Thursday, January 28, 2016

Shoulds, Must-Dos, and Finding Your Own Path

This September will mark my 30th anniversary as a writer. It's hard to fathom. I remember the day I set out on this roller-coaster ride of a journey. My eyes were wide open and I didn't have a clue what I was getting myself into. I've learned a lot about the business in those years. I've learned a lot about myself as well. Have I made mistakes? Oh yes. 

We live in an environment where we are constantly told that "you should do this" and "you must do that." (That's not exclusive to the publishing world either.) While there are things that we must-do and should-do, it's also important to have balance as well, especially when it comes to the publishing world. It's important to hang on to what started you down this path in the first place--the love of writing. 

Writing is hard work. The publishing business is rough and ever-changing. We started writing because we love the flow of words and building the story. We might even love the research process involved in helping flesh out the story. Then reality jumps in and we learn there's more to being an author than writing. I've seen the publishing world drag strong, confident individuals down to nothing. You'd never see these individuals sweat in their day jobs. But throw them into the publishing world and they cave. 

It helps to take a step back and watch things with an objective eye, if you can. This will allow you to take the information hurled your way and evaluate it carefully. You must find your own path. That path must make you feel calm inside, not desperate and fearful. Don't let people "should" all over you. Educate yourself on ALL facets of the business. Ensure you are making informed choices that are right for you. It's not easy. 

Not fond of social networking or promoting? I hear you on that one. If I'm going to do it, I must be able to get some enjoyment out of it. I'm fairly introverted and don't do well with face-to-face interactions, so handing someone something fun promo-wise that makes them smile makes me smile as well. I love smiles. And while I'm very nervous talking to people in person I don't know (oh my gosh, the things that tumble from my lips), I also do like to share information and fun stuff. Talking about my books constantly is boring. Talking about my books and my interests is fun. Although, I have been known to geek people out with some of the things I know. Also I'm not going to be drawn into the "latest biggest thing" anymore. I've watched people run like lemmings to the cliff to jump on the "latest biggest thing" only to see them plummet over the edge. Been there. Done that.

The money or lack thereof. Any time I hear authors telling everyone how much they are raking in I have to wonder if it's true. (I was raised in an era where it was considered bad form to talk about how much one makes.) I'm more inclined to believe such things if they are revealed in a roundabout manner. While I'm very pleased to hear someone is having success, I'm also very sad for the others who weigh their own success based on that of another. And I've done that too. We are all individuals. We each get what we need. We each have our own paths to follow.  

Holding my cards close to my chest. I have a core group of trusted friends with whom I share everything. I know the information will go no further. I don't brainstorm outside that group. I don't share titles until they are contracted. I don't share concepts. None of it. Trust no one. Burn me once, shame on you. Burn me twice, shame on me. 

A publishing team. It was drummed into us back in the day, that we are in charge of our careers and we need to "be aggressive with these editors and agents." "They work for you." Sadly, I followed that advice...and yes, I regret it. Because the flip side of that statement is this... You are creating a team of professionals in your writing career. This isn't a place for divatude. This is a place for respect and professionalism, and that goes both ways. I've had three agents in my career. All were vetted by Romance Writers of America and all were considered topnotch at the time. The reality was that one thought it was all right to sleep with her male clients, another was an out-and-out liar, and the last was more interested in getting her next drink than in working on placing manuscripts. Though I know there's a process in place to approach agents and editors, at this stage of the game I would prefer to get to know a prospective agent or editor on a personal-professional basis first. I want to see how they interact in the world before taking that step. I want someone who can conduct themselves in a professional and business-like manner. Had I done this from the start I would have saved myself some angst. Because I have ignored my instincts in the past and gone for the "latest biggest thing" in this regard, much to my regret. 

The past and the future. In a climate where publishers are folding and authors are left homeless, I see the desperation and fear building. But what I also see is authors who spend so much time looking back at what they've lost that they can't see what they might gain by looking forward. Yes, I am in the position of having lost almost all my backlist because a publisher folded. Am I devastated? Not really. If this were "back in the day," those older stories would have been out of print long ago. Why waste energy worry about the old books when you can create new books? In reality, you have evolved as a writer. Do you really want to drag out the older stuff? While I might wind up re-publishing the older books at some point, right now I want to focus on new material. 

Accolades, feedback, and ego. I am many things in life, as I'm sure you are. There are many things I do and many things I get instant, positive feedback on. Writing isn't one of them. It takes a while for any accolades to filter my way. While that can be demoralizing and depressing, the bottom line must be why we started writing in the first place--

Loving the flow of words, building a story, and the sheer joy that comes with doing so. 

Hang on to that and never let go. 

Caitlyn Willows

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