The Business of Books

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What happens after you write it? The discussion turns to publishers & reviewers.

For all the info on the authors participating, read the info here.

What are the joys & nightmares of being a writer, getting published... any stories, advice?

Jason: "Persistence is everything. I tell my students that they are playing a lottery. Every piece they write, each time they send it out, theyíve bought a ticket. With narrow odds. But the more tickets, the better the odds. And, of course, the higher quality the piece, the less narrow the odds on the ticket.

I know of lot writers who write one piece and wait for the world to recognize its relevance. This is just bad business.

I know a lot of writers who donít write. So are they writers?

I guess it all boils down to: finish projects, send them out, move on."

Kim: "The joy of being published is that I did what I set out to do: write a well-received book. The downside was, and still is, promoting the book. My book, like so many others, was a casualty of 9/11. If you remember, after the attacks people stayed at home, were glued to their televisions and too afraid to leave the house. No one went to the movies, book sales plummeted. Publishers lost money every day. So, any money that was initially set aside to market my book was gone by the time review copies went out. I hired a publicist, and together we did a good job of marketing, but we couldn't come close to getting the attention my publisher could have gotten.

The only real nightmare was when I discovered (one week before handing my ms. to my editor) that 12 of my essays had been plagiarized. A man in Delaware stole my essays and published them in a popular gay/les magazine in the area. He had a column in that mag that he called "My Opinion." Yeah, right! His opinion turned out to be my opinion. Good thing God created copyright lawyers. The bizarre thing, though, is that I knew the guy. I didn't recognize his name at first. The I saw a picture of him and I was able to put the face with the name. I was shocked. It sucks when someone steals from you, but it really, REALLY sucks when someone you know and like steals from you."

Bee: "The sad fact is that all the clichťs youíve ever heard about the writing life are true. If you are a literary writer it is endlessly difficult to create good work, harder to get published, and nearly impossible to make a living at it. I have lots of friends who could be described as famous, and none are earning a working wage off their creative work. Good writers keep writing for peculiar, idiosyncratic, and personal reasons."

Stephen: "Joy is seeing my books on retail shelves, itís kind of cool, but it gives a false sense of accomplishment. Nightmares would be the politics of the media. Free press is limited to whatís left after the big publishing houses have forced their ways.

My advice is to write what you know, not whatís hot; otherwise youíll come off phony like a pickup line. Sleep with a pad under your pillow and write the things, which awakened you before dawn that you canít remember."

Laurel: "Getting it right is immensely satisfying. Crafting a sentence, a paragraph, and rereading it later can be like hitting a tennis ball and hearing the smack on the racket that tells you you hit it right. Getting published, of course, is problematic because you are always facing a marketplace that has its own sometimes rigid copycat tastes and boring but necessary drive to make money. To break through that you really have to be in the top echelon of writers, and millions of us are simply not. By the same token, I get tired of writers who whine that the publishers don't appreciate writers. Many don't realize that there are standards of excellence in spite of everything, and that being published often means conforming to what an editor wants. I recently wrote a piece about getting your ego out of the way when you submit to a magazine, for example. But if you write a really good book, it's probably true that you could write it on toilet paper and it would find its way."

Jewel: "I think the worst thing about being a writer is rejection. Once I got past the fact that it might not be what I was writing but what the editor had for lunch that made a difference in whether or not something I wrote was accepted, I started to feel better. I even brag about the fact I have rejection notices from at least 37 states. I can even brag that I have stuff accepted in at least 18 states."

Hanne: "To be honest, I never intended to be a writer. I didn't train to be one, I didn't set out to be one, although I had occasionally done journalistic writing very very much as a sideline. Being a writer professionally just kind of happened to me, and I mean that in the most literal way -- I was going about my business and a publisher contacted me out of the blue and asked me if I wanted to write a book. Since I had never done that before, I said sure, why not? And I did. As it turned out, I liked writing books, so I'm still doing it.

The same essentially applies to how I found my agent: I didn't, he found me. He had read some of the individual pieces I'd published in various places after my first book came out, and contacted me to see if I was represented by anyone. I sent him a file of clips and a pile of unpublished wibblings of various sorts and we talked about it. As it turned out I liked him very well and he turns out to be a fantastic agent and I am lucky to have him -- had I been looking for an agent at the time I probably would've considered someone like my agent to be out of my league, so perhaps it's a good thing I wasn't looking.

