Why do we write and where do we go from there?
(This may be the first of two posts today, so fair warning. I was hoping that the follow-up blog to the mind-blowing post over on Tor two weeks ago about “post binary gender in gender” would be up this morning so we could discuss it. However, it hasn’t been posted yet. If today’s post follows form, it will be published later this morning. So it is possible that I’ll be back then. Otherwise, I’ll leave it for Kate to fisk — er, discuss — tomorrow.)
I have a great writers’ group that I’ve been involved in for three years or so now. It’s a small group that meets twice a month. Most meetings, there are six or seven of us there. Some of us have been with the group for two plus years while others are newer members. We’ve had members come and go. You get that with most groups. But, over all, the feel of the group has never changed — it is a group where we do our best to give constructive critiques. We each realize that another important part of the group is the social aspect. For those two afternoons a month, we are with people who understand what it means to be a writer and who understand what drives us. That’s important.
One thing we talked about in our last meeting was how we have to write. There is something in each of us that makes writing an integral part of our being. Some of us have tried to stop writing. We have even managed to do it for extended lengths of time. The common result for those of us who did was that we were miserable. There was a feeling during those long months or years that we just weren’t whole. It didn’t matter what the reason for not writing might have been, the result was always the same. Once we broke down and said “screw it” and started writing again, we felt like a missing part had suddenly fallen into place.
So the question that seems to follow “why do we write” seems to be “where do we go from there?” It used to be that we had two choices, at least if we didn’t want to spend thousands of dollars on vanity press scams that forced us to buy hundreds or thousands of copies of our books and then try to sell them out of our garages. We could either try to find an agent or publisher and go the traditional route or we wrote something, filed it away and went on to something else. How many of us tried to be published back in the dark ages of our youth or young adulthood and got discouraged because we couldn’t get a foot through the door at an literary agency or we kept getting form rejections from publishers that we knew never took time to read so much as the first chapter of our work?
Back in the dark ages, it was expensive to submit to publishers or agents without knowing you had a pretty darned good chance of at least having your manuscript read. Those were the days of having to print out your manuscript, mail it out and include return postage. Some publishers or agents required your submission to be in a padded envelop while others wanted those nice — and expensive — manuscript boxes. The only satisfaction I have today is knowing that those were also the days when agents and editors received submissions from those “creative” authors who would include glitter and scented cover letters on pink paper.
Yes, I’m odd but I take my amusement where I can get it.
It became easier to submit to publishers and agents as more and more began accepting electronic submissions but, at the same time, it seemed to become even more difficult to get a foot through the door. Maybe it was just that responses from publishers and agents came back so quickly. My personal best — or worse, depending on your point of view — was the query and first three chapters I sent per guidelines to an agent who said she’d reopened to submissions. Less than 30 seconds after sending my query I had a response in my email. Wow, what an agent. She had already read my query letter and three chapters — not. I got a level two rejection (I like it but it just doesn’t fit my needs right now) without her even taking time to download the attachments. Oh, and had my intelligence insulted by assuming I couldn’t add up the time for transmission of my email, length of time needed to read the email and then download the attachments before sending the response. I’d gotten an auto response and that agent was written off my list of potentials forever.
Thanks to Sarah and Kate, I didn’t let that discourage me — too much. Maybe it was fear of Sarah’s pointy boots, but I kept writing. I’m glad I did. In the time since that happened, we’ve had a marvelous change come to publishing. Amazon, and later B&N and others, opened their doors to small presses and even authors themselves, giving us a way to get our work into the hands of readers without having to try to beat down the doors of traditional publishing (where it is now as hard, if not more so, to get an agent than it is a publishing contract).
Now, when you start talking about the self-published authors, you will hear those folks who say they should never be allowed into the main catalog of sites like Amazon, etc. They want separate search pages and listing for books put out directly by authors or even small presses. Others don’t care. My take, most folks don’t pay a whit of attention to who “publishes” a book. They want a good story or a well-researched non-fiction book. They want it to be properly formatted and not rife with spelling and punctuation errors. Other than that, they don’t care where it comes from.
Did opening the gates to everyone flood the market? Yes and no. There was a time when everyone and his dog who ever thought about writing a book put their work up on Amazon for the kindle. The thing is, most of those folks have fallen by the wayside. Sure others have taken their places but they, too, will slowly disappear. The reasons are simple. First, writing a book isn’t as easy as it sounds. It takes time and effort, especially if you take pride in your work. Second, you have to have a thick skin as a writer. Those reviews can sting and then some. It’s natural for us to want to see what people are saying about our work and, when we see someone slam our “baby”, it is very easy to take our toys and go home, never to return to the literary playground again.
Then there is the real reason so many writers put out only a book or two and then no more, especially self-published authors. We’ve been told how good our work is. Our friends and families tell us they just don’t understand why our work hasn’t been grabbed up by a “real” publisher and movie rights sold. So we take the time to write the best book we can, market it to the best of our ability and we hit the publish button.
And we wait for the money to roll in.
The reality is, most of us aren’t going to get rich writing. Some of us will be lucky enough to make enough from our writing to be able to live off of it. But for that to happen, we have to give up the expectation that it will happen right out of the starting gate. We have to keep plugging along, writing and publishing and making sure we don’t let too much time pass between new titles coming out. In other words, we have to keep working at it. It is our vocation as well as our avocation. We have to keep pulling up our big boy pants as we ignore the voices from the vocal but small PC/glittery hoo hah crowd that tells us we aren’t writing “meaningful” and “relevant” books. Sorry, but my aim is to write books the readers enjoy and will pay money for. I’ll leave the message books to them and trad publishing — and we’ll see who laughs best at the end. My money is on it being those of us who listen to our readers and who write books we can believe in.
So, here’s my question to you. Why do you write (or read the authors you do) and what should our next step as authors/readers be?