Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A new rule for writers: Be Resolute

After reading the fine commentary on Asbestos Underpants LLC, I was particularly struck by this comment: "One bout of bad luck here will not end your career." In this case (published by a small press, the novel broken into novellas) I can understand that. But what about a career that's farther along? I recently saw a story from a writer who hit a rough patch after her first trilogy (with Harper Teen) didn't sell as well as expected. She did manage to sell her next novel (Tor Teen) and tried to revive her career by sinking her entire $15K advance into additional marketing for the new series . It's a happy ending; it worked and her new series is having reasonable success as a NYT bestseller. This is on one hand exciting because her resourcefulness and hard work paid off! On the other hand, this is terrifying - even if I get published, I may wind up needing to reinvent my career. As the writer says: "If [new novel] didn't sell well... I’d have to reinvent/start over my career. There’s no shame in that. I was totally willing to reinvent!"

So when I read that someone as experienced as the Shark herself also seems to think it's normal to have this kind of up and down, or as you say "first of many great publishing stories", I remembered this story. As a writer on the rodent wheel of anxiety, I would really like to know:  what does reinventing yourself look like? Is this actually possible.


You will make yourself crazy if you start gnawing on "what ifs."

You can control ONE thing right now: what you write.
Write the best book you can.

Then you query.
Then you sign with a savvy agent.

And at some point down the road if you need to reinvent yourself, you and your savvy agent will put your heads together and come up with Plan B, or Plan C, or Plan Q.

You absolutely cannot start planning for this, or even thinking about this NOW.

Reinventing a career is never a template. It's an individual plan that incorporates your sales, your category, you career goals, and the state of the industry at that time (ie not now). Every client that I've had Plans B, C and D with has been in a different situation.

In other words. much of Plan B/C/Q will depend on things that haven't happened yet.  And to quote someone smarter than me "No plan survives boots on the ground."

There's only one thing to take away here: Be Resolute

Publishing is going to throw you some curve balls. Resolve to hit them out of the park. But right now, you can't swing at a ball that hasn't been thrown.


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Planning for something which hasn't happened yet is like fireworks celebrating the outcome of an election which never happened. It's like picking out the gown before he's asked or furnishing the dorm room before the fat envelope arrives.
My mother used to say, "don't worry about something until you have something to worry about."
Now, is where it's at, work on now, be determined with the now project.

Theresa said...

All I can think of is, would $15k be kind of a standard amount to pay for additional publicity? Hiring a publicist came up in another post fairly recently.

Unknown said...

One of my favorite expressions: Don't borrow trouble.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

So at least one great thing about being a procrastinator is since I frequently don't even take action on the things I know about until the pressure is on, we know I'm definitely not already planning my comeback tour.

Colin Smith said...

Reinventing oneself. That would be nice. I'm still trying to find my original writer self! Seriously. Part of the reason I'm writing short stories is to find my "niche," my "thing"--what kind of writer am I? I'm working on the theory that one reason I'm striking out with my novels and stories so far (aside from the fact that they might be steaming piles of poo) is that I'm not writing what or how I write best. I'm not necessarily thinking about genre (though that might be part of it), but style, or even voice. Though everything I've written so far is as much me as I know how to write, perhaps it's not me enough. Am I holding back? Am I being authentic to who I am? Is this even vaguely relevant to the topic? I don't know... perhaps. Or maybe I'm just blowing bubbles... (shameless plug for my blog article today). :)

Sorry, Opie. No great advice from me other than what Janet said. But thanks for the therapy session! :)

Susan said...

It's an interesting parallel that music artists are constantly needing to reinvent themselves to stay relevant in today's market--at least, to continue to broaden their fanbase. But I feel like they also experiment for themselves, which is how they grow in their work.

It's kind of the same with authors--if you keep writing the same thing, you risk getting pigeonholed and the well can easily dry up. If you keep marketing the same way, your sales funnels grow stale. In order to grow as a writer, why not try new variations? That's the risk we take for being an artist--we shouldn't be so afraid of failing that we fail to try.

