Thursday, March 16, 2006

PTC #1

1. How to Go Pro: What happens after you get The Call? What are the stages the book in process goes through? What you can do as an author to help it happen and be as painless as possible, etc.?

I described most of the business end of going pro and how the book process works in PTC #9, but I split this out as a separate question to talk about other things that happen when you become a published writer.

As a pro, you have the opportunity to meet and hang with other pros, former pros, and lots of aspiring pros. Most of your colleagues will be friendly (a few will treat you like paramecium, but they do that to everyone except their cronies.) You'll get tons of solicited and unsolicited advice. Some of this is good; some of it is garbage. Now and then you will get a tip that can change your whole career. The rest will be a mixed bag. Take from it what makes sense and helps you. If you're not sure about the info, verify things with your agent, your editor, or a pro you know well and trust.

Your personal life isn't unaffected by going pro. Friendships are most often destroyed by envy, especially between writers. If your marriage or relationship at home is rocky, this may finish it off. If it's solid, new problems can crop up if you have to travel or you start making more money than your spouse or partner. Family members, business associates and other non-writer folks in your life can withhold support or actively interfere in your new career. Then there are complete strangers who for reasons of their own decide they hate your guts and go after you, or who will mess with you hoping to attract attention to themselves (the flip side of the fame leeches, which I'll get to below.) Only you can decide how to handle these issues, but try to communicate with those you love, compromise, and salvage what you can. As for the hate mongers, the worst thing you can do to them is ignore them.

Time and money management are two of the most vital tasks you'll have after writing during your rookie year. I recommend making writing your first priority and everything else secondary to it. You can't spend all 365 days going to cons and doing booksignings and handing out bookmarks; remember that you still have to write the next book. Avoid overspending on self-promotion and make sure you set some money aside to invest in your writing needs (i.e. a new printer, new computer, FAX machine, internet bills, etc.)

Your rookie pro year out will have its disappointments. You and your book may be ignored. You'll likely get hatchet-jobbed, passed over for awards and otherwise dissed. People whom you hoped would like your work will yawn over it. Industry folks will patronize you, exclude you, and in some cases, make fun of you. Don't incessantly Google yourself and hunt down everyone who says something about you so you can defend yourself; that shrieks I have no life and my ego is a great big pile of wet tissue paper. And that red hot sportscar with the big bow tied around it? Will not magically appear in your driveway, any more than it did when you turned sixteen. My advice is to keep smiling and let it go.

If you're one of those rare overnight success stories, certain pros will want to latch on to you and "guide" your career, suck you into some clique, or simply use you to attract attention to themselves. They are dazzling, enthusiastic, and mostly useless. The minute your career goes into a dry spell, they have no more time for you. The best way to handle this is to stick with those who cared about you and supported you before you became flavor of the month (assuming they're still speaking to you.) As for the fame leeches, use them if you must, but don't let them suck you dry.

Getting your first contract is wonderfully exciting, and to hold your first novel in your hands is a moment unlike any other in your writing life. You should enjoy this glittery time in your career, too, because baby, that gilt wears off real fast. Insecurities and self-doubt will also settle in, and you may want to keep your head down and stay out of the spotlight. That's okay, and most of us need time away from this gig, but don't talk yourself out of a job simply because you're afraid.

After signing that first contract, there are always those special little rookies who begin issuing gems o' wisdom from the depths of their weighty experience. When they're not telling you how to write because of course They Know Everything About Publishing Now That They've Signed a Contract, you'll often see them attacking established, successful writers or trying to worm their way into certain cliques. I understand where it comes from, and I don't respond to it or retaliate, but there are other pros who will verbally eviscerate a rookie like this in less than a minute. I would try very hard not to be this sort of new author. Besides courting disaster, it's unattractive and serves no purpose except to display a shaky ego. Until you have a decent backlist, and prove you're not a one-book wonder, you have no clout in this industry. Accept this and avoid strutting around and picking fights until you get some.

I've said that for me working in publishing is like being Betty Crocker in the court of Caligula, and that hasn't changed since I went pro. Hopefully it will be different for you, but no one serves this empire and comes away unscathed. Best you can do is roll with the punches.

There is one last thing: whenever possible, have fun. Oh, yeah, this writing gig is supposed to be fun, remember?

Related Links:

Michelle Monkou's Tough Love for Authors articles Being A Full Time Writer and Negative Energy Sucks

Word Smitten's interview with literary agent Katherine Sands has some good tips for rookies, and more can be found in Brenda Townsend Hall's Writing the Second Novel interviews.

Mark Wakely's post on That Bloated First Novel.

Jane Austen Doe's Confessions of a Useless Complainer with a link to her original, much-dissed article about the biz in Salon (you have to register or something to read that one.)

My blog entry Pride & Publishing


  1. Anonymous3:34 PM

    Thank you.

    Sometimes it's diffisult to remember this is supposed to be fun.

  2. did mention getting sick with nerves and wondering if anybody is ever gonna like anything you've written...

    i had that part. oh wait. i still do.

    Hey Tambo, it's plenty of fun. At least the writing part usually is. and talking to a lot of the people you meet is.

    PWE,~here's my FYI notice... I did a blog on promo today. it's about the only thing I still don't feel like i'm scratching my head over and trying to figure out.

  3. Thanks for all the posts you've done over the past week.

    I loved your Pride & Publishing entry - what a great metaphor. (Wish I'd thought of it *g*).

  4. Thanks Lynn - this was greatly insightful and I appreciate it!

    I do sometimes feel like paramecium all on my own!

  5. Thanks Lynn - this was greatly insightful and I appreciate it!

    I do sometimes feel like paramecium all on my own!

  6. Anonymous9:42 AM

    As an aspiring pro - I can hardly wait to be in the slime light . . .

    Yeah . . .

  7. Anonymous9:22 PM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  8. Anonymous9:48 AM

    Note: SPAM comment deleted. We'll just have to get rich quick on our own. :)


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