Wednesday, April 4, 2012

the hard way, or...

I am wondering if I am going to find out the hard way just how many blog posts one can write about rejection.  If you are human, then it is a normal part of life.  If you are an artistic type, you can double the rejections you should plan on getting.  If you are a writer, apparently you should multiple by a thousand. 

I knew this ahead of time.  No one jumps into any new field and becomes a miracle star overnight (well, except JK Rowling, Justin Beiber, and Dora the Explorer)  What I mean to say is that to the general populace of good basic substantive people, overnight fame and fortune does not happen terribly often.  I have heard people say that the time to hone one's skill and get a first writing contract can range from two to 10 years.  I can handle a few years of good hard work.  But after five, I would have to wonder if I wasn't following the wrong path. 

Needless to say, there are people to help a writer find their way into this publishing business, and heighten their chances of getting a deal.  And Monday night, at our Ithaca SCBWI shop talk, I met a woman who does just that.  Her name is Jill Swenson, of Swenson Book Development, and I have to say she was exceedingly more exuberant than I ever feel at 6:30pm. Jill spent an hour and a half chatting it up with us and giving us increasingly more and more bad news about the publishing world.  But she did it all with such zeal that it didn't seem so bad.

In essence, her point was that you, me, the author has to do all the work these days.  Yes, yes, you have to write the dang book.  But nowadays you have to convince a publisher that there is a need/demographic/interest in this book, show why/how you know what you are talking about, describe how you will have iApps and tie's ins, and plan out an extensive proposal plan.  Then, if you ever get the chance to sign on the dotted line, you have to allow the editor to alter everything from your title to your main character's bra size, be your own book marketer, plan your own book tour, do all publicity and media work yourself, and get cracking on that next book.  Hmm.  Sounds like fun.

Now, you, like I was, may be wondering why on earth would all this be necessary?  If you weren't wondering that, then you might be wondering who on earth would want to do all this?  Isn't the point of a publishing house that they take your story, package it up all pretty, sell it to the masses, while you hop a plane to Paris for a vacay.

Apparently not, my friends.  These days, being a writer means being a business person too.  With the economy in the tank as it is, books are on the bottom of the list of must have's these days.  If your 32 word picture book is not able to be tied in to 57 placed products, your comic does not include graphic art, or your teen drama does not have zombies cantering through each page, then no publishing house is going to take it. Plain and simple. 

I think Jill's point was that if you want to be a writer these days, then get on the bandwagon already!  Write a blog, Tweet, follow the trends, and invest in yourself as a professional.  All very sound advice.

I think where I get stuck, and always have in my life, is taking someone's word for it that it is this way, or the highway.  That these monstrously large Publishing houses that make the big bucks, that suck up stories like they were snuff, that check a new writer's feet for cleanliness before bringing her on board, that these folks are the only way to success.  My sense was that Jill believes that they are.  I however, must disagree. 

Don't get me wrong, I absolutely believe every word of what she said... for her and her world of BIG houses.  I have no doubt that Penguin Group would scoff at my little piddly nature drivel about the Appalachian Trail. But I also have no doubt that there is an editor out there, a thoughtful publishing house with little money, little space, and little interest in making the mega millions who might just like my story. 

There was not much that was terrible heartening about Jill's talk.  She was mostly practical, informative, and had some great insight in the business.  But, after two rejections thus far for my AT book, I was heartened by one thing that Jill said that make great sense.  If someone rejects your writing, that probably means you were not truly a match.  Like a job you did not get, or a date that does not call back, the reverence must go both ways.  And if they rejected you, you probably wouldn't have wanted to work with them anyway. 

True?  True.

I left the meeting wondering why I keep writing?  After learning with a rather friendly slap on the face that the road will only be uphill for many moons to come, why do I bother?  Why do I sit down to write this blog, find myself working out the next plot line in my head, and hanker to get some serious alone time to write?  Why ever would I keep at this? 

I may be glutton for punishment and pain.  But I think there is something else too.  I think there is something that a writer must have to make it all worthwhile.  Passion. Without a passion and drive to keep going the rejections are too much, the hills are just too steep.  That, and a little hope.  Hope that the route the scenic path takes, up and down mountainsides, around those busy, traffic filled highways might just be a better match, and a lot more interesting.

1 comment:

Sue Heavenrich said...

While Jill has good advice, she is one person.Just as you discovered on the AT, there are many paths to the goal... even the blue blazes lead somewhere interesting. (don't ask... it's a long story about a 17-mile "detour"). I think her broader, more important message is to take yourself seriously (a business) and do some market research ahead of time. And READ, read, read the kind of books you want to write!