Wednesday, October 11, 2006

What I learned in NJ – about career objectives

In my opinion, the most important business, i.e. non-writing, thing a writer can do is to:
  • Learn as much about the industry as humanly possible

  • Decide what kind of career he/she wants

  • Make all career decisions based on the above—without compromise (or as little compromise as possible.)

This is something I’ve “known” for a while, but somehow I really started to believe it at the NJRW conference after listening to best selling authors like Jennifer Crusie, Bob Mayer, Anne Stuart and Eloisa James talk about their careers and how they got there.

Career planning is important to me right now, because in spite of thinking I was close to publication a couple of years ago when my romantic comedy (now abandoned) was doing well in contests, I’m pretty sure I’m now at a point where I can fairly say, “I’m close”.

Problem is, in this business one can be “close” for a very, very long time. And these days, with so many options available for publication, (e-pubs, small pubs, self-pubs) it’s easy to get confused or to just leap one direction without giving much thought as to why.

Debbie Macomber asserts that it’s a good thing to write down your goals, so I’m going to say, right here and now: I want a long-term publishing career writing mainstream fiction. (Of course, Debbie suggested writing your goal on a file card and sticking it in a drawer, and I’ve gone and announced it publicly… Doh!)

But that’s what I want. (Right now, anyway.) And while I know there isn’t only one way to get there, I do know that I don’t want to make any decisions that aren’t directly in support of that goal.

Last winter, I was floored to hear Jennifer Crusie say that when she was breaking out of category romance into single title, she turned down mediocre contracts for her first book to hold out for the possibility of a great contract for her next book. Floored. What a brave thing to do, I thought. But it was just smart. She knew what kind of career she wanted, and she knew that taking a mediocre contract wasn’t going to help her get it.

Another writer I met in NJ bought out the last two books of her first three-book contract, so that she could write books in a “hotter” genre for a smaller house. She figured she was better served getting on the wave of a rising new genre and having the chance to be a lead author for a smaller house, than she would have been delivering on her contracts for books in a down-trending genre at a big house where she’d likely be a bottom-of-the-ladder author the sales team wouldn’t push.

Very brave. Very smart. And all about knowing what you want and making sure your decisions support it.

Still, I do second-guess myself in weaker moments. Some days I just want to be published. I want to join PAN. I want to see my name in the First Sales column in the RWR. I want to tell people I have a book. I want to have a few dollars in my pocket to show for all my hard work. I just want to see and hold a book with my name on the cover. Show it to strangers on the subway. Maybe sleep with it under my pillow…

But in these moments, I realize the primary reason I want to be published by any means possible, is so I’ll have better answers to questions like: “How’s the writing going?” or “Still writing?” or (a personal favorite) “When is your book coming out?”, which I inevitably get every time I’m around anyone I know who isn’t a writer. (and who hasn’t previously had their head bitten off after asking me these questions when I’m in a bad mood.)

So, this post was a long-winded way to say that the most important thing I learned in NJ was know what you want and: “Never give up! Never surrender!”

Oh, and I also learned that when I’m sleep deprived, I start to slur after 2 gin & tonics.

6 comments:

Diana Peterfreund said...

Oh, Maureen, Maureen, Maureen... G&Ts? Have I taught you NOTHING?

But yes, absolutely, to everything else in your post. Sometimes that little goal slip changes (whether you have it in your sock drawer on on a blog), and sometimes different people have different ways of achieving the same goal, but as long as you can point to whatever it is you are doing and say "this is how this will bring me closer to my stated goal" and not be full of BS, then it's okay.

It's hard, sometimes, to take what may be a more difficult route in pursuit of your goal, but I can speak from experience when I say I've ended up being happier about it.

Jordanne Ford said...

Great post Maureen. And it's very timely, too. I've uttered to different friends and family that my goal, at the moment, beyond getting published, is to simply be able to quit my part time job. I'd even be content with keeping my night job, since it allows me to write, at least for a few years, until the braces are paid for and the kidlet is in college. At the moment I don't have aspirations of being Nora, or Jenny or any of those 'big' names, but I certainly wouldn't be upset if it happens, but I'm not ready for that pressure or responsibility right now.

Christine said...

Great post, Maureen. I've been thinking a lot about goals recently as well. I find it interesting how different people's goals are in this business. Personally, I wouldn't sign a contract with a publisher that isn't RWA approved. However, everyday I see that happen. It meets the goals for those writers. I think I need to sit down and write out some career goals for myself for the next little while. :)

Maureen McGowan said...

Yes, Christine

Everyone's goals are different. Not better, not worse, just different and I think it's just important to know what you want and make decisions about who you send to and what contracts you sign based on those goals.

By the way, I met your new critique partner on the weekend... Her name is totally escaping me right now, but i think i took her card. Blonde curly hair. Very sweet. So glad you've found some writers to share with in Halifax.

Sinead M said...

Maureen is smart! Ask her about POV some day to truly understand how smart Maureen is.

Great post and so important. As writers, other than writing the book, choosing contracts, agents etc is the only real power we have and so important to realize it's all a choice that will have ramifications, good and bad..

thanks for the reminder.

Kimber said...

My goal isn't to be famous (why?) or even to have my name in print (would rather be invisible) or even (gasp) to make money (there are easier and quicker ways to do THAT).

Just want to tell a good story and pass along my accumulated business knowledge while doing so. Maybe encourage women to look at business differently.

Plus its a challenge and who can resist a challenge?

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