Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Five Self-defeating Recession Behaviors

1. Copy the genre and content of the few writers who actually are making money.

Werewolves, zombies, erotica, thrillers—whatever you determine is hot now may turn ice cold a few years down the pike. That’s how writers have always had to think and it’s even more true now—with publishers pulling from smaller pocketbooks, which is logically resulting in increased choosiness by agents, it might be many years until a project you write now sees publication.

This is no time to waste your efforts on a project in which you are only partially interested just because you think it will sell. There’s no surer way to kill the writing buzz. You need work that will sustain you.

And anyway, even the experts don’t know what will sell. If you love to write, write what you love.

2. Think your rejections signal your lack of talent.

I hear story after story from well-published writers who over the past couple of years have had trouble getting their next books read by publishers. Your current competition for an available publishing slot may not be that hack you're sure you can beat—it might be an author with an established track record to back them up. Rejection may not mean your work is subpar; it may simply mean that out of the thousands vying for those twenty coveted slots, the publisher can’t make the final fifty fit.

This recession is not just happening to you. It’s happening to all of us.

But wait...what if your work truly isn't up to par? Now's a great time to read: advice for writers, books in your genre, books in other genres. Learn about self-editing at The Blood-Red Pencil. Support your local library; support the bookstores you hope will one day support you. Try to figure out what techniques keep readers coming back for more and sprinkle some of that fairy dust on your work in progress. Invest in an independent editor to up your game. Join a writer's group. Take what you learn and share it with a new writer.

I guarantee if you do all this you will become a better, more publishable writer. And if there's one thing I know about America, it's that if we create a rock-solid demand for more books to read, someone will want to make money providing them.

3. Give yourself one more year to get published before quitting.

Ahem...I’m guilty of this one. Only my goal was "five more years"—at one point, some eighteen years into my free-lance newspaper career, I promised my husband I was going to give up if I couldn’t get a book published by the time my kids got out of high school. Well, by the time they graduated my writing was a hell of a lot better and I was so close, so hooked, I couldn’t possibly give up.

Now they’re 21 and 23 and I am humbled to realize I am not the master of the publishing universe. It will happen when I get the right manuscript into the hands of the right agent who will approach a publisher with actual holes in its schedule and actual needs in its business model that my manuscript can fill.

4. Self-publish just to get your book in your hands.

There are many reasons to self-publish, but desperation and impatience are not good ones. It will not feel so great to hold your book in your hands if somewhere deep inside you feel you’ve copped out. In addition, your already recession-beleaguered retirement savings are now depleted and you've got some explaining to do to your spouse.

Especially if you self-publish fiction, the kind of mass distribution your book may need to hit its target audience will be a challenge. But we can reach everyone with the Internet! you say. The landslide that is Amazon may not be the solution. News flash: that ranking of over five-millionth you obtain at their site will not pave your way to traditional publication.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t re-assess your strategy, just be honest about why you’re doing it. If your inner entrepreneur is screaming to try out a new radical business plan for distribution you feel certain will work, or if you've actually made money on the stock market while everyone else lost it, or if you just want to get a hundred copies into the hands of friends and family who've been begging to read your work for the past decade, by all means—go for it. But if your goal is traditional publication and the validation that brings, you might have to wait a spell.

5. Set writing aside until the economy picks up.

Never mind—you have my blessing on this one. Because if you can give up your writing, you were never really into it anyway. There's never been anything practical about becoming a writer. And since publication seems more elusive than ever, you might as well hang up your keyboard, right?

In advance, my thanks. If you leave the field it will make more room for those of us who are still hard at work sharpening our skills, investing in independent editors, building our publication credits in lower-paying markets, and continuing to submit because hey, the odds were against us anyway and what’s changed in that regard?

The recession is changing the market, for sure. And don’t get me started about the effects of technology! What’s gone for good? What’s here to stay? No one knows. But if your desire to write is still intact, then write away, my friend. Observe the yellow flag for your protection but don’t leave the course! Hang in with your fellow racecars as we continue to lap the track, hoping to be near the starting line when that green flag is waved.

Are you with me? (And if you quit—can I have your laptop? Contact me offline…)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com. As a writer of book-length literary women's fiction, she has been tossing her manuscript toward select agents while lapping the publishing course under the yellow flag alongside her fellow writers. She notes that the other drivers are engaging in increasingly aggressive behaviors, changing lanes and revving engines as she searches lamely for the horn. For the safety of all she hopes the publishing world waves the green flag soon!

