Saturday, July 17, 2010

The One Thing I Wish I Had Known About a Writer’s Life

My latest manuscript, Crying Blood*, passed muster and is on the Poisoned Pen Press publishing schedule for February of 2011. Whew. I don’t have to think of it again until I get the advanced reading copy. Except that I do think of it. Every once in a while, now that I can’t do anything about it, a brilliant new approach to some scene I toiled over and finally resolved jumps unbidden to the forefront of my consciousness.

But I put starch in my spine and move on, because I have other things in my life that must be done. For instance, in a couple of weeks, on July 28, I’ll be speaking to the Scottsdale Society of Women Writers about “The One Thing I Wish Someone Had Told Me About a Writer’s Life”. ** That title is a contrivance, of course. There is no “one thing”. There are hundreds of things that I wish I had understood better before I embarked upon this career. If I had, I might not have had to endure as steep a learning curve as I did.

When I was researching my topic I found that if you ask any published author what she wishes she had known beforehand, you’ll get all kinds of interesting answers. But the overwhelming favorite answer has to do with how much work you have to put into promotion. The words “more work than writing the book” were spoken several times. There’s a lot of truth to that. I offer as testimony many previous entries on this very blog. But I can’t say I hadn’t heard that what J.A. Jance calls “the merry-go-round” of write, publish, promote is never-ending and hell on wheels.

Several writers also expressed surprise at how little promotional help they were given after their books hit the shelves. I always thought it was pretty well known that publishing houses will often only spend money on their big name authors (the ones who could afford to pay for their own tours, ironically).

Some authors mentioned how persistent one has to be in order to get published. I myself belong to the honorable group of those who finally place a books after untold years of trying. So that was no surprise.

A couple of people said they were taken aback at how little input they had on their cover design. Really? I didn’t expect as much input as I got, to tell the truth. I figured publishers know a lot more about what is eye-catching than I do.

I don’t think that successful writers know something that the rest of the world doesn’t, or that they’re way better or luckier or more skilled than any given person who is yet to be discovered. What I really didn’t have any idea about before I took on the writing life was how brave you have to be. You really have to put yourself out there, from the beginning of the process to the end.

You have to be able to dig deep, to write from the depths and not worry about trends or what’s hot, or about what your mother is going to think. You have to be able to stand and take it - advice, criticism, rejection, indifference, blows and slings and arrows - and keep going.
Even though you know you may not succeed.

The Summer 2010 edition of Mystery Scene magazine contains an interview with Carolyn Hart, who I think we can all agree has achieved a degree of success to which most of us can only aspire. In the article, she says:
I don’t think most writers, unless they are on the level of Mary Higgins Clark or John Grisham, ever feel they have “got there.” Most of us run scared. All we can do is write the best books we can write and know that is all we can do.
You will never succeed unless you are willing to fail.

*About that title, Crying Blood : A friend of mine said that it sounds harsher than my other titles. The book does contain an element of creepiness, but Crying Blood doesn’t mean what you think it does.
**Check out the ‘Events’ page on my website for the program particulars. If you’re in the vicinity that night, I’d love for you to come by.


Mary E. Trimble said...

One way to take advantage of this waiting time is to start getting your lists in order. You know, those lists of people whom you'll tell when your book is released. I prepared mailing labels for the postcards I sent out, and e-mail lists for those to whom I sent e-mail announcements.

Megan Frances said...

Great post. Congratulations on the publication of Crying Blood. As for the point about authors needing to be persistent to get published - thanks for the reminder. I've been very lackadaisical in the submissions department. Hustling your work to get it published - kind of a key step between writing and promoting.

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