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Posts Tagged ‘publishing’

love machineThere is a famous incident about Jacqueline Susann. She was on an episode of The David Frost Show, which aired on July 16, 1969, promoting her novel The Love Machine. After a discussion of Susann’s appeal and business tactics, a critic, John Simon, spoke up. He demanded to know whether Susann was trying to write art or trash. Jackie did the best she could to counteract his apparently hostile challenge and the exchange became heated and snarling. What I wished then, and now, is that someone had brought up the obvious point. Those are not the only two choices and I refuse to be trapped into thinking they are. I refuse to accept what is a false dichotomy. John Simon, it seemed to me, was just trying to create a stir. Whether he intended to hurt Ms. Susann, I have no idea. But I would have wanted to ask him, “Okay, in which category do you place Kipling? Douglas Adams? Maeve Binchy? But mostly, why is there a need for categories at all?” compareVery few of us writers will end up in the same class as either, say, Toni Morrison on the one hand or [fill in the name of some trashy writer here] on the other. There’s a ton of great writing out there in between the extremes that will never win the Pulitzer or the Nobel but is still worthy and entertaining. My last post counseled all of us writers not to compare our output with others. Likewise we need to avoid denigrating the quality of our own work by wishfully comparing ourselves to Jane Austen or Philip Roth. I had a writer acquaintance a few years ago who had a very successful career writing romance novels. Yet she fell short of her own ambitions. “The novel I wish I could write is ord pepe 3Ordinary People [by Judith Guest].” Meanwhile, most of her friends would have killed to have had her level of success. Sure, we all want to be the best writers we can be. But writing quality, like quantity, is all on a continuum and we each have our place on it.

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compare1Occasionally my electric company sends me a charming, colorful letter informing me that I am using far, far more electricity than most of my neighbors who live in dwellings of a similar square footage to mine. The flyer includes “tips” on how I can use less. I can only surmise this is the same tactic employed by traffic control officers when they put those “your speed” signs along surface streets. Studies have shown that those signs do indeed cut down on speeding. But if this electric company letter is meant to shame me or increase my self-monitoring of electric use, and thereby help me cut back, it’s not working. We’re all for saving energy, but we’re already doing all we can, including the measures suggested by the flyer. But, consider this: I know my neighbors. Many of them are single. We, on the other hand, are a two person household. All of them work at jobs outside the home, so they’re gone all day during the week. A couple of them travel extensively, sometimes being away for a month at a time. Of course they are using less electricity at home than we are. If any of them retires, or adds a partner or other person to the household, their home usage will likely increase. Suddenly it will appear as though I have “improved,” relative to others, when in fact I haven’t changed a thing. Comparisons, with little or no context, mean nothing.

This is a long way of saying, when you are a writer, don’t compare yourself to anyone. I see messages frequently on the forums that I belong to about other people’s output. This one writes four books a year, or that one has published 80 stories in her career. My production seems piddling by comparison. But I don’t know the details of those writers’ lives, what circumstances they have, where or what they’ve published, or under what conditions.

On the other hand, I don’t want to compare myself to my other writer friends who are still struggling to publish their first piece, and maybe have been for years.

It’s like the old gravestone verse:

gravestone“Remember me as you pass by, As you are now so once was I, As I am now so you will be, Prepare for death and follow me.”

We’re all on the same path, just at different points along the way. You (and I) are ahead of some and behind others. Accept that. Then take the next step, whatever that may be for you. I’ll have further thoughts on this in my next post.

 

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turnaround2I got another story back a few days ago. No surprise. I had sent it to a top market where there’s a ton of competition from big name authors. Nevertheless it’s always worth a try. (Well, almost always.) Within days of the rejection, I had that story out to another publication. This is one case where I know the advice from successful writers is spot on, and I act on it as conscientiously as I can. Know the markets, keep your best work circulating and keep good records of where stories have been. It’s about increasing your chances of acceptance. It’s about keeping hope alive.