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19 comments :

  1. Kathryn, thank you for this terrific advice. It's nice to know we don't go through each of these behaviors alone! I enjoyed reading through your inspirational insights on each point.

    Thank you!
    Marissa

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  2. This is all good advice. Let me add another suggestion: Try something new! Get outside your comfort zone. Try flash fiction. Write a piece of erotica -- there are plenty of outlets for it. There are now a number of "twitterzines," as well -- and if you think it's easy to write and sell a 140-CHARACTER (including spaces) story, maybe that's just the challenge you need.

    We all got started writing because at some point while reading we thought, "I can do this." Or, "I can write better than this." Or, "Gee, it would be fun to write a story." Ideally we should not have lost sight of that impulse.

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  3. Regarding the first thing you said - what happens when one of the "buzz" topics (say, zombies) has interested you for a long time and you really want to write about it?

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  4. Thanks, Marissa! And thanks for stopping in and sharing your thoughts, Al. Trying something new may not be as feasible when things get cooking again--great advice.

    And Izzy, here I'll quote from a friend, Jonathan Maberry, whose zombie fiction has been published:
    "If you love to write zombies but have been told zombies are on the way out, write it anyway. Because zombies will only be 'out' until the next great zombie story comes along--and it may be yours."

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  5. Thanks so much for the great advice. I think it is so easy for us to find reasons to quit, it is good to be reminded of why we shouldn't.

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  6. Thank you so much for the advice, it's great and definitely good to know what not to do!

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  7. Great article--and just when I needed it! Thanks! It can indeed get discouraging, and sometimes we need a quick swift kick it the rear!

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  8. This is awesome, Kathryn. One of my fave BRP pieces, :-) It's important for writers to know that they are not alone and this task of writing is not some quick and easy process. It takes time and you have to be committed.

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  9. Very encouraging post, Kathryn! I had the misfortune of starting the agent hunt for my first book just before everything crashed. I'm now on my third WIP, still sending out for the others. I try to send and forget about it, since otherwise I'd go crazy! Thanks for letting us know we're not alone!

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  10. Nice post, Kathryn. I especially believe in #4 -- self-publishing too soon (without thorough editing and in-depth investigation of publishing options) can cost a lot of money and ruin a writer's chance at success.

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  11. All wonderful points!

    I so agree with the self-publish caveat, especially for fiction. I think that already established and successful writers might be able to sell a whole lot of self-published work. But a writer with a first book of fiction? Hard!

    Well, sorry. Can't leave the writing field. But we can share? :)

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  12. Great stuff Kathryn, again - thanks for the reminders and reassurances.

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  13. I love #5 in particular! Thanks for always being such a great resources for those of us who love the craft, and believe that in time, we'll be recognized/rewarded for our tenacity.

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  14. I'm not a good quitter. If I were, I wouldn't
    have the same day job for 38 years.
    I'm working on making writing my day job right now.
    It won't be easy.
    Morgan Mandel
    http://morganmandel.bloodspot.com

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  15. Great post, Kathryn. Excellent advice, plus it was fun to read. Once you finish your manuscript, let it sit for a while. In the meantime, you can try your hand at some other kind of writing, a different genre or poetry or nonfiction, for example. Then you can go back and read your manuscript with "new" eyes.

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  16. Great post, Kathryn,
    We need to be reminded to never give up and write what is true to our hearts.

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  17. Add blogging to the list of things TO do -- this is so healthy and interesting for all of us -- thanks!

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  18. "Because if you can give up your writing, you were never really into it anyway."

    No truer words exist. Anywhere. Anytime.

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  19. Funny, funny, funny... and so true! As one who fell headlong into a trap for new players (the "joint venture" which turned out to be self-publishing with added insults)I am now, as someone recommended to me, hand selling until my hands bleed, as well as listing, pushing, stocking and pedalling my book everywhere and at all times (I usually round off meetings in my day job with a quick distribution of promotional bookmarks and assurances that I have a few copies in my desk for impulse buyers). I'm not going anywhere! visit me now at www.noelanimorrell.com and check out Crisp Whites - a rolicking adventure fiction with a strong female lead - you'll love it :o)

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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