‘Stop wondering and start acting, stake your claim. They say there’s no place for you here, so you better make one.’
– Jason Butler.
As a writer you get asked some truly bizarre questions. People expect that your interest in literature means that you’ll know who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2003 off the top of your head. Or that you’ll know the title and word count of Bryce Courtenay’s fifth published novel. Or sometimes they’ll ask what inspires you, or to name your favourite author. Or they’ll ask dreaded what’s your book about question; where they expect you to summarise an entire manuscript in one sentence.
There’s a myriad of inquisitive questions that the general public throw at you in an effort to better understand you and your process. Even though sometimes you’ll look the fool when you state you’ve got no idea what novel Courtenay published fifth, or that you can’t realistically summarise your own work in one sentence (they’re not after a pitch, but rather an entire synopsis crammed into one compact, easily digestible sentence), you really enjoy the fact that you’ve plucked someone’s interest enough to ask. Those questions mean that you’re on your way to achieving your dreams. You’ve captivated someone’s attention.
But there is one question that leaves you feeling frustrated. One question that you get asked time and time again by people who are genuinely interested in your story, but who fail to understand the complexity of what you are trying to achieve:
When is your book going to be published?
That one question can come in many forms, but essentially what it does is hit you like a sledgehammer and cause you to feel like a failure or someone who hasn’t quite made it. The worst part is the person asking isn’t trying to make you feel this way. They are genuinely curious as to when you’ll be published. They like what you’ve told them, or what they’ve read from you before, and they want to be one of the first people to get their hands on your work. What they don’t realise is that you’re busting your arse to try and make that happen, it just isn’t as easy as they think.
See, these people, these adoring fans of your work, see the literary industry like they would any other. They view the transition of an aspiring writer to published author as linear. To them the process goes:
You decide to write a book. You write a book. You publish your book, and spend the rest of your life swimming in piles of money like Scrooge McDuck.
If only it was that simple. I’d forego the piles of money and live like a damn beggar if it meant that my work was published so easily.
The truth is that the transition from aspiring writer to published author looks a little more like a spider’s web. You write your script, send it to an editor; it bounces between the two of you for some time as you refine the work. From there you start seeking agents, you customise and individualise query letters for each agent and send them off. Then you play a waiting game, you wait for your talent and a little bit of luck to pay off. You sit on your hands for a few months, penning your way through a few other pieces, hoping someone accepts your work. Most agents don’t respond, a few write generic rejection letters, and maybe one decides to further review your work.
When an agent says no you start all over again, thus your spider’s web begins to take life. If they say yes you most likely edit again before your agent begins to market you to publishers, leaving you waiting yet again for that talent and luck to come through.
There’s no linear progression on your journey, you’ve got to thrash out your own path. For me that means working a full time job, studying (something I often neglect), and finding the time to write this blog, pen manuscripts, and hassle agents. It’s a delicate balancing act, and one that I’ve been trying to perfect for years.
When is your book going to be published?
I haven’t the faintest idea. But when it is finally put into print I’ll know that all the hard work and hustling was worth it.
In my previous post Ready, Set, Misfire I stated that my goal in 2015 was to see my work put into print. It’s an insanely ambitious and somewhat ambiguous goal that in some respects is outside of my control. I can’t hold a gun to the head of an agent or publisher and force them to accept my work, but I can work myself into the ground in an effort to make sure anyone who can make my dreams a reality has a copy of my manuscript on their desk. I can continue to write on this blog and haggle others for opportunities to write for theirs, and I can learn how to market myself more successfully. Fortune favours the bold (excuse the cliché), so there’s no point sitting around waiting for someone to waltz up to me and offer me a publishing deal. I’ve got to chase down my dreams and make them happen.
Luck will always play a huge part in determining whether or not an agent or publisher accepts my work. But as I continue to hustle more agencies, and convince publishers to view my work, the less I am relying on lady luck and more on talent. 2015 is all about making a place for myself in this industry. It’s about hustling, destroying the map and redefining what it means to be a writer.
18 thoughts on “Hustling Lady Luck”
I wish you luck in 2015. I remember setting that same goal something like 5 years ago. I’ve since put more effort into self-publishing research and joining small writing projects that got my name into print, even if it wasn’t on the cover of a novel. May both of our spiderwebs get us places we want to be this year.