Therr are so many roads in this business. If one doesn't work out, there are others to choose from. As long as you keep writing, you can figure out which one works for you.

Susan said...

Colin: When you're writing without goals and dreams of publication, when you're writing without audience in mind, what bubbles up from that place in the center of your being and spills out onto the page? What characters speak with ease, who can you hear? What do you fall in love with each time you go back to it? That's your truest art.

When I was younger, I tried everything until I figured out what I loved: mysteries and high-fantasy and even the beginnings of a sci-fi piece (for which I'm decidedly not cut out for). But then I stepped back and realized that what I love is classic literature, particularly coming-of-age books, and so that's what I write.

Whenever I tell my mom about a new book, she looks at me and says, "haven't you come of age yet?"


I think maybe you have found your voice, if your writing is any indication. Maybe it just gets drowned out by everything else. Trust it, and trust yourself. You got this.

*sets pompoms down*

Janet Reid said...

Theresa, look for a post on that topic tomorrow.

Kregger said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kregger said...

Be Resolute should be added to this blog's sidebar.

My family is true believers that worry will prevent anything from pimples to global warming.

The statement I hear fairly consistently is, "Don't tell me to stop worrying."

I think I'm related to Opie.

Hi, cuz!

Amy Schaefer said...

kathy joyce, I came here to say the same thing. Most of us have all the real trouble we can handle. There's no upside in seeking out more.

Peggy said...

Susan, what a lovely comment! I know you were aiming at Colin but it went right to my heart anyway.

My characters tend to come from highly dysfunctional families, often with evil mothers, and spend a lot of time and heartache trying to break out of them... hopefully my mother won't read into that, because she's lovely and my whole real family is, too! I did observe friends and loved ones in that situation when I was younger, though, and I think that's why that pattern shows up over and over again in my work.

So if you'll reassure my mother that the evil mothers aren't her, I'll tell yours it's okay that you're still coming of age! XD

Colin Smith said...

Susan: *BIG HUG* Thanks for that. Of course, I'll believe it when I'm published. But then you can tell me "I told you so." And I will include that as a blurb on the book cover. ;)

Janet: Ooo! Sneak preview... :) Actually, I did a quick Google search on how much publicists charge. Within seconds I was hit with a $5,000 - $10,000 range. So I quit Googling. Looking forward to tomorrow's sanity check.

Dena Pawling said...

>>But right now, you can't swing at a ball that hasn't been thrown.

But yes, you can. When my #2 disabled son was younger, he would swing the bat as soon as he stood at home plate. It took us MONTHS to teach him to wait for it. More MONTHS for him to figure out his timing. More MONTHS to develop a consistent strategy.

Today he's almost 21 and plays in a local league for disabled folks [season starts in three weeks], and he hits home runs that go over the fence and the outfielders in the next playing field throw them back to us.

Swinging at a ball that hasn't been thrown doesn't accomplish much except wasting time and energy and increasing frustration level, but it can be done. Is that how you want to use your time, energy, and frustration level? My motto is – I have enough problems. I certainly don't need or want to add to them without good reason.

Teach yourself to wait for it. Then with practice, you too can cause problems for the OTHER team, and even teams who play on separate fields entirely.

Julie Weathers said...


I'm sure you'll hit your stride soon. What do you like to read? That's always a good indication of where your heart lies. I love mysteries, but I've also always been a fan of history. I adore fantasy. I guess I'm like that yellow lab in the obedience course. Hither, thither, and yon.

People liked Far Rider, but the bits I'm putting up on Books and Writers of Rain Crow they say are a different level. Maybe I've found where my heart lies in the historical.

For all my doubts at times, it does feel right.

I notice you're a big fan of Gary Corby, perhaps historical mysteries?

To the OP, you can plan for some contingencies. In the winter, I carry emergency supplies in my car. That comes from getting trapped in a blizzard for three days on a country road once. You learn. Do I plan for mountain climbing and avalanches and mudslides? No. It might happen, but wasting my energy worrying about every possible thing that could happen only saps my creative energy.

