Thursday, June 20, 2019

Why you shouldn't give up writing...

Was it only me that hadn't realised why the bigger (international) publishers take longer to respond to submissions? Why I can get an answer in less than 24 hours from a small independent versus a six month + wait from one of the two big names in children's books still here in New Zealand. Of course there are always exceptions to this trend, but when you have a team of two in a small outfit, or the sole publisher/editor makes all the final decisions, then it can happen pretty quickly. Whether it's a yes or a no. Bigger publishers have more people involved in the decisions and gather more intel before they make 'em. It puts things in perspective. It doesn't make me happier about the long waits, but it does give me the rationale for why it might be so.

Writers are well aware of the unique nature of the industry they work in. The usually glacial pace of response and production. The way we hold all our emotions in check because we are always protecting ourselves from potential disappointments. The work we do to keep ourselves moving forward, to keep writing on spec, and sending things out when the odds of publication and success are against us. The ephemeral high of getting a yes that dissolves in your hands as you try to grasp it more tightly (just like that raccoon with the marshmallow). This isn't a sob story, but a reminder that we do a lot of work that is emotional and cognitive. It isn't visible, but it is exhausting. If you weren't sure why you felt so tired after a long day of hovering over your inbox, and adding three new words to your work in progress, now you know why.

For the very long time it took between acceptances for me in recent years, it was a real challenge to keep my spirits up and stay hopeful. Desperation is unattractive and I had to look for new strategies to stop myself wallowing in failure and disappointment and believe that my career wasn't over. I gave in a few times but my inner writer refused to lie down and die. What I did instead was try a bunch of strategies.

1) If your submission isn't getting any traction/interest, you need to be working on something new. Yes this is hard, especially when you had a lot of faith in the last thing you wrote. It was so good, why does no one like it? How do I start again? The bottom line is that having only one egg to put in the baskets is asking one book to keep holding up your whole career on its own. It needs help to share the load. Give it some friends. You're a writer. Let your creative mind accept new ideas. Believe that the next story is out there, just waiting for you to be ready to receive it.

2) Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Where else can you send your work? Who haven't you tried before? Maybe now is a good time to find an agent. Or try further afield. Or write in a different genre.

3) Don't just submit your work more widely. Apply for things too. Residencies, grants, new opportunities for old work. Having several short stories published in my wilderness years showed me my work could still be relevant and desirable. I worked towards 100 rejections and while I had to eventually pare this back to something more manageable, it did actually pay off. It changed my thinking so I was working on more eggs for more baskets which ultimately is a much better model to achieve a result. And it kept me creating. It can be too easy to get out of the habit if you allow yourself to. Keep writing. You're a writer.

4) Do other writing related work. This can be challenging if you feel your writerly relevance slipping into the past. Your name does slowly drop off the book world radar when you don't have any recent titles out, and gigs can be harder to come by, but they will help you remind folks who you are and that you still have something to say. Attend events so people know you are still here and still writing. And you never know what might come of that chat by the drinks table. Oh, and of course keep writing as well.

5) Read. Read for pleasure. Catch up on all the books you were putting off. Its not skiving, or indulgent, its research and it's good for you.

6) Stay in touch with the writing community. A- it's a reminder that everyone is in this tough environment, not just you, and B - if you still want to be a part of it, you need to turn up. It can be extremely hard when it seems like everyone is getting published but you, but the truth is that isn't what is happening and everyone is just muddling through, doing their best to carve out their careers in a challenging environment. This is your tribe and they still want you to be there.

We live in difficult times, publishing-wise, and it is essential to remember it is not you, it is the industry. The hoops are smaller and further apart, and jumping through them requires fitness and effort and persistence. Don't give up because you are despondent. Denying your writing ambitions won't fix that feeling. Only give up if you find something you want to do more. And just remember, I will always be here to nag you into continuing.

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