Monday, May 16, 2011

Guest post: On Settling In For The Long Haul

The always intelligent and amazingly lucid Lt. Cccyxxx and I see eye to eye on a lot of things--righteous indignation, for one. But one thing we agree completely on is persistence in our writing. The Lt. has produced a beautiful post on the subject for you.

I am pleased to welcome him as a Maternity Leave Guest Blogger (MLGB). Check out his blog, Skullcrusher Mountain, for more of the Lt.'s wisdom.

On Settling In For The Long Haul

by Lt. Cccyxxx

I was flattered when Sierra asked me to write a guest post, but then began to wonder what to write about. It is too easy for unqualified people like me to offer authoritative-sounding advice on writing and publishing on the internet. But, as it turns out, I am an expert in one thing: not giving up. So that is the subject of this post. Even though some of what I say is couched as directive, it’s just what has worked for me.

If you haven’t been following Lt. Cccyxx (and chances are you haven’t), here’s my story: I completed a novel (literary fiction) a little over two years ago, and have been querying for a year and a half (about 80 cold queries sent). I’ve revised novel and query extensively, incorporated feedback from beta readers, entered the Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest (twice), and pitched in person at two conferences.

I’ve had partial and full requests, but no bites, and I’ve reconciled myself to being in it for the long haul. Here is some of what I have done to make sticking with it easy(ier):

Seek community. How did you find your way here to Sierra’s blog? For me, it was the absolutewrite forums, which I began visiting while preparing to query. There I met my buddy Travener, and through him I met Sierra, KLM, and a small cadre of other fine folks. I don’t need 17,000 followers who never comment – I need people I can interact with, from sharing manuscripts and critiquing queries to plain old moral support.

I’ve sought community offline, too. I work in a profession far removed from writing, and D.C. isn’t exactly known as an artistic town. But the place is crawling with freelance writers and editors, and when I got involved in a local writer’s group I began meeting people and making connections.

Worry about the right things. I never read posts or articles about e-readers, contracts, royalties, or a whole host of other publishing-related subjects. One day, Flying-Spaghetti-Monster-willing, these may be my problem. But now? I don’t make a dime from my writing, and with limited time I worry about things of immediate relevance to me, like improving my craft, writing a better query, and finding the right agent. I don’t even worry about marketing myself (my blog is ample testament to that); there will be time, I figure, after I get a deal.

Two corollaries: first, I take rejections seriously, but I don’t extrapolate. For example, if I query 20 agents and every one comes back a rejection or non-response, my query probably needs work, but I’ve learned nothing about my manuscript because no one has read it.

Second, I try not to compare myself to others in terms of how fast I get requests, an agent, a deal, whatever. Easier said than done, of course, but others’ progress has nothing to do with me or my book.

Write another book. This does not mean giving up on the first book…or even slowing down querying! But I didn’t write my book, and am not trying to publish it, so I can check a box and move on to other endeavors. (If that was the plan, I’d hope someone would give me a good whack on the head with a cost-benefit analysis textbook.)

This goes for you, too: you’re a writer, and you’re going to write another book anyway, so why not start now? It’ll give you something else to focus on, and hey: isn’t writing the fun part? I’m still querying my first, revising a second, and cannot wait to start a third.

Read. Writing and reading are complements. Read widely (not just “YA urban dystopian paranormal steampunk romance,” not that there’s anything wrong with that), read voraciously, read critically. Knowledge of books and authors pays off when you talk to people in publishing. And the more a consumer of books you are, the better you’ll be able to reach the people you most care about: readers.

Accept that this is a learning process. No one pops out of the womb understanding how to query or why every agent defines “synopsis” differently. If Janet Reid’s exhortation to “tell me what the book is about” was as simple as it sounds, there’d be nothing left of the Query Shark but some cartilage, scattered teeth, and a couple of confused remoras.

This is true on the craft side, too. Even if I got the $1,000,000+ advance that all of us (save Sarah Palin and perhaps Snooki) only dream of, I’d still work to improve my writing. Heck, I’ll probably keep learning until I stop writing or die (and hopefully those will happen at the same time). This is one of the things that make a creative endeavor like writing worthwhile.

Finally, take advantage of your freedom. Remember how I said I haven’t made a dime off my writing? The downside is obvious, but there’s an upside: no deadlines, no constraints. My second novel is in a completely different genre than my first. My third will be something else entirely. I’m not stove-piped, stereotyped, or required to do anything – I can go wherever my interests and passions lie, and put in time as I see fit. The problem with day jobs, even when we enjoy them, is that they are full of obligations and expectations. If your dream comes true and writing becomes your day job, you may miss the freedom you have now.

I leave you with words of wisdom from none other than our former President, George Bush Sr. (at least the Dana Carvey version), who said it best: “Stay the course. A thousand points of light. Stay the course.

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