I like Gen. Mattis, who doesn't much care for the nick name Mad Dog the press tagged him with. He's a philosopher and a reader. He abounds in positive attitude. One of the books he reads in the meditations of Marcus Aurelius the philosopher emperor, he also studies some Chinese philosophers. Anyway, one of his quotes is:

"I don’t lose any sleep at night over the potential for failure. I cannot even spell the word."

Another is, and maybe the most important: "The most important six inches on the battlefield is between your ears."

We simply have to stay focused on the important things.

And please, I'm not getting into a political debate. Good attitude and positive words are a plus to me. Period.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Lord, like Kathy said, don't buy trouble. Geez, I have enough to contend with just trying to get that first barrier shattered. Write book. Revise book over and over. Get agent. Book deal then??? We shall see.

All my life is in boxes now. My daughter leaves for New York on March 10th for a room the size of my current bedroom closet. Turns out 24 years fits neatly into 3 boxes and a vintage desk.

With my daughter's departure to chase her own dreams, I have decided to downsize all the way. Selling everything I own but my writing stuff and my precious library and one guitar. Oh, and the dog beds. The pug goes where I go. I will be renting a small apartment so I can be quickly mobile. Always wanted to move back to UK again for a year or so and thinking I might do that.

So sick of stuff. A major chapter of my life is over. A new one is beginning so, in a way, I am reinventing myself in every way, pre-publishing. Not going to worry about what comes next. Just going to write and write more. Quest for an agent. And see where the stars take me. Good luck OP in your journeys.

Amy Schaefer said...

E.M. Goldsmith, I'm doing the opposite right now. We're looking at buying a house after six years living on a boat. My eleven precious boxes of worldly possessions are set to arrive from Malaysia at any moment. Of course, when we actually find a place, we'll have nothing to put in it but books. That's normal, right? "Sleep on the floor kids. But hey, here is something to read!"

At least I have learned how to be ruthless with clutter. The boat gave me an "everything must go!" attitude. (Although I have to admit to a soft, gooey centre - it is very hard for me to throw out old artwork and notes from my girls. I justify it under the label: "future office decorations".)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Amy I will definitely keep the sentimental things- pictures, cards, the yearly Christmas decorations so carefully chosen to reflect the past year for every year of my daughter's life, notes from QOTKU herself- you know, the important stuff.

I made a home to raise my kid so she would have a "stable" place to grow and grow she did. I never cared for security much, but I owed solid ground to my baby so she could find her wings. My daughter inherited my restless spirit. Now that she's taken flight, it is time for me to return to my gypsy nature.

Hey, I have loads of furniture to sell and give away. How far is Malaysia from Georgia? Ah well. Enjoy your new home wherever it may be.

Unknown said...

Colin, I don't know your writing history, so forgive if this is redundant, but have you tried your hand at writing non-fiction?

BJ Muntain said...

Be prepared, but don't overprepare.

A long time ago and very far away, a king went off to battle another king, and was killed. His son, a young prince, was now the king. And he was scared.

"Father went to battle and died," he thought. "I won't go to battle. I'm going to stay here in the castle, and make sure my castle is absolutely impenetrable." So he started strengthening the castle, making walls wider, adding battlements and ramparts and all those other cool-sounding and strong things. He installed a portcullis, just in case the enemy came from the front. He even added a moat - deep and terrible, filled with all manner of nasty things, just in case someone decided to try to tunnel under his massive walls. Then he started worrying that a 'friend' might do him in, so he locked himself in the keep, away from everyone else.

Then it started to rain. And it rained. And the moat rose and grew until it flooded all the castle grounds, leaving him trapped in his keep. The other people in the castle all ran from the rising waters, leaving him alone. And he lost his kingdom because he couldn't leave his keep. In all his preparations, he'd never learned to swim.

As Janet says, publishing is going to throw you some curve balls.

You can't prepare for every eventuality, though. The only place you can prepare for this is INSIDE you. Understand that something may not go well. Watch what is going on around you. Learn the business, follow the news, stretch your talents - and be flexible. Flexibility will get you through the hard times as you adapt to the shifting circumstances.

Think how much safer the young king would have been if he'd only made friends with his father's enemies.

Colin Smith said...

