Saturday, October 9, 2010

On writing

I heard some things at writing group this week that took a little wind out of my writing sails and spoke directly to one of my biggest questions. Our group facilitator, Carol O'Dell, said the Internet has opened up a new world to a whole host of would-be writers. Not only does a writer have to be extra good, the writing has to be clean and polished to even get noticed. Which, for me, is the same thing as saying, "Hey Merry Me, what makes you think you are any better than all those others? Why should someone publish your stories?" And once those questions start flowing, it's hard for me to stop them. What's new behavior for me is that in the face of all my doubt I've kept on writing. Dare I say believing? Published or not, it's the act of writing that brings me joy and clarity. That said, I'd be lying if I told you I don't have a secret desire to see my name in print.

"Getting published," Carol said, "is like crack for writers." I think that means, once you've tasted success you want more of it.

Carol also gave us a little rundown of what happens after you write something so great you can't wait to get it published. She knows because a) she's had several stories and a book published, b) she's been doing this for several years and c) she's researched it. Research? Egads! And I thought all I had to do was write!

After the writing comes the re-writing. When the writer can't stand to read any of her own sentences any more it's time to find, and pay, an editor. I think, but it's only a guess, that the cost of this editing depends on the length of the piece as well as the reputation/knowledge of the person doing the editing. Carol showed us what she got for her considerable amount of money ... page after page after page of suggested corrections. Corrections that have been paid for so naturally they hold a lot of weight. If I had been handed the stack of papers that Carol held in her hands like a woman cradling her tummy as if in the final stages of pregnancy, I'm sure I would have baptized them with gallons of tears, then tossed the whole lot in the trash. I know the point of the editing is to make a good story even better, but I've never been good at receiving what my father and ex-husband refer to as "corrective" criticism.

Once your piece is edited, the job of finding an agent becomes your priority. The agent's job is to sell the story to a publishing house and once that is done to go over your contract to make sure you don't sign away the rights to your children's children along with the story you've just put your heart and soul into. For this, the agent takes a cut of 15% off the top of any monies you might receive. Once a publisher is on board your story goes in two directions at the same time - to the publicist who will market the book, and to another editor who will do the nitty gritty work of turning your ream of typed and re-typed paper into an actual book or electronic manuscript as the case may be. I'm guessing this must be about the time when you, the author, starts to realize the dream is actually coming true. It's time to lose 15 pounds, shop for new clothes, get a sassy new hair style and, for someone like me who hasn't make up in years, learn to apply mascara so that when head shots are taken for the back cover you don't look like an aging raccoon.

Having a publicist sounds pretty cool. But Carol explained to us that the author is also pretty involved in marketing the finished product. Book tours that take you all over the country so you can pitch your story on radio and TV spots are not necessarily the norm. Book signings in local book stores, telling your friends to tell their friends, and offering to read a chapter of your book to the people pacing the floor in a surgical waiting room or at a crowded bus station are more likely to get your product purchased. Let's face it the odds of Oprah calling and inviting you on the show are pretty slim. But what is that saying about shoot for the moon and fall in the stars? With Oprah about to retire, she's going to have a lot more reading time on her hands, so why not aim big?

The good news in this saga is that if you manage to get through all these sticky wickets there are royalties to be had. Royalties. Just the word conjures up debt-free living or a vacation home where, surrounded by cats, or dogs, or the muse of your choice, more writing can be done. While the idea of being paid to write is like a dream come true, the truth is that royalties are usually only pennies on the dollar. Like a carousel that goes around and around to a grainy organ tune, the way to make money is to do more marketing. More marketing hopefully produces more sales, which means you may get a check which will cover the cost of your next printer cartridge.

For those of you who have stayed with me through this post, I'll wrap it all up by saying I am learning writing, like art or music or dance, is not necessarily something one does to get rich. It's more like something one has to do to feel ok deep down in creative soul. It falls in place somewhere behind breathing and eating and sleeping but before buying new shoes. You can live without writing another word, but a spark will be missing.

Thanks for listening while I gave myself a little pep talk.

Wishing for you a way to live your passion,
Merry ME

1 comment:

Molly said...

I read a comment somewhere recently - or heard it in a podcast or saw it on a blog - that the writer who was speaking said they write because they have to. To stop would be to lose themselves. Implying that published or unpublished, they would write. I know that feeling: I just take pictures working to capture what I see and keep doing it even when I get no feedback.