My new friend you have the right idea.. keep on trucking, until you reach your final destination… Best of luck with your novel in the future… Take care and happy blogging to ya… (in the meantime)
Good luck on your writing and publishing journey. Thank you for stopping by my blog. I appreciate it.
You can guest write on my blog, if you want. I only have 7,000 hits so far, but the topic is electric. A love affair that went sour. An old wound reopened. An insurmountable grief being overcome. Hope in bright futures. It’s your pick!
I hear you loud and clear. Unfortunately. Having resisted it for years, I finally did an about-face and published online for reasons that have become increasingly valid over the years. It’s worth looking into. My big downfall is that I have no talent for/interest in marketing, and if you do publish online, you have to market like mad. But these days, most print publishers expect you to do your own marketing as well, so from that point of view, you’re no worse off.
Good luck with it – and you’re right: it’s all about being the right person in the right place at the right time, in the end. You only have to look at some of the tripe that makes it into print to know that!
Sometimes the annoying question comes with a mocking tone. I have always wondered what if a publisher or anyone lurking in the spider web rejects your draft but steals your plot and publishes as their own idea?
I’ve had to get used to these questions. I don’t get them from people in the industry who know better. But unfortunately most people I know are not. So I’ve come up with short, marketing answers (to “what’s the book about”), and a short intro to the publishing process for the second question. I used to never tell anyone I was writing a book. Now I’m self publishing and I HAVE to. So I put aside my shy pride and stumble through. 🙂 Glad to know I’m not the only one. 🙂
You write very well, racy, easy to read and empathize with… all the makings of a great writer. I wish you luck in 2015 and hope that all your dreams that are good for you, come true.
Your post really spoke to me as I have two books with my agent at the moment and no forward motion on either of them as yet. I don’t blame anyone, but sometimes it’s a question that haunts me a little bit. All I can do is write and keep improving as a writer because it can take a while to get to the place where your work is out there, but it happens for people and I don’t see why my(or your) work shouldn’t occupy a space on a bookshelf.
I do this for the love of it, to make art is an honour and I consider myself an artist.
Well said! In many ways, the writing of the book is the quickest and easiest part of the whole publication process. And that’s saying something!
Coming from some it’s akin to, “How ya doin'”, they don’t expect you to review your recent medical and social ills or triumphs. Anything beyond, “OK, and you?” is probably unwelcome.
After I tell them, “It’s a contemporary detective novel,” I watch their eyes. The glazing over tells me that’s it, you’re done. But if they give me the “Oh, really?” face they might get the one sentence synopsis.
Readers get some of it. They know what they like and can tell one authors style from another. I have had some decent conversations with them and they may actually read one of my books someday. The “I don’t really have time to read, I wish I did” crowd is too busy watching Kim’s boobs on E.
Thanks for the post – I know exactly where you’re at! Now contemplating the self-publishing road, which is daunting, I fear, but maybe the only one open… I hope your 2015 goals come to fruition.
“When it comes down to it, you’ve gotta hustle. And you never stop hustling.” – My therapist.
Thank you for writing such a thoughtful post that debunks so many misconceptions about the writing and publishing process. I can’t say I relate to the feeling of self-defeat when asked if I work has been published yet. While I would like to have a novel under my belt, I’m just getting back to writing genuinely and for my enjoyment.
I can’t say I was asked these questions that resemble some intense oral exam with humiliating social consequences if you trip up. I wasn’t an English major in college, but was often asked why I didn’t major in English. All I could say was I like current events. So as an international relations major, I was often asked my opinion on current events. But nothing too specific.
Thank you for stopping by my blog. I am looking forward to learning from you.
All the best for the New year! Love your style that’s quick and to the point. Publishing is a gargantuan task and as I understand the need to stand out among the myriad of writers out there an even more daunting task.Looking forward to following your blog. Thank you so much for dropping by!
As others have said, self publishing is a good option. Thanks for liking my post, and best of luck in 2015! 😀
Thank you for liking “My Mother’s Photography” and “Jaquet-Droz Automata.” I am not a professional writer myself, but I have learned from other writers how difficult it is to get a book published. I hope 2015 will be a good year for you and that you will be able to meet your writing goals.
Thank you for liking my blog post. And I have to applaud your attitude. Hope 2015 is the year for the both of us!
Thanks for liking my blog. I really want to pick your brain on how do you write a book? your work is pretty intriguing 🙂