Julie: Yes, I do enjoy Mr. Corby very much. And I enjoy mysteries, and history, and suspense, and as-much-as-I-hate-to-admit-it Stephen King, and Jeff Somers, and Patrick Lee, and Terry Pratchett, and Douglas Adams and... and... basically stuff that's intelligent, well-written, original, and characters I can care about. So, yeah, genre-wise I'm all over the map. :) Which is why "write what you like to read" has always been confusing advice for me. Which leads me back to finding my voice. My style. I think that's more important right now than finding my genre. Maybe I'm wrong about that. Please unload on me if you think I'm chasing bubbles. :)

MG: I wrote a lot of non-fiction for my M.Div. :) In fact one of the things I keep going back to for inspiration is a quote from my mentor who called my language skills "exceptional" and recommended I go into writing after I finished my course. I enjoy writing. Non-fiction is a bit more work because you have to do research (and I tend to dig deep), but if I'm into the subject, that's okay. Probably the biggest thing that's prevented me from going that route has been the whole issue of platform. That, and I can't imagine why anyone would want to read me pontificating on anything. But that's where I am with non-fiction.

Thanks for your interest and encouragement, guys. :)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Colin You have a fabulous and clever voice. You are already an amazing writer. Prolific too by your blog content. Like others have said so many times, forget about the market, the shark infested waters, and write what drives you. If you are passionate about your story, whatever it may be, so will others.

Stop fretting and in the words of the magnificent Paul McCartney just let it be.

BJ Muntain said...

EM: Big changes happening now! I know that means more stress, but it sounds like you're looking forward to the change. Those are the best changes to live through! Wishing you the absolute best of luck!

Kregger: My mother was like that, too.

Dena: I love your stories about your son's triumphs. He's such an inspiration!

BJ Muntain said...

I should have said, my mother IS like that, but she was worse when we were growing up.

Craig F said...

Writing as a sporting event. Makes sense. When you get to the bottom of a sporting event you get to technique and control.

When you walk up to the plate, take a few practice swings and set you feet you are ready for the pitch. It could be any one of six or seven pitches but you are as ready as you can be. You have practiced you technique enough to have control.

Writing is like that. Work at it and build your craft. Don't put you hopes in one particular thing. When you are ready to query you should have built your technique and control enough to be ready.

I am getting close to that point.

Joseph S. said...

Kregger, I get nervous when I’m not worrying about something.

Colin, if all else fails, write a book on “How to be a Successful Writer.”

Excellent, excellent advice, Dena P.

Colin Smith said...

Joseph: Ha! Yes. The old adage: "Those that can, do; those that can't, teach." ;)

Elise: Awww... you are too kind. I probably am overthinking this.

Your mention of that classic McCartney/Beatles song, however, set my wheels turning...

(Here's the original for those of you who don't know the song)

When I find myself in query trenches
Losing all my sanity
Speak some words of wisdom,
Janet Reid

And in my wheel of darkness
When I'm spinning possibilities
Speak some words of wisdom
Janet Reid

Janet Reid, Janet Reid
Janet Reid, Janet Reid
Whisper words of wisdom,
Janet Reid

And when the NORMAN-hearted agents
Bother to respond to me
They have heard the answer
Janet Reid

For though they may be silent
There is still a chance that they will see
They will hear the answer from
Janet Reid

Janet Reid, Janet Reid
Janet Reid, Janet Reid
Whisper words of wisdom,
Janet Reid

And when my mind is cloudy
There is Query Shark to shine on me
Shine until tomorrow
Janet Reid

I wake up to a writing contest
But the words won't come to me
Curse her Sharky entrails!
Janet Reid

Janet Reid, Janet Reid
Janet Reid, Janet Reid
Curse her Sharky entrails!
Janet Reid
Janet Reid, Janet Reid
Janet Reid, Janet Reid
Speaking words of wisdom,
Janet Reid

I'll get my coat... :)

Claire Bobrow said...

