Occasionally, when I’m speaking with new writers, I want to say, “Run for your life. Get out now, while you can. Write for joy, write for pleasure, write for personal development, but whatever you do don’t write for publication.”
This is not an attempt to decrease the competition. It’s more the difficulty of trying to coach someone through a system that is changing so fast very few people can keep up. Creative careers have never been linear, but when I look at “my class,” I sense a speed up in the rate of decay, the half-life of agents, publishers, and publishing opportunities.
“My class” are the writers who came seriously into the business at the same time I did, around 2000 to 2001. We were Sisters in Crime together and hung around the same news groups, helping each other through the tough questions. Do I have to have exactly 250 words on each page? (No, you don’t.) What is a Harvard comma? (The last comma in a series, used before the final conjunction. Yes, it’s a good idea to use one.) How do I write a query letter? (Send me your e-mail address. I’ll send you a sample.)
Eleven years after graduation, most universities classes have barely gotten through their 10-year reunion. Eleven years for writers is a long time.
Some of my “classmates” have died. Granted, many of us weren’t in the bloom of youth when we started, but losing people is always sad and I miss every one who has gone before. For others health or family obligations have intervened and they no longer have the time or finances to support a writer’s life.
More than a few have laid down their sword and shield and walked away. “I don’t want to do this any more.” “It’s too complicated.” “It stopped being fun a long time ago.”
On the other hand, I do have a few cards and e-mails in my “I knew them when” scrapbook. More than a few, a lot. A friend of mine had to tell me about a terrific book she’d just finished. I told her that she should write the author to let him know how much she enjoyed it. “I’ll ask him if it’s okay for me to give you his e-mail address.” Her jaw dropped. “You have his e-mail address?”
Yes, and his home phone number, but I didn’t tell her that. I also didn’t tell her that she could probably have found his e-mail address on the Internet. Allow me a small moment of vanity, okay?
Years ago, I had lunch with an author who now routinely makes the best-seller list. There is another writer who refers to me as “Minor Goddess,” because I once located a reference for her that she’d been trying to track down for years. It all comes with the territory.
It helps that I’ve taught for a long time. I know how much teaching, and coaching, is performance art. Deep breath. Big smile. “Good morning, everyone. Let’s talk about some of the good and exciting things that are going on in publishing and how those things are going to benefit your writing career.”
The nature of reading is changing. Fewer people are reading solely for pleasure, but more people are reading. Start thinking about what else a book can be besides slabs of paper between two covers.
The choices of what to read are phenomenal. This includes not only new works, but works that haven’t been in print for decades. One thing I noticed lately on mystery blogs is how many of them are going back to read, review, and refer to the legacy of mysteries from half a century ago.
Alice’s White Queen might have believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast, but I can research than number of impossible questions on the Internet in the time it takes me to boil water for tea. The Internet is a marvellous tool. Every writer needs to learn how to use that tool.
Yes, publishing is in free fall. That means you have so many more opportunities than I had when I first became serious about getting published. It’s a matter of finding those opportunities and taking advantage of them.
Talent has a lot to recommend it, but persistence has even more. If you stop now, you’ll never know how far you could have gone.
The funny thing is, the more I say those things to other writers, the more I believe them myself.
Quote for the week:
You've got to accentuate the positive,
Eliminate the negative,
Latch on to the affirmative, and
Don't mess with Mister In-Between
~lyrics by Johnny Mercer/music by Harold Arlen, 1944