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Friday, October 13, 2017


LATELY, I'VE BEEN THINKING ABOUT how writers are seen by non-writers, and how difficult it is for many of us to have our books noticed within the volume of work out there - everything from self-published books, to micro and small press offerings, to what the big houses are presenting. What follows are my top ten observations based upon my experiences of how some non-writers view us, and their lack of understanding regarding the writing/publishing business:

1). It's easy to write a book... followed closely by another favourite of mine,

2). It's easy to get a book published. Great Grappling Gods of Purple Prose. It's easy-peasy to write crap. It's not easy to write well. It's even harder to get an agent and publisher interested in you. (Of course, one can publish themselves, relieving the problem of agents and publishers, which is a whole other box of Kleenex.)

3). If it's self-published work, it can't be good. Not so. There are some excellent self-published titles out there. Often, those books have been vetted by people who also know how to write and who have offered the writer excellent critique (and no, not critique from non-writer friends or family). That said, there are also many self-published books that I think aren't ready to be out there. New writers (those who have been at it for several years) tend to be a little delusional about how good their work is. See Barb Geiger's excellent post about the Dunning-Kruger Bump where she talks about this very thing. Seasoned writers almost always think they can do better, even after the book has been published.

4). If the work is published through a micro or small press, it isn't as good as what comes out of a major publishing house. Again, not true. The big houses out of New York are often dictated to by their marketing departments. They tend to repeat what's been done and what sells, because that's their business. Despite their contention that they want the next 'new thing' they aren't often inclined to buy work that steps outside genre lines or is experimental. The smaller houses allow more freedom. The downside is that smaller houses have more limited budgets, so distribution and promotion tend to be small.

5). If the book has a lot of 'splash' about it, a lot of promotion, it must be good. Readers are a curious bunch. They'll buy a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey because of the hoopla and the spice. Then, when the movie's made, they're convinced the writing is also good, because, 'well, it's a film, isn't it?' The quality of writing doesn't necessarily have anything to do with how well a book sells. Trash also sells.

6). Writers are lonely. Most of us aren't. We thrive on being alone and get prickly when we don't get enough alone time. (Non-writing spouses, please take note.) When I'm writing, I'm so engaged in what I'm doing that I don't feel lonely. Then, when it's time to socialise, I socialise. Most of us are ice bergs. Our social persona is only the top 10% of the surface that shows.

7). Writers make good money. A few do. Many don't. For most of us, writing isn't about the money. It's about feeling we have a story to tell, that we've something to say about the world. It's a passion for story that pushes us. A love for creating something from nothing, and the amazing realisation that we can actually do this. As for money, most of us keep our day jobs. A few, like myself, are fortunate enough to have a spouse who tolerates our obsession. (It helps that I also cook dinner and do the laundry.) Of course, the hope is to make more money at writing. Fingers crossed and towels folded, some day, we all will.

8). Writers are egotistical, frustrated substance abusers, who look down on the rest of us practical , down-to-earth types. There is some truth in this. It isn't easy spending years at something with little in the way of financial recompense until you hit it 'big'. And a writer may never hit it 'big' or what he considers to be 'big'. Think about it: if you spent a good deal of your day, year in and year out,  doing what you love (and occasionally hate) only to have people run down your efforts or not even bother to look at them, wouldn't you be tempted to drown your sorrows now and then? Being a writer is like being locked into a marriage that drives you nuts. Furthermore, there's no guarantee your writing will help you pay the rent. I'm not complaining: personally, I've had it good, but a life like that explains a lot. It's no wonder some writers sit down over a drink (or three) to share their war stories.

9). Writers aren't normal. They look down on non-creative types. We don't look down on other people unless they look down on us. Or think they're more important than us (and yes, I've run into that too many times to count).  As far as normal goes, maybe we aren't so much. A lot of the time, we're more interested in what's going on in our heads than in the world around us. I am easily bored. Someone who thinks I might find their opinions about how the educational system has changed in the past ten years will make me want to dump coffee in their lap. (And yes, out of politeness I've endured such a conversation, but without the coffee dumping.) On the other hand, give me an honest compliment about my books, (which translates into saying you've actually read them and appreciated the effort), and I'll happily chat with you about anything - even your opinions about the changes you've seen in primary education, as long as it doesn't last too long. Conversation is a two-way street. Many of us, including fellow writers, need to remember that. This is especially true for writers who spend more than ten minutes giving a plot point by plot point rendition of their latest story or novel to other writers.

10). Writers are arrogant. They lose all respect for anyone who says, 'I could write a book. I just don't have the time.'  YES, we WILL lose respect for you if you say this to us. Who's being arrogant, here? You don't learn how to be a doctor or a lawyer in a matter of months. The same goes for writers. It takes years to learn how to write well. It also takes guts, because any writer worth her tears has dealt with rejection many times over. Am I being arrogant and self-congratulating as I write this? Perhaps a bit, but I also recognise those who wear their wounds on the inside. Writers who have done their time have been scarred in abundance. A similar situation is the non-writer who says, 'I have a great story for you. If you write it, we'll split the proceeds.' This is like telling a doctor you have an appendix that needs taking out. If she does the operation, you'll split the hospital costs, 50-50, because, after all, it's your appendix and she's only gone to med school for a dozen years or so - no big deal. She should appreciate the honour you're offering her. (I ran into this at a book fair. But the old guy was enthusiastic, and rather sweet, so I forgave him. I suggested he write the book, himself.)

To wrap up, let me suggest readers keep reading (because we writers need you to) writers keep writing (because we also need to), everybody be considerate, and take a writer to lunch. If you do, please ask a little about our books, instead of monopolising the conversation about your life, the latest Trump fiasco, or how those Oilers are doing this season, eh?

Strike that last one. I haven't followed the team, but some of us will enjoy talking about that. :-)

Have a great week - Susan.

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