Sunday, April 06, 2008

Publishing and the Overworked Writer

I’ve been thinking lately about the time commitments of mainstream publication.

I don’t know why this never occurred to me before (or maybe it did in a subconscious way) but if I were to quit writing for a little while so I could focus on submissions, and if I actually hit pay dirt and got an agent and publisher, would I even have time to do all that’s required of a modern author?

Looking at how constrained my writing time is already, I don’t know how I would manage the iterations of the publication process, the marketing (much of which is the responsibility of the author), the book signings, and all the other things it seems a traditionally published author must do, all the while working toward deadline on the next book and doing everything possible to make sure sales of the first book were sufficient to earn out on the advance and not get dropped by the publisher.

Sheesh. Sounds like I’d have to quit my job to do all that. Or at least quit running marathons, working out, cooking healthy meals and having Saturday lunches with my husband. For sure I’d have to give up something and I don’t have much I can really give up. I don’t watch TV unless something important blows up and I want to see the live news coverage of it. I don’t rent movies. I don’t go out to movies. I don’t do much blogging and I’m rarely on a forum more than ten minutes a day. I eat out only once a week and don’t go to bars, festivals, concerts, classes, or anything else. The only things I could cut back on would be work, sleep, exercise, healthy cooking/eating, reading the news, researching my stories, and writing.

In other words, I’d have to give up the very things that enable me to write in the first place.

Several of my blog friends have had recent breakthroughs on the road to publication and I’m going to be watching very closely to see just how much time is really involved in making that leap. If my suspicions are correct, I may be overdue for a little honesty with myself. I’ve been on the fence for awhile, dabbling in non-traditional publication methods, such as blog and POD, while holding back some of my work until I can pursue a more traditional route for it. Instead, maybe my strategy should be to just give my all to non-traditional publishing for awhile, embrace it and quit kidding myself that I can somehow find some extra time hidden under a stack of unread magazines or in the back of one of my cluttered closets.

I can always get back on the traditional publication track when I take my early retirement. And who knows? By then I might have a following and a New York house would be as thrilled to have me as I would be to have them. Or not. Maybe by then I’ll have very different ideas of what I’d like to do with my time. But one thing I know for sure: if the realities of traditional publication are incompatible with all my other life goals, something’s got to give, and it’s not going to be my health, my marriage, or my career.


Anonymous said...

Good, thoughtful post -- there's much to think about in making writing a career. It's a path with absolutely no guarantees whatsoever -- a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants proposition and seeming more and more so by the day.

And by the looks of things, big changes are afoot in the publishing industry, and they don't look too author-friendly to me... here's something I saw recently: Book Future: No Advances, No Returns. The post I'm linking to has links to further information. And even the perky Kristin Nelson (once in a while I check in on her blog) is talking about tough times in the book biz due to economic downturn.

We do not live in an arts-friendly time.

jjdebenedictis said...

Great post!

I do think that a lot of the things authors are "supposed" to do to market their books have small or limited impact on sales, however. You could probably get away with avoiding them and still have a career.

What sells books is what's between the covers and whether it's good enough to propagate word-of-mouth sales. I really think marketing can only convince people to give your book a chance--to pick it up and peruse it in the bookstore, rather than walking by it.

They'll buy it, however, based on whether it sounds good, not because of anyone's sales pitch, and they'll rave about it to friends and family only if the book turns out to be great. That chain of event is something marketing can't mimic.

I'd say go ahead and try traditional publishing. You have the right to not engage in marketing if you don't have time, and if this choice backfires for you, you can still go the untraditional route later.

Chris Eldin said...

I feel your pain with this topic.
I finished my first ms (a children's middle grade novel) last summer. I spent the next several months with queries, etc that I couldn't write anything new. All the ups and downs (emotionally) left me drained, plus the sheer amount of research to send out a single well-worded query.

My ms is with a small pub right now being evaluated. If they don't take it, I'm not going to query again until the summer. I'm 5 chapters into my next book and I don't want to stop.
It seems I can't do both...

Bernita said...

"if the realities of traditional publication are incompatible with all my other life goals, something’s got to give, and it’s not going to be my health, my marriage, or my career."
Damned straight!

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Welcome to my world.

I'm sort of excited to watch the whole smaller advances/profit sharing thing develop. I wish I could be on the sidelines to watch; hopefully I will be. That's one battle I don't want to fight.

You know where I stand on the subject of being a cult writer. I think it's a smart move. I think that self-publishing for a small, niche audience is a smart move.

I think that when it comes to Trevor, I'm a total hypocrite. Not that staying small isn't a good idea, but that I don't WANT him to be small. In circulation, not endowment. That's another subject for another day.

WriterKat said...

Indeed. It's a hard thing to balance it all, and most of the time, full time marketing a book isn't going to pay what your day job is, unless you hit the big time. You bring up some good points. I wish I knew the answer. But to stop can one do that? :-)

Ann (bunnygirl) said...

Oh, I wouldn't stop writing. Not at all. I'm just wondering if I should fully commit to non-traditional forms of getting my work out there until I take early retirement and have the luxury of a monthly check without the daily effort. :-)

Larisa Ho said...

Wow. I should drop by your blog- to get insights and advice. I am a newcomer at writing. :)

Zoe Winters said...

Hey Bunnygirl, I was surfing the net and found a blog by an indie author named April L. Hamilton, and who's comment should I see but yours linking back to this post. Okay, here's what I think. I say, you have nothing to lose by putting your work out in free ebook form and building an audience. Maybe do a podcast or two, maybe do some POD, it's all small potatoes and not big risk.

you'll have some readers, and with any luck you'll learn to write well for those readers and then you'll get some more readers and etc. Eventually you just may have enough readers that someone in the "trad publishing world" takes you seriously.

And if shared your work, got it out there and got feedback, and that's more than manuscripts that sit in drawers get.

Viva La Resistance!