So I don't know how to answer questions like this. I've been very lucky, and truly, inexplicably so: I probably wouldn't have had this kind of luck with this crazy profession if I had set out to try to do what I'm doing now.

As a result the only advice I have for people is to do what you do, do it to the absolute top of your ability to do it--I believe strongly in doing the best you can with what you have to work with, it's the best thing any of us can do--and see what happens."

Rose: "There is nothing more joyful than getting to do creative work or more gratifying than connecting with other people. I don't like the marketing & let others worry about that."

Heather: "The joys are many, but they're also short-lived. Every acceptance for publication sends a happy shiver down my spine, but it's shadowed by the immediate wondering of whether I'll be able to do it again. I love writing. Just sitting down and working out a story so that all the pieces work gives me a thrill.

The worst part is the moments before you work out a problem in you're writingówhen nothing is working and you're filled with self-doubt. Rejection from an agent or editor I can handle. It's self-rejection that really gets to me."

Kola: "For me, the worst nightmare has been finding a way to tell my truth and to tell my story as myself. There are so many people--black men, white men, white women, mixed raced women--who don't care or want to hear the stories of authentic black women, and of course, mainly because those stories tend to indict them, which they should. But still, it's those people who are the ones in power--even when you find a black editor, her boss is white--and so it's really a struggle to write the books that I write because of that."

Katy: "So many nightmares :) Itís a tough business. You get rejected far more than you ever get accepted, and 99% of the time you donít know why. The checks are hit or miss, youíre never quite sure when the next one will come in and the downtimes can be very difficult. I mostly work on assignment now, so thatís easier, but I hold my breath every time I send out a story or article. Will the editor like it, will it work for that market? I try to never be complacent about my work or my assignments, assuming that as soon as I let down my guard something bad will happen :) Or worse, Iíll start to put out less than professional work.

I can get depressed after a string of rejections, which happens often enough for me in the world of mainstream writing. Itís hard to stay upbeat and have hope after you get shot down so many times. But being a writer is a process; it doesnít happen overnight, at least not for most of us. Mainly we just keep plugging along, going after those often elusive assignments and garnering new markets and new successes as we go.

On the other hand, the excitement that I feel with each and every acceptance and publication is totally worth it. Seeing my name in print for the first time was awesome, seeing it in print for the three hundredth time is not too shabby, either.

Personally, nailing the assignment is the part I like best, it always feels like a huge victory. Matter of fact, actually writing the piece afterward is not nearly so exciting. Often Iíll procrastinate when it comes to that part and then when I sit down and the words start flowing, I wonder why the hell I was putting it off. And finding just the right angle for a story, the right phrase, the killer intro, or even just the perfect title, thatís a total head rush. Thatís when I know Iím a real writer, and that feels very good."

Gwen: "The thrill of seeing your name in print for the first time really negates any negatives. It makes the whole struggle worthwhile. Advice? If you are looking for fame and fortune, you are in the wrong business. You can make money and you can become famous, but the Stephen Kings of this world are amazingly rare. Be happy with what you are writing, write for yourself instead of for a formula, and youíll find yourself published much faster...because when you believe in what you are doing, others respond to that, and they come to believe in it, too."

bard: "so few are the joys that writing employs ...publishing, a thrill perhaps fleeting
add vice to this pen is frustration then while the publishers all are retreating ...
no cover yet found, my pages, nor bound for the mass's consumption, unsated
the nightmare is waking and no one is aching for books as reading is outdated.
of paper and pen, rewriting again, and all other forces distracting
take heart in your art, life's stage, it's your part ...doing is always better than acting.

Jude: "Waiting is the hardest for me. Actually, just praying it actually gets to the publisher is the worst. I've sent things off to anthologies that I'd have loved to get into only to find out weeks and in some cases months later that the story didn't even get there. How frustrating is that?

I now try to remember to add in a line asking whoever gets the submission to drop me a line, or even a form email saying they got the story. It takes two seconds for them to hit reply, 'got it' and then send.

