Monday 14 June 2010

Is writing really worth the trouble?

I apologise for the recent lapse in blogging - aside from my Friday Flashes and my foray into vlogging, I simply haven't been posting as much as I would like. Allow me to rectify this forthwith by having a little discussion about publishing. This is a writer's blog, after all! Well this evening, I came across this article ( via the Dystel & Goderich blog) by Erin Brown, that aims to unpick various publishing myths.

Now, I love to read these articles by 'insiders'. The information is invaluable, but in a lot of cases, it can also serve to beat down the spirit. Is it me, or does writing sometimes seem like a truly monumental struggle? It can be difficult to simply enjoy the act of creating, since the difficult task of actually getting something written is not the end of it. If anything, that's only the beginning. Next comes repeated revisions, not to mention queries and submissions. Can you really ever stop to enjoy your writing if you've always got part of your brain going "Will this sell?" Writing has become as much of a commodity as anything else.

It is a peculiar state of affairs. In this post, thriller writer James Scott Bell advises that writers don't necessarily have to write from the heart, but they should at least "find the intersection of the market and [their] heart, then get that heart beating". Would you ever go up to an artist and tell them NOT to make the art that inspires them, but rather make something that would sell? No. You'd let them get on with the art, and let the buyer decide if they're interested. Of course, art and writing aren't ideal bedfellows in this sense, since a work of art is a one-off product, available to only one owner. Writing is aimed at a mass market, available for consumption by many. In this way, writing is a lot closer to design than it is to art - the function, its marketability, becomes more important than the form.

I am not for one moment suggesting this is actually wrong. After all, publishing is a business, and like any business, it seeks to make money. It needs money in order to function. I am not going to condemn it for doing so, any more than I would condemn many other industries for making money. The only thing that does concern me is how discouraging I think all of this is to new writers. I understand that editors, agents and publishers are looking for new work, and that agents especially have an incredibly tough, often thankless task in sifting the literary wheat from the chaff. They want to encourage writers to keep going - after all, they need writers otherwise they have nothing to sell - but they also want to introduce an element of realism to proceedings. They don't want to peddle false hope.

But the pain doesn't even end with the querying process. If you're lucky enough to get representation, and your agent manages to sell your book, you then find that even the marketing and promotion is left to you. Again, I can understand this because publishing houses simply don't have the time and resources to devote to the work of untested, new authors any more. But at the same time, how can an author new to the world of publishing, who probably also has a day job and maybe a family to juggle, possibly know enough about marketing  or promotion to make a success of their book? Obviously most authors are quite savvy, realising that it's vital to build a platform before they even begin the querying process, and the wealth of blogs and advice available online are probably a great help, but the point remains. (By this point, I'm beginning to see why e-books are such an attractive prospect. But that is a subject for another post.)

Chances are, you aren't going to be the new JK Rowling. Your book won't attain dizzying Twilight-esque levels of success. It'll probably take the better part of your patience, not to mention sanity, to even get an offer of representation, if that happens at all. You'll need to be marketing savvy as well as an accomplished writer even if you do get published.

But you know what? Don't let any of that stop you from pursuing your writing dream. I know I won't.


The name is Ashelynn said...

I'm not letting that stop me, either. Good luck, Icy - good luck to ALL aspiring authors. :)

Icy Sedgwick said...

Good luck to you too!

Marisa Birns said...

Everything you've said here is so true. Including the last paragraph! :)

Following your dream, while very hard work in many places, is definitely worth it after all is said and done.

Linda Godfrey said...

It depends on how you define "worth it." In terms of monetary returns, writing is unlikely to be "worth" the time and effort expended for most. But if "worth it" means being able to scratch a deep itch you have that cannot be reached any other way than by writing, then yes, the results will always be worth it, monied or not.

Anonymous said...

The seemingly insurmountable odds of being published would appear to discourage even the most ardent and determined of writers. However, that passionate spark of wanting to write and be published never wants to be extinguished.
I'm at that formative stage of my writing where I know I need to push some more boundaries to improve my writing craft, like take courses, with the aim of being published.
Even if it doesn't come to fruition, I enjoy the process of creation and composition.
And the thing that I have enjoyed most of all lately is meeting a wonderful bunch of creative types who have opened my mind to a broader palette of inspiration.
Adam B

Icy Sedgwick said...

@Adam - Enjoying what you do is the first step!

Post a Comment