I hate worrying in advance, which I've been known to do from time to time. I enjoy life most when my "best practices self" allows me to get out of my own way and just go forward. Also, like Jennifer R. Donohue, I'm a procrastinator. Works like a charm. When the deadline approaches, there's no time to second-guess or worry - it's full steam ahead, crossing bridges and hitting curveballs as they appear.

OP - maybe we need a virtual watering hole named The Reinvention. If you find yourself there, I'll buy you a drink. Maybe a Plan Q? You decide :-)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Colin You just made my point. Clever and hilarious. Although, I will never play or hear Let It Be the same ;/

Kate Higgins said...

Colin: don't ever stop with the songs...they make my day.

However, I'm sure to laugh every time I hear, "Let It Be" again.

Colin Smith said...

Elise/Kate: Thanks... though I don't know that Janet appreciates me taking up all that comment space. I just want to hear a roomful of people at a conference singing, "Curse her Sharky entrails! Janet Reid." ;)

Joseph S. said...

Yay Colin!!!!!!!

Casey Karp said...

"Resolve to hit them out of the park."

Yes. But.

Don't be afraid to let the ones that aren't over the plate go by without swinging. That means don't grab the first offer that comes your way. Do your research, read and understand the contract, and if it isn't the pitch you can hit out of the park--or at least sneak down the line for a single--pass on it.

The analogy breaks down a bit, but still... This is your passion we're talking about. For a lot of us, it's the core of our identity. Swinging at a pitch you can't hit (or worse yet, that you can only popup to that disguised vanity press playing first base) isn't going to do you any good.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

I'm late to the party... Our vet was here for a good part of the day doing wellness checks on several of the sanctuary's elderly horses. A long list of poking and prodding various body parts and examining orifices, we also had a fascinating session with the microscope checking manure samples for parasites. I'm happy to report the Proud Spirit herd is impressively clean.

I read the comments above during a break. While I don't have anything to add to the original post, I would like to say that I'm pretty sure I love all of you. What a terrific community! Cocktails on the veranda - which has a stunning and peaceful view of the pastures - and you're all invited.

Colin, you are brilliant and hilarious.

Back to the barn for me. Until tomorrow, cheers.

Theresa said...

Colin, you're giving Weird Al a run for his money as you immortalize Janet with a Beatles song! This is spectacular.

John Davis Frain said...

Bravo, Colin, bravo. I'm holding up the flashlight on my phone for an encore. Of course, this is a matinee performance, so you probably can't see the light emanating from my device. Still, that was fun!

I find it much easier to find my vice than my voice. But hopefully that's just me, and the rest of y'all have it figured out.

Brigid said...

I have a book recommendation for y'all. Driftless by David Rhodes. His first novel in 30 years, since a motorcycle accident left him paralyzed and cost him his marriage. Did he reinvent himself? Maybe. But it's a sequel. And it's one of the best-crafted books I've ever read.

John Manuscript Frain: "I find it much easier to find my vice than my voice." Show-off. Just haaad to do both there, didn't you? It's a nice turn of phrase.

I have not found gestating a baby to be terribly compatible with gestating a novel, but it's certainly a good time for observation. All part of my process, apparently. I'm learning to trust myself, and simultaneously to work harder.

LD Masterson said...

Isn't it odd that some many of us accept the wisdom of "don't count your chicken", that is don't count on something good happening until it does, yet we take the opposite view and try to see it as sensible planning, just in case?

AJ Blythe said...

My week has had the emotional spectrum of an episode of *insert reality tv show of choice here*... then I read this post and comments. Try reading from go to wo in one sitting. Inspirational, supportive, funny. Just the shot in the arm I needed.

Kregger, I must be from your long lost Australian branch of the family ;-)

Colin, so glad I'd swallowed my mouthful of tea before I read your song. I think you've hit on the Reider anthem! Brilliant.
I want to echo Susan here because it is exactly what happened to me... read widely, so wrote widely until one day I wrote a cozy and found my home. It will happen to you!

Dena, loved your story, and what a perfect analogy. It's probably too long to use, but I want to nominate this for subheader:

Swinging at a ball that hasn't been thrown doesn't accomplish much except wasting time and energy and increasing frustration level.

Love our Reider community. You guyz rock =)