Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Writer's Prerogative


I’ve had a bad case of the headaches, so I was behind the scenes recuperating, but also have been actively thinking about writing, agent hunting, the industry in general and all that has to do with the craft. It comes, when I am deep in a project and after my amazing UK beta reader supplied me with wonderful and encouraging news [which mean nothing in reality apart from the fuel to get my head in the game], I am way deeper.


Publication is the Holy Grail for a writer. The Alpha and the Omega; with it a writer can start calling himself an author. When you get that first short story featured in a magazine with pro rates or get that dream contract for a novel, you know that this is the first day of your career. It can be a short lived career, but I am confident that we all start with the battle plan that we will clutch into whatever foothold we have earned and then ascend. Perhaps, it is not my place to talk about publication, as I have yet to reach that stage, but I share the need to be published and have my work out there for the world to see and acknowledge.

Bluntly put the desire to be published breeds desperation, which more often than not results in bloopers, sometimes without consequences, but with a chance for catastrophe. Right now the times are ruled by immediacy. We want shortcuts. We beat around the rules. We undershoot to secure success. We deviate from the well established procedure, which takes time and does not ensure that our work will see the light of day. And technology has progressed to aid in the quest for publication. You can self-publish. You can serialize your novel through a blog or via a podcast. In my country we have a saying, which goes a little bit like this: ‘Who wants will accomplish.’

Frankly, it’s a writer’s prerogative to choose how to approach publishing. Christopher Paolini self-published, promoted and after a lucky meeting signed a profitable contract. On the same note there is also Todd Newton, who also self-published and because of the good buzz had his debut picked and soon to be re-released. J.L. Bourne serialized his novel on a website, started a forum and after his ‘Day by Day Armageddon’ picked an underground momentum did he sign a contract. Cory Doctrow is another prime example of successful novel serialization, but it actually occurred after his debut. J.C. Hutchins [if memory serves] garnered thousands of an audience with his ‘7th Son’ as free audio, which led to a contract. You may recognize some of these names. Some are well known. Some are not, but these all testify that you can start at an obscure destination and then work forward.

[BIAS] However, these are exceptions to the rule and it’s the exceptions that people pay most attention too, and it’s the exceptions that most aspiring writers count on. Because, we are all snowflakes. This is an argument I had with a friend, who has no understanding of how things are. She is a case of ‘I-have-heard-I-think-I-am-well-informed-so-I-know’. According to her I had to do everything in my power to get published. No matter what. Without caring whether it is read or not. Liked or not. It is art. If it doesn’t make it, then it is simply misunderstood and I have nothing to lose. She would not accept that I did not find these methods as best strategies. According to her I was picky, when I was not in a position to be picky.

In theory, yeah, sure I can everything that is not listed as the common practice. Possibly I win some, possibly I lose some. Chance is unpredictable. But to me the right way to get published for me is finish a book, revise a book, find me an agent, then find me an editor and then start me a career. I am not trying to sell propaganda or preach about the One Holy Truth. How one gets published is a writer’s prerogative.

Nevertheless, I am going to say why the traditional, well-trodden combo of steps is the right way for me and how speeding things in order to achieve momentary self-satisfaction will [or maybe not, who am I to say] cause you more headaches and possibly weed out chances to get in the business as an author.

Publishing is dual, therefore treacherous. First, we publish to celebrate the artistry and skill of the human mind to fabricate wondrous tales. Yet, we do it to make money. And as such we do our best to pick the right book, the right audience and the right moment, when the mood is [yup] right to celebrate the art. It’s a business and most writers are not business bloodhounds, so that is why we have agents and editors. Through our interactions with these people, writers can learn to approach the manuscript from the needed distance to administer the modifications required to become published and stay published. I am looking forward to a career. The way I see it with me, this is going to happen with navigation by professionals, who got the business aspects covered.

Pushing it is bound to give reasons for regrets later on rather than the other way around. Here is some wisdom from the ever professional and helpful Editorial Ass:

This is hard news to swallow, so I'm going to type it in boldface. It's better not to be published at all than to get published in an inferior way. Doors begin to close if you try to take shortcuts. Instead, take your time to do things right. Accept no compromises.

and Nicola Morgan:

Successful publishing is not just about this one book: it's about you as a writer, and you will carry your first book with you for the rest of your writing life. Yes, if you go on to be stunningly successful, you may not mind too much, but a poor first book nowadays can make it difficult to go forward, partly because poor sales figures can no longer be hidden.

I agree with their opinions. Having a bad track record is worse than having none at all, because publishing takes time, efforts and resources without a promise for the publisher that there will be a return of investment. The logic here is that if your work is only good enough for short lived unknown magazines and small publishers, who can’t even hire a decent cover artist, then maybe your work is not publishing material at all and in general, so nobody will bother with you. While agents, editors and publishers will give you the benefit of the doubt as a nobody, because who knows.

Does this mean I discredit people, who have chosen otherwise? No. Because, how one gets published is a writer’s prerogative and I feel ecstatic, when I hear about a story with a happy ending after a writer has self-published, podcasted or serialized. More power to these people. In the end it all boils down to personal convictions, estimations of their own strengths and, I believe most important, thinking long-term rather than short-term.