold thread from the ground to steep into tea.

As far as plotting goes I tend to dive in and figure things out as I go, although I can see how working with an outline might be beneficial and could be something I might use in the future.

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CG:            Will you describe your favourite writing spot for us?

LB: I have an office where I do a lot of my corresponding but I find I use that area less and less for writing fiction. I also have a laptop and often write in an armchair in my living room.

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CG:            Were there doubts, low times or obstacles for you along the way? How did you overcome them?

LB: I think most writers have doubts from time to time especially when the rejection slips keep coming in. It is difficult to have faith in your ability as a writer during those times. I’d sometimes wonder why I was putting myself through this torture but those times were short-lived. I never allowed myself to become discouraged for anymore than a day or so and sometimes only a few hours. Being a self-taught writer I knew I had/have so much to learn. I try to look at writing as a learning process. It helped that family and friends were so supportive.

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CG:            Do you have any advice for writers who are a step behind you in their pursuit of publication? Anything that you wish you’d known before you waded in yourself?

LB: The only bit of advice I have to offer anyone seeking publication is to write and rewrite. It’s not enough to write the story. You have to try and make it as good as you possibly can. Be true to who you are. Write what’s important to you, not what you think is trendy. Last of all, don’t give up. Stay determined. Many talented people drop out before seeing their work published because they can’t stand rejection.

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CG:             What are your plans for promotion and marketing or does your publisher look after these? Where can people buy copies of BITTER, SWEET?

LB: Nimbus has set up signings for me with Chapters and Coles store in the area for the month of November in six different locations. Articles have already appeared in two of our local papers to promote the book. “Bitter, Sweet” can be ordered directly through Nimbus publishing or from Amazon.ca, Chapters.ca and, of course, bookstores.

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CG:            What’s next? Do you have another story in the wings?

LB: There is always another story in the wings, Carol. I presently have one under consideration but I have several others in various stages of completion.

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CG:            Anything I haven’t asked you that you’d like to comment on?  🙂

LB: I’d say you’ve pretty much covered everything although I would like to say thank you for setting up this interview! It’s been fun!

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Thanks, Laura. It’s been a treat to learn more about you and your novel. I’m so glad you agreed to this. I wish you much success with BITTER, SWEET!

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Keep Doin’ It

There’s nothing complicated about finding one’s way onto the road to success. At least, not for NY Times best-selling author Diana Gabaldon. In her interview with Dee-Ann Leblanc on the “Freelance Survivor” website she was asked for her most important piece of advice:

 

          “Keep doin’ it.  Not only do you get better at something, the more you do it—persistence is the single most important aspect of success.”

 

It’s not complicated, but it’s profound in its simplicity and truth. Just “keep doin’ it.”

 

I am, Diana. I am.

Sound versus Silence

I suspect many of us who write are convinced that publication validates our efforts. Mystery/Suspense author Sandra Parshall said, “A writer needs readers to make the last link in the creative circle. A story that is never read by anyone other than its author is incomplete. It’s a bird singing in an empty forest.”

 

But wouldn’t that bird sing whether or not anyone was there to listen?

 

Some insist that a writer is one who writes, while an author is one whose writing is published. That makes me wonder if the credibility of a writer is diminished because his words have not become public.

 

While it’s not my goal, I admire those who sing just for the joy of the song.