 

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impatienceThe writing life has changed radically since the onset of electronic submissions. Mostly this is a good thing. No more trudging to the post office, weighing large envelopes so you don’t attach too much or too little postage, having to re-type manuscripts that come back damaged, or keeping a supply of various sized envelopes, for queries, manuscripts, and  SASE’s. Sure, there are a few markets that still accept submissions by mail, and even a few that still insist on them. But these are rare. Another big advantage of online submissions, is that in most cases, you get an instant acknowledgement of receipt. No more wondering if the package has gotten lost in the mail.  One thing, however, has not changed one whit: the waiting for a response, either an acceptance or a rejection, whether by mail or online. Some markets give a rough estimate of their response times. Others don’t. My biggest fault is impatience, and I start checking my virtual inbox within minutes after I click “send.” My impatience is out of control with other writing- related activities as well. Last week, I applied to join another online forum with restricted membership. Even with something that wouldn’t really affect my success as a writer, I checked my email obsessively until I got my acceptance one week later. I know I’m not the only one who suffers unnecessarily with raging impatience. For help, read Michael Bracken’s take on the whole impatience thing. Unless and until you can train yourself in serenity and detachment, his cure is the still the best one going.

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gratitude (2)I got a story turned down a few days ago. Instead of feeling the normal sting of rejection, I felt a profound relief. Truth is, it wasn’t a story I was proud of. I was, and am, very proud of the writing, of the setting and the characters. But there was always something about the story itself that never quite jelled. There were no comments attached to the rejection email, but who cares? I didn’t need them. I know in my heart that the story had a major weakness, which I could never quite pinpoint, but which was nevertheless unsettling. If I had been honest with myself from the get-go, I never would have tried to market the story. I’m grateful for all the fine editors out there who, intentionally or not, end up protecting me from myself.

 

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Hemingway2I’m reading Everybody Behaves Badly: The True Story Behind Hemingway’s Masterpiece The Sun Also Rises, by Lesley M.M. Blume (which I recommend).

The author recounts that in early 1920’s Paris, Hemingway became the deputy editor for a literary journal called transatlantic review, started by Ford Madox Ford. It didn’t go well. In addition to editorial differences, Hemingway “had begun to suspect that Ford was praising his own work under pseudonyms in the transatlantic (he was correct).”

Apparently sockpuppets have been around since well before the Internet. Plus ça change and all that.

 

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 Deadlines. They seem so far away when I first pencil them into my plans and schedules. But time speeds by, other unavoidable tasks crop up, or I underestimate the difficulty of the project. I try, try to train myself to start early, to get a jump on things, or to create a fake, earlier deadline in order to get moving. But my untrickable subconscious knows very well that it’s a fake deadline and blows it off. Yet, I keep trying. After all, I’ve managed to do it with other appointments. I leave plenty early for the dentist, for movies and lunch dates. And while I used to respond well to deadlines, now they render me immobile with stress.

More importantly, I’ve learned that trying to do things at the last minute is a dangerous practice. If I wait till the day of the deadline for a contest, anthology or other call for submissions to send off my entry, I know I’ll be plagued by some catastrophe or roadblock.

For instance: As I make the last tweaks to the manuscript, Word will hiccup and screw up the formatting for the entire text. I won’t know what happened, so I’ll tear my hair out for hours trying to reverse it. “Undo” will be strangely ineffective. The online support and forums will be mystified or useless. Worst of all, I will have once more broken my “rule” about saving a slightly earlier draft, so I have nothing to go back to.

If that doesn’t happen, my cat will need emergency surgery, my internet will go down or the fire department will knock on the door with a mandatory evacuation order due to a gas leak. The local library or cyber café will be under the same order and besides, I haven’t saved the work in a portable or cloud form.

Okay, so sometimes it works out. I wait till the last minute and succeed. But that just allows me to think it’s a practice that’s safe to continue. Also, it will never be perfect. Even if I get better at working ahead, life will occasionally throw an unexpected punch. Still, starting writing projects early is habit I want to add to my skill set. Now if I could just convince my subconscious to cooperate.   

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