The joys. That's easy, the acceptance letter or email. There's nothing like it. It's that high that carries you for days. You can't wipe the grin off your face, can't sit still or hold an intelligent conversation; you're too busy basking in that glow. Finishing a piece, especially a longer piece comes in at a close second. But that's a different joy. Completion, wonder that you could actually have that many characters in your head and keep them straight as they tell their story is an amazing feeling. You've tiddled it up, you've made sure that everyone had the write clothes on from one chapter to the next, that you haven't missed explaining any of the side plots, or left a whip where it's not supposed to be. It's in the bag, as they say. Great feeling.

Shopping a story or novel is also a challenge that I've learned to do fairly well. That takes time and practice but it needs to be learned. Each publisher/magazine/e-zineÖetc, has their own specific set of guidelines. If you follow those guidelines to the T, you'll be accepted if you're work is well done. That's such a huge thing and from talking to publishers over the years, so many authors don't do it, it's amazing. I've been told that as many as 60% of submissions are rejected because they don't follow the guidelines. Many aren't even read because they're the wrong genre, formatted wrong or are in some weird font that's unreadable, don't have return addresses, don't have a name or even a pen name. Silly things that make it impossible for a publisher to even work with the writer. So, big hint here for anyone wanting to get published, READ THE GUIDELINES and follow them as if they were gospel, because they are."

Josh: "Someone just asked me today if I ever thought about quitting the whole writing and performing thing, and I said ĎMany, many times. Thatís how you know youíre doing it right.Ē You canít expect your audience to have an emotional connection with what youíre writing if you have no emotion while you write it. Itís a bit of a roller coaster ride, and you definitely need to break from it now and then. I think thatís the key to a great writer. Donít try to impress anyone, donít try to show off how smart you are, just write about what you care about. Thatís when you get through to people.

Include thoughts on reviewers, or if you are a reviewer, your thoughts on reviewing books...

Rose: "It's easier to be a parasite than a creator. Some reviewers do fine work and can really help a book."

GaŽlle: "Itís fun to write them, to share an opinion, but itís so subjective. Different people will love different things, no matter how poorly written or formulaic they might be. How else would Danielle Steel be so rich?"

Jewel: "Reviewers, whether me or another person, must have a reason for the slant for their review. Just telling a writer that you like something tells them nothing. Telling them why you like or dislike something gives them something to work with. They can choose to take the review to heart or disregard it. Itís the ďwhyĒ that matters most."

Ina: "Having never been reviewed I can only speak to reveiwing other's work - which I LOVE to do...I think that sharing one's opinions of writing is vital to the writing process - like in other forms of art, you must be able to articulate what it is you like/dislike, understand/find confusing, about that work in order to completely "grok" it for yourself."

Kim: "As a whole, I've been treated very well by reviewers. I can honestly tell you that I didn't get one bad review. I don't know many authors that can say that. If there's one thing that irks me about reviewers it's this: Some sell their review copies without bothering to read or review the book, and I think that sucks. A reviewer gets a copy for free, decides for whatever reason that it's not worth his time and then he puts it up for sale on Amazon. So, in essence, the only person that's making any money on that book -- a book he could care less about -- is the reviewer. It's hard enough for an author to make money. The practice of selling review copies makes it even harder. But I digress. Don't get me started on Amazon's used book selling practices!"

Laurel: "You have to become familiar, I think, with different reviewers, because some will have your tastes and preferences and some won't. I don't despise reviewers as some do. Reviewers, like movie critics, do read (scan?) a lot of books and they necessarily develop a level of sophistication that comes into play when they review, and, unfortunately, that can place them way beyond the level at which ordinary people read. In movies, my daughter and I differ about characters and acting versus story--I prize the first and she the second. For movie critics, I can be pretty sure that if Roger Ebert or Jan Wahl like a film, I won't. I can usually tell from a review whether I will want to read a book or see a movie. (Although in film, Me You and Everybody Else was great and the review didn't capture it at all--same with CRASH!.) Book reviewers can also become enslaved by the current tastes of the marketplace."

For all the info on the authors participating, go here ~ To state your own thoughts, use the 'Discuss This' button to the right!

© Gracie


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