Monday has been cancelled until further notice due to a complete lack of interest on the part of all participants. Tuesday is not looking so good either. And last we heard Wednesday only had ‘half way to Friday’ going for it.
One of the things about being self-employed (as a writer) is that every day is Monday (and you thought Sarah was a sadist). Fortunately it is a field which is well supplied with masochists – or at the very least, hopeless optimists. As you might gather I agree with Sarah’s description of the field – especially trad publishing. Well, with one caveat. I think she’s too generous to it.
Look, Traditional publishing has been in a situation it was their way or the highway (and you’ll never work in this town again, not for ANYONE) for longer than most of the people employed in it have been alive. If you don’t believe that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, well, you’re in for some rude shocks. I’m one of the optimistic ones who believes that now that their power is no longer absolute, we may start to see some return just to normal business practices instead of instead of the absolute one-sided situation that came out such power asymmetry. Frankly that would – medium term, be as good for publishers as it would for writers and readers. Of course, as the short term beneficiaries of being super-powerful it’s very unlikely that any traditional publishing employees see it this way!
This doesn’t mean that I don’t think some people employed in publishing are nice people, but that’s just like some people in a tribe of cannibals are nice people. The nice cannibals are still cannibals and still going to eat people, and publishing contracts and business practice still are a harsh one-sided environment for an author. There’s a lot of Stockholm syndrome in this, but really authors are better off with not hoping these are really their friends doing this for love of their work. They may love your work. That won’t stop you having WW3 to get your rights (even the ones they’ve never used) back, or you getting your book in stores without anyone bothering to tell you the release date (costing you 6-8 cents in every dollar your promoting it could have made – and your publisher 40-50 cents in every dollar it could have made. You’d think they’d have in-cent-ive to let you know.)
Fortunately, we have choices now. I’ve been repeatedly asked if this means ‘do you turn down trad publishing contracts? Or do you even stop looking?’ The answer, in my opinion, is unless you have a large ready-made audience, you should use publishers the way they use you. Give them as little as possible, get as much as possible, use them to build your audience and name recognition. You be friends with some of them, but they will probably not treat you any better than Joe Otherguy. It’s a business, and one that still has to adapt to the fact that it is a business like most others, without the asymmetry. And don’t get tied down for life.
Now: to return to Mondays (and I wish it were Sunday…) What I was trying to say here is… believe it or not, writing books is work too. It may be the best job you could ever find. But it is still work (despite the fact that people have the happy delusion that books write themselves, and all you do is collect large checks and revel in the fame.) For some of us it is easier than others. It goes fast and easily. Sometimes even well, too. For others (and I’m one of those) it is a long, slow hard process.
Now – speaking as the veteran of around 3 million words sold (that would be 30 books if they were all standard length – but some are goat-gaggers) sooner or later even the best of jobs hits Monday. Some whole books are like that. They don’t seem to sell any worse, be less popular, or even, dispassionately, read worse. They’re just hard to write. There are reasons for that, and as often as not, if you can unpick those, you can – sometimes – free up your muse, or at least make work feel like Friday. For me, anyway, this is often a subconscious niggle about the path of a book.
Sometimes, of course, it’s that you’ve chosen that hard path. When I wrote JOY COMETH WITH THE MOURNING I chose to write it first person, and from the point of view of a timid urban female priest – which was a very hard headspace for me, because I am none of those things. I had also chosen to write a cosy – which meant no action on scene – but it was a murder-mystery so there had to be tension. Right now I am writing a Karres book. They are by intent, light. But I’m writing about slavery (as mentioned as a feature of James H Schmitz ‘s original Karres universe.) and post-traumatic stress. Do you have any idea how hard it is to write ‘light’ on that? I’m in a world of Monday – but I am quite pleased with what I’ve done (I’m around 70K of target around 100).
But, sometimes these are intractable problems. Real life with things like depression, stress and financial issues (trust me your traditional publisher/agent can cause those, even if families and other circumstances don’t).
Here’s the thing: you still have write. In my case that has been ‘No write, live in cardboard box under bridge’ from time-to-time (particularly at first when we moved to Australia. That, and paying for the dogs and cats quarantine and transport (cost 5 times our move) and the fact the exchange rate had me getting 75 cents for every dollar… and the money was late, had us counting slices of bread – particularly while I learned how to forage off a strange land). It’s an added stress, which really doesn’t help.
But it must be done.
So: just how do you do it?
If there is an easy answer, I haven’t found it.
But doing it the hard way also works. Books get written, no matter how you struggle to write even a thousand words… and you’re aiming for a hundred thousand. It’s just that it needs a hundred days. It’s not the days when you just write a thousand words (or even 500) – it’s the days when you write nothing that’ll stop you.
I use a bunch of techniques, from bribery to a familiar routine (that one is good) to a schedule of daily word count (works exceptionally when the book is going well – speeds me up a lot. Works not all when it isn’t) to jumping ahead over hard bits (they really are easier later – because they’re often hard because you’re trying to set up for what to do later. If that’s sorted, they suddenly get easier. And the book itself gets a shape in your head – like the more bits you have in jigsaw puzzle, the easier the puzzle gets). Mood music, reading a book…
They all work – some better, some worse. None of them all the time.
You just need to keep trying.
So: what works for you?