Thursday, December 9, 2010

Oh, The Reality of It All

I grew up focused on the fine arts, and like acting and vocal music, writing is one of those professions where loads of people with no training or background in the field dream of making it big.

At least once a week, someone approaches me about his or her book (usually one that is only in the planning stages), and asks me how to get it published. That question is unanswerable. Every path is different. It involves talent, luck, hard work (lots and lots of hard work), a thick skin, and almost inhuman perseverance.

Invariably, those rare authors who made it big on the first try under freakish circumstances are the ones cited by these folks who tell me they are taking up the mantle of author so they can quit their day jobs. I've bitten holes in my tongue from my efforts to not just lay it out there, citing the low odds and real numbers (like the average book advance is $4000). But hey, those huge NYT debuts really do happen, right?  So I continue biting my tongue.

Most writers have probably seen this video by now, but what makes it so amusing for me, is that right after I showed it to my husband, someone engaged me (while hubby was there) in a conversation that was pretty much word-for-word from this script (minus the "I wish I could kill you and get away with it," and "I have a gun in my car"), so dear hubby now has holes in his tongue too.  ;)

"Why didn't you just tell the ugly truth about how hard it is?" My husband asked after the person I mentioned earlier walked away. 

Because I can't. It's not my job to crush dreams that might become reality. Hey, that person might draw the winning publishing lotto ticket with his/her yet unwritten novel in a genre he/she "doesn't really read." 

The reality is this: no two paths are the same. No two books are the same. The odds of failure are great, but that is true of most things worth doing.

We hear about those huge advances, overnight successes, preempts, and auctions. What we don't hear much of is the other side. The side that is far more common than the instant sales. The side most writers aren't brave enough to write about.

Hats off to Natalie Whipple, who had the guts to put her story out there this week in two posts:

"What Happens When it IS You"

"What I've Learned from Being on Submission"

When people ask me how to get published or ask me to introduce them to my agent, I will continue to be positive, because had I known the odds when I set out on this journey, I'm pretty sure I'd have never queried that first novel.

But I still would have written it.

Were I never to sell another book, I'd still write.

The business is a rough one full of heartbreak, but it also brings with it satisfaction and joy. I will continue looking for that joy whatever my publishing future holds.

Hang in there, Natalie Whipple. I'll be shouting hooray louder than anyone when you sell.


Amanda said...

Great post, Mary!! There's been a lot of talk on this subject lately and I totally agree. No two paths to publication are the same. Kind of like snowflakes.

I'm more than happy to share my stats: 1st book=crashed and burned in the query stage. 2nd book=sequel to 1st book. Probably won't ever see the light of day. 3rd book=seven months of queries before I signed with my agent. 2 rounds of revisions before I went out on sub. Five months out on submission before an offer was made by my editor. Time from 1st manuscript to 1st sale= 2 years and 7 months.

Mary Lindsey said...

Thanks for the comment, Amanda. I'm so glad you hung in there.

Len said...

Wondeful post, Mary. Thank you!

Amy said...

This is an awesome post, Mary! I think that you can't understand what it takes to write a novel until you've actually written it and you can't truly understand what it takes to go through the publishing process until you're really in the thick of it.

Mary Lindsey said...

Thanks Amy. I've discovered writing the novel is the easy part in many ways!

Amy said...

I get a lot of blank stares when I tell people that writing the novel is the easiest part of the whole thing... starting at revisions and editing it just gets harder.

Anonymous said...

I have the first of a trilogy on market-go-round right now, and I'm working on the second book while working on a totally different book for a different series i hope to put on the market-go-round next year. Why? Because whether or not my epic fantasy sells, I want to finish the story. I try to publish because I might as well—I'd write regardless, so might as well see if any of my stories go somewhere. I think a lot of authors go into writing specifically to get published. While it would be cool, it's not my focus.

But I admit, it's still frustrating to get so many no's. Not giving up on my story, but I wish everyone else would love it as much as I do.

Mary Lindsey said...

Good luck, Domynoe. Don't give up. That's right!

Elana Johnson said...

Brilliant, as always.

Mary Lindsey said...

Thanks, Elana. Great to see you.

Lydia Kang said...

Hey Mary! I like the new digs.
Great post. It is a hard road, and one that many don't really understand. ("Oh, you're writing a book? So you can quit your job, right?")
*eye roll*