Since the holidays are at least partly about appreciating and valuing our loved ones and those we care about, I thought I’d talk a bit about things overlooked and undervalued in the writing world. This is by no means comprehensive or inclusive. It’s just to get things started, and I hope to have another installment of Three By Three for this soon.
As a writer, I’m at the beginning of this long chain of events that we call publishing. I get the ball rolling. It’s my job to pony up to the starting line and get that first word down on paper or screen as it were. We don’t write in a vacuum, though it may often feel that way. Writing can be (at times) a lonely profession. However, we interact with the world every step of the way. Where do we get our ideas from? They don’t all spontaneously sprout up in our brains. Often, they come from others. We get them from other books, people, movies, events, places, and so on. Writing requires the ability to focus and concentrate. This involves people leaving us alone to write, forgoing questions until later or doing things we don’t have time for. We stress over our worth as a writer, so we rely on others to provide kudos and encouragement, or to look at our writing and tell us that we don’t actually suck. Perhaps most importantly in this vein, others help provide the motivation to keep at it, kicking our butts when we need it so that book actually gets finished. So, writing is really far from solitary.
Then we have agents, who have the difficult job of being shrink and salesperson for the writer. They’re in the business of finding and selling good books to publishers. They get to take the brunt of writer’s angst. They walk that thin tightrope between quality and marketable writing. They get to tell thousands of writers “No” every year. Because there’s only room for a small percentage of them, no matter how good they are. It’s a difficult job. I hate sales. I could not handle a job where my income was based on selling a product, no matter how much I love that product. I think agents get a lot of shit flung their way, and undeservedly so. Nobody likes being told their product (whether it’s art or anything else) is right or good enough. Deciphering a subjective marketplace in order to sell a quality and marketable product is often an exercise in frustration, but also hugely rewarding when success is achieved. You have to really love books to do this job. A lot of folks out there don’t appreciate agents enough and what they do.
Publishers are at the other end of the line. They get to package and sell. They have to make sure things are as polished and perfect as possible. They have to do it on a budget that hinders their ability to market many of their products. Anyone who has self-published or tried to, can tell just how overwhelming all the various aspects of getting a book out there to sell can be (and do it well). Editors have to get those words just right. Copyeditors have to make sure all those words are correct. Art departments have to try and make that book as appealing as possible. And salespeople have to attempt to convince bookstores that this book is indeed something people will want to read and isn’t just like the thirty-seven other new titles coming out in that genre. It’s a long, complicated, difficult process to do well.
And it takes time. This might be one of the most under-valued aspects that writers gloss over. We live in a hurry-up-and-do-it-now world. We want our book out on the shelves the day after it’s done. But it takes time. Editing a book to be better than it was before takes time. Finding the right agent to represent and sell your book takes time. Creating a dynamite cover takes time. Finding sellers to shelve the book takes time. It’s not an industry for the impatient. It’s a long, slow ride people. Understand this and try to enjoy the view along the way, because if you reach the end of the line, you can truly appreciate all that has come before to get there. It’s worth it. Be patient. And happy writing!