Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Some thoughts on getting published...

Writing a novel is a lot of work. Okay, I've known that for a while. I've written a few. This last one, the one that got me an agent and then a deal, took so much time and effort that I'd joke it was written in dog years. And that it was trying to kill me, I was pretty sure. That last bit might not have been a joke.

The part that I'd only previously known on an intellectual level is that getting published is also a lot of work. I mean, this should be obvious, and I sort of knew it, but until I went through it, I didn't actually know it.

All of the sudden, you're getting paid for your work. And people are depending on you. Your agent. Your editor. Your PR person. An entire infrastructure. You've signed a contract, and you have to deliver, quality work, on time. There are hard deadlines. Publication schedules. Catalogs for the upcoming season. I think that's the first time I really absorbed that the whole thing was real, when I downloaded Soho's catalog, read all of the book descriptions, the author bios. Wow, I thought. I'm going to be in one of these. Me and my book. Shit.

There's the book itself. Editorial revisions. Line edits. A galley proof yet to come. And then there's everything else that comes with being an author in the modern world. A bio. Photos. A new website. Marketing ideas. Where am I known? Who do I know? How can I help my own chances of success?

It's that whole notion of thinking of yourself and your work as a product, as a brand. Most of us writer types are introverts, and we can all fulminate against this cultural trend of marketing uber alles (and I have), but this is the reality. It's a part of our job, as authors. And if there's one thing this whole experience has brought home to me, it's that being a published author is a job.

Well, duh, right? And I've taken that sort of workman's approach to my writing in general for the past few years. A writing book I've often recommended to people suffering from creative blocks is Steven Pressfield's The War of Art. It's a little repetitive and has its metaphysical aspects which may or may not be helpful to a lot of people. But one of the basic messages I appreciated very much is, you have to think of your creative work as a job. Meaning, you can't wait around for the Muses to inspire you. Because what's the first rule of a job? You show up. Whether you're inspired or not. Whether you want to or not. Eventually that kind of discipline rewards you with productive output.

It worked for me, anyway. I'm not one of these writers who has to write, who churns out thousands of words at a sitting. It takes a lot of effort for me, a lot of the time. Ultimately I'm happier when I'm writing than when I'm not writing, so I make myself do it, whether I feel like it or not.

You can carry over a lot of other things from thinking of your writing as a job. You have to work with other people. At times you have to put aside your ego and listen to what others have to say about your work and accept their criticism. You have to distinguish between trivialities and the things that really matter to the integrity of your work.

This experience has given me new sympathy for publishers—and agents—and the reluctance they might have to take on debut authors. Though I think if you write a good book, it's pretty clear that you have some discipline, still, there's always that risk that a new novelist isn't going to be able to work to deadline, or work and play well with others, that she might be a big pain in the ass, and not worth the investment of time and money. Because that's the other thing you need to understand, if you don't know this already: agents and publishers are making a significant investment in you, of their own time and potential income.

Me, I take a lot of pride in my craftsmanship, and as I've gone through this process, I've realized that I also take a lot of pride in doing a good job. In getting the work done right, on time, or even ahead of schedule. This is a job that I really enjoy. One where I show up. One that I might even be good at. I like that.

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