Barking mad. Yes, that’s it, we must be. Insane masochists. Uh-huh. There can be no question about it.
I know, I know. What, you’re wondering, am I on about this time.
Well, simply put, it’s this: I’ve come to the conclusion, after multiple conversations with “pre-published” (read “wannabe”) authors and published authors, that we are all bonkers. Yes, don’t look so aghast, you know it’s true. We are probably certifiable. Go on, feel free to tattoo “out to lunch” on your forehead. It could become the Next Big Thing…
If I consider the pain, the agony, the suffering, the loneliness, the setbacks, the uncertainty, the insecurity, the rejections, the blows to confidence and self belief, the cuts in advances, the dropped deals, the cancelled contracts etcetera, etcetera that writers and authors experience, then I have to wonder what sort of sane and rational person would and could want to endure this? Um…give me a moment while I think about this. Oh, yes, right: NONE! Honestly, no person in their rational mind would tolerate or even entertain the setbacks that writers (and other artists) doggedly endure with determination and perseverance in the hope of getting a deal/the next deal. Anyone of sound mind would say “Sod this for a game of soldiers, it’s too much like hard work, it hurts too much, there’s no money in it, I can’t stand the constant blows to my ego, I’m off to become a human rights lawyer/brain surgeon/rocket scientist/accountant.” But do we say this? No, we don’t. We weep into our hot chocolate, we flail on the floor, we sob on each others’ shoulders, we crumple up into balls of despair and dejection and depression – and then we pick ourselves up and put ourselves through the same thing all over again. It’s madness. It must be. It can’t conceivably be anything else.
This lark we writers have of saying, “We write because we must, because we can’t do otherwise,” is a load of old baloney. And yes, mea culpa, I stand accused along with the rest of my writer pals. But the thing is… We make choices. We CHOOSE to write. We CHOOSE to pursue the dream of getting published and then getting published again. They say, (whoever the hell they are) that perseverance is key to success. It strikes me it is also key to insanity. I mean why do we constantly put ourselves through this? Is it that we are driven by frenzied and terminally insane egos? Surely it must be, or why else do we do it? Fame? Not bloody likely. Fortune? Even less bloody likely. To change the world? Forgive me while I fall about laughing. You think you know? Alright then, answers on a postcard, please – or in the comments section of this post.
But levity aside for a moment while I put on my serious hat.
One doesn’t want to be so dramatic as to say what many writers experience in the quest to be published is akin to having one’s soul ripped out, but given we put a piece of our soul into everything we write, one may as well. So it’s probably no small wonder then that an increasing number of clearly less crazy authors are trying to take back their power by self-publishing or e-publishing existing books now out of print. In many ways, we may perhaps be lucky that times are changing, but it will be up to us to help drive that change. And I think, given the scenario in the publishing industry per se, this may be no bad thing.
Aside from lamenting the difficulty of trying to get published with so many of my pals who are in the same boat as I am, there is also, increasingly, a flip side to this coin - and that’s the lot experienced by many published authors of my acquaintance. Authors, who despite working with a particular publisher for years, or having signed a two or three book deal, get dropped by those publishers for no apparent good reason. It goes on to beg several questions about why writers get treated this way. While we may not put up the financial backing, the creative endeavour is primarily all ours, as is an increasing amount of the marketing and publicity. To make it, we have to work hard at what we do, blood, sweat and tears oftentimes, and many, many hours of time are involved. And yet we are treated like puppets. Why do we even allow it? (That rampant insanity again, I suspect.)
Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not blaming publishers. In fact, I entirely understand the publisher’s position; I worked in the corporate world for long enough to be able to see both sides. Business is about creating shareholder value. It’s about return on investment, cashflow and projections. To ensure the best returns one needs to be strategically driven and focused. Usually, that involves taking a long term view in one’s product lines, and conducting ongoing and astute market research that not only predicts market needs now, but also in the future.
What does alarm me, however, is an industry, which according to recent articles, is more interested in debut authors than established authors. Surely there should be some sort of balance? Instead there appears to be an alarming trend out there. New authors are getting lots of chances. (Yes, I know, YAY!!!) Trouble is, if those authors don’t make the bestseller lists or garner awards with Book One, they’re tossed on the scrap heap of also-rans. Meanwhile, established authors are cast aside to make room for the next Hot New Thing. It begs the question: what sort of logic, what market research, what long term strategy is driving this? Is there actually any or has it come down to rank opportunism focused primarily on the moment? I would genuinely like to know, and to understand, because it begs a second question, how does this approach make good long term business sense? Repeat business, a focus on existing successful product lines together with new innovations and constant market awareness are what create success. Or… Are publishers also perhaps going bonkers given the rapidly changing environment in which they find themselves?
Either way, and with no real answers (until you kindly respond in the comments section), it strikes me quite forcibly that this lark of writing is quite simply mad. Yes. Mad, insane and deranged!
Am I going to stop? Oh pul-lease, what a question, or, in any event, not just yet. Do I look like a rocket scientist or a brain surgeon to you? Now pass me that gnawed pencil please, get me some chocolate and then shut the door behind you.
You may also want to take a read of Maureen Lynas’ excellent post, How Big is Your Slushpile, offering a different and altogether more humourous approach on the subject of writerly endurance.
". . .the path of the personal calling is no easier than any other path, except that our whole heart is in this journey."
Paulo Coehlo, The Alchemist
Paulo Coehlo, The Alchemist