Sunday, April 01, 2007

Ten years in and no closer to the key....

I've been in this business for ten years - and by being in the business I mean I've been submitting proposals to editors who know who I am and seem to like me and my writing.

And still, I have amassed far more rejections than I have paychecks. And, worse I still don't know what's going on. I was originally going to write this blog about how, while I don't understand the business any better than I did ten years ago (when I thought that my first book - like all harlequin novels - would earn me a paycheck of $15,000 - HAH!), I do understand writing better than I did. But then I thought about my current WIP and my last book and what I THOUGHT I had figured out and what I'm screwing up right now and - stupid me - I haven't gotten anything figured out. At all.

The business aspect of writing mainstream genre fiction is like one of those puzzles that if you stare at it the right way or for a long period of time you think you might see...yep...there it is...a cat in sunglasses. But then you look away to tell your friends and critique partners what you've seen and when you look back at the puzzle --- it's just a bunch of green and red pixels again. No cat. No sunglasses. No sense.

Maureen's story about getting a rejection from a proposal she sent a year ago to a house that she'd been TALKING to a few months ago about a different version of the same book -- literally boggles my mind. As I wrote that sentence I had to drink vodka right from the bottle - that's how painful that is. The countless good books that don't get bought because they aren't marketable or don't have vampires or werewolves or time travelling elfs doing nasty things to each other on every other page - can really - when thought about - piss me off. Especially when half the time I'm starving for a good book. (not this week though-- dear God the reading pleasures I've had). The strange and mysterious etiquette involved when hiring an agent who - WILL BE WORKING FOR YOU! It just doesn't make sense. Our publishers want to sell loads and loads of our books and then give us terrible covers. People get paid money to create covers - just like they are paid to hit home runs every single time they are at bat - so why do we stand for crappy non-descript covers that look nothing like our characters and take place no where near our setting and involve explosions when we've written a nice little book about knitting! KNITTING BOOKS - good gravy don't get me started....

But - you all know that -- you're swimming upstream in the same raging river I am. The writing thing though - man, just when you think you've figured something out....something else falls apart. What is happening to me right now at page 86 (same page I've been for oh....three weeks) is like I'm a world champion plate spinner on David Letterman (Drew Barrymore couldn't make it so they called me in...) and I've got the plates spinning off the chair I'm balancing on my nose (character, conflict and pacing ) I've got the plates spinning off the candelabras in my hand (pacing, dialogue and POV) but the plates I just had spinning, just figured out on the very last book, the plates I just looked at and spun - reader expectation and reversals - have crashed to the floor.

I understand that every book is different - characters plot blah blah blah - but I am the same. Me. The writer. Why doesn't this stuff stick like it's supposed to - like "30 days has September, April, June and November" or all those Celine Dion songs I - for whatever satanic reason - know by heart.

Maybe the next ten years will bring me the answer and that $15, 000.


Maureen McGowan said...

Your plates will go back in the air, Molly. You're a master juggler.

Great post.

Anonymous said...

Hi Molly: I love reading Drunk Writer Talk but don't normally comment (lurker extraordinaire am I) but your post today REALLY resonated with me today.

I haven't been in the game as long as you or with as much success but I thought this year I finally had it figured out. I finally wrote a book that had it all come together for me: concept, dialogue, pacing and plot (the two banes of my writerly existence)got an agent (Yay!) so now, write the next one. No biggie, right? Gets easier, right??? NOOOO! Darn characters are not sliding out of my imagination nearly so easily, plot is stalled at the halfway point and where is my funny dialogue?? WTF happened? But I guess this is just where a writer has to claw themselves out of this 'I can't do it' hole and pull another rabbit out along with them. All your friends know you can do it but why is it that we doubt we can?

Sinead M said...

Great post, Molly. The doubt kills us every single time.
We reach a point in the book, you, usually after the first three chapters, where everything seems to fall apart.
It doesn't, it just seems that way..

It will all come together brilliantly as usual.. and I will read seething with jealousy as usual..

Kimber said...

I can't figure out the business of writing either, even with me being a businesswoman (and having seen some weird, whacky stuff in that world).

I think that's why so many business writers self publish.

Seth Godin writes about his adventures in publishing here
and here

Keep in mind that this is a master of marketing proposing these ideas, not some inexperienced crackpot.

The publishers still said no.

Kimber said...

Blasted blogger and its non link friendly comments!

The posts are on March 27th and 23rd.

Seth Godin self published his first book Purple Cow because publishers didn't believe in both the concept (short business books which I LOVE) and the internet(enough said there...LOL). It has now sold more than 250,000 copies.

When he wanted to offer free ecopies of Unleashing The Ideavirus, his publisher also passed. Seth baby gave away 2 million copies. Didn't hurt the print version. Was also a bestseller (and sold more Purple Cows).

Molly O'Keefe said...

I am trying to take it as a good sign that every book seems so new and problematic and difficult -- at least I know I'm not writing the same book over and over again.

Nelsa again - congrats on all your success I look forward to reading your YA in a few short years!!!

I know I lamely posted this last week but OMG am I reading good books - I just finished The Memory of Running -- WOW! Talk about showing and no, zero telling. Lovely book - sad and funny and gripping. Highly recommended

Margaret Moore said...

I wish I could tell you this is just a phase, and once you're through it, you will never be so troubled again. And hey, maybe for you, it is -- but I've been at this for 20 years, and sadly, this hasn't been my experience.

I think writing gets more difficult, not less, over time. You learn more about the business and especially the serendipity that's part of it. That nobody really knows what it takes to make a bestseller. You realize there are so many things you apparently need to "fix" about your work, because there are so many people who seem ready, willing and able to point out your flaws. You start to realize that no matter how hard you work on a book, it may be saddled with a bad cover and get less-than-stirling reviews and sell poorly -- and even if you love it.

And let us not forget the other pressure we put on ourselves -- the "why am I here on the ladder of success, when so-and-so is there" -- which is the fast way to the Slough of Despond (I've done that, been there and it's hell to crawl out of).

But when the doubts get to me, I often think of those lines Tom Hanks says about baseball in A League of Their Own (and I may not have this exactly right): "It's not supposed to be easy. If it were easy, everybody could do it. It's the hard that makes it great."

It's the hard that makes it great.

Molly O'Keefe said...

I might be hormonally unbalanced but Margaret and Tom Hanks just made me cry....

Margaret Moore said...

I hope it was the good kind of "yes, I really am awesome!" crying!

When I heard those lines in that movie, I sat up so straight, I almost dislocated something, because it seemed to be speaking right to me.

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